Ghana continues to witness the disastrous effects of illegal mining popularly known as galamsey, as the various water bodies, forest and other endowed rich natural resources are being destroyed with impunity.

In other words, illegal mining has become a fly in the ointment of sound forest, with its attendant effects like deforestation and forest degradation, drought, water and air pollution.

Past governments' several attempts to curb the menace have failed, obviously because of the big cartel involved, sometimes with the connivance and direct involvement of the police, military, immigration officials, politicians and chiefs of the affected areas themselves.

With well-meaning Ghanaians getting tired of the gory spectacle, it was all joy and happiness among the people, when the then newly elected President in 2017, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo promised to end the canker even at the peril of his political life.

He said at that time “I understand the galamseyers say if I want go by the dictates of the law, they will vote against me and my party the NPP at the next elections. But what is important to me is to do what God has asked me to come and do which involves programmes and policies that will lead Ghana on the path of development. That is more important to me than elections matters,” he said.

“Our forefathers bequeathed these lands to us; if we can't put them to good use, it's better we leave them in the state we came to find them but not to destroy them. That is what has led to this war against galamsey,” President Akufo-Addo added.

It therefore came as no surprise that, President Akufo-Addo, who is the Commander-In-Chief of the Ghana Armed Forces, immediately tasked the military with the responsibility of leading the war against galamsey.

Speaking at the presentation of colours to the Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment (Recce Regiment) of the Ghana Armed Forces in Accra also in 2017, President Akufo-Addo stated that “as government intensifies its efforts to curb the illegal mining phenomenon, otherwise referred to as galamsey, that is polluting our waters, destroying our farmlands and forests, and threatening the very survival of this country, Ghanaians would continue to rely on the efforts of our security services, with the Armed Forces in the fore front to help deal with the problem.”

He stressed confidence that “as always, the Armed Forces will rise to the occasion.”

Media Support

Encouraged by the words of the President and the ruthless action to be taken to curb the menace, the Ghanaian media on Tuesday April 4, 2017, launched a Coalition called the Media Coalition Against Illegal Mining comprising major media organisations.

Mr Ashigbey, a Member of the Steering Committee of the Coalition, admitted that, the media was part of the leadership and that over the years it had not played its watchdog role effectively to end the menace.

He said the media had just been scratching the surface of the matter without delving deep to find lasting solutions to the problem adding that ‘‘if Ghana becomes extinct in the future, people will say the media was complicit in allowing this to happen because we benefited’’.

‘‘We must put positive pressure on the leadership so that they would not give us the excuse to do the right thing, ‘‘he said.

Mr. Ashigbey urged the media to mount pressure on traditional leaders, security agencies and all stakeholders that had the power to stop the practice by naming and shaming all accomplices.

‘‘The fight must be sustained until we can put a cup in Birim, Tano, Pra, Ankobra and Densu to drink again,’’ he said.

Failed Efforts

But, three years after the commitment to end illegal mining in the country, it is very obvious that, the government had failed to halt the cruel destruction of the forest and water bodies in the country.

Thus, one cannot still put a cup in Birim, Tano, Pra, Ankobra and Densu to drink as being envisaged by the Media Coalition Against Illegal Mining.

What many believed worsened the situation was the introduction of the community mining scheme by the government before the 2020 elections, with the aim of sanitizing the sector which was never achieved though.

And, in a real admission of failure in the fight against illegal mining, President Akufo Addo in his last state of the nation address on Tuesday January 5, 2021, called for an open and dispassionate conversation about illegal mining and its future.

He said the devastating nature of illegal mining required from leaders the duty to take the subject out of the party-political arena and engage in an honest conversation about the menace for the sake of current and future generations.

“There is one subject about which I believe we, the people, need to have an open conversation, and that is galamsey. Should we allow or should we not allow galamsey, the illegal mining that leads to the pollution of our water bodies and the devastation of our landscape? he asked

He added “As I have said often, the Almighty having blessed us with considerable deposits of precious minerals, there would always be mining in Ghana. Indeed, there has always been mining in Ghana. The problem we have is the use of modern technology that leads to the illegal mining methods posing serious dangers to our water bodies and the health of our environment.

The President admitted that, the pollution of the rivers and water resources have been so acute on occasion that the Ghana Water Company is unable to afford the distilling of water to make for safe drinking. “We have to talk about galamsey. We, who are leaders, owe it to the country to take the subject out of the party-political arena, and have an honest conversation about this menace to our future”, he added.

Call for open conversation on galamsey scandalous

Deputy National Director of A Rocha Ghana, Daryl Bossu described as scandalous the call for open conversation by the President after three years of spending millions of tax payer’s money in an apparent fight against galamsey.

In an interview with ghenvironment.org, the Deputy Director expressed his disappointment with the call for open conversation on the galamsey issue by President Akufo Addo.

“The nation reached a consensus before 2016 that galamsey is inimical to our sustainable development. Before the 2016 election he added his voice to advocacy by several state and non-state agencies which he further committed to during his investiture on 7th January 2017 after winning the elections”, he noted.

Mr Bossu said, in response to the massive support the President received, he subsequently committed to put his Presidency on the line as part of his commitment to halting galamsey and huge budgetary allocations were made to support operation vanguard and also constituted the Inter-ministerial Committee on galamsey.

The statement by the President, he said, is clearly contradictory and at best a betrayal of the national consensus to eliminate galamsey.

According to Mr Bossu, the open discussion being clamored by the President should rather concentrate on why the Executive has taken it upon itself to interfere in the work of institutions like Minerals Commission, Environmental Protection Agency, Water Resources as well as the Forestry Commission making them toothless institutions in addressing illegal mining because of the strong political interest in the venture.

“These actions not only undermine the work of the institutions but also the regulatory frameworks they are empowered to supervise, enforce and ensure compliance. Resulting effect is the impunity we see in the small-scale mining in the country, holding farmers and water resources of other citizens to ransom”, he added.

He said, Ghana needs to have an open discussion on why setting up a Taskforce like Vanguard using tax payer’s money, only for them to undermine compliance and effect the necessary deterrent measures that was crucial to ensure completeness of purpose.

“We need to have an open discussion on why we set up Inter-ministerial Committees and District level Committees to address galamsey without a full complement of the CSO representation thereby making these establishments culpable appendages for promoting political interests in an issue of such national public interest. You do not solve a problem using the same people who caused the problem in the first place”, he added.

He said, there is also the need to have an open discussion, on why strengthening the penal legal frameworks on galamsey but still ‘undermine’ the work of the courts by applying the law to favour certain people over others. “If we can use economic interest to justify why people of certain nationals should be exempted from prosecution for breaking our laws with impunity, how do we get the ethical and legal right to deprive Ghanaians from freely pursuing their fundamental livelihood interests as well? he asked.

He concluded that “We need to have an open discussion on why we came so close to cutting off the head of dragon, only for government to rebrand galamsey, effectively deregulating the industry and putting it in the hands of the district party favorites all in the name of ‘Community Mining’. We need to have an open discussion on what happened to the President’s Commitment to put his presidency on the line, in his fight to eliminate galamsey from our society and safeguard our environment and water bodies.

Political Science lecturer, Professor Ransford Gyampo summed it up this way on his facebook page “We do not need a national conversation about illegal mining. It appears the President sounded wavering in his commitment to fighting galamsey. His comments on this, doesn’t support his earlier decisive posturing of wanting to put his Presidency on the line in the fight against illegal mining. The disastrous effects of illegal mining on our water bodies, and on the very sources of human livelihood in Ghana, are unquantifiable, and the quest to maintain political power, should not be enough to make any regime relent in fighting it”.

Story By Awudu Salami Sulemana Yoda