This past week’s news of over 31 metric tons of gold ore being found in the African country of Uganda, waiting to be mined, reminded me of one of the craziest gold mining shows ever set in Africa, Jungle Gold. Debuting on the Discovery channel on October 26, 2012. It was two short seasons of mining disasters, issues with locals, armed militias along with accusations of murder and illegal mining, all capped by a daring escape out of the country after the Ghanian government said they were looking to arrest the stars of the show and their filming crew.
The Golden Idea
Back in 2009, Scott Lomu and George Wright, two clean living Mormons, were trying to find a way to make money after suffering huge losses when the housing bubble popped the year before. Both men had worked in Utah’s real estate market, had young families to support and debts piling up. They needed to find money, fast. Lomu’s father-in-law, a wealthy attorney in Salt Lake City, suggested that there was money to be made in Ghana with gold. Their original plan was to go to Ghana, buy gold cheap and sell it at a higher price in the United States. Ghana is one of the leading producers of gold in Africa and the seventh leading producer in the world.
It sounded like a simple plan, too simple, as they found out once they got there. “We initially went to Africa with the last of our cash to flip gold, arbitrage. We hoped to buy it low and sell it for a bit more and create some velocity with that initial capital secured by a real asset the entire time. This was met with disappointment in the first 5 days of our trip to Africa because it’s not even CLOSE to easy to get cheap gold in Africa, they know the price of Gold better than anybody! We saw mining as an opportunity and used our cash to purchase some equipment.” George Lomu posted in a Reddit AMA back in 2013.
Ghana’s mining laws wouldn’t allow foreigners to legally mine on less than 25 acres of land, considered small scale mining. That meant that Lomu and Wright had to “invest” in a small-scale mining company along with paying for the excavators and other equipment. They could only hire local laborers. They also needed to have the permission of the local Chief and Elders as well.
Within the first ten minutes of the first episode, Lomu and Wright get to the land they invested in to find it already being mined by illegal Chinese immigrants who flooded to Ghana for the modern day gold rush there. They go to the local Chief and Elders to tell them what is going on. They tell Lomu and Wright they know the Chinese miners shouldn’t be there and that they should kick them off the land but they have no way to do it because the Chinese have guns and are dangerous. They go so far as to tell the guys if they attempt to remove the illegal miners, they’ll get killed.
Unable to mine the claim they paid the Chief and Elders $12,500 for, they called a fellow miner and Mormon, Dave. They had worked with him and his partner before and he had land that was already licensed and legal a couple hours away from their original site in the gold-rich Ashanti Belt. The only catch was the owners wanted 25% of the gold, they kept control of the operations on the mine with consulting fees on top of their cut. It was a bad deal and the guys knew it but they were desperate so they agree. They got to their new site but because it was the rainy season, they couldn’t start mining until they could get all of their equipment in there, which could take weeks due to flooding. As a nice welcome, a warning shot was fired at them from their new Chinese neighbors when they wandered too close to the Chinese mining operation while looking for the new claim markers.
Beginner Goldminers, Beginner Issues
When the guys are finally able to try and start mining, after being in Ghana for over a month, they had an incident that would set off a chain of events which would play a part in them fleeing the country just a year later while the police and armed militia were after them.
After countless excavator repairs, flooded land, illegal roadblocks and just about every problem you could think of, and even some you couldn’t, they were finally able to clear some land and move some dirt. They started knocking down some cocoa trees when a guy with a machete came out of the jungle yelling at them, saying they are knocking down his cocoa trees, that the land was his.
Contacting the landowners, they found out that the machete guy was Kwasi, the brother in law of the landowner, and he wasn’t told that the land was leased to Wright and Lomu. This leads to a tense three hour standoff where he finally leaves but their security guard, Ernest, tells them someone needs to stay on site overnight now because the guy will come back and could trash their equipment in retaliation. Wright, Lomu and Ernest spend the night and the next morning Lomu runs to town to get some parts. After he’s gone, Kwasi comes back yelling and brandishing his machete, again. There’s a scuffle between him and Ernest where Wright, who’s a trained MMA Fighter, had to jump in to keep his security guard from being drowned. Wright put Kwasi into a choke hold until he passes out. When Kwasi wakes up, Wright tries to reason with him but he storms off, saying they owned him money and that they were on his land.
That’s only the first couple episodes but sets the tone for the entire two season run and the luck these guys had. A lot of it was due to the fact they were foreigners mining in another country along with huge lapses in judgment. More insanity, breakdowns and bad decisions happen in one episode than an entire season on other mining shows. To go through even half of them would take a much longer article than this one.
The Robbery and Other Poor Choices
Originally the first season of Jungle Gold was going to be 16 episodes but was cut down to 7 due to Wright and Lomu running out of investors money, not being able to mine during the rainy season due to flooding and other dangers in the area. Their own questionable choices also played a part. The first season ended with Wright and Lomu taking what money they had left to try and buy some cheap gold to flip, only to end up getting robbed at gunpoint in the middle of nowhere.
During every episode the narrator mentions, repeatedly, how broke Wright and Lomu are, how much is riding on them to find gold, how their investors threaten to pull the plug. It gets redundant especially considering all the drama that is happening.
One time they’re clearing trees at night, to give you an idea of the kind of choices they made, and one falls and hits Wright in the head. He’s dazed and clearly hurt. No need for the narrator to remind us if he’s too hurt to mine that his family won’t have any money to pay their ever mounting pile of bills. It doesn’t build tension the way they want it to and even detracts from it at times when the situations are naturally intense.
The first season of Jungle Gold was a hit for Discovery Channel in the US when it debuted in 2012 but also got a lot of backlash at home and abroad due to the people assuming they were illegally mining. At the time there was a lot of pressure for the Ghana government to do something about all the illegal mining and damage to the environment it was causing.
“We came to realize this was a perfect opportunity to show how foreigners can do business the right way in Ghana,” Lomu told Buzzfeed News. Wright and Lomu made sure they went through the proper channels, they paid the village Chief and Elders $12,500 for the rights to their first site that they couldn’t mine, and they paid the locals more than the average wage. According to Ghana law, Lomu and Wright couldn’t physically mine, only locals, whom had their own traditions and ways of mining. The most controversial being the use of mercury.
George Wright explained in the Reddit AMA “We were forced to use mercury which was really hard for a lot of people. It was shown because it’s the main way of gold recovery in Africa, what they didn’t show in the show was us trying to get our workers to wear gloves, our seeking for other separating methods that ultimately we didn’t have money for at the time etc. Not to mention that the gold isn’t all ours, what we pull out the local landowners and chiefs have a say in that and sadly, due to tradition and lack of education, people INSIST on using mercury. We never used arsenic. Also, reclaiming and replanting was mentioned and shown, but sadly not near enough, like 8 seconds.”
Despite everything they did to try to show that they were responsible, legal miners, when the show aired in April 2013 in Ghana, it created an uproar. Overnight, George Wright and Scott Lomu were made to be the poster boys for illegal foreign miners. A local radio station, Joy FM, reported that Wright had killed Kwasi, the man he had choked out. The radio station didn’t stop there, they continued to run reports that Wright and Lomuj were illegally mining and taking advantage of local villagers.
The Second Season and Escape
This was the atmosphere Wright, Lomu and the RAW filming team walked into when they came back to Ghana to start filming for the second season of Jungle Gold with new investors and a new mining site in the Domenase area, still within the gold rich area of the Ashanti Belt. If the first season was 7 episodes of what not to do when trying to mine in Ghana, then the second season they were hoping would be a redemption story.
Instead it was 6 episodes of more broken equipment, money issues, dubious choices, and a severe lack of gold mining that culminated into a rush to escape Ghana.
The trouble had been building since season one of Jungle Gold but really boiled over after the season aired in Africa. Ghana’s Minerals Commission was trying to crack down on the illegal mining happening and the amount of illegal miners pouring into the country, the majority from China. Unfortunately, the publicity around the show gave the Minerals Commission an easy target. They declared that Wright and Lomu were illegally mining and said they would be arrested. The government wasn’t the only ones whose attention they caught.
Around the same time that the government said they were going to issue warrants to arrest Wright, Lomu and the Raw TV film crew, armed militias had been robbing and attacking claims. Word got back to Wright and Lomu that the area around their old mine was being targeted and they were looking for the two Americans. Then they got the call telling them the night before their friend, Reece, who they were leasing their current land from had been hurt in an attack just down the road from them. With police and armed men looking for them, Discovery made the call to pull them out of there. As if that wasn’t enough, Joy TV aired a news segment reiterating what they had already reported on their radio show, that Wright had killed Kwasi the year before.
Discovery Channel, who owned a stake in RAW TV, had rented a helicopter to do aerial shots of Wright and Lomu moving their new excavator on site but it was redirected to get the men and the crew out of Domenase instead and take them to the capital city, Accra, where Discovery charter a private plane to take them home.
After a tense trip through customs, Wright, Lomu and their crew were still sitting on pins and needles. “At any moment, a police vehicle, a military car, can come in and stop this plane,” Lomu said in the finale. Luckily that never happened as everyone gave a huge cheer when the plane took off.
With those final adrenaline inducing moments, Jungle Gold ended as insanely as it started.
Many people have claimed Jungle Gold was fake, with good reason. The things that happened, the choices Wright and Lomu made, the over the top situations seemed fabricated for TV but there are real articles from Ghana news sources and other news outlets that document what we saw on our screens. It was just as crazy, if not crazier, than what was shown. In my opinion, Jungle Gold will go down as the most insane gold mining show of all time. I highly suggest if you can find it on your streaming service, give it a watch. You won’t believe everything that happens to the two clean cut Mormon miners, George Wright and Scott Lomu.
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