History of Minerals Industry in Ghana

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Ancient times

As far back as the ninth century, an Arab writer called al-Yaqubi wrote about his visit to the ancient kingdom of Wagadugu, where modern day Ghana can be found,[1], saying that its “king is mighty, and in his lands are gold mines. Under his authority are various other kingdoms — and in all this region there is gold.”[2] The people of the kingdom of Wagadugu traded gold from the south and west for salt, textiles, and other goods brought in caravans across the Sahara Desert, and the government controlled the amount of gold that could be traded and taxed the gold and salt that crossed its lands. The kingdom of Ghana declined and then split into a number of small feuding kingdoms after Berber warriors destroyed its capital of Kumbi in 1076.[2]

In the thirteenth century, present-day Ghana was drawn into long-distance trade, in large part because of its gold reserves. This trans-Saharan trade involved an exchange of European, North African, and Saharan commodities southward in exchange for the products of the African savannas and forests, including gold, kola nuts, and slaves.[3]


In the 15th century the Portuguese arrived in the region, naming it the Gold Coast due to its abundance of the mineral,[4] a name which was later adopted by other European colonisers in the area.,[1] They also named their first point of arrival, 10km west of Cape Coast, "Elmina" and built a castle there. Elmina Castle is the earliest known European structure in the tropics.[5]

Gold from West Africa, Ghana in particular, represented one tenth of the world's gold reserves in the early part of the sixteenth century.[6] Following this, most gold mining up to the mid-nineteenth century was alluvial, whereby miners recover the gold from streams.[7]

The abolition of the slave trade in 1833 by the British saw attempts to introduce legitimacy into the industry, i.e. trade in agricultural products mainly palm and latter cocoa and minerals particularly gold under colonial rule. Following this move away from the slave trade, power fell to the Asante, who controlled the gold trade. The British, ostensibly out to normalize the local economy and move it away from slavery, began fighting with the Asante early in the 19th century, and by 1850 England had established control over much of the area.[8]

Modern gold mining that plumbs the rich ore deposits below the earth's surface began about 1860, when European concessionaires imported heavy machinery and began working in the western areas of present-day Ghana. The richest deposit, the Obuasi mine, was discovered by a group of Europeans who sold their rights to E.A. Cade, the founder of Ashanti Goldfields Corporation (AGC).[7]

In 1874 gold mines were opened in Wassa and Asante and between 1946-1950 gold exports rose from 6 million pounds to 9 million pounds.[9]

Under British colonial rule, the government controlled gold mining to protect the profits of European companies. The colonial government also restricted possession of gold as well as of mercury, essential in recovering gold from the ore in which it is embedded.[7]


Following independence, foreign control of the sector was tempered by increasing government involvement under the Nkrumah regime; however, production began to decline in the late 1960s and did not recover for almost twenty years. In the mid-1960s, many mines began to hit poorer gold reefs. Despite the floating of the international gold price in the late 1960s, few investors were willing to invest, and the government failed to provide the capital necessary to expand production into new reefs. Of the two major gold mining enterprises, neither the State Gold Mining Corporation nor AGC (40 percent controlled by the government) expanded or even maintained production.[7]

Ghana's mineral sector experienced a severe decline throughout the 1970s due to various problems, including spiraling inflation which exacerbated mining companies' problems, smuggling and the deteriorating infrastructure. After 1983, the government implemented a series of measures to enhance the sector's appeal, such as making small claim-holding feasible which meant that individual miners could sell gold and diamonds to the state-operated Precious Minerals Marketing Corporation. This led to a recovery of the sector, and consequently by the early 1990s mining was the country's second highest foreign exchange earner.[10]

More than 90 percent of gold production in the early 1990s came from underground mines in western Ashanti Region, with the remainder coming from river beds in Ashanti Region and Central Region.[7]

An estimated $6.7 billion was invested in Ghana's mining and minerals sector between 1994 and 2008. This large influx of capital boosted the productivity of the industry, and led to $2.2 billion in gold exports in 2008.[11]


  1. 1.0 1.1 "History of Ghana" Ghana Web, Retrieved 15 February 2012.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Asian, African, and American Civilizations Before 1500" The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, Retrieved 15 February 2012.
  3. "Historical Background" Modern Ghana, Retrieved 15 February 2012.
  4. "About Ghana" Ghana Mining, Retrieved 15 February 2012.
  5. "Forts & Castles of Ghana" Ghana Embassy in Japan, Retrieved 15 February 2012.
  6. "French in West Africa" University of Pennsylvania-African Studies Center, Retrieved 15 February 2012.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 "Gold" US Library of Congress, Retrieved 15 February 2012.
  8. "Ghana" National Geographic Music, Retrieved 15 February 2012.
  9. "History of Ghana" Institute of African Studies, Retrieved 15 February 2012.
  10. "MINING AND OIL" US Library of Congress, Retrieved 15 February 2012.
  11. "Investment Opportunities" Commerce Ghana, Retrieved 15 February 2012.