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Artisanal Gold Mining in Ghana


by Mariusz Śmiejek

Published July 2024

Ghana is the largest gold producer on the African continent. However, for most resource-rich countries in Africa, this is a double-edged sword, often tied to capitalist neo-colonialism. The majority of Ghana's gold wealth is owned by foreign companies, and the agreements between global corporations and the government are kept confidential. The registered income from gold is $5 billion annually, while unregistered income from smuggling is almost double.

Gold smuggled from Ghana primarily comes from "Galamsey" operations, where workers earn only $1 a day, and children often work for free. Ghana's gold ends up in countries like the U.S., Canada, China, India, the United Arab Emirates, and Switzerland. Once it leaves these illegal mines, pervasive corruption makes it impossible to trace its origin, allowing it to quickly enter the legal market. This gold finds its way into banks, jewelry shops, and companies manufacturing expensive branded electronic devices for highly developed countries.

Nearly one-third of Ghana's gold is illegally mined in galamsey operations. Over 3 million people, or 10% of the country's population, rely on galamsey for their livelihood, with approximately 1 million directly involved in mining. In the pursuit of gold that reaches the world's wealthiest nations, the natural environment is irreversibly destroyed—forests are cut down, and rivers are poisoned. Additionally, internal labor migration related to gold mining leads to a decline in agricultural production and many local industries essential for the country's proper functioning. 

Mariusz Śmiejek

Mariusz Šmiejek is a freelance documentary and portrait photographer specializing in the raw narrative of human and social conditions. His documentary work explores post-conflict communities, refugee and asylum seekers, child slavery, street children, human trafficking, victimized women, dangerous livelihoods, corruption, and systemic abuse.

Follow Mariusz Śmiejek on Instagram

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