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Opinions of Saturday, 22 May 2021

Columnist: Cameron Duodu

Babies with no eyes, no nose, no mouth? What's Ghana doing to itself with damned galamsey?

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IT was extremely difficult to credit the story. For what the reports described was what in Ghana, is usually termed


The concept, difficult to explain to non-Africans, is this: there are some words that denote the materialisation of calamities so horrendous that the words must not be uttered at all! Just in case the words somehow transform themselves into reality.

Among the Akans, words of that cinvey this form of taboo include kokoram (a form of cancer); and oba a onni tire; [a baby without a head]; oba a onni ani/ hwen/ ano [a baby without eyes/nose/ or mouth].

Indeed, if someone wants to curse a woman who has badly offended him or her, the words: “Ɔba a onni tire/ani/ano/hwen na wobewo no!” (You will give birth to a child without the organs listed, whether singly, or in any combination of them ) can send the accursed woman into a paroxysm of fear. She may then seek “a lifting” of the curse through expensive visits to allegedly powerful “deities” (such as Tigare of Brekune.)

What the terrifying report that caused me to recall these terrifying occurrence said was:


Galamsey: Aowin babies born without nose, eyes, mouth

May 10, 2021

“The Aowin District of the Western North Region is recording a high number of births, where the babies come out without eyes, nose, ears and mouth. This, according to the medical staff at the Sewum Health Centre, is a result of illegal mining activities, popularly known as galamsey, in the area.

“The Director of Nursing and Midwifery Services, Gifty Adjanor, disclosed this to the media. According to her, pregnant women in the community lose their babies due to the water they drink, which is contaminated with chemicals used for GALAMSEY.

“The highly-polluted river [whose deplorable condition is] due to galamsey, serves as a source of drinking water for the community. Ms Adjanor has, thus, appealed to the traditional leaders and other residents in the area to support the renewed fight against galamsey, to enable pregnant women to give birth to healthy children.” UNQUOTE

As surely as sunrise, the Ghana Health Authorities immediately denied the story. But unfortunately for them, the Ghana Medical Association (GMA) also jumped into the fray and supported what the Aowin local medical staff had told the media. Cyanide and mercury used in galamsey could certainly cause birth abnormalities of the type taking place at Aowin, the GMA's Vice-President told the media.

But this is NOT a matter that should create controversy. It is difficult to imagine what a midwife would gain by inventing such a story, if it's not true. What's important is to be reminded, by this awful story, that galamsey has long passed from being a nuisance, to a worse stage where it has become positively life-threatening to poor Ghanaian villagers.

Apart from the obvious danger posed to humans by drinking polluted water, the chemicals used in galamsey can also seep into the soil on which foodstuffs are grown and contaminate it. That process poisons the food grown on the soil, and although the effects of the poisoning might not be made manifest immediately, they can erupt as horrible diseases in later life that either cripple or kill the victims of the poisons.

So, what the situation demands is that the health authorities should immediacy advise the Government to revise its rules concerning galamsey, in order to safeguard human life.

The first step to take is to BAN GALAMSEY ALTOGETHER, EVERYWHERE.

The current ban on galamsey, which allows galamsey to occur snidely, as long as it does not take place 100 metres from the banks of a river or water-body, was misconceived. It was sold to the authorities on their blind side by officials who are either ignorant or collusive.

For galamsey does not only pollute water: it also destroys large tracts of land, which can no longer be used for farming, or for forest reserves. Anyone who has seen an abandoned galamsey-ravaged plot of land would be excused if he/she imagined that some extra-terrestrial beings had descended on the land from space and engaged in an orgy of mad dancing, with legs and feet that are twenty or thirty feet in diameter!

These gigantic feet would have penetrated the earth to a depth of about thirty feet at each point. And as soon as the extra-terrestrials had left, water had shot up from beneath the soil, to fill the mammoth holes left behind. The land is then completely destroyed, probably for ever.

For as if the mad dancing was not bad enough, the water it had sprouted from underground had, in its turn, attracted an enormous vegetation of algae.

Anyone can tell you that wherever there has been galamsey, there is what can only be described as a series of craters that form a super-rugged lunar landscape, looking like a deliberately-created stamping ground for loony creatures seeking amusement. Alas, it is impossible for the previous owners of the land to even traverse it merely to find out whether any portion of the previously high-yielding land can be rescued to cultivate food on.

How any sane human being could have imagined that if a hundred metres of such a landscape near a river or water-body was forbidden from use by galamseyers, that would sanitize their infamous digs, is impossible to understand.

The only thing that can explain the lunacy is that gold-mad officials, under pressure from politicians who did not want to confront the evil operators of galamsey (because it would offend the voters among them) had worked out a compromise that would kill the land without appearing to do so.

In fact, an officer of the Ghana armed forces, who has been taking part in “Operation Halt”, has made a video in which he explains that the 100-metre “distance-from-rivers” rule is incapable of working to solve the water destruction problem. He goes into factual, technical detail to demonstrate that a pumping device with two pipes and two ends, can be used to pump water from a river to “wash” gold more than 100 metres away. It can then “re-pump” the used, polluted residues of sand and chemicals, back into the same river! And the pollution continues.

The officer has offered the Government advice on the practicalities facing Operation Halt. It would be wise for his political bosses to listen carefully to him. The worst thing would be to take umbrage and insist that he should NOT have spoken publicly about an ongoing operation. His job is to serve Ghana, and in my opinion, he has done so, most eloquently and patriotically. For he has shared with the rest of us, a comprehension of the galamsey problem, that could only have been provided by practical experience.

Meanwhile, I see that the debate on whether it is useful to burn equipment seized during Operation Halt, or not, also continues. People who have ignored what the Government says about galamsey, but go weeping to the authorities when their stiff-necked behaviour causes them losses, should not be heard, just because the machinery “cost a lot of money”. The Government, must NOT be sentimental, for: human life is worth more than the most expensive machinery in the world.