Illegal Chinese Gold Mining Leaves An Open Wound In Ghana

En “Aisha” Huang, a Chinese national, is widely recognized in Ghana as the “Galamsey Queen,” a moniker bestowed by local media highlighting her role as a key figure in illicit gold mining operations. Her recent arrest and subsequent sentencing underscore Ghana’s persistent challenge with Chinese involvement in illegal small-scale gold mining (ASM).

On December 4, a Ghanaian court sentenced Huang to 4½ years in prison and imposed a $4,000 fine for operating an unauthorized mining venture. Following her sentence, authorities announced her deportation after serving time.

Deputy Attorney General and Minister of Justice Alfred Tuah-Yeboah remarked on Huang’s frequent media coverage, stating, “Today she’s come to the end of the road. It should be a lesson to the others that you may be engaged in illegal mining, but when the time comes, the law will deal with you.”

Ghana, the largest gold producer in Africa and the sixth-largest globally, reported an output of 129 metric tons in 2021, with approximately 30% originating from ASM, locally known as galamsey.

While Ghana legalized the ASM sector in 1989, it explicitly prohibited foreign involvement. Despite this, an estimated 50,000 Chinese nationals migrated to Ghana between 2008 and 2013. Traditional Ghanaian mining methods involving labor-intensive techniques have given way to modernized practices, including the use of excavators and bulldozers often supplied by Chinese investors.

Experts, including James Boafo and his colleagues, documented this shift in a 2019 report, emphasizing the competitive edge of Chinese miners and the adverse impact on local livelihoods. The environmental consequences of galamsey operations, such as water pollution and deforestation, pose significant threats to Ghana’s water sources and its lucrative cocoa industry.

Illegal ASM activities involve the use of rivers to extract gold, leaving behind polluted waterways. Mercury and other harmful substances are then employed to retrieve gold, further jeopardizing the environment. Carl Kojo Fiati, director of natural resources at Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency, warned of potential water imports by 2030 due to the pollution caused by galamsey.

Huang’s case, marked by her arrest in 2017 and subsequent deportation in 2018, has garnered attention in Ghanaian headlines. Despite her return in 2022 and a subsequent arrest, her trial this year featured testimony from local farmers who claimed Huang negotiated with them to use their land for illegal mining.

Director of Public Prosecutions Yvonne Atakora Obuobisa emphasized the impact of Huang’s actions on Ghana’s people, communities, and livelihoods. Tuah-Yeboah highlighted the high-profile nature of Huang’s case as an opportunity to draw attention to the galamsey issue, urging Ghanaians to actively participate in combating illegal mining.

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