Ghana's Gold Rush Lures Chinese with Illicit Mines

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"The now-ubiquitous Chinese-made "Chang Fa" crushers and grinders started appearing three years ago."

Ghana's gold rush started well before it was given borders and colonially branded the Gold Coast. But record world bullion prices are luring a fresh wave of fortune-seekers—this time from China.

Over 100,000 Ghanaians engage in small-scale extraction, known locally as "galamsey," short for "gather and sell," many without permits. Their work comprises almost 20% of gold output, making Ghana the second largest exporter in Africa.

Foreigners are forbidden from galamsey under the Mining Act, which confines them to large-scale open pit mining and which initially meant Chinese outfits restricted themselves to providing ancillary services to the smaller mines.

The now-ubiquitous Chinese-made "Chang Fa" crushers and grinders started appearing three years ago, as did "Chinese blankets," mats which rely on an old technique known as "gravity concentration" to separate minerals and catch gold granules.

One concession-owner familiar with the area estimated that over half of all concessions are now controlled illegally by Chinese businessmen.

A common arrangement, the concession-owner said, is for the Chinese operator to pay their local Ghanaian partner an upfront fee of $20,000. The on-paper concession owner then receives a 10% cut of output and the local chief getting a slice.

Yet local resentment is building, both because of harsh working practices in some of the alleged Chinese-run mines, and because they are seen as less accountable than mining majors who can face penalties if they do not pass environmental tests.

While local galamsey miners also use cyanide and mercury to separate the gold from its ore, the health risk from such methods is seen greater from Chinese mines which tend to operate on a larger scale.

"What the Chinese are doing is destroying our land as well as the rivers," said local mine operator Kwamena Aikins.

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