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Ghana’s gold rush lures Chinese with illicit mines

The groan of excavators, abandoned pits filled with stagnant brown water and the local chief’s expensive off-road car hint at the mine tucked away in a bamboo forest in Dikoto, western Ghana.

Its 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.

An increasing number of small mines are owned by Ghanaians on paper but controlled illegally by Chinese entrepreneurs, according to miners, concession-owners and security forces interviewed by Reuters during a trip to Ghana’s mines belt.

Last year, Dikoto’s village chief was brought before the Minerals Commission and warned about hosting illegal Chinese miners. In separate police moves, some 25 Chinese nationals have been arrested this year for illegal mining.

“Once the gold price starts growing, that’s the motivation,” said Daniel Owusu-Koranteng of WACAM, a local advocacy group for mining communities and the environment.

“People will do anything to extract the gold on the blind side of the law in very marginalised areas,” he said.

Remote rural communities have yet to benefit from economic growth in Ghana which, thanks to oil finds, is seen hitting 13% in 2011.

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. — Reuters

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