Page last updated at 18:49 GMT, Wednesday, 4 January 2006

Ghana gold ignites community tension

By Orla Ryan
In Prestea, Ghana

The mine as viewed from the end of Prestea high street
The mine as viewed from the end of Prestea high street

The daily blasts from Bogoso Gold's surface mine shake hospital administrator's Emma Thompson's office.

"Because of the shaking, they have to put off equipment when they are going to blast," Ms Thompson says.

"The damage to the building is physical, you can see the cracks."

Jutting into the heart of the town and overlooked by the hospital, the mine's presence has forced the relocation of the police station, the post office and the town's only fuel station.

Surface mining in the township has ignited tensions between the company - owned by US-based Golden Star Resources - and the 60,000 residents of Prestea, a small town in western Ghana in the heart of the country's gold belt.

"It has left so many buildings cracked, personal belongings, TVs, fridges, they were all destroyed," says Kwesi Blay of the Prestea Concerned Residents Association, which argues that the town should be resettled.

Closure

Mining companies often have acrimonious relationships with the communities in which they operate, but Bogoso's failure to conform to the terms of its mining permit have forced Ghana's Environmental Protection Agency to act.

Shanty town on outskirts of Prestea where miners live and work
Many illegal miners live in shanty towns near Prestea

In September, it ordered Bogoso Gold to stop mining until it had moved the police station, built a bypass road and put a fence around the mining site, work which the company had promised to do earlier in the year.

"When you move close to a settlement, you are bound to get problems," the Environmental Protection Agency's spokesman William Abaidoo says.

"When you are blasting, the noise and vibration alone creates some panic."

Ghana plans

The mine was shut for just over a month and work is now set to continue until June or July next year, while Bogoso has plans to mine for gold elsewhere on its 85-km-long concession on the Ashanti gold trend.

Bogoso acting general manager Bruce Higson-Smith says some community activists have exaggerated the effects of the blasting and insists that community anger is lessening as Bogoso "adjusted the blasting pattern to reduce noise and vibration".

He promises compensation for damage, but says that many claims are opportunistic.

"There are a number of people taking advantage," he says.

Job losses

The anger ignited by Bogoso's presence is partly linked to the loss of hundreds of jobs when Bogoso entered a joint venture with troubled local firm Prestea Gold Resources in 2002.

A sign near the mining site
Bogoso Gold is eager to protect its assets

With few other jobs available locally, about 5,000 illegal miners work on Bogoso's concession, a fact that angers the company.

For residents who have always opposed surface mining in Prestea, the issue is their vulnerability at the hands of investors.

"It is a political issue how the concession was given to them," says Ms Thompson.

"We have no idea."

If Bogoso had conformed to the terms of its permit, then problems would not have arisen, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Bogoso, which is already preparing environmental plans for its work elsewhere on the concession, is learning a lesson, the agency's William Abaidoo says.

SEE ALSO
Gold mining 'key to poor nations'
26 May 05 |  Business
Bid to create biggest gold firm
18 Oct 04 |  Business
Ghana's grudge match
28 Sep 04 |  Africa
Timeline: Ghana
07 Dec 05 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Ghana
05 Oct 05 |  Country profiles

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