Invasion of AngloGold’s Ghana mine persists, says illegal miner

Illegal miners who invaded AngloGold Ashanti Ltd.’s Obuasi operation in Ghana are unmoved by a government order to vacate the site and continue to extract gold from the property, according to one of the mine’s unlawful occupants

The world’s third-biggest gold producer lost control of Obuasi, one of the oldest mines in the world which has been in operation since the 19th century, after informal miners invaded the property in January. The Johannesburg-based company has repeatedly asked the West African nation to act and registered a case at the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes in May because of the government’s failure to do so.

Ghana’s Mineral Commission last week gave the illegal miners a deadline of Oct. 10 to vacate the site and resettle on a portion of land covering 60 percent portion of the 485 square-kilometer mining right, which AngloGold ceded to the government in March.

“We were threatened that the military will be brought to guard the place from Monday but nothing happened,” Haruna Yakubu, who heads a group of 10 illegal miners, said Wednesday by phone from Obuasi, about 290 kilometers (180 miles) northwest of the capital, Accra. “So we continue with our work, we must also make some money to take care of our families.”

Unlikely to Act

Yakubu earns about 600 cedi ($150) a week at Obuasi, which is about the same as what a security guard in Accra would earn in a month. There are as many as 18,000 people mining gold in the area, he said.

The government is unlikely to act ahead of presidential election on Dec. 7 for fear of alienating potential voters, Emmanuel Kwesi Aning, a director of academic affairs and research at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre in the capital, said in a Oct. 11 interview.

There is no political will to remove the miners “given the dynamics of the tight election,” Aning said. “Why will an incumbent government displace about ten thousand of its potential supporters?”

 President John Dramani Mahama won Ghana’s 2012 presidential election with 50.7 percent of the vote.

Illegal mining, known locally as galamsey, is funded by powerful cartels and is highly organized, Aning said.

“No illegal miner will be driven out, not today, not next year,” he said. “We need to understand the economic interest in galamsey.”

Endangering Lives

Ghana’s minister of land and natural resources, Nii Osah Mills, didn’t answer phone calls or return a text message seeking comment. AngloGold spokesman Chris Nthite declined to comment beyond a statement which the company issued on Oct. 11.

“Every day that goes by, illegal miners are endangering lives and causing further damage to the mine,” AngloGold said in the statement. “Our understanding is that the Minerals Commission work may still be ongoing, but we await further updates.”

While AngloGold suspended underground mining operations at Obuasi at the end of 2014 after incurring heavy financial losses over several years, the illegal occupation is eroding “our confidence as investors,” the company said in June. It also operates the Iduapriem mine in Ghana.