Managing small-scale mining: Lessons from Tanzania

Workers at a gemstone processing workshopWorkers at a gemstone processing workshopIn spite of over 100 years’ experience in mining, Ghana seems to be having challenges with managing its small scale mining sector.

One of the countries in sub-Sahara Africa that has got its acts together in managing the sector is Tanzania, and Ghana has a lot to learn from the East African country.

While Ghana is currently struggling to ensure responsible mining mainly in  informal (small scale), mining sub-sector, Tanzania with a relatively nascent mining sector, has put its house in order such that the sector has been   purely reserved for the locals.

Ghana’s resource-rich regions are currently inundated with illegal mining operators coupled with the  problems of foreign invasion of the sector.

This has resulted in the pollution of both surface and underground water with various chemicals. Aluvial mining is done wantonly without recourse to regulations and environmental considerations and such illegal acts have brought untold hardships on people living around those communities.

Tanzania, a country considered one of the poorest countries in the world with many of its people living below US$1.25 a day, has such enviable control measures over its small scale mining sector.

Tanzania is blessed with natural resources such as gold and recently discovered uranium and more than 17 trillion cubic feet of non-associated gas. It also has arable land for growing cash crops such as sisal, cloves, coffee, cotton, cashew and tobacco.

While Ghana has gold, cocoa, timber, tuna, bauxite, aluminum, manganese, iron ore, diamonds and also recently joined the community of oil and gas producing nations. It also has more than 10 trillion recoverable volumes of standard cubic-feet of associated and non-associated gas yet to be developed.

Considering mining activities in Tarkwa, Prestea, Bogoso, all in the Western Region as well as Obuasi in Ashanti Region and in other parts of Brong Ahafo and the northern regions, Ghana should have been the best example in Africa when it comes to mining efficiency and regulation.

However, the  sector has thus become so uncontrollable that not even the establishment of the Small Scale Mining Department at the Mineral’s Commission has helped matters.

Tanzania, on the other hand, has been very successful in organising the operators within the small-scale mining sector.

First of all, the sector has a formidable front,  with well-informed leaders at the local, regional and national levels.

The government of Tanzanian over the past  years have been  very proactive in allowing its nationals to control the small-scale mining sector by granting them concessions and  techinical support and logistics to enable  them  operator within a sound environmental practice.

In Ghana, the government only ensures that licences are issued and the only time they talk about the operators is when there a disaster.

Many small scale miners in Ghana are referred to as “illegal miners”, thus making the trade an almost criminal activity. In Tanzania, it is referred to as either small-scale or informal mining sector and they operate alongside bigger mines in the same operational area in Minerani and Gaiter.

Tanzania has also made conscious efforts through the sector ministry known as the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resource to be part of the local people by putting up offices in mining areas such as Gaiter and Minerani.

Leaders in some mining communities told journalists from Ghana on study tour in Tanzania on the extractive industry about the support they were receiving from their government, which would ensure that its resources benefited the locals.

At Minerani in the Arusha Region, Mr Justine Nyari a local dealer and mine operator said “there are also a conscious effort on the part of the government to train the locals on the use of chemicals such as mercury among others to extract the gold as well as the use of explosives.”

Since no Tanzanian could engage in mining without first being registered to a mine, leaders of the association collaborate well with officers from the ministry to ensure that the laws were followed religiously.

The big players in Tanzania notably Anglogold Ashanti in Gaiter, and in Minerani near Arusha are Tanzanites.

Similarities & differences: Even though, Tanzania largely controls its mining sector it shares some similarities with Ghana such as the use of cheap and child labour, disregard for health and safety, and the lack of  factories to add value to the product.

In Ghana, gold, bauxite, manganese, cocoa, among others are also exported without value addition.

Mine disasters at the small-scale levels are common in both countries which cause the state and the people in both countries a lot of pain.

The Tanzanian solution

In Tanzania, the  gemstone, Tanzanite whichTanzania gets a lot of its minerals from underground just as Ghana.

This has been associated with avoidable deaths as pits cave in. According to Mr Justine Nyari, however, the government was worried over the frequent deaths and commissioned its engineers who came up with solutions.

“We used to dig horizontally, but the findings of the searchers advised that we use a technology called 45-degrees, where we rather go 300 metres deep and take an angle of 45-degrees making it vertical,” He said, adding that  a lot of lives and prevented the frequent collapse of pits.

He said there was also support from the government to help in the purchase of some of the equipment and the operators paid in installments since it was capital intensive to go into mining saying “government support is good because the sector employs a lot.”

Whereas in Ghana, operators are left on their own, there are conscious efforts to preserve the lives of the people who are employed by the sector.


Unlike Ghana, the Tanzanian government gains from taxes it imposes on the operations of the small-scale miners, therefore, has the impetus to support them.

Aside that, efforts are in place to ensure that the youth are trained in the cutting and shaping of the gemstone for use by jewelers in Tanzania. In Arusha, there is actually a training school training the youth in value addition.

While more than 50,000 have moved to the countryside in Masai and more than 60,000 in Gaiter digging the precious metal and the gemstones, others are busy acquiring skills to add value to the products since it would take time to set up a factory.

By Moses Dotsey Aklorbortu / Graphic Business / Ghana

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