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Opinions of Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Columnist: Cameron Duodu

How can anyone watch this galamsey film and do nothing?

I have been crying in my heart for many months over Ghana's galamsey problem. (See my website Cameron Duodu )

Everyone makes noises regretting the continued existence of the treasonable and heinous practice.

Anas Aremeyaw Anas made a vivid film about it, which was shown to the WORLD on Aljazeera TV.

When I saw that film, I foolishly imagined that our Government would take action against galamsey right away. For how can our Government's representatives stand in front of world leaders and plead for aid, when they are sitting down to watch the heritage they have sworn to preserve being destroyed by their own fellow-citizens, in collaboration with Chinese illegal gold-seekers?

Imagine telling an IMF or World Bank delegation – or a British DFiD mission that includes the current British High Commissioner in Accra – to grant Ghana a rescheduling of debts, or new funding for, say – new water projects. And these guys have seen on Aljazeera that you have allowed illegal Chinese and Ghanaian gold-diggers to turn some of your most important rivers into yellow-coloured, mercury-polluted pools of water that can no longer sustain the life of man, beast, or fish, or provide underground irrigation to your forests and farms? Ha! I'd like to be in the room to hear how they would retort.

Haha! I read the other day that President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe had uttered some unflattering words about Ghana. This hurt some of our people, including former President John Kufuor, who tried to explain to the Zimbabwe leader that things are not that bad in Ghana.

Fortunately for President Kufuor, Mr Mugabe limited his comments to our educational system. For how could Mr Kufuor have come to the defence of Ghana if Mr Mugabe had told his Zimbabwe audience: “Listen, don't compare Zimbabwe to Ghana! You know why? Ghana is a country whose politicians do not understand what their own national heritage is.

“We in Zimbabwe went into the bush to risk our lives to wage an armed struggle against Ian Smith and his white racists, in order to win back control over our country. We fought to take back our country's mineral wealth, its water resources and its lands. But in Ghana, their leaders are watching the very rivers of the country – which give the people water to drink in order to continue to live – destroyed by illegal gold-diggers! Let anyone try that in Zimbabwe see. Did we and our dead comrades go into the bush to court death for nothing? Let anyone try to pollute the Zambezi! We would have him shot on the spot! … Do you think we are stupid? How can you compare us to people like that?”

President Kufuor, I can see how your pride is legitimately hurt when someone like Mugabe – who has run his country’s currency so much into the ground that it now has to use American currency instead of its own! – has the audacity to belittle Ghana. But can you honestly place your hand on your heart and refuse to admit that we deserve to be mocked, whilst galamsey goes on relentlessly in our country?

Ha – I saw a nice picture of President John Mahama the other day chatting merrily with President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya in Nairobi. I wondered what Mr Kenyatta might be saying?

Did he protest, “Do you know, John, when we complain to Aljazeera about how it reports some of the events here in Kenya, their guys turn round and ask us whether we are not aware that they also report on countries like Ghana, where the activities of illegal gold-diggers need to be exposed?! That stomps us, Mr President, for over here, we are seriously combating the harm done by charcoal-makers, who are destroying the trees in our forests and thereby removing the shade that the trees provide to our water sources. Do you really -- as Aljazeera has shown with pictures -- actually allow your rivers to be turned upside down by illegal gold-diggers?”

How tall would Mr Mhama have stood if he had been confronted like that?

Such thoughts have raided my mind because I have just watched another heart-breaking film on galamsey, called “Trading Ghana's Water For Gold”. It is good! Very good indeed! And it was produced by a courageous team of freelance film-makers led by Edem Srem and Gifty Andoh Appiah.I emphasise freelance because it costs a lot to produce a film, and when you have no definite sponsor behind you, it takes enormous courage to start such a venture. I cannot praise them enough.

The film, which was launched at the British Council in Accra, has now won the first prize ($2,500) in a competition run by the French News Agency, Agence France-Presse (AFP). More than 40 journalists from 10 countries across Africa submitted entries for the award.

The winning entry, "Trading Ghana's Water For Gold", is, according to one foreign reviewer, “a hard-hitting video report that exposed misleading claims by the government in Ghana to have eradicated the risky practice of alluvial gold mining in the country". The winners were selected by a jury of prominent media figures chaired by Eric Chinje, chief executive of African Media Initiative.

Explaining his project, Edem Srem says: “In my country, Ghana, many leaders make public statements about action they plan to take in particular issue areas, but then don’t deliver on their promises. Unfortunately, some journalists simply report these claims as fact”.

He explained that Galamsey has been contaminating water sources in the country. On rivers, dredging vessels called “totototo” pump gravel upwards from riverbeds to extract gold. The process leads to the rivers being silted and contaminated. Materials such as mercury, lead and cyanide are used to extract the gold from the gravel. The waste is then released back into the river, poisoning fish and rendering the water unfit for consumption.

Srem gives a list of unfulfilled promises, made by Ghanaians in authority, to eradicate galamsey. The Kibi district, in Akyem Abuakwa, a gold-rich area in the Eastern Region, was described as the “headquarters” of galamsey in a January 2014 statement made by President Mahama. Back in 2010, Osagyefuo Amoatia Ofori Panin, the King of [Akyem Abuakwa] had vowed to clamp down on illegal miners in the district. In May 2013, another of Ghana’s influential kings, Otumfuo Osei Tutu of the gold-rich Asante Kingdom, similarly promised to lead the fight against the menace.

“That same year,” [Srem continued] “the government got on board, with the President setting up an anti-galamsey Task Force. Barbara Serwaa Asamoah, the Deputy Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, said the government was working to eradicate the practice, with the Task Force from the land and water ministries working with [the] police and the military to apprehend illegal miners. A year later, [the] Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, Inusah Fuseini, told me in an interview that the Task Force had shown success – particularly on the country’s water bodies.

[However], "Our investigation into the truth of these claims showed a very different picture: galamsey operations were, in fact, on the rise. Our investigation took six months to complete....

“In the Kibi traditional area, we discovered that the King’s promises had never materialised; worse, galamsey had increased. The Birem River, which serves Kibi Township and its environs, had become so heavily polluted that it was difficult for even the Ghana Water Company to draw water from it [for treatment at their plant].

“In the Asante Kingdom, the Offin River had suffered a similar fate, debunking the [Asante] King’s promise of clamping down on illegal miners. At that point, no action had been taken to address the problem. In all the areas we investigated, illegal mining on water bodies had increased, proving the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources’ claims to be false.”

Srem concludes: “After our documentary [was] aired, the President and his Ministers visited some of the areas where we had shown illegal mining activity to be on the rise...[But] galamsey is still taking place in various areas, including Twifo Praso, Bempong Agya, Appiah Nkwanta, Kyekyewere, Diaso, Bawdie and Dunkwa-on-Offin...

"I believe that misleading claims can kill. They also hold back a nation’s development. Where this occurs, journalists have a responsibility to fact-check their stories and find the truth behind the statements of the nation’s leaders...The citizens of Ghana have a right to know the truth about illegal mining activities in the country and their effect on common water resources.”

Well said, Edem! In Nigeria, when 300 or so girls were abducted by Boko Haram, a movement was spontaneously formed immediately called BringBackOurGirls which has, despite attempted intimidation, sought to bring continual pressure on the Government to try and rescue the girls. In Brazil and other Latin American countries, one hears of pressure groups that fight against armed bandits hired by forest-destroyers, who want to build ranches on virgin forest lands, to try and preserve the habitats of native peoples the bandits want to evict.

But here we are in Ghana, although we can see with our own eyes that some people are ready and willing to destroy the water resources of all the 25 million people who live in this country, what do we find? People watch videos like Trading Ghana's Water For Gold, tut-tut in a resigned manner and – DO NOTHING!

I just cannot understand that.

REPEAT: I just cannot understand that!

Is patriotism so dead in our dear country? I know our children's children will curse us one day for our incomprehensible apathy. For, indeed, we are proving ourselves to be unworthy to spawn descendants.