Elmina, which in Portuguese means "the mine", is a town located in the south of Ghana on the Gulf of Guinea, a portion of the Atlantic Ocean. It was named so by Portuguese explorers, who were amazed by the town's mineral--specifically gold--wealth. So why should a gold rush in this historic golden Ghanaian city be a surprise? Well, the thing is, Elmina has not been famous for its mining activities for a few centuries. The primary occupation of its inhabitants are fishing, small scale canoe fishing, that is, and due to that and a myriad of other developmental factors, the majority of the people are poor and thus prone to rushes of any sort. So three weeks ago, when reports began circulating of gold occuring on Elmina's beaches and its other sandy areas, the people of Elmina thought they had struck gold, literally.
As news of the precious discovery spread, so did a migratory shift of people from all over Ghana to Elmina, pans and other collecting and sifting equipment in tow. From as far as the northernmost part of Ghana, treasure hunters descended on Elmina with hopes of returning with a loot even that even Midas would have been envious. But would their hopes match the reality on the ground (or rather, in the sands?).
Well, turns out that the gold was pretty low grade, if the prospectors were even lucky to find a half-decent amount. Officials from the Minerals Commission--Ghana's regulatory body overseeing mining activities--said the gold content was found to be 0.78 per ton of soil, making prospecting highly unprofitable. Meanwhile, representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency fear that these recent mining activities pose a grave danger to the environment, as the miner-wannabes employ all sorts of illegal methods to dig out holes.
Now, the excitement in Elmina has died down and the poor farmers and fishermen who abandoned their primary economic activities in favor of instant riches in the form of that precious metal are slowly returning to the farms and seas. Who knows where the next illusive promise of instant wealth would come from? Election campaign promises of course, as Ghana gets ready to vote for presidential elections in 2012. But that's material for another blog entry, my friends.
Photograph: Courtesy of Graphic Ghana