MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Newmont Moves In to Open Ghana's Closed Forest Reserves

Published by MAC on 2003-02-15

Newmont Moves In to Open Ghana's Closed Forest Reserves

by Charity Bowles (February 2003 - reproduced from various publications)

One of the world's largest gold mining companies, Denver-based Newmont, will be granted licenses for two new operations in Ghana. This dangerous precedent will allow Newmont to enter Ghana for the first time and pour in an initial US$450 million to exploit Ghanaian land, law and people.

"Our villages have already been so rapaciously deforested by mining and the health and the quality of remaining forests continue to decline and now they are asking for the forest reserves, do they think Ghanaians wash their faces from their chin upwards. Please write all that I have said and tell the authorities that I said so," said Akosua Birago a sixty-two year old farmer at Abekoase in Ghana's Western Region.

This recent development is an outgrowth of Ghana's competition for foreign investment within the mining sector and a preview of next June's proposed introduction of new legislation on new, 'friendlier' mining laws.

Licenses have also been promised to Ghana's Ashanti, Australia's Red Back and Canada's Nevsun Resources. Mining laws in Ghana are changing, opening up protected forest reserves to these companies for exploration.

Ghana is Africa's second largest gold producer. Gold contributes approximately forty percent of foreign exchange earnings and a little more than six percent of the gross domestic product (GDP).

In its fact finding mission in the Wassa area, Ghana's Human Rights and Administrative Justice Committee recently reported ".overwhelming evidence of human rights violations occasioned by the mining activities, which were not sporadic but a well established pattern common to almost all mining communities." These patterns of abuse are notoriously prevalent throughout Newmont's operations around the world.

Mining operations in Ghana have displaced more than 50,000 indigenous people without just compensation, employed less than 20,000 Ghanaians (due to over-reliance on expatriate workers), burned villages, illegally detained activists, raped women and continually denied the culture.

A large consortium of civil society activists, including groups centered on human rights, labor, religion, women's rights, environment, and the communities affected by the proposed mining, have vowed to fight these decisions and continue to propose viable and sustainable alternatives.

The head of conservation programs at the Ghana Wildlife Society, Ishmael Jesse-Dodoo, said, "We should not always look at the money; it is transient. We should be looking at issues like sustainable tourism, alternative livelihood programs, food security, etc.- options that can sustain the livelihoods of present and future generations."

Environmentalists warn that mining operations within the pristine eco-forests will speed mass deforestation and environmental degradation in the country and pollute the fragile freshwater systems and topsoil with cyanide and arsenic.

"Just look at this country's forest estate, We had about 8.3million hectares now were left with only 1.2 hectares and we still want to give out some more for mining when we know very well that after the mining there will be no forests," said Friends of the Earth's Abraham Baffoe.

According to the Ministry of Lands and Forestry, less than two percent of Ghana's native tree cover remains intact. These forests are home to 34 species of plants, 13 of mammal, eight of birds, 23 of butterflies and two of reptiles, all internationally recognized as in danger of extinction. They have over seven hundred types of tropical trees and forest monkeys, fish and snakes- thus designating them as Special Biological Protection Areas and Globally Significant Bio-diversity Areas.

Ghana signed the Convention on Biological Diversity during the Earth Summit in 1992, ratified in 1994. Representatives from Ghana delivered speeches at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 declaring its commitment to forest protection and bio-diversity. Ghanaian president John Kufuor has just shown the world how shallow his administration's words are.

At a time when international gold prices are at a six-year high due to investor caution surrounding the impending war with Iraq, mining minister Kwadwo Agyei-Darko told a mining conference in South Africa that, "Our doors are open," and the companies, "did not wait in vain." Minister Agyei-Darko indicated that he expects the new mining laws to go through this year. These laws will be the keys to opening the protected forest preserves.

This statement comes as no surprise after Newmont and other mining companies issued veiled threats of lawsuits, or complete closedowns and relocations, to Tanzania in order to blackmail the government to follow through on the permits after exploration had started. The allowance of exploration activities was illegally granted by the former corrupt Rawlings regime.

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