In the last two years, a steady decline in the price of gold has brought the operations of many mining companies in Ghana to an abrupt halt. As a result, job losses and a reduction in royalties and tax revenues have been felt. Ghana is Africa’s biggest gold producer after South Africa, and with the mining sector contributing to 5% of Ghana’s economic output, the downturn in the sector has served a serious blow to the nation’s coffers.
Chinese investors, often depicted as parasitic investors, are keen to tap into this opportunity. The Chinese owner of the Akroma Gold project recently completed the purchase of Viking Mines in Ghana for $10 million. There are other new discoveries taking place and, while the sector might not be buoyant now, requisite preliminary studies should be done to mechanize deposits there.
Despite the tough economic climate, gold mining companies are able to meet their obligations, with Goldfields recently paying a $4.5-million dividend to the Ghanaian government and a total of $25.3 million since 2010. The fiscal framework that governs the mining sector in Ghana is a shining example to mineral-rich countries with a porous system due to a lack of transparency and regulation.
The Chinese have pumped billions into the Ghanaian economy. Mining in Ghana is integral to the development of communities; it brings jobs and economic vibrancy. But, for all the synergistic Sino-African trade partnerships being developed, an ability on the part of the Chinese to disregard the honesty and statutes that govern Ghana, especially in the mining sector, raises concerns over whether these agreements are lopsided.
Also, the Ghanaian government’s clampdown on illegal mining has only been marginally successful. Chinese companies use locals to front their mining activity, thus appearing to be credible operations. The lack of rehabilitation done by these companies also further exacerbates the problem. Many sites are left abandoned with no consideration for the environment.
Many large firms neglect their duties to rehabilitate the areas they have worked in, making them inhabitable. Companies, surveyed between 2009 and 2012, failed dismally to keep in line with the environmental protection agency requirements – a damning indictment of the attitude adopted by many foreign firms.
The inability of most locals to get finance to start their own enterprise ensures that development remains at an artisanal level.
Other areas in West Africa are showing promise though. Both Liberia and Sierra Leone are showing signs of reviving their mining sectors. Sierra Rutile is a company that was able to withstand the pressures brought by the Ebola epidemic. They recently raised $44 million to construct a dry mine at Gangama in Sierra Leone. The funds will be used to expand the existing mine. Rutile is used for the production of metal, specifically titanium. The investment will increase production and will provide more jobs.
Another mining company, Aureus Mining, has also signaled its intent to bring a new mine in Liberia into production. With the relative successes emerging in the region, there is confidence being shown by investors to reignite their interests in the mining sector and with it the hope that the sentiment spreads to other countries across West Africa.
The next step for the region is to engage stakeholders to develop concessions and form strategic partnerships. With industry being the buzzword for Africa to reach its full economic potential, the fact remains that infrastructural challenges are still an obstacle. Poor roads affect the transportation of materials. A lack or railways reduces the amount of goods that can be transported. The lack of power is another thorn in the side. The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) must integrate by encouraging free trade between the regional countries. By identifying the above issues, governments can make a concerted effort to tackle them.