One of the key economic and political challenges that confronted the first Akufo-Addo Administration was destruction of the environment and the pollution of major rivers through illegal mining, commonly called ‘galamsey’.
So entrenched and destructive was illegal mining that it needed political will and perhaps, at the risk of political consolidation to combat it. What was more disturbing was that some Ghanaians with political power were influencing the assault on our environment, using Chinese and other foreign elements. No doubt, these illegal mining activities have over the years changed the landscape of Ghana’s environment and have had major pollution impacts on communities and their livelihoods.
On assuming office in 2017, President Akufo-Addo repeatedly expressed his government’s resolve to continue the fight against illegal mining in order to protect the country’s forests and improve the quality of water supply. At a point, the Ghana Water Company publicly outlined the negative effect of illegal mining on its ability to provide quality water for the many Ghanaians due to pollution of the Pra, Tano, Daboase and Ankobra Rivers.
In 2018, government unveilled the Inter-Ministerial Committee against Illegal Mining (IMCIM) as a state strategy to combat the menace. Given the political nature of illegal mining, many environmental activists – including the media – doubted whether government and its agencies could succeed in the fight against illegal mining. Initial assessments of government’s intervention indicated some successes, as the polluted rivers regained some life; later events however proved that the battle would take longer than expected.
A major setback to the intervention was deep-rooted corruption and extortion by the men and women in the Inter-Ministerial Committee. An investigation by the media revealed how some military, police, private and public servants tasked with stopping the menace were colluding and conniving with illegal miners to continue the trade, irrespective of its negative impact on the environment and water-bodies.
Five years on, it is certain that the war against illegal mining is far from over, and government will have to restrategise if it is to deliver on its promise to combat illegal mining and rescue the environment. A recent investigative piece undertaken by Joy News attests to my assertion. In an embedded reporting operation, Joy News reported how Chinese illegal miners – under heavy military protection – were destroying large swathes of land and water-bodies in the heart of the Manso Forest. Interestingly, it was a police team that uncovered the large military involvement in the operation. Hitherto, many people believed that the police institution was the most corrupt and the military was the face of probity and accountability. Many Ghanaians, including, yours truly, believed the military could never breach public trust in them to such a level. A search at the site uncovered branded military uniforms with names and ranks of serving military men written on them.
The police team arrested seven Chinese illegal miners at the site, and as the search continued a young and heavily-armed military man arrived at the scene. Looking agitated and depressed he made a call to his superiors, obviously to alert them of the danger. Soon, many military and ‘machomen’ – described in the report as alleged members of the ‘Delta Force’ vigilante groups – arrived at the site.
Some exchanges ensued between the police team and military men, while the machomen assaulted and seized the gadgets of Joy News reporters. Somehow, and in the spirit of the public’s right to know, the Joy News team managed to hide the memory-card containing aspects of their recording. Undoubtedly, this brave act is a good trait for investigative journalism, and the Joy News team must be commended and publicly acknowledged for it.
Similarly, in February 2019 ace investigative journalist Anas Aremyaw Anas released a documentary that gained national attention. In the documentary, some officers of the IMCIM, including its Secretary, allegedly received bribes and encouraged illegal mining. Arguably, the perception of government’s weak will and selective prosecution has set a negative precedent and given others the impetus to continue mining illegally.
In fact, the major threat to the environment is not the illegal miners but our politicians and some public servants, through their acts of commission and omission. Between 2012 and 2017, the allocation of legal or illegal concessions became more of a political activity. Several investigations had revealed that proceeds from illegal mining were used to oil political party operations, hence the lack of political will to combat it.
The fight against illegal mining has long been fought in Ghana, but never won; and I wonder if it will ever be won. In early July 2018, one illegal mine collapsed…killing 22 illegal miners. This compelled government to promise even tougher action, including a year-long military deployment across several mining sites owned by large-scale mining companies.
The wider issue is a lack of faith on all sides in the regulatory environment of Ghana. For example, the recently-passed Minerals and Mining (Amendment) Act, imposing harsher penalties on illegal mining, is making little difference on the ground – given the lack of adequate enforcement. Other environmental watchers have cited failure of the justice delivery system as the weakest link in the whole chain of illegal mining. This is because some illegal miners arrested were released without any apparent justification on several occasions.
In the heat of the 2020 elections, illegal mining became central to the political fortunes of some political parties. Specifically, some top political activists of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) carried the campaign to the Western Region, the heartbeat of illegal mining, where they promised to legalise ‘illegal mining’ when voted to power. In 2008, the NDC benefitted from a similar campaign to legalise illegal mining. The party swept to power against all forecasts, albeit with the narrowest of margins.
Small wonder, then, that in the 2020 elections the NDC won significant Parliamentary seats in the Western and Western-North Regions, where it promised once more to legalise illegal mining. What’s worrying is the extreme politicisation of illegal mining for political gain in the face of continuous destruction inflicted on our lands and water resources. For how long can we continue to sacrifice our land and water resources on the altar of political power?
The economic dimension of illegal mining can be traced to its effects on agriculture and food security. Several studies have indicated how illegal miners have destroyed farmlands across the country, thus hampering agricultural productivity and protection of livelihoods in remote communities. Over the years, agriculture – the only real alternative to gold mining in rural Ghana – has been long underperforming and generating low incomes.
2012 and 2016, agriculture’s growth slumped to a woeful 1.3 percent and contributed minimally to overall GDP growth. Thankfully, government’s flagship ‘Planting for Food and Jobs’ has begun to revitalise agricultural production in rural Ghana. Moving forward, government’s plans to facilitate alternative employment for illegal miners through the Multilateral Mining Integrated Project (MMIP) must be stepped-up if agriculture is to regain its role as mainstay of the economy.
Although there are plans to legalise and formalise small-scale mining, the existing bureaucracies – coupled with increased unemployment and poverty – have made illegal mining even more attractive. In 2017, government placed an indefinite ban on small-scale mining activities in its quest to find a solution to the illegal mining scourge. However, this was met with heavy resistance by duly-registered small-scale miners.
Successive governments have over the last two decades made efforts to clamp down on the menace, but illegal miners have a stronger will and have become more creative in sustaining their activities. Weak implementation and lack of enforcement for laws against rent-seeking by bureaucrats remain the biggest challenges in the fight against illegal mining.
Certainly, the IMCIM established to oversee the activities of agencies involved in the fight has failed to deliver. The corruption allegations and selective justice accusations levelled on the IMCIM have dented the image of government and cannot be wished away. On that score, President Akufo-Addo’s realignment of the IMCIM with the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources is forthright and could hold the key in the ongoing fight against illegal mining. There will certainly be enormous pressure on the young Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Mr. Abu Jinapor, to rise to the task.
I have heard some politicians describing Ghana as a ‘banana republic’, probably out of bitterness from losing power. That posture is unpatriotic and disingenuous to say the least. Ghana is not a failed state, since the executive, legislature and judiciary are functioning accordingly. Perhaps in future the only indicator that will be used to establish whether Ghana is a failed state will be our collective failure to protect the environment for current and future generations. Future generations will hold us responsible for destroying their heritage in pursuit of wealth and power. This is the responsibility elected representatives of the people of Ghana must uphold and defend.
(***The writer is a Development and Communications Management Specialist, and a Social Justice Advocate. All views expressed in this article are my personal views and do not represent those of any organisation(s). (Email: [email protected]. Mobile: 0202642504/0243327586.