MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Ghana's ruthless corporate gold rush

Published by MAC on 2006-07-18

Ghana's ruthless corporate gold rush

By Angus Stickler

BBC File On 4

18th July 2006

Multinational gold mining firms in Ghana are prepared to use extreme violence to protect their property, a BBC investigation has discovered.

Fifteen people have been shot, two fatally, in mining-related incidents in the past 12 months in the west African country.

One company, Ashanti Goldfields Company (AGC), which is part British-owned, has been accused of a cover up after a man was allegedly shot on its land.

Awudu Mohammed was just finishing secondary school in the village of Sanso in Obuasi, central-eastern Ghana, when the local gold mine started open-cast operations 10 years ago.

Until then, Sanso had been a typical subsistence farming community living off cocoa bean crops. But the new mining activities transformed their lives.

"There was gold under the farm so they want to mine the place though my father disagreed with them," says Awudu. "They went and brought police, all of them holding guns."

Illegal mining

It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of people in Ghana have been evicted from farms to make way for multinational mining interests in the last 20 years. They are offered very little in return.

Awudu says his father was offered 500,000 cedi ($50) in compensation.

"Yes, it's small money," he says. "It couldn't take care of us. But we went to the company. They refused to take us as workers. "

He says he was left with only one option, to become a "galamsay" - an illegal miner on company land.

In June last year, Awudu broke into the concession of AGC.

"We saw the combined team of police and security - they [came] with their patrol cars and the dogs - I heard that shot [in] my back," he says.

"What came into my mind is that it was the end of my life - I will die here - I'm going to die."

Awudu says he was severely beaten before being taken to the company hospital and then transferred to the main state-run hospital in the city of Kumasi.

Awudu's version of events is disputed by AGC which claims he was injured by falling on the spikes of a security gate when he tried to avoid arrest.

The firm says it commissioned a ballistics report from the Ghanaian Army which said Awudu's wounds could not have been caused by a bullet.

'Kill on sight'

File on 4 tracked down the doctor who operated on Awudu last summer - a resident surgeon with 10 years' experience.

Dr Edmund Turkson says there is no doubt in his opinion that Awudu's injuries were consistent with a gunshot wound.

"When we asked him what happened he said he was shot," he says. "We didn't believe him initially.

"But when we saw the wound - it's a gun shot wound and this one looked like a high velocity bullet.

"He had a port of entry and a port of exit - that is a gunshot wound."

Y B Amponsah, AGC's human resources general manager, denied Awudu had been shot but pointed out that he had been trespassing.

"If the police have to shoot someone for good reason - for stealing from us, I wouldn't cover up," he says. "The guy was not supposed to be there - he had no business being there."

But local politician Benjamin Annan, a Sanso assembly member, claims the firm had a policy to shoot illegal miners on sight.

"We went to meet some of the officials and I quite remember they said - if they continue to trespass on our land we will make sure that we will also shoot them on sight," he says.

AGC rejects the allegation; British interests

It not the first time AGC has been criticised - last year it admitted to funding war lords in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In 2004, the firm was taken over and renamed AngloGold Ashanti, a part British-owned multi-national.

But there are other big players in Ghana facing allegations of human rights abuses.

Anna Bossman, a Ghanaian human rights official, fears that the lines between company security forces and the police are becoming increasingly blurred.

She says: "It looks like the companies are being protected by the security forces...We are going to look into it and find out whether the forces, that is Ghana police, is being misused in this way."

Violent confrontation is a common theme of mining in Ghana but we have also uncovered evidence of poor practice by other companies.

There are examples of repeated cyanide spills poisoning water drinking sources, of street protesters shot and allegations of illegal miners beaten to death - actions that campaigners say would be unacceptable in the West.

File on 4: BBC Radio 4, Tuesday 18 July at 2000 BST, and repeated on Sunday 23 July at 1700 BST. Or listen online - see links on the right hand side of this page.

Listen to the programme <http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/aod/news.shtml?radio4/fileon4> Download the mp3 (16 MB)

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