Illegal Chinese gold miners blamed for pollution, violence in Ghana

Gold exploration in Ghana. (Image: Screenshot from AlJazeera’s documentary.)

Tensions between Ghana and China have escalated in the past weeks as Africa’s second largest gold producer announced last month the suspension of licenses for small-scale operations, mostly run by Chinese businessmen.

The measure, aimed mainly at reducing the alarming levels of illegal gold mining in the country, has triggered a series of fresh arrests of Chinese miners accused of violating immigrations laws.

It has also exacerbated long-dragged resentment from locals towards who they blame for the devastating consequences of the illicit activity, which last year contributed to the loss of $2.3 billion in revenue for the state, data from Ghana’s Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources shows. In comparison, Ghana’s legal gold exports brought $3.2 billion last year to the government coffers.

Chinese mine operators accused of violating regulations in Africa’s second largest gold producing country.

While the country’s new President Nana Akufo-Addo has vowed that no particular group or nationality will be targeted in the government’s clampdown on illegal gold miners, some of his ministers are already pointing fingers at Chinese nationals and their dubious mining practices, who they blame for destructing protected forests and cocoa farms, as well as polluting water streams, reports:

In many cases the mines are officially owned by Ghanaians who have the correct permits but in practice are run by Chinese businessmen who are violating regulations in their attempt to extract gold as quickly as possible.

According to Washington-based Global Financial Integrity, focused on helping reduce illicit financial flows through research and reports, there is increasing evidence of undocumented Chinese miners who enter Ghana from neighbouring countries who employ arms to secure their participation in the illegal activity, which leads to regular clashes with locals.

Facing mounting tensions, violence, and pollution, Ghana has stepped up the arrest and deportation of those illegal foreign miners in recent years. In June and July 2013 alone more than 4,500 illegal Chinese gold miners were deported. More recently, in August 2016, the government expelled about 30 illegal miners, the majority of them Chinese.

Ghana relies on China for billions of dollars in loans and commerce, as the country is its biggest trading partner. The crackdown on illegal foreign miners, experts agree, threatens to make the situation increasingly difficult for Ghana, particularly as the illicit extraction of gold has become an economic lifeline in the country’s rural areas.