The mention of small scale mining or galamsey takes everybody’s mind to the southern sector of the country. But in Kue a small village situated in the Bole district of the Northern region, small scale mining over the past four years has become that nectar that has attracted beehive of activity in the hitherto quiet village.
Tinga is one of the major towns on the main Bamboi-Bole road in the Bole district of the Northern region trucks are already loaded with goods and people getting ready for the journey to Kue one of the communities that has become so popular in the Bole district over the last four years. Over the last four years, Kue has become the hub of trading in the district attracting people from all walks of life. Our car got stuck a couple of times before we got to the small village that has all of a sudden become a town.
Passengers had to get down to help push the car out of the mud. Small scale miners as well as gold buyers defy all odds including the bad nature of the road just to get gold. It had rained the previous day and so the road was in terrible condition. One thing that strikes when one enters the town is the sound of stone cracking machines which they call chamfrains.
Young people both male and female are found operating the machines while others are seen carrying loads of stone and sand to be cracked for the gold. Dry method of cracking stones for the precious metal has been discouraged and water is used. This is to prevent the dust from polluting the atmosphere as well as prevent the small scale miners from inhaling the dust. According to Kuewura Alhassan Seidu Amankwa III, Chief of Kue, ever since a hunter found an unusual stone which was later turned out to be gold almost five years ago, everything about the town has changed.
Today, there are people from most ECOWAS countries in the gold business. One thing that is quite obvious is the absence of Chinese miners unlike the case in Southern Ghana where Chinese miners have taken over small scale mining. Kuewura Alhassan explains that small scale mining should be the sole reserve of locals. “For as long as I remain chief of this town, I will not allow any foreigner be it Chinese, Indian or any other national to engage in small scale mining in Kue”, he charged.
Most of the small scale miners have been registered while others are also waiting to be registered by the minerals commission as small scale miners. Now they don’t get the gold in quantities as they used to. Some of them also told me that, they get money from the buyers to pre-finance their operations after which they refund the money. Some of the indigenes of the region who had been in the business in the South for decades have been attracted and have decided to come home.
Ibrahim Alhassan who has worked for more than twenty five years in the south says “I have worked in Obuasi, Nkawkaw and Prestea but now I want to be close to my home so the money can stay here”.
The buyers in the business seem to make the most out of the small scale miners as they are the ones who finance the most of the operations. James Bediako is one of the buyers and he explains that “it is not as easy as you hear. We sponsor everything here including the feeding of the workers but sometimes, they don’t find any gold and our investment goes down the drain. We therefore take the risks into account”.
Now the small miners do not get gold in large quantities as they used to when small scale mining started some years ago. Karim tells me, “we used to get the gold in large quantities but now, we don’t get it as before. We are therefore appealing to government to bring surveyors and geologists to help us locate where the gold is or the Kuewura should allow us to start digging deep.”
The miners now want to enter deep mining; perhaps a testimony of the visibly huge heaps of sand in the area, raising strong issues of environmental degradation. But Kuewura Alhassan Seidu tells me that the community allows only surface mining and not other forms for fear of environmental degradation of the land. He also tells me a number of the small scale miners are now into farming as measures to reclaim the land.
“Those who claim they do not get gold in quantities that they used to in the past are now venturing into farming. We have very fertile lands here. I will not allow them to dig deep”, he noted.
District Chief Executive of Bole, Alhaji Sampson Seidu Abudu also tells me, the district organizes education periodic education programs for the galamseyers with officials from the Environmental Protection Agency. According to him, the assembly will try as much as possible to make sure that the land is not degraded like other parts of the country. Alhaji Sampson Seidu Abudu also noted that, the assembly is in talks with an Australian mining firm to establish a mining company at Kue.
But the Kuewura disagrees. He noted that foreign companies only come to deprive the community of their resources and leave the people more impoverished. He said he would not allow any foreign company on his land.
“We will resist any attempt to bring any foreign company to this community. They only end degrading the land and leave our youth jobless,” he said.
But Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Chamber of Mines Dr Tony Aubyn said the only way communities can feel the impact of mining companies is by bracing themselves up for the job. He said when communities start investing in the education of their young ones; they would be ready to be employed by the mining companies.
Communities should start investing in their young ones so they can take up management positions in these mining companies. It takes between seven to ten years for mining companies to start full operations, so why can’t these communities invest in the education of their young ones within these periods and produce the engineers, geologists, nurses as well as top management people”, he asked.
Dr Tony Aubyn also tells me that, authorities need to take a second look at small scale mining. He noted that, their contribution to mining in the country cannot be over emphasized but there are important issues of streamlining their operations. This can help improve the lives of everybody and then development can be brought to the people.
I am told of other villages that had gold deposits in the area. The galamsey operators are moving into those areas as well. As the Kuewura tells me, this is the time for Northern Ghana to bridge the gap and use its natural resources better than was managed in the south. The mining companies have failed some communities but can small scale mining turn the tables around in the north?
As I walk through the galamsey fields into the village which has turned into an economic hub with lots of activities, I thought about a lot of things including how I would travel the twenty three kilometer Kue-Tinga road without being stuck in the mud.