Imagine going to the river in your hometown to fetch water and to your surprise, the once clean water has turned muddy due to the activities of illegal miners, what will you do?
Illegal mining, popularly referred to as ‘galamsey’, is one problem that Ghana keeps battling with. Over the years, many leaders have tried to put a stop to this act but were unsuccessful. Well, this could be because the issue of galamsey is one that is politically sensitive and if leaders of a particular political party are not “careful” in dealing with the issue, it may affect them politically.
Thus, either they lose seats in parliament, or in worse cases, they lose power. This is because the act employs a considerable number of people who are mostly in rural areas or small towns.
According to Mining Review Africa, galamsey accounts for about 60% of Ghana’s mining labour force.
In the first term of President Nana Addo Dankwah Akuffo-Addo, he indicated that he is putting his presidency on the line as a sign of his commitment to fighting galamsey.
He then instituted an Inter-Ministerial Committee on Illegal Mining, which was chaired by the then Minister responsible for Environment, Science, Technology and Innovations, Prof. Frimpong Boateng, and also constituted a Joint Police and Military Taskforce known as OPERATION VANGUARD.
The president also placed a ban on small-scale mining for almost two years. Others measures that were instituted were the distribution of palm seedlings to the youth and people in galamsey areas in order to make farming attractive to them rather than galamsey and then the seizure of excavators owned by these “galamseyers”.
After some time, there seemed to be an improvement in some water bodies which had initially turned muddy due to the activities of illegal miners.
For instance, a team of journalists visited River Ankobra, one of the major rivers which turned muddy due to galamsey activities, on January 14, 2019, and they saw a significant change in the colour of the water.
Residents who relied on the river for water could not hide their joy as they have complained over the lack of potable water in their communities for long. This is to say, at least the government was doing something right.
However, years down the line, the narrative is different. Rivers such as River Ankobra, which were coming back to life began changing back to its muddy state. What really went wrong?
Well, in 2019, investigative journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, and his team released a documentary that aired on some major television channels, dubbed, “Galamsey Fraud”, which showed some members of the committee set up to curb illegal mining allegedly taking bribes from “galamseyers”.
Then came the issue of “missing excavators”, in which many demanded a full investigation into the matter and all who are found guilty be made to face the law.
In all these, the minority in Parliament made their points clear to the public that, the president has lost the fight against galamsey and that he must be made to account fully to the people of Ghana on his fight against the menace.
Fast forward to 2021, after been re-elected into office for the second term, the President, once again reiterated his commitment to fighting galamsey.
However, this time around he believes the way to go is through dialogue.
On April 14 and 15, a National Consultative Dialogue on Small Scale Mining was held in Accra which was attended by the president, the minister responsible for Lands and Natural Resources, Samuel Abu Jinapor (MP), some other ministers, Members of Parliament, Members of the Council of State, Traditional Leaders, members of Academia, stakeholders in the mining sector, the leadership of some political parties and the media.
The dialogue was organized to deliberate on issues pertaining to the mining sector and develop a national consensus and policy on small-scale mining in order to promote an environmentally friendly mining sector free from illegalities and practices that are not environmentally friendly.
Galamsey, derived from “gather” and “sell”, refers to the illegal mining of gold by digging deep into the earth and on river beds, and is mostly practiced in southern Ghana especially in areas such as Obuasi, Prestea-Hunni Valley, Tarkwa-Nsuaem.
Although it is illegal, it employs a huge number of people due to inadequate job opportunities.
However, its operations have adverse effects on the environment, especially vegetation, water bodies, and wildlife.
As to whether or not the President will succeed in his renewed fight against illegal mining, we can only hope.
Source: Foster Effah | University of Ghana