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Opinions of Sunday, 19 March 2017

Columnist: Eric Bawah

When Gold Coast turns to gold curse

By: Eric Bawah

“It is turning out to be a constant refrain, but on a day like this, we cannot ignore the state of our environment. We are endangering the very survival of the beautiful and blessed land that our forefathers bequeathed to us. The dense forests, that were homes to varied trees, plants and fauna, have largely disappeared. Today we import timber for our use, and the description of our land as a tropical forest no longer fits the reality. Our rivers and lakes are disappearing, and those that still exist are all polluted.

It bears repeating that we do not own the land. But hold it in trust for generations yet unborn. We have a right to exploit the bounties of the earth and extract the minerals and even redirect the path of rivers, but we do not have the right to denude the land of the plants and fauna, nor poison the rivers and lakes” – President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo.

Even though President Akufo Addo mesmerized everybody with his powerful speech on the 60th Anniversary of Ghana’s independence at the Black Star Square, what caught my attention was not the chronological order of his presentation of the background of our independence but what is quoted above. If the President had been silent on this issue, I would have been very much disappointed. I have had cause to write extensively about the state of our environment and at a point in time it seemed I was the lone voice crying on the desert. Thank God no mean a person but the President of Ghana has hit the nail on the head.

The first Europeans to arrive at present day Ghana’s coast were the Portuguese in 1471. They encountered variety of African kingdoms, some of which controlled substantial deposit of gold in the soil. The British too followed and like the Portuguese their main interest was the gold deposit that the region could and can still boast of. In fact, the Gold Coast had long been the name for the region used by the Europeans because of the large deposit of gold resources found in the area. We used to be proud when this land of ours used to be called Gold Coast because we thought we were sitting on gold, and rightfully so. What we did not realize was that one day the Gold Coast will turn to Gold Curse.

“Galamsey” the most devastating operation in this land of our birth (Or is it land of our death?) started in Obuasi and its environs. Much attention was not paid to the illegal activities because all what they were doing were to gather the rocks and soil which fell from conveyor belts of the Obuasi Gold Mines and processed them with mercury to extract gold. In those days gold buyers trooped to the gold mining town to buy at a reasonably cheap price to sell abroad. Before we could say Jack Robin, people from other gold mining towns like Prestea, Bibiani, Tarkwa, Bogoso etc joined the band wagon and the result is what we are seeing now. If we had nipped the menace in the bud, the situation would not have escalated to the extent that our river bodies are under threat as the president has said.

Anytime I drive along the Kumasi-Accra highway and see the state of the Birim river, I feel guilty and hopeless because I know generation yet unborn will write our names in bronze. The situation is worse when you see what the ‘Galamsey’ guys have done to Oti, Tano, Pra, Sisili and other big rivers in Ghana. I do not know the type of fish that can survive in these rivers and lakes that have been severely polluted by these guys who have refused to think about the future but what they can get today. To add insult to injury, the Chinese have virtually invaded our mining communities with heavy equipment randomly devastating the environment with impunity. Can any Ghanaian go to China to engage in such an illegality and go scot free?

Chiefs who condone and connive with these foreigners to degrade the environment should be exposed, named and shamed. These are criminals in ‘kente’ cloths and ‘ahenema’ sandals who are out there to destroy the future of generations yet to come. We should try to investigate the root cause and fight the menace at all fronts. If a chief is found to be behind the offer of land for the Chinese and their Ghanaian counterparts to engage in this criminal activities, he should be hauled before court and if found guilty, he should face the full rigors of the law to serve as a deterrent to others. What is most disturbing is that these Chinese have frontmen who are Ghanaians and who should have concern for the preservation of the environment but because of money, they have sold their consciences and behave like the proverbial goat that rubs its tail on the wall of its keeper thinking it is destroying the house.

I am aware the previous government did set up a task force to deal with the issue, but sadly, the task force became an avenue for extortion and naked thievery. Before the task force embarks on an operation, there are some of them who will call the leadership of the ‘galamsey’ team on their cell phones to inform them not to go to work on that particular day. In this era of mobile money, members of the task force receive monies from the ‘galamseyers’ on their mobile phones and they smile their ways to the next mobile money operation center to withdraw their booty while the people and the environment suffer. If there is anything called Judgment Day, these guys will pay dearly on that fateful day.

President Akufo Addo’s Planting For Jobs idea will hit the rocks if the issue of ‘galamsey’ is not tackled with all seriousness. Even as we are preparing to plant now that the rains have started falling, these ‘galamsey’ guys are destroying the very land on which we intend to plant our crops. In some cases, they are buying cocoa farms and turning the earth upside down to prospect for gold. In some places where these ‘galamsey’ operations are going on, they dig under the houses of residents, thereby threatening the lives of people who dwell in the houses. This is very serious, my brother!

‘Galamsey’ operations which used to be concentrated in the Ashanti, Eastern and Western regions have now reached the Brong Ahafo, Northern, Upper West and Upper East regions. That is how serious the situation has developed. Go to Kenyase in the Brong Ahafo Region, Dollar Power and Tinga in the Northern Region and Bongo in the Upper East Region and see the effect of ‘galamsey and you will understand the President better. In Kenyase, for example, we had some politicians who were deep in the job and because they have the power and money they were able to bribe security officials who would look the other way as their boys continue to destroy the environment. Ask Naaba Abdullai, the alleged self-confessed murderer and the brother of Hon. Collins Dauda.

“DON’T LOOK FOR FAULT, LOOK FOR A REMEDY” – HENRY FORD

And so now that these ‘galamseyers’ are on the loose and have been on the loose for so long a time what should be done? We are not in a revolutionary era where the military can go out there, arrest culprits, shave off their hair with broken bottles, drill them and throw them into guardrooms. That era is gone not to return again. In this democratic dispensation, the courts are there to speak for us. The time has come for us to establish Environmental Courts across the length and breadth of the country. If someone is caught in the act of engaging in ‘galamsey’ the person should be arranged before such a court of competent jurisdiction. If the person is found culpable, the law should deal with him without fear or favour. If for example, two hundred ‘galamseyers’ find themselves languishing in jail, anyone who will contemplate engaging in the act will think twice.

Another way of dealing with the menace is to create the enabling environment for the teeming youth to get employment and woo them to abandon ‘galamsey’ and get on the right footing. If farming, for example, is made attractive with modern farming equipment, capital and cheap farm inputs, greater number of these guys who migrate to the mining communities to engage in ‘galamsey’ will stay back home and take part in the Planting For Jobs programme. In those days when the late General Kutu Acheampong introduced the Operation Feed Yourself programme, the youth did not bother to migrate to the big cities for menial jobs. They preferred staying back in their villages to embark on farming where no one controlled them rather than travelling to the big cities to work where they were often abused.

In fact, in those days, General Acheampong also introduced Operation Feed the Factory where people living close to food processing factories got seriously engaged in the production of the particular raw material needed at the factory. If President Akufo Addo says his government will establish one factory in every district, it stands to reason that when the programme kicks off, there will be the need for raw materials to feed the factories. And if the one village one dam kicks off I don’t see the reason why the young man or woman in the three northern regions will travel down south to push wheel barrows and do other menial jobs. They will stay back home and engage in all-year round harvesting of pepper, tomatoes, cabbages, onions etc. Call me Joseph, the dreamer if you like!!!