The fight against illegal mining in Ghana must continue without fail


Illegal mining or galamsey (gather them and sell) has assumed epidemic proportions in Ghana. The success of the effort by former minister of lands and mineral resources, John P. Amewu to sanitize – not stop – the illegality and its attendant destruction was short-lived.

As if by design, galamsey has resurfaced and, like COVID-19, the new variant seems determined to cause even more havoc. The failure of the initial attempt at curbing galamsey could be attributed to several factors, most importantly, the attraction of quick money. The Minerals Commission, the only regulatory body for mining in Ghana lost its authority and extraction of the so-called strategic mineral became anybody’s game from all corners, of the world, with China leading the posse. Galamsey reminds one of the California Gold Rush of the mid-1800s in the United States.

Gold, has been a national asset and has supported the nation’s economy even before the advent of Europeans.  The Hilla Liman administration proclaimed that gold and other precious minerals in Ghana were deemed strategic to the economy and therefore is held in trust by the government. Landed property owners therefore were deprived of any claim to ownership of any such mineral on their properties.

Illegal small-scale mining or artisanal mining is a large sector of Ghana’s economy employing directly and supporting the livelihoods of about 4.5 million people. It also accounts for 35 percent of the country’s gold production, according to James Boafo of the University of Queensland writing in 2019. While illegal mining supports livelihoods it is also blamed on the destruction of farmlands and the pollution of water bodies, while it denies the state of an estimated $2.8 billion in 2016, Boafo adds.

Galamsey is also a rights issue and must be addressed as such by law enforcement. The land and everything under the surface is the people’s heritage. Anyone, foreign or native has no right to mine or extract any of the strategic minerals without the necessary permit. The main features of the Minerals and mining Act, 2006 (Act 703) as amended, include the Mining (Amendment) Act, 2015 (Act 900) and the Minerals Commission Act, (Act 450). In essence, the Act and its supporting amendments lay out the qualifications for mining in Ghana. The law prevents foreigners from providing mining support services to small-scale miners imposing stiff punishment for the sale or purchase of minerals without a license.

Whether by design or willful neglect of the law, Ghanaians and their foreign accomplices disregarded the laid down regulations and what was supposed to be an environment friendly practice became the single most destructive method of extracting gold. All that was needed as in the California Gold Rush was a shovel and a pickaxe. With the introduction of foreign nationals in galamsey, heavy earthmoving machines and toxic chemicals were introduced and a new dimension of destructiveness emerged.

Galamsey, originally planned for the poor and unemployed local youths has now been invaded by the rich and powerful making it difficult to control and stop. Minister of Lands and Mineral Resources John Abu Jinapor, when inaugurating the national conversation on Galamsey in Accra in April said that his ministry would name and shame big men who are involved. They are all involved in the destruction and the use of heavy earthmoving machines destroying rivers and farms. It makes skeptics wonder how small-scale mining could be any different.

The decision by the minister to suspend all small-scale mining, legal or illegal is in the right direction. The Minerals Commission must relicense and or ban some of them upon lifting the suspension. A condition for relicensing must include the ban of heavy earthmoving machines and a reclamation exercise. Mining in rivers and water bodies, as well as forest reserves and farming areas must be banned permanently.

There is a socio-cultural element in the banning of galamsey that is being ignored. Our rivers are gods and are believed to possess protective powers where they are. The Birim river, for instance, is a major deity and is considered powerful in the Akyem area in the Eastern region where it flows to join the Pra river. It used to be a taboo to fetch water from it on Tuesdays. Asuo Abena, as it is called by the Akyem people used to be feared and revered. Sadly and unfortunately, all of the myths and legends have been ignored as it is being exploited mercilessly. But for what they are worth, they must be invoked to join the campaign to stop the practice. Had our traditional belief system been religiously practiced and adhered to, no sane chief, politician, or businessperson would dare desecrate such a sacred river.

Ghanaians have allowed politics to creep into every facet of life, including the mining sector. And the challenges of illegal mining have largely been seen through political lenses. The New Patriotic Party lost votes even in its traditional strongholds where illegal mining held sway because the opposition National Democratic Congress boldly and openly promised to support illegal mining if voted into office. The success or otherwise of the campaign against galamsey could depend partly on all political parties.

It is about time civil society organizations (CSOs) engaged not only the ruling government but the mining community itself. They must call on the illegal mining community to account for its place in the economic development of the nation. Very little is heard from the CSOs on the big mining conglomerates and the effects of their operations on our environment. So far not much is heard from them on the issue of galamsey.

The national conversation to outlaw illegal small-scale mining must not be confined to Accra. It must be spread all over the nation, among the mining communities in the country. It must remain bi-partisan and inclusive of all shades of opinion. Thankfully, it is going round the regions.

Gold mining and the extractive industry in general have not been as beneficial to Ghana as it has been to the foreign exploiters. For more than a century gold has been mined in the country on a large scale basis by European and North American companies. Those that have been engaged in the country after many years are still here because of the profits they continue to make.

Illegal mining has become particularly cankerous in Ghana. Among the effects on the environment is the introduction of toxic material that affects food and crops and the country has no future if water bodies, crops, fruits and the environment become unsustainable. It has been reported that children are born in areas of Western Region with no limbs and other parts of the body. In the forest reserves valuable hard woods are being destroyed. In some cases seedlings being nursed for replanting in reforestation have been destroyed.

It is a national security issue and must be tackled with everything in the country’s arsenal. Punishment for those caught engaged in it must be swift and harsh. The torching of heavy earthmoving machines must continue to discourage any further attempts at returning again to the illegal enterprise. Public lashing or caning of chiefs, politicians, and businesspeople engaged in the act would or even life sentence in jail (without parole) must be some of the options to be considered.

Hopefully the people of Ghana would continue to support the government in the campaign to end galamsey.  Several employment opportunities are available for the youths in other areas of endeavor than illegal mining. The promise of sanitizing illegal mining must be withheld for there is no guarantee that the miners would obey the law and deviate from their past practices.

Environmental degradation has rendered some countries bare and uncultivable. Experts claim India has only ten percent of its farm lands available and that within ten years what little is left in India would not even be available for agricultural activity.

In Ghana if the trend continues the country would import water, while food grown on our farm lands might be toxic and unhealthy for consumption. The European Union has sounded a warning trumpet against exporting potential mercury-laced and toxic cocoa beans into Europe. After Chinese nationals have helped to destroy several hectares of cocoa plantations, China has decided to grow cocoa and has exported its first harvest to Europe.

The writer is the editor-in-chief of Amandla

Posted by on May 15 2021. Filed under Features. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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