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Opinions of Sunday, 25 June 2017

Columnist: Brig-Gen J. Odei

Galamsey: Lessons of procrastination

GALAMSEY is currently the name used to describe illegal small scale mining operations. The name is derived from a local parlance “gather them and sell” because traditionally gold prospective miners used to gather gravels from the stream and river beds, grind them and wash them to retrieve the gold to sell. This method of prospecting for gold and diamonds was used in the Gold Coast before the Portuguese and European adventurers traded for gold along the west coast of Africa around 1471. At that time simple tools such as, pick axes, shovels, pans, chisels and hammers were used, making the conduct of operations relatively localised and harmless. Today however, this monster (galamsey) created by procrastination of past Governments, represents the proliferation, notoriety and complexity or the good and evil of small-scale mining.

The good thing about galamsey is that it offered employment opportunities to over one million Ghanaians; majority being the youth and poor in the rural communities and contributed significantly to the improvement of their livelihood. The bad thing is that it has degraded the soil and Prof Yaw Ahenkorah, FGA and Prof E. Owusu-Bennoah, FGA on the topic “GALAMSEY – The effects on soil productivity’’, delivered at Annual lecture of Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences at STEPRI HALL, CSIR, Accra on 14th May,2015, highlighted that “Ghana is an agricultural country and close to about 50-75% of the population live in the rural areas and depend on the land/soil for their livelihood.Soil is a critically important component on the earth’s biosphere, functioning not only in the production of food, fibre, fuel and medicinal products but also in the maintenance of local, regional and global environmental quality…The thin layer of soil covering the surface of the earth represents the difference between survival and extinction for most land based life. Degradation and neglect can ruin the fragile resources and become a threat to human survival…. They concluded the lecture by saying “Galamsey has completely degraded the soil and recommended a resolute independent approach with sustained monitoring and involvement of some local chiefs to nip Galamsey in the bud… This is a collective task for both the Government and the Community.”

The worst part is that not only is the soil being degraded but streams and rivers, the source of drinking water for Ghanaians have been polluted. The colour of the streams and rivers in affected areas has turned brown and aquatic organisms have been destroyed by poisonous chemicals especially mercury. Many Ghanaians have woken up from their deep slumber and now acknowledge the dangers of galamsey and demand that the Government takes drastic steps to reverse the trends. Reversing the trends however, faces many challenges but I would concentrate on community involvement, resettlement of displaced persons and the enforcement of existing laws and regulations.

Galamsey did not start in 2016 but past Governments have looked on and have allowed the situation to degenerate into the present unacceptable crisis.

Actions initiated in the past have been messed up in politics, corruption and the inability to enforce the laws and regulations. President Mahama flew over the sites of Galamsey sometime in 2013 and expressed shock at what he saw. A Task Force initiated in 2013 by the NDC (though not the first in the series), saw the task force dismantling hundreds of illegal gold mining equipment from sites, the eviction of thousands of illegal miners including foreigners but like its predecessors, galamsey did not stop but flourished with impunity. The NPP after its ultimatum has equally seized several heavy earth-moving equipment and other implements, evicted many thousands of illegal miners with all seriousness to end the menace.The decision by the Government is bold but it must remain resolute to manage emerging challenges (such as the lynching of Captain Mahama)with determination, maturity and without emotions.

The eminent Professors concluded that the solution “IS A COLLECTIVE TASK FOR BOTH THE GOVERNMENT AND COMMUNITY” and I share the view too.The Community is the key to the success of all actions initiated to end galamsey simply because it is part of the problem and must of necessity be part of the solution. The land belongs to the people and they must understand that the desecration of the land will affect their livelihood and that of many Ghanaians. Let’s be reminded that “when the AXE first appeared in the forest, one of the trees remarked, oh the handle is one of us”. Yes, without the handle the axe poses no threat to the forest and similarly, without Ghanaians, galamsey cannot flourish. Serious education and interaction are therefore needed to convince the community to join hands with the Government to end galamsey. When the hospitality accorded the illegal miners by the Community is denied, Galamsey will end since it cannot survive in a hostile environment. The war on galamsey cannot be won on “Rambo” type of operations but collaboration with the Chiefs and Communities interwoven with incentives such as allocation of lands for farming, provision of farming implements, seeds, fertilisers and other resettlement schemes.When this is done, information on illegal mining in inaccessible areas will be forthcoming and the protection of illegal miners by communities will stop. The huge cost that would be needed to maintain security services to “GUARD” the land could be used for resettlement.

The state of the economy has impoverished many Ghanaians and mostly it’s the youth in rural communities that are hard hit. Farming has become difficult because of problems of land acquisition and the capital required for such a venture. Some youth in their desperation have become armed robbers, prostitutes and those especially in the rural communities found galamsey a safe haven for survival and easy access to employment.It is therefore important to replace galamsey with alternative employment opportunities and what readily comes to mind is the land reclamation and afforestation. A step in the right direction is to compile a comprehensive list of all those who were engaged in galamsey for placement in resettlement schemes to prevent frustrations and dissatisfaction which could lead to insurrection. The “free SHS” could also offer some of the youth the opportunity to pursue further education.

Whilst it has been very difficult to acquire land for farming in our rural communities, acquiring land for galamsey has been relatively easy.The only logical reason is that the custodians of the lands (chiefs) are partakers of the gold and diamonds acquired from the allocated lands. Some chiefs have already denied their involvement in galamsey operations but many Ghanaians are not convinced.The only effective punishment to stop the practice is to confiscate to the Government, all lands that have been used for galamsey since the custodians have woefully failed to protect the lands entrusted to them for safe keeping by the people.

As a nation, one major weakness is enforcement of laws and regulations of the land and this has enabled miscreants including foreigners to take advantage of them. The arrest of the Chinese “king pin” En Huang alias Aisha Huang and other foreigners come with many questions. The fact of the matter is that these foreigners did not mysteriously appear in Ghana. They arrived by air, cleared by the Immigration Authorities and gave an indication of what they are in Ghana for, succeeded, obtained some documents to start prospecting for gold and acquired lands to commence operations. Whether they commenced business legally or illegally they were assisted in diverse ways by Ghanaians. All these activities are governed by laws and regulations and if they had been enforced, these foreigners could not have gone far in their activities.Why have they been charged alone without their Ghanaian collaborators? Galamsey flourished not because of foreigners but Ghanaians themselves and the success of their prosecution will not end galamsey.

Galamsey can only stop with the full cooperation of the Chiefs and their communities through serious education and interaction. It is very essential. The Security Services could be useful in some phases of the operations but they cannot end galamsey for lack of human resources.Secondly, all actions must be clothed in resettlement schemes with the objective of creating other employment opportunities. Thirdly, the measures being put in place must not be seen to be punitive but corrective to earn the support of the community. Conduct of operations must bedone with a human face to discourage some individuals taking undue advantage of the dissatisfaction to foment trouble. Fourthly, some form of compensation must be incorporated in the scheme to reduce the huge financial loses that have been incurred by some of the operatives especially those with heavy plant machinery. As part of reconciliation, contracts could be awarded them to reclaim the lands. The last but not the least, laws governing small scale mining must be reviewed to meet the challenges of our time.

“The world suffers a lot not because of the VIOLENCE of bad people but because of the SILENCE of good people” (Napoleon).