Obuasi, about 200 kilometres northwest of Accra, Ghana's capital, is home to one of the world's richest gold mines.
For more than a hundred years the precious metal mined there has been taken to jewellers in the West and beyond, earning millions of dollars for mining companies and their shareholders.
But for inhabitants of villages around this rich mine - the tenth-largest in the world at the end of the 20th century - years of extracting what lies beneath the rocks have brought only hardship. Cyanide-polluted streams and farmland contaminated by toxic water are just two of the harmful outcomes. As in many mining communities in Africa, infrastructure is very limited.
"Obuasi is the ultimate example of how mining is developed in Africa," says Yao Graham of the Third World Network, a civil society group. "The resources are taken out and very little is left for the community or the country where the mineral is produced," he told Africa Renewal.
African nations possess an enviable share of the world's reserves of minerals. These include the six most traded commodities on the London Metal Exchange - aluminum, copper, lead, nickel, tin and zinc. Other valuable minerals coming out of Africa include chromium, cobalt, diamonds, gold, iron, manganese, phosphate, platinum, rutile, uranium and vanadium.
The unprecedented industrial expansion of China, Brazil and India depends in part on Africa's vast natural resources. Experts contend, however, that African economies are net losers in this global trade. Through taxes, they earn only a fraction of the profits from the decades-long mineral boom. The workers employed by mining corporations receive low wages, while they and their communities pay a hefty price in environmental pollution and social disruption, breeding feelings of resentment.
"This sentiment has become particularly pronounced since the early years of the current mineral commodity price boom, which has substantially lifted profits for mining companies," observes a new report, Minerals and Africa's Development, launched in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, last December at the second African Union Conference of Ministers Responsible for Mineral Resources Development.
In 2010, net profits for the top 40 mining companies grew by 156 per cent over the previous years. However, Africa's "own share of windfall earnings has been minuscule," laments Stephen Karingi, a director at the UN Economic Commission for Africa.
Meanwhile, across Africa, mining communities are experiencing the negative effects: few schools and roads, health problems associated with poisonous chemicals and unsafe drinking water, forced relocation and the disruption of livelihoods. In research on water quality in Ghanaian mining communities around Obuasi and Tarkwa, the Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining, an advocacy group, found in 2010 that 250 rivers had been poisoned by cyanide and heavy metals. Such communities feel that their interests are never taken into account when their leaders sign contracts with mining companies.
Participants at the Addis Ababa conference focused on ways to implement the ambitious African Mining Vision (AMV) approved by African heads of state in 2009. The AMV is a policy guideline for ensuring the optimal exploitation of Africa's mineral resources for economic transformation and poverty eradication.
Mineral-rich nations, the experts concur, must make strategic policy decisions to maximize mining's contribution to development. This would require shifting from simply extracting minerals to a broader framework that integrates policies for mining, industry, economic development and environmental protection.
With the current minerals boom, Africa is today being touted as the next global frontier. But the balance of power will not automatically tilt to African governments at the negotiating table. Since mining companies are often better financed and more skilled than African delegations, the AMV stresses the importance of improving African governments' negotiating capacities.
In Sierra Leone the UN Development Programme provides a presidential task force on mining contract negotiations with access to some of the best legal and technical experts in the world. The result has been more income for the government and better deals for affected communities.