On Saturday, Mother Earth will receive the mortal remains of Mr. John Owusu, the deceased Communications Director of AngloGold Ashanti, officially ending my long association with one of the most dedicated advocates of gold mining as a foreign exchange earner for this country.
Mr. Owusu died on February 6, this year, when the vehicle on which some officials of the international gold conglomerate were monitoring galamsey activities on the company’s concessions at Obuasi, accidentally run over him while being pursued by angry operators of the illegal trade.
Death is a necessary end for all mankind, but the circumstances leading to the death of my very good friend, tells everything evil about the dangerous trends emerging in national politics. My friend died because the NDC is employing all manner of tricks in its endeavour to gain the magical one million votes in the Ashanti Region at the November 7 polls.
In their over-enthusiasm to win the 2016 elections, and obviously put a lid on the massive corruption that has dogged the stay of Mr. John Dramani Mahama at Government House, all manner of atrocious things are happening. One dangerous by-product of the desire to keep the sitting President at the Golden Jubilee House against all odds, is the launch of the over-ambitious programme of seeking one million votes in the Ashanti Region.
One plot, hatched by the National Democratic Congress to realise the objective of overzealous party officials, is the open encouragement being given to brazen galamsey activities in the Obuasi and Amansie areas of the Ashanti Region. Reports are rife of thousands of galamsey operators, most of whom are foot soldiers of the NDC, and foreigners from neighbouring countries, assembled at Obuasi to mine for gold illegally, in the process of which they are required to pay back by registering and voting in the November 7 polls.
Readers would be amazed to learn that these illegal miners have taken over concessions belonging to AngloGold Ashanti, with state security agents powerless or unwilling to act. At the beginning of February this year, without any explanation, the Government of the Republic of Ghana disbanded the military garrison stationed at Obuasi, and sent the soldiers back to their various units.
The soldiers had been a check on galamsey operations over the years, and without them, these miscreants, comprising mainly foot soldiers of the NDC and foreigners strategically brought to Obuasi with the vote in mind, seized a part of the AngloGold concession.
Mr. Owusu was on an inspection tour of some of these seized concessions with security officers of the conglomerate, when the vehicle on which they were travelling, accidentally ran over him. For me, as a close observer of the dirty politics emerging at Obuasi, I have no doubt that my friend is going into the grave a victim of NDC machinations to win one million votes in the Ashanti Region.
At the weekend, a group calling itself, Concerned Adansi Forum, held a press conference at Obuasi and accused the new Ashanti Regional Minister, Alexander Ackon, of being behind the brazen activities of the galamsey operators in Obuasi. Mr. Ackon was the Municipal Chief Executive of Obuasi until he was elevated to head the Ashanti Region recently. As a matter of fact, some in the city of gold contend that his elevation was a means of acknowledging his role in the fusing of politics into gold mining at the world’s richest single gold mine.
When the leadership of the Concerned Adansi Forum met the media at the weekend, they were unambiguous in their accusation that Mr. Ackon, who worked in the mines before being enticed into politics, was the main pillar behind the emboldened stance of galamsey operators, who have seized AGA pits at Obuasi.
The forum also pointed accusing fingers at the government generally. They are wondering why the Mahama administration would not give up the 60 percent of AngloGold Ashanti concession leased to the government to licensed small scale miners. The beef from the forum is that the Mahama administration was strategically reserving the juicy 60 percent concession for exploitation by NDC foot soldiers and foreigners brought into Obuasi in the name of galamsey operations, ostensibly to shore up the vote in favour of the ruling party.
They accuse the administration of creating a scenario that is undermining the economic activities at Obuasi, which depends on the mine for its existence. The forum said the continued shutting down of the mine, as a result of the illegal activities of galamsey operators, is aggravating the deplorable environment within the catchment area.
The leadership of the forum contend that since the restructuring programme of AngloGold Ashanti led to 98 percent of the work-force being sent home, business activities in Obuasi and its catchment area have virtually ceased to exist, and that the continued absence of the work-force, would lead to further deterioration of life in the world’s richest single gold mine.
The members pledged to resist further attempts by central government to frustrate AGA. In their view, the AGA has, over the years, contributed immensely, in terms of tax and other revenues, towards the running of the Obuasi Municipality. “It is in the light of this development that we are asking the government to expedite action in freezing the fenced operational areas of the mine to protect the concession of AGA, and also to regularise the ceded part of the concession to legally licensed small scale miners to operate,” the forum said.
I was at Obuasi a while ago, and went on an expedition to a number of galamsey sites. The news at these sites is not only the brazen nature of the operators. The fact that the Electricity Company of Ghana has actually supplied electricity to the illegal shafts operated by these miscreants is equally worrying. For me, the supply of electricity tells everything about the power behind the operation. I was told that approval to light up the illegal operations was given over the heads of the district office. “The order came from Kumasi,” an insider told me.
When I went to the ECG District Office at Obuasi and engaged Mr. Osei Owusu, District Manager, he told me that the extension of electricity to those sites was approved by him, because those who applied for power were able to convince his office that they owned the concessions. It was one story I took with a pinch of salt.
When I put it to him that his explanation was flawed, and that apart from AngloGold Ashanti, no individual or group of people have been given any concession at Obuasi, his reply was that no one had successfully challenged the ownership of those concessions on which galamsey was taking place.
Two years ago, illegal gold miners, numbered about 10,000 in the Obuasi Municipality alone. I am told that close to 20,000 galamsey operators are now in town, mining for gold in AngloGold Ashanti pits. The tragedy for this country is that it is not only in Obuasi that illegal miners are destroying the environment. Hundreds of Chinese have teamed up with other illegal miners to cause havoc in nearby Amansie Central District, for instance.
Towns like Akwatia, Kowia, Nyamebekyere, Sanso, Aduama, Adoase, Kokotewa and Jacobu are all bearing the brunt of these illegal miners. “They destroy water bodies, farmlands, and the ecology generally, using deadly chemicals like mercury and even cyanide,” an official of AngloGold Ashanti complained.
Gold mining, I dare say, has become a curse in this Republic. The fact that politicians have found a way of exploiting the menace to suit their parochial agenda, adds to the danger of digging for gold in a country which earned her colonial name from mining gold.
I shall return!