Another Dark Day in Talensi: Bullets, Lies and the Truth

Some of the residents shot at the scene.

From the moment Shaanxi Mining Company Limited set foot from China into Talensi, a district in Ghana’s Upper East region, in 2008, news heard about the gold-mining area generally has been about human rights abuses, division, litigation, clash and crime.

Shaanxi is a snake that is very fond of shedding its own skin. It did just so a few years ago, changing its name to Earl International Group (Ghana) Gold Limited in addition to the multiple names it had borne in the past. 

The foreign company now appears in a new form, wearing the uniform or identity of a large-scale miner. But it has remained the same dreaded reptile.

Aerial view of Shaanxi’s yard in the Talensi District.

Last Friday, soldiers and police officers were deployed to Gban, a suburb east of the district, to provide security for Shaanxi to seal some mining pits which the Chinese company and its local allies claimed were illegal holes. 

As the state security squad laced their boots and charged their weapons in readiness to storm the suburb, resistance was expected from the community for at least these four reasons:

(i) Many people in Talensi say the large-scale mining licence granted Shaanxi by the Minerals Commission to operate on a 16.02 land area (about the size of 4,000 standard football fields combined) is an illegal document because the small-scale miners who already were occupying parts of the 16.02 concession acquired by Shaanxi had valid licences issued by the same Minerals Commission. They blame the Minerals Commission and a former Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Kwaku Asomah-Cheremeh, under whose watch and with whose blessing the “illegal licence” reportedly was issued to Shaanxi. Their position is that if anyone has to be fired from the area for mining illegally, it has to be Shaanxi, not the licensed small-scale concessionaires.

(ii) Some of the small-scale miners say they never signed any agreement with Shaanxi to take over their licensed concessions and they already are in battle with Shaanxi in law courts for “forcefully” annexing their goldfields with the aid of some traditional leaders and government appointees. 

(iii) The small-scale miners who say their pits are the targets for the planned closure maintain that their pits are not illegal because they have valid licences to run those concessions.

(iv) There are multitudes who depend on those pits for their daily bread and will do anything to prevent those pits from being sealed.

Resistance, in deed, was anticipated for the aforementioned reasons. But the powers that be refused to see deaths— and destruction— ahead.

Chaos and Bloodshed

That Friday, 15 March 2024, turned out to be another dark page in the history of Talensi. Families wailed for their killed and wounded relations at home and at hospitals. And soldiers lamented the damage done to their vehicles.

At least two people were killed. One of the slain persons, Bright Mbadiatong, was a Level 300 student of the University of Cape Coast (UCC). The other person was mentioned only as Kasigre.

Bright Mbadiatong was shot at the scene.

They were among several people shot amid a chaotic disagreement that broke out when the state security officers attempted to seal those pits. 

I spotted two young men, Clement Akuwuira and Patrick Sakuude, who were also shot at the scene among others, being treated under an emergency watch at the Upper East Regional Hospital in the region’s capital, Bolgatanga. 

Clement’s back, where a bullet penetrated, was drenched and dripping heavily with blood like a spilling barrel of water at the emergency ward. It was difficult to look at him twice.

Patrick Sakuude.

Eyewitnesses say the bullets that hit the men came from the security personnel said to have been deployed by the Upper East Regional Minister, Stephen Yakubu, to seal those pits in Shaanxi’s favour but the mission was faked as a lawful duty to protect lives from the activities of illegal miners. 

Clement Akuwuira.

Both the military detail and the police team assigned to close up the pits have denied responsibility for the fatal shooting. But both sides said they heard gunshots at the scene. While some members of the community are accusing the military of firing the shots, some say the bullets came out from the police barrels. 

Resistance, Damage and Gunfire

Before the chaos broke out, the Chinese company had moved some excavators to the site to be used in filling the so-called illegal pits. 

Hundreds of young men and women, who depend on those pits to cater for their families, massed up at the site to protest the pit-closure operation. 

One of the Chinese company’s excavators at the scene.

They were chanting anti-Shaanxi slogans with the blasts of vuvuzelas and repelling claps in the background: “No Shaanxi! No Shaanxi!”

As the crowd grew in number and anger, the leaders of the military taskforce recommended that the Chinese company move the excavators back to its yard, a few yards away.

The crowd followed the excavators and the military vehicles escorting them, hurling stones until the excavators ground into the yard. 

A cross-section of the crowd.

The angry crowd also charged forward, vandalising a tricycle owned by the Chinese company and threatened to burn down a police post situated inside the company’s yard. Sources say they also attacked the police post, forcing the police officers to run away in haphazard directions. 

A resident shot at the scene.

Photographs and videos showing multiple gunshots being fired, crowds dispersing in all directions and people carrying blood-soaked victims of the gunfire away from the chaotic scene. 

Another gunshot victim being rushed to hospital.

After the stone throwing ceased, the soldiers almost had tears in their eyes as they assessed the damage done to their vehicles. 

Flirting with Contempt

Development watchers say the Friday operation is a dangerous ground not only for those who issued the directive but also for those who implemented it.

This is because one of the concessions, Nanlaamtaba Enterprise, said to be one of the targets for closure, was declared by a High Court in Bolgatanga in 2023 as no-go area for some five defendants including the Chinese company and the Minerals Commission. 

A copy of the writ.

The court made the declaration after the concessionaire, Zongdan Boyak Kolog, better known as Polo in the region, filed an application for interlocutory injunction against the defendants through his lawyers and the presiding judge, Alexander Graham, granted it. 

The other defendants are: the District Chief Executive (DCE) of Talensi, Thomas Wuni Duanab; the Chief of Gban, Elijah Nab Pardnyuun; and a brother to the Chief of Gban, Pardzie Naab, who is also referred to as “Commando” within the locality. 

A copy of the court injunction order.

That High Court order is still in force and anybody found flouting it by taking any action on the concession, according to the development watchers, risks conviction and a sentence for contempt of court.

Whatever prompted the gunshots fired at the scene is yet to be established. But angry natives and residents across the region are up in arms against the regional minister and the others said to be behind the decision that has thrown homes into grief. 

A floating view of Gban, Talensi District.

“I mean just tell me how the government will not pay in the December elections for the mess this regional minister is causing and for imposing this man on us as a regional minister. 

“You sent security people to shut down pits. You didn’t achieve that aim, but your action rather has led to innocent people being killed and injured,” said an angry member of the community, Tengbil Kparib. 

Media Without Borders tried reaching the regional minister Friday for his comment on the alleged directive that turned chaotic and bloody. He did not respond to the calls placed to him and the message sent to him.

The Upper East Regional Minister, Stephen Yakubu.

He was accused in 2022 of negotiating with Shaanxi on behalf of anti-Shaanxi small-scale miners, without the small-scale miners’ consent, for the Chinese company to take over their businesses. 

The regional minister, the Minerals Commission’s Chief Executive Officer, Martin Kwaku Ayisi, and one Robert Boazor Tampoare, who was recently suspended by the Ghana National Association of Small-Scale Miners (GNASSM) for fraud-related reasons, are being investigated by the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) for a number of scandals.  

Shaanxi’s CEO, Wei Xing.

The scandals are contained in a petition lodged with CHRAJ by an anti-corruption organisation, the Development and Research Advocacy Centre (DRAC).

“You can only say sorry to those who got hurt,” the DCE of Talensi, who is being criticised by scores of natives of the district on the development, told an Accra-based private broadcaster, TV3, during a live interview on Friday on the bloody chaos. 

The impact of the tragedy, which evokes memories of the 2019 underground explosion that killed 16 Ghanaians inside Shaanxi mine, looks unending now because a street demonstration appears to be rising slowly over the horizons against the foreign snake that keeps shedding its skin and its money-grabbing local allies. 

Source: Edward Adeti/Media Without Borders/Editorial/


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