Ron Smit's Blog

7 years 3 months ago

I recently saw an advertisement in The Economist, with a fantastic quote attributed to Plato:

"He who wishes to serve his country must have not only the power to think, but the will to act."

Something that some people I have met in developing countries, should consider...

7 years 4 months ago


A few days after returning from the 2013 version of the African Mining Indaba, I thought it would be good to share some observations and comments.

As usual, it was a great time to be in the Cape, particularly bearing in mind the weather and the beautiful surroundings.  And it was very good to catch up with various persons who I have worked with over the years, all now spread over different companies and institutions.

The Indaba was well-attended this year, maybe even too well-attended.  With 7,000 participants milling around and the limited time available, you still miss out on meeting some people, even though you know they are there.

There was no ‘Doom and Gloom’ atmosphere in the exploration booths, even though a large number of companies have run their bank accounts down to very low levels, so that they cannot really carry out expensive exploration programmes.  It all seems to be about doing little bits of work (maybe some selected drilling) and to reinterpret data and talk up your project with lots of modelling and colourful maps, not to mention name-dropping of successful neighbour mines and projects.

I think that bargains are developing there, since the African continent is still very under-explored and under-developed with mining sites.  But the exploration game is a competitive one, and there is certainly also competition between countries for the exploration money.  Some countries may not think so, they may expect that their popularity with exploration companies will just continue unchanged.  It is clear, however, that companies are being attracted by other countries with more attractive legislation, arguably better governance and more prospectivity.

I attended a number of the Sustainable Development sessions, which were very interesting.  We are all used to various captains of industry talking up their industry’s CSR programmes, but this year we had real discussions between industry, donor agencies, NGO’s and academia.  The format of keynote speeches followed by panel discussions was well-managed and worked well.  There is a clear understanding that sustainability can only come from real cooperation and partnership between all stakeholders: Industry, government, NGO’s and communities. I obviously cannot do justice to all the discussions there, with a few comments here.  But some opinions and observations were memorable enough (for me) to share with you:

Dr. Joyce Aryee (previously CEO of the Ghana Chamber of Mines) noted that the mining industry is contributing to society and to local communities, but that it could do more.  Newmont’s Schwimmer described the large extent to which that company contributes directly to the Ghanaian economy, not only in royalties and taxes, but also in local procurement and employment.  Dr. Mamphela Ramphele (until recently with Goldfields) noted that the mining sector in South Africa will have to accept that the days of cheap, abundant labour are over, and that it would have to adapt accordingly.  Prof May Hermanus of the Centre for Sustainability in Mining and Industry, at Wits University, found it difficult to expect full development outcomes, even if mining companies act responsibly, if there is poor governance in host countries.  I have to agree.  Sierra Leone’s Deputy Minister of Mines expressed the same view: It is through good governance that mining will contribute maximally to the country’s GDP.  Mark Cutifani, new CEO of Anglo American, described how the extractive industry should become a development industry.  In his view this industry is the most important one to create the world and the society we want to live in.  He was one of the voices who called for cooperation between stakeholders, even those with opposing views and positions.  I have found this to be a challenge – it is just too easy for those who are critical of the mining industry to speak (if not shout) loudly about all the problems.  This earns them visibility and probably funding.  But when you want to engage with certain NGO’s, to find ways of addressing problems, they disappear like mist before the morning sun.

This industry is a controversial one, probably will always be.  However, if we want to live in a world that develops, which provides better opportunities and quality of life for our children, then we cannot do without mining.  It was therefore good to hear the discussions at this Indaba about the improvement of the process, rather than just more pro- and anti- rhetoric.

7 years 9 months ago


Today is the last day of another short visit to Ghana.  A busy week, featured quite a few meetings, and visits to the Agbogbloshie waste recycling area, to the site of a new professional recycling operation, just North of Pokuase.

Agbogbloshie view

We still await any real news about the progress (or otherwise) of a new draft Bill to regulate recycling of e-scrap.  However, there remains tremendous potential for profit in this business.  Moreover, the current legislation does not prohibit the intended recycling, and the main problem is the fact that the legislation is not enforced, allowing the dodgy side of the industry to operate irresponsibly, providing access to copper from burned cables, and lately also to a supply of motherboards, which are pretty valuable.  Clearly there should be some regulation that ensures the responsible recycling and/or removal of the negative-value fractions as well (CRT screens, flame-retardant plastics, batteries, etc.) and this can only be paid for by combination with the processing of valuable fractions, and through Extended Producer Responsibility of equipment producers.  The lack of law enforcement does not help, but any new law is not going to ensure enforcement.

Motherboards at Agbogbloshie

In our project we keep working towards the entry of a formal recycling company, able to deal with both and negative-value fractions, and able to do profitable business.  At the same time, they would be able to train people who are currently in the recycling business, and to give them employment.  Others will likely have to shift their activities towards collection and sorting, leaving recycling to the more formal sector.

None of this will happen in the short term, but Rome wasn’t built in a day and according to a Chinese proverb any journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step.  At times I feel that we are collectively still walking on the spot, but I do hope that we can encourage some company to take a first forward step…


7 years 10 months ago

Today I received the following chilling news from a colleague, published in yesterday's Latin American Herald Tribune. Mrs. Sandra Morelli, who heads up the Contraloria General de la Republica, has been receiving death threats and has decided to leave the country.  We have been to Colombia a few times, to advise the Contraloria on mining environmental governance.  It must be noted that our missions there were not anti-mining as such, but rather to assist the Contraloria in the establishment of proper environmental controls and auditing mechanisms.  Colombia has suffered from a violent past and this situation is apparently not quite forgotten.  Even the large international mining companies who are active in the country, whether in exploration or in mining, apparently feel the need to preserve the status quo where there is little effective environmental oversight of the mining sector.

Having met Mrs. Morelli, I am convinced that she is a professional person, dedicated to achieve a balanced and properly governed mining sector.  However she can obviously not be expected to risk her life and that of her family.  If she does indeed leave Colombia, it will be a great loss for the country.

All mining companies (certainly who are members of the ICMM and who profess to maintain high environmental standards and corporate social responsibility) should publicly distance themselves from such intimidations.  Moreover, they should be much more open and transparent in their environmental reporting and should assist the government's agencies with appropriate monitoring and auditing procedures. They should not only comply with legislation (such as it is) but should also be seen to be living up their widely-published lofty ideals.

8 years 1 week ago

Monday 2nd July, 2012

Though I usually write about (semi)professional issues, or at least work-related ones, I want to share something about this last weekend, when I travelled to the Belgian Ardennes with my wife and two of our sons.  We stayed at the Camping Grand Bru near the little village of Villers - Ste. Gertrude.  A very nice location, though the camping site itself is in need of some refurbishment, which is ongoing, fortunately.

Church tower in Villers - Ste Gertrude

This picture show a church tower in the village, that we approached towards the last drinks stop on the first day's walk.


Reinhardt is member of a social/running/walking club and this was some sort of anniversary weekend, where he was allowed to bring his parent and brother, even though all of us had last participated in this sort of thing some 13 or 14 years ago, while still living in Accra, Ghana.  It was great to be walking and socialising together, again, even though one of our number was not there.  Fortunately Marina and I had opted for the easier and shorter walks, while the boys took longer runs, even including thrashing by bramble bushes and nettles.  They have the scars to prove it, but still seemed to enjoy the experience.

Marina on the trail


 The countryside is quite pretty, and it feels good to walk through it, even though quite a bit of hill-climbing and slipping in mud is involved.

Scenery during one of the walks


Part of the fun was the socialising before, during and after the walks.  This next picture shows us doing just that (with the aid of some cold beer) after Saturday's walk.

Drinks at Grand Bru

The way back down to Grand Bru on Sunday afternoon




8 years 1 week ago

Usually my invoices have been paid on (or before) time.  Certainly this is the case for those people that I have worked with often.  Which makes it irritating when a new client doesn't pay an invoice from a few months ago, and replies to my queries with generic, vague comments.  And once all the work for a project has been done, and the reports written and edited, then there is no longer any leverage that I can apply.

Still, I guess I should be happy that this is not a common issue in my own experience...

8 years 1 month ago

Spending another week in Accra in connection with the electronic scrap recycling project.  Tomorrow I need to make a small presentation about the project during the Sustainable City Development Seminar, hosted by the Accra Metropolitan Assembly and the Swedish Embassy.

But today I still spent a few hours reading and writing and even some thinking in my favourite place for this:

Reading and writing place at Afia


8 years 2 months ago

8th May, 2012 reports that Vice-President Mahama spoke out against illegal small-scale mining ('galamsey') in Ghana, and in particular has "cautioned Chiefs and traditional leaders against condoning conniving with illegal small scale miners".

Speaking at the inauguration of the Edikan Mine, near Ayanfuri, he went on to say that "this practice will be to the detriment of public interest an will have a very negative impact on the environment".  If our own work in the area is anything to go by, then I wonder why he was speaking in the future tense, when he should have been using the past tense, or actually the present continuous tense...

Anyway, he stressed that the government would do its best to curb "if not to totally eradicate" the activities of  illegal miners.

Wouldn't it be nice if this was possible?  In fact, however, illegal and 'legal' small-scale operations are kept in existence by the support from powerful people in regional and national capitals, and possibly by powerful people in regional (and national?) government.  These are the powers that can exert forces on the Minerals Commission to keep licences that should have expired, magically alive, and who have enough clout to provide mining equipment, pumps, generators, etc.  The actual galamsey workers, who eke out some sort of a living with hard, sometimes dangerous work, are often portrayed (also by some foreign parties) as part of a poverty-reduction mechanism.  I could go on and on, but let me just say here that I do not agree.  Refer to an earlier blog post of mine, from almost 2 years ago:

Ghana is moving towards an election at the end of this year.  It is probably one of the most democratic countries on the continent, so I expect the election to be more or less free and fair, and for the winner to be recognised and accepted, and for the losers to concede.  But no party is going to alienate any voters (including thousands of illegal miners) prior to an election.

I am therefore not expecting illegal small-scale mining in Ghana to be eradicated soon...


8 years 2 months ago

I'm back from a week in Ghana, participating in a training programme for e-scrap workers in that country.  The training sessions were very ably conducted by Jenny Hughes and Stephen McBride, both from Datec Technologies, in Scotland.  Some pictures from the training sessions below:

Dismantling a CRT screen

Here one of the trainees is taking apart a CRT screen, a job which they usually do without gloves and goggles, and with the use of only a hammer...  Better to do it like this, avoiding release of phosphorus-bearing dust into the air, and lead-containing glass onto the ground.


Trainees hard at work

Trainees hard at work on a number of different items.  Spot the location of the safety goggles...  I had to remind the chap what they were for.


Dismantling of various items

Dismantling various items, gloves and goggles where they should be.  One wonders how long they are likely to stay in place when they get back to their regular work.


E-scrap variety

A wide variety of e-scrap, including CRT screens, copper cables, PC boards, etc.  This selection includes fractions with real value, and fractions with negative value.  Essential to link these in the logistical and processing chain, so that some of these fractions do not continue ending up in the lagoon near Agbogbloshie, or in the smoke above it, while the copper is sold for profit.


Not everybody equally excited...

Perhaps not too surprising, but not all participants were excited all the time...



8 years 2 months ago


Today we prepared for a couple of days’ training with scrap workers in Accra, Ghana.  Discussion of the programme for the next four days, followed by purchase of some basic hand tools, and a visit to the Agbogbloshie waste dump.  A misnomer, actually.  The place is certainly a dump, but the workers certainly know the value of the materials they work with!  So we prefer the term ‘scrap’ over ‘waste’.

So much so, that when we wanted to purchase some goods to use for hands-on training, we had to haggle over the value of non-functional CRT screens, some broken DVD players, an old microwave unit and a pathetic bundle of assorted electrical wires.  We never got to discuss old PC’s and laptops, the prices were too high.  So we will buy them elsewhere (and without our ‘obruni’ faces in evidence).

Negotiating to buy scrap at Agbogbloshie

Training starts tomorrow, we will be in the capable hands of two professionals from Datec Technologies, who operate a large recycling facility in Scotland.

PS.: 'Obruni' means 'white man' here in Ghana.