Galamsey, a name derived from the phrase ‘gather and sell’ is a local Ghanaian term which means illegal small-scale mining of gold and other minerals in Ghana. Ghana today is recognized as the largest gold producer in Africa. It is the undisputed mining hub of Africa and is dominated by two main gold mining sectors: the large-scale mining sector and the small-scale sector.
These illegal gold mining operations are heavily criticized throughout Ghana due to its harmful environmental effects which many believe outweigh any possible economic and cultural justifications. The Ghanaian populace, the media as well as some political leaders have raised serious concerns about the negative effects of galamsey and have called for its abolishment.
Gold contributes significantly to Ghana’s economy and small-scale mining happens to be an important means of income for many low-income Ghanaian households. It produces about 30% of Ghana’s total output. Under the Ghanaian law, small-scale gold mining is reserved for Ghanaians but the boom in gold prices in the 2000s and Ghana’s unprotected gold wealth drew thousands of Chinese miners to Ghana who started mining for gold illegally.
Illegal gold mining by Chinese migrants in Ghana has had devastating effects on the environment, communities, and the economy. Galamsey pollutes rivers and destroys farming land. It is linked to increase in crime and affects efforts to improved education in local areas.
In recent years and particularly in the last few months, the discourse of illegal small-scale miners in Ghana can be portrayed generally as highly negative and combative, focusing on the galamsey operators as lawless, irresponsibly destroying the environment and has become a security risk to the country.
In Ghana, small-scale miners need a license before they can operate. However, majority of small-scale miners are operating in Ghana without any legal license. The activity which has kept on attracting several thousands of local Ghanaians especially the youth, promises a quicker means of an earning an income, but is it really true?
The high incidence of galamsey in recent times have been on several discussions and heated debates for some time now. Every year, galamsey strips some 28 billion tons of materials from the earth. This is more than what is removed by the natural erosion of all earth’s rivers. Globally, mining generates 2.7 billion tons of processing waste each year.
The major cause of galamsey is UNEMPLOYMENT among the youth in Ghana. Young university graduates rarely find work after national service and when they do, it hardly sustains them. The result is that these youth go the extra mile to support themselves and their families. The lack of money to fend for themselves pushes them to join the galamsey work thinking they are going to make quick money for themselves to be able to cater for themselves and their families.
Kandifo Institute hosted Kaba Lambert, a man who has been in the galamsey business for 10 years since 2011. Kaba was interviewed for the Kandifo Institute Podcast and shared his 10 years’ experience in the galamsey business. Kaba Lambert started doing galamsey in 2010 when he was in Junior High School. After his completion at Junior High School, he continued with galamsey in order to put himself through school and to support himself, his father, his mother, stepmother and siblings. He used the little money he got from galamsey to see himself through Senior High School and tertiary where he studied animal science (Agric. College, Tamale).
After his national service, none of the companies he sent his CVs to, even called, or called him back to grant him an interview. He did not have any source of income to support himself and his family, so he had to go back to doing galamsey. According to Kaba, children even below the age of 10 years are involved in illegal mining.
He also stated that, the money from the galamsey work go to big bosses and chiefs whereas people like himself who go underground for nine hours shift are paid just GH¢30. Kaba has worked in several illegal mining sites: Prestea, Bordea, Nkakaa, Ataa ne Atta, Ewideaso, Wassa Adea, Manso, Nkawie, Wenkyi, Tarkwa Dang, Damang, Subin and Nkoaransa and stated that, the risk involved in galamsey is very high.
Most of the young people there are involved in illegal mining because they have no source of income, and the youth nowadays will do anything to survive. Through galamsey, he lost two of his cousins and a couple of friends. Things got so hard for Kaba to the extent that he had to ignore his mother’s calls because he did not have money on him. In such cases, he was mostly pushed to call a neighbor in his hometown to ask if his family was doing well before he could even call his mummy back. He had to make sure his mummy wasn’t calling him for money, not because he didn’t want to give her but because he didn’t have any money to give to her.
Again, on the galamsey process, there is a machine that pumps oxygen underground for these young galamseyers and once the oxygen is done, it is the end of their lives. He reiterated that galamsey is very deadly and must be abolished.
“You are working on a large hole and if you are not lucky, the rocks/cave can fall away, and you will die,” he added. It was difficult for Kaba to even keep any money for himself after buying food and paying for his transportation. Kaba’s story is a very touching one, but the good news is, he is now joining Kandifo Institute to advocate against galamsey because of the risks involved and the risks it poses to our lands, water bodies and we the citizens.
These young people who go underground to do the hard work are paid so little and do not even get access to the gold, they only get paid to work. Kaba is an animal scientist but because he is unemployed, he has to enter into the galamsey business to be able to fend for himself and his family. He also has colleagues who are University graduates who because of unemployment have joined the galamsey “business.”
According to Kaba, galamsey is just two things, “it’s either you die, or you survive.” Before they even start the mining business on a site, they have to perform some rituals/sacrifices on the land. Others also have spiritual rings that protect them from any danger on the site.
Kaba says, they go underground as deep as three times of an ECG light pole. For those forced to work in the mines due to lack of job opportunities, the work can be exceptionally dangerous and that is the case of Kaba Lambert and most of the young people involved in galamsey because these miners rely on mercury to refine the gold, and this has disastrous effects on their health.
In Ghana, it is estimated that 1.2 million young people are unemployed, and this has forced them to consider working in any of the illegal mines in the country. The lack of employment opportunities in this country is a contributing factor to this situation. The absence of job opportunities in our towns, cities, villages has compelled our able-bodied young men and women to join galamsey.
It is quite depressing to see university graduates and qualified trained professionals, unemployed and the few who get lucky to find jobs are not well paid. Those who find themselves in this unfortunate situation become frustrated because they cannot sustain themselves. They need to earn a living and have access to the necessities of life as posited by the great Abraham Maslow. The thoughts of these people surviving pushes these young men and young women to consider galamsey as a lucrative business that is worth exploiting.
We do not need prophets and sooth Sayers to tell us that our country is in danger of collapsing looking at the adverse and horrendous effects of galamsey. If our fertile land and resources are destroyed through galamsey processes, we would have nothing to depend on and sustain us for the generations unborn.
- Government must support more young entrepreneurs through mediums like the National Entrepreneurship and Innovation Plan (NEIP).
- NGO’s must collaborate with Government to gather skilled entrepreneurs and empower them to create opportunities for self-employment.
- Government must invest more in career guidance and counseling, work-based learning, coaching and mentoring to equip young people.
- Young people must offer free services where possible to support each other to gain knowledge and experience in preparation for permanent work.
- Government should give enough support funds for COVE/TVET
>>>The writer is Executive Director, Kandifo Institute. He can be reached on [email protected]