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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 November, 2003, 08:53 GMT
The Ghanaian with the golden touch
By Kwaku Sakyi-Addo
BBC, Accra

The chubby-faced man who is now sitting at the pinnacle of the world's gold mining business has only ever worked for one company: Ashanti Goldfields.

Sir Sam Jonah
Sir Sam says he despises politics
Sam Esson Jonah began as a shovel boy, in the pits of the company's only mine at Obuasi in the Ashanti Region of Ghana, 34 years ago.

He rose to become chief executive of the company and earlier this year he was knighted by the Queen for his leadership in the industry.

He is now set to be named president of Ashanti-Anglogold after the Ghanaian Government approved a merger proposal between Ashanti Goldfields and Anglogold of South Africa.

The merger, which is yet to be approved by shareholders, would make the new company the world's leading gold producer.

Treasure seeker

Sir Sam grew up at Obuasi, in the shadows of the shafts.

His late father was a building contractor who did jobs for Ashanti Goldfields.

Young Jonah was inspired by the golden treasures that the miners scooped out of the deep, dark bowels of the earth.

Sir Sam Jonah and President Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania opening a gold mine
Ashanti Goldfields now operates in 17 African countries

In 1970, he went to Cambourne School of Mines on a scholarship from Ashanti Goldfields, and earned a graduate degree later on in Mining Economics, at Imperial College in the UK.

In 1984, at the age of 35, Sir Sam became the first black person to head Ashanti Goldfields since its establishment in 1897.

One of his major achievements since then has been to Africanise management positions, which had previously been entirely dominated by Europeans.

The other achievement was to transform Ashanti Goldfields from a one-mine company into an international gold producer that is listed on major stock exchanges, including London and New York.

Ashanti Goldfields now has actual mining or prospecting operations in 17 African countries.

Whale man

But, for Sir Sam, who walks six kilometres each morning, running Ashanti has sometimes been bumpier than a ride down a mine shaft.

Just a few years ago, the company suffered huge losses after its forecasts of the price of gold went horribly wrong.

Gold from an Ashanti mine in Ghana
The new group may have the largest gold reserve base in the world.
His critics say he should have resigned then.

Politics has also been a thorn in his side. In the late 1990s, Sir Sam and Ghana's ex-President, Jerry Rawlings fell out, after years of apparently decent relations.

The exact cause might be fully revealed one day in Sir Sam's memoirs.

But reliable sources trace it to 1996, when he turned down an offer from Mr Rawlings to be his running mate in that year's elections.

Sir Sam swears he despises politics, but his critics say he plays politics, sometimes, perhaps with some justification, in order to stay ahead in those boardrooms, where the future of gold mines are determined.

A father of four, he is married to Theodora. He loves fishing at sea.

Unlike his Biblical name-sake, though, he has not been threatened by a certain large fish.

On the contrary, as the designated president of the world's leading producer of gold, this Jonah will be sitting on top of one whale of a mine.


SEE ALSO:
African goldmine merger approved
29 Oct 03  |  Business
Ashanti board backs Anglo bid
15 Oct 03  |  Business
Ghana's gold 'lures Canada'
17 Aug 03  |  Business
Fresh bid for Ghana gold mine
11 Aug 03  |  Business
AngloGold offer for Ashanti
05 Aug 03  |  Business


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