‘Obroni’ Chinese & Illegal Mining

‘Obroni’ Chinese & Illegal Mining.


To be honest with you, my dear reader, I have forgotten the exact date, but if my memory serves me right, it was in October 2007. My Pentium One computer, you heard me right! My Pentium one computer was giving me a hell of time, so when my publisher, Nana Kofi Coomson, visited my office in Takoradi, where I was the Regional Correspondent of The Chronicle, I decided to complain to him.

Fortunately, there was a computer shop just beneath the office, so Kofi asked me to accompany him to see if he could get a new one for me. At the shop we were arguing with the shop attendant over an issue I cannot recollect, but I remember the latter asking us to wait for her boss who is a white man, and that he would soon be with us, to which we obliged. After twenty minutes, the so-called white man arrived, and we were ushered into his office.

After exchanging greetings, Kofi Coomson asked the shop owner, who had identified himself as a Pakistani, whether he was a white man. “Well, they call me Obroni, Obroni,” (white man) he responded. “So have you also accepted that you are Obroni?” Kofi Coomson again asked. “What am I going to say, that is the name they prefer to call me,” the Pakistani answered.

“Do you know that they are insulting you if they call you Obroni, because you are not a white man,” Kofi again told the Pakistani. But before the man could respond again, my boss had already grabbed my hand, dragged it to the front of the shop owner, and told him that even me, who is a Ghanaian, has lighter skin than him, so he cannot call himself a white man.

I did not react in the presence of the Pakistani, but when we arrived back in my office, I told Kofi that what he did was wrong, and that he had embarrassed the man, but Kofi Coomson would not accept my stance, insisting that the man was not a white man, and must, therefore, not accept the name Obroni. Kofi Coomson was not happy with the instant referral of Asians as Obroni or white man by Ghanaians. Folks, I have narrated this six-year story to hammer home the fixation Ghanaians have for anyone who has the slightest semblance of light skin as a white man or woman.

Chinese Illegal Miner

Chinese Illegal Miner

Currently, the Chinese are in the news over illegal mining activities they have engaged themselves in this country of ours. These ‘white people’ are trooping into the country in droves, without any restraint, and wrecking havoc on our environment, because they have light skin, and are, therefore, obroni, who must be accorded all courtesies. As a result, some of them even have the impudence to pick guns and shoot our own people, an act they could not have probably committed in their own country – China.

My information is that hundreds of Chinese arrive in this country almost every day in the name of tourism, but end up in the bush digging the ground and destroying our environment. On my way to Ghana from Dubai in June last year, I met a large number of Chinese nationals at the boarding gate. Initially, I thought they were on their way to another country, but when the announcement was made that the Emirate flight to Ghana was ready for boarding, they all stood up and started heading to the entrance of the plane.

Whist the plane was airborne, the attitude of these Chinese clearly showed that they did not have any flying experience, yet we see them as white men who must be accorded all respect, when they are even degrading our environment.  When we finally arrived at the Kotoka Airport, these Chinese had a short meeting at the entrance of the arrival hall, before proceeding to Immigration. If Ghana were to be a Western world and such a large number of Chinese were entering the country at the same time, they would have thoroughly scrutinised their documents before allowing them entry, but this is not what I saw.

The Immigration Officer was just collecting their passports and stamping them without checking to know whether their visas were genuine or not. It, therefore, came to me as no surprise, when the Ghana Immigration Service (GIS) made it public that some of the Chinese had entered the country with fake visas. The big question is how do you check fake visas when the documents are not scrutinised at the port of entry? By the way, have any of you seen a Ghana visa before? It is very appalling. My American friend showed one to me, and I was really shocked. They had used a pen to write across the face of the visa, there was also no sign of any security feature. We must be jokers, but that is not the subject for this article, so I will leave it for another day.

chinese galamsey guns

They intermittently engage in gunfights and bloody conflicts with their local competitors

But, as I was saying, we seem to have given the Chinese so much chance to maneuver in this country that they no more respect our laws. I do not think the government of China would sit idle for Ghanaians to invade her country and start causing severe destruction to the environment in the name of mining for gold. No, that will never, never happen, but when the government decided that enough was enough, and that it was time she clamped down on these Chinese illegal miners, the Chinese government had the impudence to summon our ambassador in Beijing for an explanation.

I understand there were even a series of demonstrations in some of the provinces in China against the alleged molestation or harassment of their nationals in Ghana. Well they can demonstrate, because our gold their compatriots are spiriting out of this country, albeit illegal means is helping to boost their economy. No matter the case, I see this as crocodile tears that must not bother the government of Ghana, so long as she has not infringed upon any international laws.

Of course, if in the course of arresting and deporting the illegal miners, their fundamental human rights are abused by the Ghanaian security agents, then they have every right to complain, because Ghana would have also done same if her nationals were being treated in such a way. Unfortunately, this is not the case, as the Ghana Immigration Service has granted the arrested illegal miners all their rights, save their freedom of movement, which has been curtailed.

china-ghana demo

There were series of demonstrations in some of the provinces in China against the alleged molestation or harassment of their nationals in Ghana.

Ghanaians kicking against the action being taken against the Chinese, including chiefs may not have traveled to some of the districts in this country. I quite remember that whilst I was the Western Regional Correspondent for The Chronicle, I was once invited by Golden Star Resources to cover the death of illegal miners who were struck down by lightning whilst working on their concession.  The venue was Prestea, the hub of illegal mining in Ghana. Whilst interviewing the illegal miners on how their colleagues were struck down by lightning, there was another bout of thunder accompanied by lightning. The development sent shivers down the spines of us all, so everybody started running to safety.

Whilst running away, I clashed with a colleague from Ghana News Agency, Mr. George Ntiamoah, who has now settled in London, and the two of us fell into a pit full of water. But for stumps we clutched, we would have been dead by now. The story I have narrated could happen to any visitor or farmers in some of these areas. Unfortunately, this is exactly what these Chinese illegal miners are also doing, thereby putting the lives of Ghanaians in danger.

William Shakespeare, the famous 16 Century playwright, once wrote, and I quote, “A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.”  I presume that China knows the plight of Ghana that is why she has decided to borrow us $3 billion loan to carry on with development. The big question is if the Chinese nationals are allowed to destroy the environment, as they seem to be doing now, where is the government of Ghana going to get the money to repay the loan?

The argument that some of the Chinese are not involved in illegal mining, but doing small scale mining, does not hold water. The laws of Ghana say small scale mining is the preserve of Ghanaians only, therefore, any foreigner doing business in that sector has breached the law and must be punished for that. China, alone, has a quarter of the world’s population, and looking at the way they are trooping into the country, if care is not taken, Ghana would become a province or extension of China. The $3 billion loan is a business transaction and must not be used as a ruse to unleash havoc on our environment. Those who are calling for restraint must, therefore, think twice before we are swallowed by illegal Chinese miners.

By Emmanuel Akli

Credit: The Chronicle

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