China’s growing presence in the African continent and its rampant illegal mining is posing several social and environmental challenges to many countries. One of the telling examples is gold mining in Ghana. Illegal mining in Ghana has assumed alarming proportions and it is threatening the survival of water bodies. Most of these illegal miners use very dangerous substances like cyanide and mercury in processing their ore, which are not biodegradable and leach into the water bodies creating serious problems for the communities who use these sources of water as drinking water.
Recently a Chinese businesswoman, Aisha Huang known in Ghana as “the queen of illegal gold mining” along with three other Chinese nationals was arrested for illegal gold mining, selling and buying minerals without a license in Ashanti region.
According to charges filed (Sep, 2022) in the High Court in Accra, the attorney general alleged that Huang undertook mining operations at Bepotenten in southern Ghana’s Ashanti region between February 2015 and May 2017. The case is being closely watched and monitored in the West African nation, where Chinese players have revolutionized small-scale gold mining, leading to environmental problems and social conflicts.
Charges against the Chinese nationals include involvement in illegal mining operations along with selling and buying minerals without a license. It is not the first time the businesswoman is being prosecuted in the West African nation. Five years ago, she was prosecuted for the same offence of illegal exploitation of minerals and resources. However, she mysteriously exited the country following the initial prosecutions that were initiated in 2017 and 2018. On September 2, 2022, Huang was arrested again in Kumasi, the capital of Ashanti, despite being banned from re-entry to the country. The re-entry is in total defiance of the clear order of the law of the land in December, 2018.
Ghanaian security agencies alleged that upon her arrest, Huang had in her possession two Chinese passports, one in the name En Huang and another in the name of Huan Ruixia, both with her photograph. The South China Morning Post estimates that over 50,000 Chinese goldminers have been to Ghana since 2005, two-thirds of them from Shanglin, an impoverished county in southern Guangxi province where news of the gold rush spread by word of mouth.
Earlier, in March 2022, four Chinese illegal miners operating at Bamianko in Nzema East in the Western Region of Ghana were arrested together with one Ghanaian accomplice. The illegal mining had cleared large tracts of arable cocoa farmlands in a forest at Bamianko close to the community settlements. Their activities have also left the Ankobra River heavily polluted. Similarly in January, 2022, six Chinese nationals were arrested for illegal mining activities. The Chinese nationals were picked up at a mining site in the Amansie Central District of the Ashanti Region and handed over to the Ghana Immigration Service.
Gold is Ghana’s top export, earning the country US$5.93 billion, or about 45 per cent of the West African nation’s total exports in 2020, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity data. Half of the gold is exported to Switzerland (US$2.99 billion), US$1.61 billion goes to the United Arab Emirates and US$853 million to India.
The abundance of gold, especially in southern Ghana, has attracted both multinationals and an influx of small-scale miners. These smaller miners contribute slightly more than a third of the country’s gold earnings, but most of them operate illegally, without licenses or work permits. The government is not able to capture all the gold produced by small-scale miners as a large portion is smuggled by the Chinese.
Although small-scale mining was officially reserved for Ghanaians under mining law, Chinese players have exploited the industry in Ghana. In addition, Chinese miners are causing widespread environmental destruction due to heavy mechanization. Further the presence of Chinese miners in some of these local communities is also escalating social conflicts due to increasing competition for scarce rural land.