Ghanaians defy powerful China to end illegal mining

Ghana’s verdant forests and farming lands as well as river bodies that feed the West African nation in diverse ways have over the past decade or so been devastated by the scourge of mining for gold, mostly illegal and known in local parlance as galamsey a corrupt form for the English phrase “gather them and sell.” Long before illegal mining for gold, there was illegal diamond winning, particularly in the Eastern Region of Ghana in the period before and after independence by locals and resident migrants from Nigeria. It is likely illegal gold mining was also going on alongside diamond winning but no such evidence could be found in our research. [Gold] Galamsey began as manual labor by youthful gangs who worked clandestinely on concessions granted to corpo- rate mining companies particularly in the West- ern Region of Ghana.

Concern for galamsey among Ghanaians rose with the impact it had on the environment aris- ing out of relaxed administrative controls and lack of enforcement of mining regulations, as well as corruption at the country’s immigration agency. Most importantly the involvement of Chinese nationals and other aliens triggered a nationwide alert for the need to do something about it.

The present campaign, spearheaded by the country’s media is supported by the govern- ment of Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo who in his campaign promised to address the issue. Led by the Minister of Lands and Mineral Re- sources, Mr. Peter Amewu and the media, a spirited campaign to end the practice is ongo- ing. The economics of galamsey is attractive enough to lure young people in the rural areas to indulge in it. And in a country where the rate of employment among the youths is far lower than expected, the practice, perilous as it is, has become a ready alternative to engaging in anti- social behaviors.

In the first place remuneration as a galamseyer if one works for oneself is quite substantive to the extent that the dangers notwithstanding, are not enough deterrence.

Those working for bigger miners like the Chinese ob- tain wages higher than they could receive in a regular day job. But that is where it all ends. Illegal mining is dangerous. It takes a heavy toll on the lives of the young operators. Without any safety devices, workers are often swallowed up in the pits and holes dug in the rivers and on hard ground. Or they fall prey to the tox- ins used in processing the gold.

What makes the economics of galamsey woefully inade- quate is the destruction of rivers and water bodies. Water life is systematically being destroyed beyond re- covery by now. The eco-system relies on water bodies but the continuous destruction of the major rivers of the country has the potential of making Ghana a major importer of water in a decade, according to environmentalists. Chinese involvement in galamsey has added an international dimension and a diplomatic row. Already the Chinese embassy in Ghana has warned against any media campaign against the Chinese to trigger animosity toward them. President Akufo-Addo has responded saying he has nothing against the Chinese but the country’s laws would be applied equitably.

The Chinese would not admit, but the impact of galamsey would not be as destructive without their involvement. With very little concern for the Ghanaian environment Chinese nationals, obviously with the connivance of Ghanaians, introduced heavy earth moving equipment hitherto not experienced in galamsey. Investigations show that most of the Chinese in galamsey do not possess any work permits, have overstayed their visas and do not have any mining license or permits. According to an investigative report by Anas Aremeyaw Anas, a journalist, the Chinese sometimes expropriated some of the properties on which they worked, destroying cocoa and crop farms as well as rivers with abandon and with impunity.

Another dimension to the destruction is the introduction of toxic material into the river bodies. The chemicals used in processing the gold, like mercury, are destructive and kill life in the rivers. And being armed they could withstand any resentment of the youths in the locality. There have been several occasions when law enforcement officers and cit- izens have been engaged in fire fight for daring to ques- tion their right to mine the land they work on. So far it has been estimated that not less than 20,000 are engaged in illegal mining in Ghana. The outcome of illegal min- ing is expensive. It is going to cost the country so much to repair the damage done. Reclamation is a costly exercise. And the extent of damage to farm lands and rivers would take some time to achieve. Not only that, the toxins introduced in the water bodies might take some time to be rid of.

A few objections have been raised against the manner the government is handling the effort to stop illegal min- ing. It is believed that some prominent Ghanaians are active participants in galamsey but no names have emerged to shame them away from il- legal mining. The President has said, and often, that ending illegal mining does not mean mining will be stopped entirely in the country. But he insists that it will not be allowed in rivers and water bodies.

There have been threats from galamseyers that they would vote against the NPP in the next elections in 2020 if the government continues to stop but the president continues to insist on his determination to fight the menace and would not be deterred by such threats. The government in the mean-time has voted funds to resettle young people who would be affected by the exercise. That could help to reduce the potential impact on society. And the government’s economic programs being put in place also promise the generation of jobs that could ab- sorb most of the retired galamseyers.

The fight to stop galamsey is being fought on many fronts. The challenges are huge giv- ing the cynics enough grounds for doubt. There is no need to politicize the fight to end galamsey. The modus operandi of the political par- ties to end galamsey differs from each other. The nation is obliged to mass behind Pres- ident Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to end what has become an albatross on the necks of all Ghanaians.

For the first time let Ghanaians unite against the evil of illegal mining. Galamsey must be made unattractive to Ghanaians and foreigners alike. Investment in mining is still a viable option and anyone interested in it, including the Chinese, must use the appropriate channels. For now, however, Ghanaians are obliged to protect their natural resources and their heritage from falling into the hands of foreigners. The proverbial Ghanaian hospitality has been abused far too much.

The determination of the government and the media in their continuous push to sus- tain the exercise gives hope for a successful end to illegal mining.

Posted by on May 11 2017. Filed under Commentary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

Leave a Reply