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Opinions of Thursday, 18 July 2013

Columnist: Asimenu-Forson, Kwaku

What is the Chinese word for Galamsey?

Kwaku Asimenu-Forson

Since the 15th Century when the Portuguese conferred the name Gold Coast on the territory that would later become Ghana, mining and for that matter galamsey has been a consistent part of the Ghanaian experience. Galamsey, a corruption of the phrase ‘gather-and –sell’ is an informal mining work in very narrow pits with rudimentary implements such as shovels and pick-axes and therefore prone to accidents and injuries

In November 2009, an accident in Dompoase, Ashanti killed 18 people including 13 women. In June of the following year a galamsey operation in Dunkwa-on-Ofin went disastrously wrong when the mine flooded killing 150 people.The gold ore is processed using mercury therefore the galamseyers are also very prone to mercury poisoning. But if the accidents were limited to the illegal miners , society would still be concerned though but what makes illegal mining now a number one public- enemy –enterprise is the extent of environmental degradation; sometimes of entire communities.
Because of its nature, governments over the period have been unwilling to license galamseyers thus rendering the activity illegal; in fact unlawfully dangerous. Galamsey presently represents a pressing danger in all mining communities. Actually, it has always been so but the rise in height of the current danger has been due to the ‘Chinese Connection.’
Overnight, Chinese galamseyers have flooded Ghana tsunami-style. There is no mining community in Ghana without the Chinese; at least until about a month ago. After persistent public outcry, the Mahama administration decided to take the bull by the horns by forming a presidential task-force to flush out the menace. And they did flush. Flushed out the Chinese. For the first time in living memory, it appeared a Ghanaian government had developed sufficient balls to kick out foreigners who had become sort of, ehmm, a nuisance. Armies of Chinese galamseyers were shown the exit through Kotoka in a fashion that would make Rambo long for action. Ghana has found a solution. Wait a minute, Ghana has found a new problem.
Not long after the task force clamped down on the illegal activity, the Chinese Embassy in Accra, went public with strange announcements. All of a sudden. Acquiring a Chinese Visa had become extremely exhorbitant with even stronger and more stringent non- financial measures targeted at Ghanaian government officials needing to go to China. A diplomatic incident or even a row has erupted between Ghana and China. Already negotiated but delayed loans from China to Ghana started delaying extra without cause. Even private sector business people started facing unusual difficulty with their Chinese counterparts.
Indications are that, the absence of the money expected from China is putting severe pressure on the economy. In the past few weeks, the forex sector has reported, at least once, of shortage of dollars in the economy. Dollars that would have come with the disbursement of soft Chinese loans. Key gas projects to address Ghana’s now perennial energy crisis is stalled in Western region because expected inflows did not happen. Government has been pushed to the wall and against the wall, they have put taxes on anything you can think about including condoms and crocodile machetes. One commentator said very soon, government would tax us for having a fiancé or fiancée. The more girlfriends, the higher the tax and of course, vice versa. The public burden in Ghana is increasing and somehow this is connected to the clampdown on Chinese galamnsey activities. Somehow, the Chinese do not understand, do they have a word for galamnsey?
So the question is should Ghana allow the Chinese to destroy our environment so we can get money from China?