A massive street demonstration has rocked the Talensi District over the presence and operations of Shaanxi, a Chinese mining company, in the area.
Considered the biggest protest ever staged in that mineral-rich but deprived part of the Upper East region, the rally saw hundreds of frustrated men, women and young people chorus strongly for the immediate revocation of the company's licences and the evacuation of the Chinese nationals from the district.
The main road of the hilly district capital, Tongo, was flooded Thursday with a record crowd of demonstrators who, as police toiled to enforce order, streamed torrentially amid strong protest songs towards the office complex of the Talensi District Assembly to present a petition to President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.
Placards wielded by the protesters roared a hint of what was contained in the petition which was put together by a group calling itself the Concerned Citizens of Talensi. The placards carried expressions of grief and words of rebuttal written generally in symbolic black and red. But the loudest of all, which left observers anxious and intelligence officials thinking about where the district was heading, were the ones that revealed the agitators were on the brink of warfare as their concerns remained unaddressed.
Those placard warnings included: “Next action is militancy”; “Last action is war”; “All die be die”; and “No Ghanaian can do this in China. Why Ghana?” among others.
A banner, about twice as large as the windscreen of a pickup, displayed pictures of some of the 61 people said to have died through “reckless” handling of mining explosives by the Chinese firm. And on top of the pictures of the late miners rested a bold caption “Shaanxi Must Go!” and a strong demand: “Please, revoke all Shaanxi’s licences now!”
The demonstration coincided with Gologo, a popular festival celebrated annually in the district capital over a period of one month during which men are required to go shirtless in the community. A middle-aged man, dressed half-topless in a substitute goat coat for the Gologo and actively involved in the anti-Shaanxi street demo, said some natives in leadership positions had "sold Talensi to Shaanxi because of their stomachs", pointing at his own hairy potbelly to illustrate his claim as the protesters stamped their feet on the road.
The other placards read: “Shaanxi is a killer”; “Talensi has lost 61 souls to reckless Shaanxi”; “Wicked Shaanxi”; “Shaanxi is a thief”; “Our boys are not thieves”; “Our small-scale miners are legal”; “Shaanxi does not treat black workers well”; “Shaanxi is taking us for granted”; “Minerals Commission is corrupt” and “No more Shaanxi, no more killing”.
Demonstrators vent venom on Regional Minister, DCE
The agitators say the mining-related tension in the district is not going away because some politicians in and outside the region, who ought to have helped resolve the longstanding conflict, are in bed with the Chinese company for some ulterior rewards.
The Thursday’s rally originally was scheduled for Monday February 11, 2019. It was suspended after police secured a "last-minute" court injunction order against it, citing security reasons for the move. The organisers of the demonstration disagreed but complied. In the aftermath of the injunction, frustrations deepened.
They had intended to march from Talensi through a highway in Bolgatanga, the regional capital, to the office building of the Regional Coordinating Council (RCC) with a petition against Shaanxi. Opposed to that arrangement, the Upper East Regional Minister, Paulina Patience Abayage, who also chairs the Regional Security Council (REGSEC), said the road march should be restricted to Talensi and gave a firm assurance that she would be in Talensi on the rally day to receive the petition herself.
The already angry demonstrators became highly incensed when they arrived at the forecourt of the Talensi District Assembly Thursday and were told the Regional Minister would not be available to receive the petition. The security chiefs around suggested they present the document to the District Chief Executive (DCE) of Talensi who also was not at the scene but was believed to be inside the office block.
“It was promised to us that if we are here and the Regional Minister is not around, they will bring somebody from the Regional Coordinating Council to receive the petition on behalf of the minister. We have gotten here, nobody. If the Regional Minister and the security will deny us, we will send the petition to Shaanxi and the problem will be solved,” fumed the Acting Upper East Regional Chairman of the Ghana Small-Scale Miners Association, Robert Tampoare.
Asked by the press if he was disappointed in the Regional Minister, he answered in the affirmative. And questioned why the demonstrators refused to deliver the petition to the DCE, he replied with vigour as he surged his head forward at news cameras and wagged a finger strongly: “The DCE is corrupt. So, we don’t want to deal with him. He’s corrupt and we don’t want to deal with him!”
“Just two days ago, find out from their own party what happened between he (the DCE) and the youth of the party,” added the Secretary to the Concerned Citizens of Talensi, Augustine Mmi-Oni Guure.
Whilst the police tried to calm nerves over the Regional Minister’s nonappearance, an Assistant Director of Administration at the RCC, Andrew Akumbutum, arrived.
Surrounded by a section of the crowd, he explained: “The Honourable Regional Minister [herself] really wanted to be here; but she has been taken by a very urgent and important assignment. So, because of that, she has asked me to come in and take the petition and bring to her in the office.”
The Assistant Director received the petition afterwards from one of the traditional landowners present amid angry comments coming from all angles from the protesters over the RCC’s late arrival and its perceived apathy towards the ‘crucial’ rally.
President Akufo-Addo petitioned to revoke Shaanxi’s licences
The demonstrators cited in their petition a number of reasons they could no longer accommodate the Shaanxi Mining Ghana Ltd in the area and wanted President Akufo-Addo to revoke all its licences.
Shaanxi, according to them, is operating in several unauthorised concessions and is responsible for some 61 deaths said to have been recorded between 2013 and 2019. They said some compensation due the deceased miners had not been paid and the Ghanaians engaged by the company were being exploited with a dishwasher, who receives Gh¢10 a day, earning more elsewhere at the end of the month than the underpaid Ghanaians at the company.
“The Minerals Commission has been encouraging Shaanxi Mining Ghana Limited and Yenyeya Mining Group on their illegal activities by granting them large-scale [operating] permit. Mr. President, we create your indulgence to set up an investigative committee to investigate the recent deaths, the activities of Shaanxi and the other small-scale miners. We believe this will bring lasting solution and peace to Talenteng. We also suggest to your good office, the inclusion of the following bodies in the committee: Minerals Commission, the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI), the Ghana Police Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and a representative from the Concerned Citizens of Talensi.
“Mr. President, we are by this petition appealing to you to get the Minerals Commission to award licences to small-scale miners to mine in the Gbane area. We also urge you, Your Excellency, to stop any attempt to de-block the Gbane area for large-scale mining. We are, by this petition, wholeheartedly and humbly requesting your excellent intervention to revoke all mining licences granted to Yenyeya Mining Group (Yenyeya Enterprise) and Shaanxi Mining Ghana Limited,” the demonstrators petitioned.