Gold contributes significantly to the economy as Ghana is one the largest producers of gold in Africa. Alternatively, small-scale mining is permitted by Ghana laws and serves as a source of income for many low-income households. Albeit illegal mining remains a national security issue.

Illegal gold mining operations known as Galamseyhave been largely criticised by civil society groups and ordinary citizens across Ghana, particularly for their negative environmental impacts. The term ‘Galamsey’ is derived from the phrase “gather and sell” referring to the traditional method of mining for gold made by the first foreign big-scale miners

The substances retrieved from the mines, which are believed to contain gold ore are often washed into water bodies, primarily rivers, thereby contaminating them. Mercury has also been identified as the main chemical used for gold extraction polluting the soil and water bodies such as the Birim, Ankobra, Pra, Densu, Offin and Bia. Exposure to Mercury is very harmful, especially to children, teenagers and pregnant women who often work and handle the liquid metal at galamsey sites. Additionally, Mercury poisoning affects people near these sites through drinking water and fish consumption leaving them with neurological disorders.

The above factors threaten the constant water supply to communities in the Ashanti, Western, Eastern, Central regions and other parts of the country. The Ghana Water Company Ltd warned that it could shut down operations in areas affected by galamsey soon due to the high costs of treating the polluted water. The rising cost of processing potable water could also be passed down to consumers, through increased utility tariffs, although a large percentage of Ghanaians are already bearing the brunt of current harsh economic conditions. 

Over the years, Riber Pra has been polluted by illegal mining hence, the brownish color. (Source: Citinews room)

Foreigners

Over the years, there has been a surge in unregulated mining and this has been largely attributed to foreigners, mainly Chinese nationals. The Ghana Immigration Service (GIS) indicated that over 1,600 Chinse nationals engaged in illegal mining were apprehended and repatriated between 2009 and August 2022. The rearrest of Aisha Huang, who has been labelled as a ‘galamsey queen, in September 2022 saw massive public outcry. There have also been several claims of some government officials, traditional authorities and politicians being complicit in this menace by shielding foreign and local miners in return for private payments.

Ghanaians, both at home and abroad, have also shown their displeasure with this menace through protests and online campaigns while calling for a total ban on illegal mining activities. 

Reports have also shown that increased armed robberies, violence, and other criminal activities are prevalent in some of these communities. In October 2022, two people were injured in a clash between illegal miners and a security team manning the concession of Anglogold Ashanti in the Obuasi East district. Recently, an individual was allegedly murdered by Chinese miners at Dompim in the Western Region working in a forest close to the Bonsa River. An increase in criminality linked to galamsey has also been captured in the Kwaebiberem Municipality in the Eastern Region. There are also some concerns that these security issues would create unstable environments, paving the way for violent extremism

Government Policies Against Illegal Mining Activities

In 2017, the current government initially declared ‘war’ on these illegal activities by implementing several interventions to fight illegal mining including setting up the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Illegal Mining (IMCIM) to coordinate efforts aimed at sanitising the small-scale mining (SSM) sector however this was dissolved in 2021. Millions of Ghana cedis from both previous and incumbent administrations have been poured into various task forces and initiatives to curb these issues however these issues prevail.

Excavator destroyed during Operation Halt II (Source: MyJoyOnline)

The government also adopted a military-style approach comprising the military and police, to curb this menace. A military contingent labelled Operation Vanguard, was deployed to mining communities to clamp down on illegal mining activities. Subsequently, the Operation Halt I and Operation Halt II teams were also deployed to focus on fighting galamsey in water bodies. In a 3-week operation carried out between 11-31 October 2022, the Operation Halt II team deployed by the Ghana Armed Forces seized 30, destroyed 4 and immobilised 4 excavators used for illegal mining in areas including Kade, Ofoase, Oda, Pra Anom along the banks of Rivers Birim, Pra, Yawkrom, Agroyesum and Takorase along the River Offin. 

These approaches have failed to address the key fundamental issues in local communities, such as poor economic conditions and high youth unemployment rates. Notwithstanding, these activities contribute significantly to the rural economies of the communities through job creation which they are practised due to the lack of alternative jobs.

 

Disclaimer: Images are for descriptive purposes only. We do not own the rights to the images used in this article. Images are from Google.com.