Australian alumni create major changes to mining in Ghana

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Three Australian Awards alumni, each with a different lens, are creating positive change in the mining sector in their home country of Ghana. Collectively, they’re making significant shifts for the benefit of the industry as a whole and for artisanal small-scale operators in rural areas who depend on mining for their livelihoods.

One alum, Richard Ellimah, who completed an Australian short course on Local Economic and Social Development in Extractives, University of Queensland (2015), has made great strides helping artisanal miners gain access to their own mineral concession.

Ghana is the largest gold producer in Africa, with mining and quarrying representing 9.8 per cent of gross domestic product, according to the Ghana Chamber of Mines. Around 57 per cent of gold produced comes from large-scale mines such as AngloGold Ashanti’s Obuasi mine.

Richard began advocating for small-scale mining when he realised that over 40,000 of the miners could not work legally in Obuasi because AngloGold Ashanti’s concession covered the entire Municipality and therefore nobody could do legal mining. The company’s concession of 485 square kilometres up until 2016 was the largest mining concession held by a single mining company in Ghana.

“In 2014, when AngloGold Ashanti said it would temporarily shut down its Obuasi mine for care and maintenance, illegal miners took over the company’s concession, occupying strategic parts of the mine, including the underground mine,” says Richard.

Richard relied on the soft skills acquired while studying in Australia to advocate for AngloGold Ashanti to release part of its concession, enabling small-scale miners to work legally. His leadership, stakeholder engagement and negotiation skills were critical throughout the detailed and lengthy process.

“In Australia I learned how government, industry and community work together to ensure well-designed mining structures and arrangements and compliance with laws,” says Richard, who joined the Minerals Commission’s Movement Committee tasked with developing a solution to the artisanal miners’ problem. “I was impressed with how large corporations co-exist with small-scale miners and wanted to incorporate this into the Obuasi economy.”

The result was nothing short of victory with AngloGold Ashanti ceding 60 per cent of its concession to the government.

“The illegal miners moved out of the active gold fields they had invaded, and AngloGold Ashanti resumed operations there. The illegal miners moved to the ceded area,” says Richard. “The Movement Committee’s work restored confidence in the economy and strengthened Ghana’s position as the preferred destination of mining investment in West Africa.”

The project was so successful it has become a model that is being replicated in other mining communities, where large and small-scale miners now peacefully co-exist.

Another alumnus, Isaac Ato Sam, works as a Superintendent in Mine Planning and Fleet Management at AngloGold Ashanti. He completed his Masters of Science in Mining Engineering under the Australia Awards at Curtin University in 2018.

Since returning home, Isaac has implemented projects that have had a major impact on safety, productivity, efficiency, and social inclusion in the highly competitive and capital-intensive gold mining industry.

His work is important given that AngloGold Ashanti is the third largest mining operation in the world measured by production, with a huge impact on the economy in Ghana.

“Mine operations and expansion require significant foreign investment, but if costs aren’t controlled, investors will seek other opportunities,” says Isaac. “Mining companies must continually improve productivity and efficiency while meeting safety and environmental standards. Mining can be dangerous so companies must also protect lives, safeguard property, and support the communities where workers live.”

Isaac’s projects including implementing Australia’s predictive SmartCap technology which heavy machinery operators wear to monitor alertness.

“At first workers were suspicious that SmartCap could read their thoughts, so we held a change management exercise explaining what the system is, how to use it and what information mine management would receive,” says Isaac. “SmartCap vastly improved operator alertness by 18 per cent in the first 12 months.”

Other major projects include mine-to-mill optimisation to increase plant productivity and implementing  a communications platform to monitor mine performance against operational targets. Isaac also led a project that minimised ground vibration and air blast noise, to protect surrounding communities. Excavator productivity has increased by 4 per cent, milling productivity by 3 per cent and gold production by 4 per cent. Ground vibration and air blast noise measured in decibels are continually below regulatory standards.

Alumna Rosemary Okla is also immersed in Ghana’s mining industry, including by boosting the presence and opportunities of women miners.

Rosemary, who completed a Local Economics and Development in Extractives Artisanal and Small-scale Mining Australia Awards short course from the University of Queensland (2019), now works at the Ghana Geological Survey Authority as Geographic Information Systems Specialist. One flagship project she worked on after returning home was working with Women in Mining Ghana to conduct a one-day workshop for women miners.

“My studies in Australia really prepared me to design the program workshop, raise funds for the workshop, organise my presentation and write the final report,” says Rosemary.

Once again, results are positive. The “Promoting business diversification of ASM Miners, especially women” workshop received positive media coverage and has encouraged more women to invest in development minerals which, in turn, generates foreign direct investment for Ghana.

Photo Credit: Richard Ellimah, Isaac Ato Sam, Rosemary Okla

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