Why Ghanaians need to support the campaign against "Galamsey"

Feature Article Illegal miners in Ghana at work
Illegal miners in Ghana at work

Ghana and South Africa are competing to become the leading gold producers in Africa. Ghana is now facing a severe issue of illegal gold mining, often called "galamsey" (gather and sell). These illicit mining operations are causing significant damage to the country's forested areas where gold is mined. The prevalence of youth unemployment in Ghana is cited as the primary motivation for the involvement of the youth in the illegal mining business. The country's elevated unemployment rate renders the youth vulnerable to illicit activity like galamsey as a means of livelihood. In many areas, young individuals participate in galamsey activities to avoid the social exclusion of unemployment. Additionally, the absence of employment stability is often mentioned as another motivating factor that drives individuals toward engaging in illicit artisanal mining. Some individuals are enticed by the prospect of making fast money or a "get-rich-quick" mindset.

The increase of galamsey operations in the country is also attributed to the inherent connections between many influential individuals, including politicians and traditional leaders, who play a significant role in supporting illicit mining in Ghana. Several traditional rulers and politicians are actively engaged in this mining activity. Recently, an internet blog posted that Nana Kwame Sobre II, the Chief of Manse near Bibiani, and nine others were arrested for their suspected participation in illicit mining activities. When the Rapid Response Unit (RRU) of the Forestry Commission interviewed them, all the suspects stated that the chief, Nana Kwame Sobre II, introduced them to this illicit mining business. Prof Kwabena Frimpong Boateng, the former Minister of Environment, Science, Technology, and Innovation, identified some high-ranking government officials involved in unlawful mining activities in a letter to the president. This leads the young and others to believe that if Ghanaian leaders engage in such behavior, there is no inherent wrongdoing in their doing the same. Nevertheless, I urge Ghanaians to consider the following detrimental consequences of this issue and reconsider their stance.

Ghanaians should know that unlawful mining poses a significant risk to the country's physical security. The majority of illegal miners, particularly those of Chinese origin, have sophisticated weapons they use when they encounter armed robbers or Government task forces while trying to resist arrest. The excessive collection and unregulated spread of weapons are known to intensify and prolong acts of violence. Weapons in wrong hands can impede progress in achieving peace and security, human rights, and development objectives. It can result in many atrocities, fatalities, and sexual assaults. Additionally, the government is experiencing a loss of income in the gold mining industry due to the illicit smuggling of gold out of the country. Unlawful mining is causing significant damage to cocoa crops, which are vital for the country's foreign currency earnings. Illegal mining operations have also devastated several forest areas and agricultural lands. In 2018, small-scale and illicit mining destroyed 29,000 hectares, with 1,000 hectares happening in protected regions of the country.

An additional issue associated with these operations is the loss of life among innocent individuals caused by some galamsey pits located either inside existing subsistence farms or near residential areas. After gold mining operations cease, most galamsey pits are exposed and not covered. Farmers face crop development and yield obstacles when rehabilitating and cultivating food crops on damaged and abandoned galamsey sites. The issues include cyanide and mercury pollution. Mercury is a prominent chemical used in galamsey processes but is poisonous and often mismanaged by small-scale miners. This chemical is disposed of following the extraction of gold. Improper disposal leads to health problems, including hematuria and infant congenital malformations. Mercury contamination also has detrimental effects on Ghana's fisheries and aquaculture industries. Aquaculture initiatives in regions affected by illicit mining have failed.

Ghana is a major cocoa-producing nation. It is responsible for around 20% of global cocoa production. Cocoa contributes roughly 15% of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Nevertheless, illicit mining is having a detrimental impact on cocoa output. Evidence of this may be seen in the contamination of the ecosystems, agricultural land degradation, productivity decline, and the forced divestment of cocoa plantations. Chinese individuals and Ghanaian citizens engaged in illegal small-scale mining (galamsey) often provide higher financial incentives to acquire agricultural lands and use covert payments to persuade local authorities to continue their operations. Farmers who cannot resist this temptation choose to sell their farmlands and join the "galamsey bandwagon." Also the proliferation of small-scale mining operations and the influx of migrant workers into illicit mining regions lead to a surge in prostitution, often involving underage girls as young as 12 years old. Consequently, this results in a rise in adolescent pregnancies, lone parenthood, and the spread of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS.

Ultimately, galamsey results in child labor. Most children in mining communities get an education, while some work to support their schooling expenses. Nevertheless, many students exhibit inconsistent attendance patterns, often missing classes or whole school days, contributing to the pervasive school dropout issue in mining areas. Due to the usually brief durations of small-scale mining operations, many youngsters will ultimately face unemployment and need more skills to get other employment.

To recapitulate, I want to emphasize that Ghana's future economic success and national security are inherently interconnected with the gold sector. Gold mining is a significant financial endeavor for Ghanaians and the government. Factors such as youth unemployment, poverty, the exorbitant cost of gold, and strong demand have catalyzed the surge in illicit mining operations inside the nation. As a result, the integrity of Ghana's national security is being compromised. Land, water bodies, and forest reserves have been devastated. The unlawful mining operations have resulted in the contamination of rivers and streams with hazardous substances. That makes it crucial for all Ghanaians to help fight this economic menace.

By Dr. Kwame Aduhene-Kwarteng (Castro).