The discovery of iron ore in commercial quantities at Sheini, a community in the Zabzugu district of the northern region of Ghana is expected to bring a lot of economic advantages to the people in and around the area.
World iron ore recorded an all-time high production of 1.92 billion tonnes in 2011, UN’s Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said July 31, 2012 in a new report.
“This mining area for instance would absorb majority of the youth in and around Sheini who usually travel to Nigeria to earn a living and the idea of the youth migrating from the rural area to the urban area would stop. In 20 years I have no doubt that, Northern Region will challenge the South. Opportunity will come, people will learn technology. Already the economy of Zabzugu is boosted because workers who have come from far have rented buildings, some members of the community have been employed. The way the company is working, I believe more development will come to Zabzugu District. Poverty of the North will be a thing of the past,” the District Chief Executive of Zabzugu, Abdul Wahab Umar says.
Janet Bilitu is a 23-year-old resident of Zabzugu and an accounting student of Tamale Polytechnic. “ I have heard about the iron ore project but I don’t know what they use it for and how it will benefit us,” she tells me.
However, Yaw Solomon a 25-year-old Senior High School graduate who hails from Sheini says, “I am happy with this job and the opportunity to work with the company.”
Solomon is an Assistant Supervisor at the mine site at the Sheini Hills. “When the company came here, I assisted them in exploring the forest because I know the forest very well,” he reveals.
Cardero Resource Corporation early in 2012 in a press release confirmed the issuance of license to their Ghanaian partner, Emmaland Resources Limited from the Minerals Commission of Ghana to develop the iron ore deposit located at the Sheini Hills. It has since started operation.
Although work has started, there is a dispute between Inland Ghana Mines Limited and Emmaland Resources Limited on who has the right to explore iron ore at Sheini. The case is pending at the High Court of Justice – Fast Track Division. Inland Ghana Mines Limited claims among other things that, they were the only company on the concession that picked samples and sent them to an overseas laboratory for analysis.
In a petition letter dated April 28, 2011 and addressed to the Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, Inland Ghana stated that, “our reconnaissance and analysis has documented that iron ore deposit at Sheini Hills has commercial possibilities” and has accused the Minerals Commission of stalling its efforts to explore the iron ore. As a result, “we have filed a writ asking the court to institute a ‘mandamus’, that is, ask the Minister of Lands to do the right thing and have sued Emmaland Resources Limited for fraudulently acquiring the license they have applied for,” Country Director of Inland Ghana Mines Limited, Amos Owusu Boateng, says.
According to the Chief Executive Officer of Minerals Commission, Ben Aryee, “government has granted a number of licenses to companies and is still considering granting more.” He however declined to mention these companies. “I will not go into that because it is at the court now,” he explains.
“We had a challenge to attract investors formerly because the price of iron ore on the world market was not encouraging but generally now demand has gone up and governments’ interest is to ensure linkages,” he says.
When contacted, the Chief Executive Officer of Emmaland Resources Limited, Emmanuel Kwesi Ababio refused to comment and instead called in the police claiming someone was ‘prying into their private affairs’.
The location of Sheini Hills in Zabzugu Tatale district of the Northern Ghana is about 15 hours journey from Accra by public transport. The journey from Zabzugu to Sheini Hills is about 30 minutes drive. The road is not tarred but better than the road from Yendi to Zabzugu.
The DCE says the mining company reshaped the road from Zabzugu to Sheini which was hitherto in a very terrible state.
On the way to the Sheini iron ore camp, I met a group of geologists from GEODRILL on their way to the hills to explore and extract some more iron ore samples. I am told by my driver – Kojo Antwi that, they do this nearly every night. That explains why they were leaving for the hills after 17:49pm. The Sheini community of about 80 people is located few minutes’ drive before you get to the barb wired Sheini iron ore camp. Standing at Sheini, one can clearly see the Togo Hills as well as the Ghana Hills. One can only hope that, this new activity of mining would not make life difficult for the people of Sheini as witnessed in some areas such as Prestea and Obuasi among others.
At the Sheini iron ore camp, one can see samples of iron ore that have been extracted from the ground and spread under a shed awaiting conveyance for further tests. One will also see about five white containers which serve as camp office and accommodation for staff of Emmaland and Cadero. I saw a pay loader parked in the yard. The road at the camp covering about four square kilometres is not tarred.
Mark Serwah is an expatriate at the Sheini Hills camp site. “I come and see that the money sent here is used judiciously,” he tells me.
“The company is planning to procure a container of used clothing and distribute it to communities from Zabzugu to Sheini as a form of social programme. We have drilled 46 boreholes around here and have employed up to 70 locals,” he says.
“We are currently exploring and testing the iron ore,” he adds.
The CEO of Ghana Chamber of Mines, Dr. Tony Aubyn believes that, iron ore mining is economically viable but regrets that it can be fraught with challenges of reliable transport and good quality power. “I don’t think we have reliable power and transport to facilitate the iron ore business. Our power has not been very reliable for some time now, we need good roads to be able to transport the heavy iron ore to the processing point,” he says.
The Chamber however expects the mining sector to significantly increase its contribution to the country’s GDP by close of this year.
Iron ore is usually smelted to produce pig iron (metallic iron), which is used to make steel. It is for this reason iron is perhaps one of the most important metals used in developed and developing economies. The iron ore output, which is vital for steel production, was up 4.7% from 2010, UNCTAD’s Iron Ore Market 2011–2013 reported.