Soon after the Chinese set foot in Ghana in 2008 to try their luck at producing gold in Talensi, one of the early rebels they had to deal with in the district was Robert Boazor Tampoare.
Also in the community were several other native freedom fighters who did not see the Chinese miners, bearing the corporate name of Shaanxi Mining Company Limited at the time, as the foreign investors they claimed to be.
They saw them as foreign exploiters, backed by China to systematically and gradually take over the mineral fields in Talenteng (the Land of Talensi).
Then emerged a chain of civil protests which promised strongly to last as long as the unwanted foreign company remained in the locality.
The protests grew as serious mining-related accidents, which were linked to Shaanxi, maimed and killed people at regular intervals in the district.
But the wealthy company, protected by the Ghanaian government because of revenue interests and backed by some compromised top government officials and traditional authorities for personal favours, survived the protests.
As the leader of an association of small-scale miners in the Upper East Region, where Talensi is found, Tampoare was a constant face of the protests.
For a long time, he was a poster boy for an anti-Chinese struggle that saw him hunted, arrested, caged alongside other campaigners and released— only to continue with the protests against the Chinese company and its sworn allies.
When the Chinese constructed a bridge over River Ohwn in 2011 at Gban, the community where Shaanxi operates, and told the community the bridge was a corporate social responsibility gift to the people of Talensi, Tampoare rubbished it.
Ohwn means Harmattan in Talen. The river was given that name because, until people began to mine gold in it, it never ran out of water even during the awfully dry period of Harmattan usually experienced between November and March.
As the bridge was being commissioned amid very tight security with some government officials and traditional chiefs in attendance, Tampoare and his anti-cheating corps disrupted the event with a riot, describing the bridge as a “corporate social robbery” amenity.
Explaining what they meant by those words, Tampoare said the bridge was not constructed in the interest of the community but to enable the company to cross the river to other gold-bearing parts of the district to rob the areas of their mineral deposits.
And when at least sixteen young miners were killed in cold blood in Talensi on Wednesday, 23 January 2019, through a midnight explosion for which Shaanxi was held responsible by the Ghanaian government, Tampoare wept openly in front of press cameras at the mortuary where the autopsied bodies of the young men were heaped on the floor.
He told the world at the mortuary news conference that the traditional chiefs in Talensi and the District Chief Executive of the area were to blame for the series of mining disasters caused by Shaanxi. He identified a call made by “our own people” for all small-scale miners to be kicked out of the area— a move he described as “a bad idea”— as what had continually emboldened the Chinese to target and kill the native small-scale miners.
Calling the gods to vengeance
On Thursday. 14 March 2019, a road rally, which many observers described as the biggest anti-Shaanxi demonstration ever seen in Talensi, brought Tongo, the district’s capital, to a dead end.
And as widely expected, Tampoare was in the front of it.
Strangely dressed in a furry animal skin as traditional priests do in the area, he was at the centre of the demonstration, firing diatribes against the Chinese and Ghanaian institutions whose actions and inactions had helped the Chinese to gain a foothold in the area.
During that hot-weather demonstration, he waxed extremely furious because no government official was available to receive a petition the demonstrators had composed against Shaanxi.
As the fury peaked, he invoked the gods of the land at the scene to deal with the people who had planned to frustrate the demonstration. And that was the first time he had called on the gods in public to vengeance.
On Tuesday, 2 April 2019, hat-loving Tampoare was a voice again after the Minerals Commission fined Shaanxi $40,000 (equivalent to Gh¢470,405 in 2023) for the January 23 deadly blast.
He and other anti-Shaanxi crusaders had expected the commission to have hit the company with a much-heavier fine and revoked its licence.
At another news conference, a livid Tampoare renewed his call on the gods to go after the foreign exploiters and their local defenders.
He said the exploitation and tragedies happening in Talensi had angered the “Gods of Talenteng” and that the gods would “expose” those responsible for the unfavourable happenings “one by one”.
Then, he went on to affirm, at the same conference, that any offensive hatched against him and his fellow crusaders would come to nothing because “we stand by the truth”.
Tampoare made such a pronouncement at least twice in public and on record.
The emphasis he placed on the call to the gods— the frequency and also the strength of it— was a hint that he meant it.
There are several prominent shrines in Talensi, none more so than the Tengzug Shrine.
The gods of Talensi may be invisible, their shrines, like the abundant gold in the belly of the land, exist— and they are many.
Many people in the area, particularly the religious folks, believed Tampoare’s public call did not go unheard.
They believed the gods heard it and that the gods, once awakened, would rise with speed and strike without compromise.
The voice loss syndrome
But two years later, Tampoare became a lost voice.
Some other people, including miners, who ranted publicly in the past against Shaanxi’s naked exploitation, would acquire the same ‘voice loss syndrome’ later through a peer-borne ‘infection’ and join Tampoare on a newfound path to ‘stressful prosperity’.
Tampoare suddenly lost his voice after Shaanxi announced it had obtained a licence from the Minerals Commission to run a large-scale mining business in Talensi and changed its name to Earl International Group (Ghana) Gold Limited.
The land the company acquired for the large-scale mining business was 16.02 square kilometres in dimensions— about the size of 4,000 standard football fields combined.
The development, for three reasons, stirred up another wave of protests.
A number of the protesters found it very scandalous and a brazen insult to the intelligence of Talenteng for a foreign company to ‘sneak’ into Talensi in 2008, wearing the mask of a technical service partner to two local mining firms in the area (Yenyeya Mining Enterprise and Pubortaaba Mining Group) only to turn itself into a large-scale miner just overnight.
Some of the protesters said Shaanxi did not follow due process in acquiring a large-scale mining licence from the Minerals Commission and vowed to use lawful means “at the appropriate time” to make its large-scale business a large-scale nightmare.
And the others, who were small-scale miners, complained that their own concessions had been added to the 16.02 square kilometres of land leased to Shaanxi for the large-scale mining business.
For the first time, Tampoare’s voice was missing in the protests. Even when the author of this report approached him for an interview during that period, the anti-Shaanxi flames of fury, which his face used to carry, had disappeared.
Soon, rumours jammed the air that the Chinese company had approached him and succeeded in gaining his support with some mouth-watering promises.
The rumours also had it that the Chinese had also tasked him, as a leader of an association of the small-scale miners in the region, to persuade the agitated concessionaires in Talensi to surrender their licensed concessions to Earl International Group (Ghana) Gold Limited (Shaanxi).
Although there was no evidence that Tampoare had received any offer from the Chinese, it was evident that he was no longer critical of the Asian-owned company and he, indeed, said nothing as Shaanxi ran roughshod over the small-scale miners to claim their concessions.
A number of the small-scale miners surrendered their goldfields at will after they were assured of a worthwhile royalty every six months from Shaanxi.
Some others were compelled to give up their concessions after they reportedly heard an announcement from the Upper East Regional Minister, Stephen Yakubu, that soldiers would be deployed to force them out if they refused to vacate the area for the Chinese company.
But at least two small-scale mining groups— Nanlamtaaba Enterprise and Yenyeya Mining Enterprise— have refused to hand over their concessions to this day, saying they do not have any takeover agreements with the Chinese.
Shaanxi offered an alleged $1,000,000 (equivalent to Gh¢11,760,120 in 2023) to the regional minister to be shared among the small-scale miners who surrendered their concessions.
Tampoare and the regional minister turned into middlemen between the small-scale miners and Earl International Group (Ghana) Gold Limited, gleefully coordinating agreements and payments of compensation packages (which Shaanxi termed as goodwill) to the miners.
Workers are still dying and losing parts of their bodies through accidents inside Shaanxi’s yard. And grieving families are yet to be compensated years after their relations were killed by the Asians.
But Tampoare, who once spoke out strongly against the Asians in favour of the exploited, has lost his voice to the cheers of those who, with the support of their local collaborators, exploited them.
The gods at work
The Chinese company also gave a reported $150,000 (equivalent to Gh¢1,763,330 in 2023) to the regional minister for onward delivery to the members of the Unique Mining Group, a small-scale mining firm in Talensi to which Tampoare was a secretary.
The company offered the money for trespassing into the Unique Mining Group’s concession in 2011.
The regional minister paid the money to Tampoare by cheque, without the knowledge and consent of the other members of the group.
Tampoare deposited the money into his personal account at the branch of Zenith Bank in Bolgatanga, the region’s capital. He did not tell the other members of the group about it.
About eight months later, the other members of the group heard about it.
But he refused to produce the money when they approached him. Subsequent attempts to retrieve the money from him through the regional minister yielded no results.
Frustrated, they reported the matter at the Divisional Police Command in Bolgatanga. Tampoare was arrested and, while in detention, asked to produce the money. But he could not produce it.
After he was granted bail from police custody, pending prosecution, the other members of the Unique Mining Group suspended him from their company in accordance with the group’s constitution.
And while he was still coming to terms with his suspension, the police put him before the High Court ‘1’ in Bolgatanga for fraud. That case is still before the court, scheduled to continue for hearing on Friday, 27 October 2023.
The same members reported him to the police again for reportedly opening another account at the Zenith Bank in the group’s name without their notice. He was arrested on Tuesday May 30, 2023, and bailed the same day.
They also reported him to the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO) in relation to the alleged fraud.
And his name was cited prominently in another petition filed against the regional minister and the Minerals Commission’s Chief Executive Officer, Martin Ayisi, as a co-conspirator in some mess surrounding the monies offered to small-scale miners by Shaanxi.
It did not end there.
Members of the Bolgatanga Mining District branch of the Ghana National Association of Small-Scale Miners (GNASSM), of which Tampoare was the chairman, lodged two separate petitions with the association’s national executive council against him on fraud and false representation.
While some members of the public were awaiting the report of the Sampson Wiredu Committee, which was set up by GNASSM’s council to look into the petitions, a visibly troubled Tampoare surfaced at the palace of the Paramount Chief of Talensi, Tongraan Kugbilsong Nanlebegtang, an alleged ally of Shaanxi, on Friday, 8 September 2023, to render an unexpected apology to the chief.
He was accompanied by the regional minister to render the apology to the chief for criticising him during the many years he led the anti-exploitation campaign against the Chinese company.
Many, who have continued to criticise the paramount chief’s style of leadership to date, did not see Tampoare’s apology as the peak of betrayal.
They rather saw it as an extreme depth to which a drowning man had sunk in a manner very similar to the biblical visit desperately paid by a backslidden and rejected King Saul to the Witch of Endor.
During the afternoon hours of Saturday, 30 September 2023, members of the GNASSM branch in Bolgatanga, announced at a news conference in the region’s capital that the Sampson Wiredu Committee had come up with a 39-page report on Tampoare and had interdicted him as chairman.
The announcement, made with joy by the members, came as another big blow to Tampoare, who still has more questions to answer before CHRAJ.
Several Talensi natives see the cycle of troubles trailing him every day, after he switched support and loyalty to the foreign company and its allies, as the act of the “Gods of Talenteng” whom he vehemently invoked two years ago to deliver raw vengeance on behalf of the cheated and the slain in the terribly underdeveloped land of gold.
The more Tampoare’s troubles increase, the whiter his already-white beard becomes— and the more unsmiling his face looks.
Observers say they can tell that, even when he is on a public highway, he holds the steering wheel like a man the gods are at his heels in traffic.
Some are of the view that the gods have risen and they are going round, starting with him first.
He has spoken about his plans to challenge his interdiction in court.
Perhaps, unbeknown to him, he is lacing his shoes to wage legal action against the “Gods of Talenteng” who may have interdicted him through the Sampson Wiredu Committtee.
And, perhaps, only the same “gods” can tell if there is more retribution ahead for the celebrated-rebel-turned-lamented-loyalist, or whose name is next on their vengeance list.
Source: Edward Adeti/Media Without Borders/mwbonline.org