CHINESE FORTUNE-HUNTERS AND ‘GALAMSEY’ IN GHANA
By CAMERON DUODU
Ever since I visited China in November 1958 as the guest of the Chinese Writers’ Union, I have had nothing but the greatest admiration for the Chinese people’s monumental effort to build for themselves, a country that the rest of the world cannot but respect.
When I was in China, the Chinese people had adopted the “fad” of smelting iron. Everywhere one went, one saw groups of students, workers and peasants throwing pieces of iron that they had collected from the countryside into home-made furnaces that produced iron, which could later be converted into industrial use.
At the time, their efforts seemed laughable to some. And indeed, the Chinese people went through years of famine, sometimes caused by the misdirection of state policy and/or the misinterpretation of dogma, before their country reached its current position as the second most powerful economy in the world. They never faltered, you see.
In 1958, the toothpaste I bought from a kiosk in my hotel in Beijing, couldn’t compare with the Western brands I was used to. Today, I write with a laptop that carries an American brand-name, but is “Made In China”!
The cars that we, as foreign guests, were transported in, were either Mercedes models bought in the then-British enclave of Hong Kong, or cars made in the Soviet Union. Today, there are Ferrari and Porsche showrooms in Beijing.
Above all, China has become the nation with the most enormous foreign exchange reserves in the world. The United States, whose currency, the dollar, is the most used reserve currency in the world, owes China “an estimated $1.28 trillion in U.S. Treasuries”. [Government debt]
China is “the number-one investor [in the US] among foreign governments, according to the July 2013 figures released by the U.S. Treasury. This amounts to over 22.8% of the U.S. debt held overseas and nearly 8% of the United States’ total debt load.”
All this is, of course, a cause for us to admire China. In 1958, Premier Zhou Enlai told me and my fellow African writers, to whom he gracefully granted an audience, that the Chinese people were used to thinking “in terms of thousands of years”.
But even he would be amazed that the rapprochement between China and the US, which he engineered by secretly inviting the US National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, to Beijing in 1971, followed by a summit between US President Richard Nixon and Chairman Mao Zedong in 1972, has borne such enormous fruits for China.
In this article, I want to invite the Government of China to wake up and apply the same far-sighted and sagacious approach to foreign relations, exemplified by Premier Zhou Enlai, to China’s current relations with African countries, especially my own, Ghana. For, as of now, I can report that there is a lot of ill-will against China in Ghana.
The problem stems from a practice called “galamsey”, whereby small-time gold-miners comb the Ghanaian countryside, churning the soil upside down, in search of alluvial deposits of gold. The practice destroys farms, paths to farms, and most important of all, rivers and streams that serve as the sources of drinking water to communities in rural Ghana.
When the stupid Ghanaians who carry out this practice team up with Chinese fortune-hunters, the practice becomes a technological horror story.
For, then, earth-moving equipment is introduced into the digging of the countryside, leaving huge holes in the ground, which become filled with water when it rains. Many people have been killed as a result of falling into such holes.
Barges are also used to dredge rivers in order to bring the soil in the riverbeds to the surface, to be sieved for gold nuggets and gold-bearing sand and rock-dust.
The latest story on this murderous activity was carried by the BBC on 30 October 2013. It reads:
QUOTE: “Ghana arrests Chinese and Indian illegal gold miners PHOTO: Illegal miners use makeshift barges to dredge river beds
“Ghanaian police have arrested 46 foreign nationals from China and India accused of illegally mining gold. They were detained in overnight raids in the country’s Central region, where they were operating small barges to dredge the bed of the River Offin.
More than 4,500 Chinese nationals have been repatriated this year after a series of swoops on illegal goldmines.
Officials say since the clampdown began, some illegal miners have been going out at night to avoid detection.
Ghana is Africa’s biggest gold producer after South Africa.
Ghanaian law prevents foreigners from working in small-scale gold mines.
The authorities say the illegal mining pollutes the rivers and destroys the environment. Illegal miners use makeshift barges to dredge mud from river beds which is then sifted for gold.
The BBC’s [Correspondent] in the capital, Accra, says illegal miners also mine in the forest, leaving behind huge holes and cutting down trees. The holes collect with water, and [in addition] chemicals like mercury, used to sieve through the mud for gold, drain into rivers.
[The BBC reporter] says officers set fire to the illegal miners’ equipment during the raid near the mining town of Dunkwa-on-Offin. Officers also fired in the air to warn off any other illegal miner who might have been working, but did not engage in a shoot-out, he says.
Police said if the 43 Chinese and three Indians who were detained did not have the correct paperwork,”UNQUOTE
It says much for the effectiveness of Ghana’s securityservices that 43 Chinese and 3 Indians without the correct paperwork can be found carrying out illegal mining activities in rural Ghana, near a well-known mining town such as Dunkwa-on-Offin. I want the the authorities to ask themselves: suppose the foreigners were training guerrillas clandestinely for dissident politicians, what would that tell us about our national security?
I also ask them to send Ghanaians to China or India to try and do the same thing there, and see what would happen to them.
I do not blame the Chinese or Indian Governments for the havoc some of their nationals are wreaking in Ghana. It is not the duty of either the Chinese or Indian Government to enforce the laws of Ghana for Ghana.
Ghanaians should, of course, be ashamed that some of their nationals are collaborating with foreigners to kill the rivers that are the source of drinking water for their own people, and also destroying the farms which give them food.
We are not the only people that have had to survive widespread poverty, and our inability to separate our greed from the very survival of our rural folks, makes one cry in despair.
Now, the stupidity of the Ghanaians involved will not come as anything strange to intelligent Chinese people. For Chinese history is replete with instances where]stupid and corrupt Chinese nationals collaborated with foreigners to rape. Chinese nationals were involved, for instance, in the Opium War carried our against China by foreign powers. And also in the many awful activities which earned China the name, “The sick man of Asia”, at the time.
It is for that reason that, I urge the Chinese authorities not to close their eyes to the harm that some criminal elements from their country are carrying out, with the active collaboration of stupid, unpatriotic Ghanaians, in the illegal gold-mining industry in Ghana. For one day, the children of the people who run the current weak Ghanaian administration will wake up and ask their parents, but why did you allow this to happen?
They will surely denounce their parents in the manner that the Chinese saw happen during the “Cultural Revolution”.
Who knows but maybe, at that time, Ghana might have become a powerful country whose friendship matters greatly to the Chinese? Our children would be entitled to tell the Chinese that Ghana and other countries in the Afro-Asian bloc, annoyed the Americans by supporting China during the time its seat on the UN Security Council was taken away by the Western Powers and given to Taiwan.
If China’s response to our long-standing friendship is to close its eyes to the harm Chinese miners and their corrupt Ghanaian collaborators are doing to the Ghanaian countryside, then why should any patriotic Ghanaian regard China as a friend of his country?
For China knows exactly the role that unpatriotic elements can play in destroying their own country. So if China blames the weak Ghanaian authorities, or even the Ghanaians who lead the Chinese into their own countryside to ruin it, many of us won’t be impressed.
The Chinese state is one of the most powerful in the world. It could end the Chinese involvement in this terrible destruction of the Ghanaian countryside, with strong measures. If it doesn’t do so, it means it doesn’t want to.
China must know that gold has had a very nasty part to play in Ghana’s history. Any renewal of that history, with China’s help, would be tragic. And very ironical, given China’s own role in trying to defeat imperialist exploitation.