July 24, 2024
P.O.Box 613ER Gombilla House, Lamashegu Market, Tamale, Northern Region

Gold discovery in Talensi; A blessing or a curse

In what became a remarkable turn of events that forever altered the landscape of Gbane, a community in the Talensi District of the Upper East region, farmers stumbled upon a precious treasure beneath the soil of their farmlands back in 1995.

What began as routine agricultural activities soon transformed into a pivotal moment in the community’s history when the earth yielded not only crops but also gold.

News of the discovery spread rapidly, attracting attention from both locals and mining companies eager to capitalize on the newfound gold deposits.

A move by the Managing Director of Yenyeya Mining Group, Charles Taleog Ndanbon, in 2008 has had a transformative impact on the mining landscape in the upper east region of Ghana, particularly in the Talensi District.

Ndanbon was part of 23 small-scale miners, the government of Ghana sponsored to study underground small-scale mining in China.

He returned with valuable insights and later spearheaded a groundbreaking collaboration with Shaanxi Mining Ghana Limited in the Telensi District.

“When I introduced myself that I am from the north of Ghana and we are into underground rock mining. The Chinese were interested and that is where the Shaanxi Mining partnered me. I was operating on a 25-acre land but the Chinese needed 50 acres. That is why we included Pubodtaaba but I signed the agreement”

Shaanxi Mining Limited which used to provide mine support services to Yenyeya and Pubodtaaba Mining groups has changed its name to Earl International Group Ghana Gold Limited after the government of Ghana deblocked the area for large-scale mining, and granted the company a large-scale mining license in the year 2019.

Albert Azongo, the Assistant Public Relations Officer of Earl International Group Ghana Gold Limited disclosed that the new face of the company has contributed to an increase in job creation for 950 workers; 80 percent of whom are natives of Talensi district.

Aside from the job creation, Mr. Azongo added the impact of the company now operating as a large-scale mining firm translates into improved revenue for the government.

“In the year 2022, we did a little over 11,000 ounces of gold and then from January to August 2023, we’ve done a little over 14,000 ounces of gold. If you translate this into money, it runs into millions of dollars and what it means is that we have quite a significant amount of money that is sunk in the region. We have closed to %50 of revenue generated from this company that goes into wages, salaries, taxes, and goods and services”, he indicated.

Over the years, the company has been in the news for the reports of deaths and injuries of its workers.

In the year 2019, the Minerals Commission fined the company an amount of $40,000 after it was found culpable of causing the death of 16 miners in an explosion near its concession.

Kolbil Mark Yinpubogere, Ghana Mine Workers Union Chairman at Earl International Group Ghana Gold Limited has indicated that the safety of workers has since improved.

“I a worker was taking, let’s say Ghc1,000, that worker is now paid Ghc5,000. People were not eager to work with Shaanxi because the salaries were not good. But now, people are trooping in because the salaries profoundly increased”, Mr. Kolbil added.

Before the Chinese mining firm entered the Talensi district, there were pockets of small-scale miners in the Gbane community and a lot of mining accidents that claimed the lives of small-scale miners and rendered others with permanent disability in this area.

Of worthy note among these incidents is the 31st May 2021 incident that claimed 9 lives.

This particular day will forever remain in the hearts of the Taran family of the Gare community here in the Talensi district.

Samuel Taran, a 20-year-old miner met the untimely end to his life together with 8 others, following a relentless downpour the night they went underground their deep, dark mining pits to look for gold.

Samuel had dreams as deep as the pits he delved into which suddenly would never come to pass.

As recounted by Oscar Taran, Samuel’s father, the news of his son’s death after days of being trapped in the mining pit arrived like a storm, tearing through their home.

“That day can never be forgotten in my life. I am from the same clan as six of the miners who died in the pit. When they brought them out of the pit, we couldn’t control ourselves. It is a sad thing. My son left behind a wife and child and he is my eldest child. Since his demise, the last three years have been extremely difficult for us”

A teary father of Samuel Taran says even though the discovery of gold in the Talensi district has been a blessing for others, it has caused him pain following the death of his son.

“Since my son’s death, I have not been able to work and make any money. That is why I am saying, that perhaps it’s bad luck for me to not benefit from it. However, it has helped this community, you can see a lot of block houses coming up. This is because of gold mining”, Oscar Taran stated.

Many of the deaths, according to Robert Boazor Tampoare, chairman of the Bolgatanga Mining District chapter of the Ghana National Association of Small-Scale Miners (GNASSM) can be attributed to the local miners’ lack of knowledge about mining safety measures, let alone adhering to them.

“Accidents are bound to happen in mining. I used to buy PPEs like nose masks, helmets, and earplugs for my workers, and some will not use them. So, if you ignore the PPEs and go into mining and get TB, is it the fault of the company?”

Another negative consequence of the discovery of gold and a booming mining industry in the Talensi district is a surge in teenage pregnancies.

According to Talensi district director of education, Christiana Ayinzoya, many young girls in this district are being lured with expensive gifts such as mobile phones, and lavish spending on them, by men who have made money from the gold mines.

“And some of the parents are not willing to accept the pregnant girls to continue school. They end up pushing the girls into forced marriages. Some of the young men will tell you that as a teacher, what do you have? They always say teachers ride old motorbikes but when they go into a pit and come out, they can buy a new bike”

Regardless of the challenges of mining, the discovery of gold in the Talensi District has also ushered in a period of significant transformation, positively impacting the lives of many residents, people of the Upper East region, and Ghana at large.

Zongdan Buyak Kolog, popularly known as Polo comes from Yamerega, a farming community in the Talensi district. Kolog became a miner in the year 1996 when he entered Senior High School. Kolog says the discovery of gold in the Talensi district can be considered “the best among everything”

“My colleagues in the community who are not in the mining sector cannot compare themselves with me. Since I have joined the mining sector, I built houses of about 4 or 5 and cars of about 5. I have lands, either, in Bolga, Accra, or Kumasi. So, if it was not because of mining, I couldn’t have afforded to build a room, talk less a house”

In a promising move towards community development, the Assistant PRO of Earl International Group Ghana Gold Limited, Albert Azongo has unveiled a comprehensive Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) plan for the district based on four cardinal areas such as health, education, water, and social intervention.

“In the past years, we have done quite some good work, in June this year, we commissioned a 12-unit classroom block for the Gbane community. Some boreholes were drilled, and we have had social interventions in supporting community groups and state institutions. Back in the years, the company has built quarters for health workers within the region.

Many critics of Shaanxi Mining Limited, now Earl International Group Ghana Gold Limited have always held the view that the coming of the company to the Talensi district, has not been a curse, it has worsened the lives of the people.

But Mr. Azongo disagrees saying that “if anyone who says the coming of the company has been a curse, may just be mischievous about it”

“Every month, approximately, 3.5 million cedis is sunk in this region on salaries and wages. %80 of our workers are from the host district and %90 from the region from the region. So, if you have all these people who are employed and every month, they are able to take care of their families, dependants, and their needs, you cannot say it is a curse”, he said.

Another mining company operating in the Talensi district is Cardinal Namdini Mining Limited, a subsidiary of Shandong Gold. The company which is at its construction stage, was given a license to undertake surface mining for 15 years. It is expected to lift its first gold in the last quarter of 2024.

Regardless, it has undertaken some corporate social responsibility activities such as supporting the Farmers’ Day celebration and a plan to construct an airport in the Upper East Region.

“An amount has been approved for the construction but we are waiting for a few negotiations between Cardinal and the government of Ghana and as soon as that one is done, we will start working on other things. We’ve started the designs, we’ve started engaging Ghana Aviation Authority, so we are on it”, Steve Ofori Asamoah, Project Manager for Cardinal Namdini Mining Limited.

As these companies actively engage with the community, District Chief Executive for Talensi, Thomas Duanab Wuni says their impact is becoming increasingly evident in areas ranging from infrastructure development to education.

“Aside from the direct jobs these companies have provided for their workers, indirect jobs are there. They pay some fees to the assemblies and that is a positive aspect. The supposedly illegal ones, though they are illegal, they are putting investment in the district. They are building very good houses and it is just a matter of time before we will engage them, sanitize them, and conscientize them into accepting to pay property rate. Earl has built a 12-unit state-of-the-art school for the Gbane community. A lot of the communities have had electricity as a result of the connection of electricity to the mining site by the companies”

Regardless, he disclosed that the district, in conjunction with the traditional authority has made a draft Corporate Social Responsibility document and presented it to the companies for consideration.

The DCE however admits that the discovery of gold in the Talensi district has also contributed to a rise of social vices such as armed robbery and prostitution.

“The biggest one is security, criminals are springing up just because we have a lot of different people coming to settle here. We are prostitution practice here and I hear that, so many of them are of Nigerian background but I haven’t done any profiling to know who exactly are the sex workers”

The “defiant behaviors” by the sex workers according to Mr. Wuni have an impact on the health of the residents including teenagers risk being lured into the act

Another public health concern, the DCE raised includes a rise in airborne diseases such as Tuberculosis that is affecting the people of Talensi.

The Upper East Regional Chairman of the Ghana Hotels Association, Louis Tindan,  said the influx of mining activities in the Upper East region has not only reshaped the economic landscape but has also triggered a surge in demand for hospitality services, offering a golden opportunity for growth and development.

While the discovery of gold and the growth of the mining industry has brought economic opportunities to the Talensi district, the Upper East region, and Ghana as a whole, it has also posed some challenges that demand a strategic and sustainable approach.

Stakeholders in the district must rally for comprehensive measures to enhance the mining sector, ensuring that it becomes a catalyst for long-term prosperity.

By Joshua Asaah

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