Thursday, January 10, 2013

Jungle Gold?

By Greg:
I have been sitting on this post for a while because I have a strong opinion about this subject, and I am worried that I am getting a little "off the reservation" with this post.  But still, I want to share this with you, so please accept it in the spirit given.

Also, we have been in Liberia and when we returned we had to move to a new apartment.  We have not established internet connections there yet, but when we do we have a lot to share.  This is a lot for now.

When gold is involved, no one is safe!
Millions of years ago, even Africa and Ghana were under huge glaciers.  The ice crushed the surface and made gravel.  Some of that gravel contained traces of gold.  As the ice melted, the gravel remained but over time was covered by layers and layers of dirt.  It is not clear how much of this land has gold laden gravel under the dirt, but the Abomosu valley apparently does.

In the Colonial years Ghana was called the Gold Coast.  Along the stream beds the natives found gold nuggets.  They made things out of that gold and as soon as the Europeans came, they lusted after that gold.  Greed is a powerful force.

Well, similar to other “gold rushes” the easy pickings were played out.

Today, the gold miners have two challenges.  The first one is to get to the gravel layer.  This means that they must remove the dirt.  In most places that dirt layer is six to ten feet deep.  The second challenge is “washing” the gravel to separate the gold.  They also use mercury.  Mercury attaches to the gold flakes and then it is easier to get.  But then the mercury must be separated.  Usually it gets washed away with the dirt.

On our trip to Abomosu we saw evidence of this “mining” everywhere.  We were really out in the “bush” but there were hydro-units (excavators) all along our way.  I was concerned when I saw these huge machines being transported on totally under-rated trucks.  One trailer was so overloaded that the axels were literally bent and nearly broken.

My first thought was why there are so many large track-hoes up here while the sewers and trenches in Accra are being dug by hand by men with picks and shovels.  One of these machines could change the landscape in the city, but I rarely see one in Accra.

We took a few pictures.  This area is also very fertile.  Most of the people are farmers and have been for generations.  Their main crop is cocoa beans which grow in a big pod somewhat like a papaya; only the coca bean is bigger than the papaya seeds.  They have to open the pod and dry the beans and then they eventually end up in Nestle or Hersey chocolate.  This has been going on for a long time. Of course there are no “Willey Wonka Chocolate Factories” here, all the processing is done somewhere else.

They also grow bananas, mangos, cassava, pineapple, corn, and lots of other vegetables.

One of the tragedies of the colonial period in Africa was that the Europeans made deals with the tribal chiefs to get what they wanted.  Very little of the benefit of the rich natural recourses went to benefit the people.  Often it did not even give that much benefit to the chief. No one was looking out for the “National Interests” of the Ghanaians.

This region of Ghana is still under tribal ownership.  The chief has preemptive rights over the natives or members.  So a chief can “sell” the mineral rights to miners without the approval or even the knowledge of the farmer whose family has been working the land for generations.

Of course, on the TV show, and in public statements, the miners say that they will restore the land to its original position.  Ha!

We saw piles and piles of dirt in field after field.  I know from my experience in development that when you dig a trench, the first dirt out is the top soil.  It is set aside and the next dirt is piled on top of it.  The bottom dirt from the trench is bad and it ends up on the top of the pile.  In Hooper that bottom dirt is a mix of clay and sand.  When the trench is back-filled, the pile is just pushed and all the good top soil goes to the bottom and the bad stays on top.

Well, here they are not even trying to level it out.  There is no restoration of the land.  If this was once a farm, it never will be again.

The village of Abomosu was so named because the word meant “clear water” and just five years ago their main stream was clear with a gravel bottom.  Today it is a muddy-stagnant-clogged anything-but-a-clear-stream.

Now about the gold.  They retrieve such a small amount for the damage done.  In the village, traders are seen haggling over the little “cell-phone sized” bars of gold.  They sell for so much less than the world price of gold.  Of course, this is raw gold, but still, the price paid here is only a fraction of its value.  The real profits go to the middle-men.  These men mostly try to get this gold out of the country without paying a custom or tax.

In 1990 the government shut down the activities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  This was mainly driven by jealous and viscous other churches, but one of the strong accusations was that Church members from Abomosu were dealing gold with “white men at the airport” who were also assumed to be CIA agents.  This was never proven.  But think of the damage that could be done today if some greedy Senior Elder decided to enter into this illegal trade and was caught.

I know the show is fascinating.  I understand the conflict with the Chinese makes good drama, and I understand that the opportunity to yell EUREKA! still lives in the heart of many.  But this is destroying an already partially destroyed country.  The government here needs to step up and do something about this, before it goes any further.  The land is being ruined, and a great resource of the people is being stolen and soon people will begin to die from the mercury.

We are here trying to save their souls.  They need to take control of their lives and save themselves before it is too late.


  1. We have watched a lot of these gold shows, and we've noticed an interesting pattern. After all is said and done, the gold diggers are in more trouble and more debt than when they started. They encounter problem after problem and waste a lot of investor money. I finally decided that it is just as evil as gambling. The temptation is strong and at first it appears like you will strike it rich, but the house always wins in the end...with devastating consequences, as you have so perfectly pointed out.

  2. so fascinating, Greg, and so sad. it must be frustrating to see such waste and such need together. it is amazing all the things we take for granted!

  3. so fascinating, Greg, and so sad. it must be frustrating to see such waste and such need together. it is amazing all the things we take for granted!