We are losing the battle against galamsey

An aerial view of the mining site close to Up Town Hotel, Asankragua

As I write this article, my heart bleeds because of the wanton destruction of our environment in the search for gold by both Ghanaians and non-Ghanaians.

This is the seventh article I am writing in two years on the menace of illegal mining to our water resources, forests and environment. My last article was in January 2021 titled ‘Can we win the battle against illegal mining?’ I wrote the article after I visited Wassa Amenfi Central on official duty. This attests to the seriousness I attach to illegal mining and its repercussion on our ecosystem and the survival of future generations.

Once again, last week, I was on an official duty to Wassa Amenfi Central – specifically at Asankragua, the capital town of Wassa Amenfi Central. The illegal mining activities that I saw on the way to Asankrangua convinced me that the battle against galamsey (illegal mining) and its destructive effects on our forests and water-bodies is far from over. This feeds into the doubts I raised in my first article as to whether duty-bearers had the political will to combat illegal mining.

The first article also questioned the lack of collective will and constant vigilance needed to protect our endowments from both local and foreign encroachers. This explains why Malians, Burkinabes, Togolese, Nigerians, Guineans – and lately even Chinese – are engaged in illegalities without looking over their shoulders. This is because these non-Ghanaians mostly draw their motivation and support from Ghanaians, especially some politicians and chiefs.

The River Pra is one of the key landmarks when entering Western Region from Beposo. This river was once the pride of Ghana because its serenity and ecological richness differentiated it from other rivers. It used to feature in a song we sang in primary school, describing our rivers as some of the best natural endowments God blessed Ghana with. Currently, and sadly, the ecological richness of River Pra is more. The river is now an unpleasant sight, unable to support aquatic life with its yellowish content polluted by mercury and other toxic chemicals used by illegal miners to refine their gold dust. Other rivers under threat are the Tano, Daboase and Ankobra.

Driving through Tarkwa and Bogoso to Asankragua, the multiple scenes of illegal mining demonstrate that the battle is far from over.  Suddenly, it appears Ghana is under siege by illegal miners (both Ghanaians and non-Ghanaians) who are brazenly destroying our forests and water-bodies. This trend is reminiscent of the drug-trafficking menace, and if unchecked could constitute a security threat to Ghana. For this reason, government and its agencies need to wage a relentless war to save our environment.

At Asankragua I lodged at Up Town Hotel, just a few metres from the town.  Sadly, the land a few metres from the hotel has become a heavy mining centre with excavators busily digging ditches. Within metres of where the excavators are digging are five houses whose foundations might be weakened by the incessant digging going on. What’s worse, the ditches are so deep that I wonder if the land can ever be reclaimed for future development.

The legitimate question, is who approved the concession for such an assault on the environment near a hotel and behind people’s homes? You can imagine the trauma these house-owners are going through from watching excavators digging just a stone’s throw from their homes. In fact, after one sleepless night due to the deafening noise of excavators working in the night I checked-out and lodged in another hotel. In both hotels the galamsey boys are making merry with young girls due to their ill-gotten gold money at the expense of the environment. I would not be surprised to find that Asankragua tops the HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases chart in the Western Region, due to the level of promiscuity fuelled by galamsey money.

Bleak future of cocoa

Another feature of galamsey in the Western Region is the destruction of cocoa farms. During my interactions with people, I heard agonising stories of how farmers are being compelled to sell or abandon their cocoa farms to illegal miners. One farmer is reported to have recently sold his ten-acre cocoa farm for GH¢30,000 – each acre going for 3,000. He then shared the proceeds among his children and told them their future was in their own hands. His reason for selling is that illegal miners had annexed adjoining farms and blocked access to his farm. The water that flows from the adjoining farms had flooded his farm, rendering the cocoa trees useless.

In other cases, landowners who leased their lands to settler farmers simply sold the lands to illegal miners without notice to the farmers. When the illegal miners destroy one farm, they abandon it and move to the next with or without agreement with farmers. One source disclosed that some of the illegal miners are wielding guns and often threaten to shoot any farmer who resists their annexation or offer to buy their farms. The craze by our youth to get money quickly is not only threatening the coca sector but also endangering the future sustainability of our economy.  The cocoa industry has for years has been the backbone of the economy, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. In fact, the rate at which the Western Region is losing cocoa farms to illegal mining is worrying. In fact, the cocoa sub-sector is under siege and needs rescuing from illegal mining activities.

In the 2022 Budget Statement, Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Attah highlighted the positive trend in Ghana’s cocoa production.  According to him, in the 2020/21 season total production reached an all-time high of 1,045,500 tonnes – a 34.82 percent increase over the previous season’s output. The crop outturn for 2021/2022 season, which opened in October 2021, was expected to be above 900,000 tonnes. Mr. Ofori-Attah noted that the increase in production was due to implementation of Productivity Enhancement Programmes (PEPs) over the past three years.  These positive trends notwithstanding, I dare state that cocoa will soon lose its glitter as a major foreign exchange earner.

GWC warns

As far back 2018, the Ghana Water Company (GWC) publicly decried the negative effects of illegal mining on its ability to provide quality water for the many Ghanaians. Last week, GWC again warned of the dire consequences of illegal mining on the country’s water resources. GWC warned that if unchecked Ghana might lose all rivers that provide drinking water to the population within a few years. Water and forests are natural endowments not just for the current generation but also for future ones. For this reason, it is our collective responsibility to preserve the nation’s water-bodies and forests for future generations.

Institutional reforms

I strongly believe that Ghana is not a failed state, since the executive, legislature and judiciary are functioning accordingly. If the three arms of government are indeed functioning properly, then the onus is on them to rise to their responsibility of protecting our environment.

The fight against illegal mining has long been fought in Ghana, but never won; and I wonder if it will ever be won. The wider issue is a lack of faith in Ghana’s regulatory environment. For example, the recently-passed Minerals and Mining (Amendment) Act is making little difference on the ground, given a lack of adequate enforcement by inter-governmental agencies. Other environment-watchers have cited the justice delivery system’s failure as the weakest link in the whole chain of illegal mining. This is because some illegal miners who are arrested are easily released with a click of their fingers. To put it bluntly, the current approach to combatting illegal mining is not working.

For this reason, some stakeholders are advocating for a stronger Act of Parliament if the country is indeed to combat illegal mining. According to one commentator, the current law is weak as it fails to empower traditional rulers to protect the natural resources in their jurisdictions.  The 1992 Constitution empowers the President of Ghana to hold all mineral resources in trust for the people of Ghana.

This means that government and its agencies have the ultimate responsibility for protecting our environment and mineral resources. But it appears the inter-governmental agencies are not responsive to the pressing need to protect our environment.  In this regard, chiefs have no power to act – though some of them are aiding and abetting illegal mining. The chieftaincy institution needs to do some self-refection and assert its significance in preserving our environment.

In fact, our collective attitude toward the environment is one of the factors reversing Ghana’s economic growth. The average Ghanaian is too selfish and inward-looking – to the point of ignoring the glaring loss of our natural ecosystems, the signs of climate change, as well as the threat to our future generations. If we fail in this regard, future generations will hold us responsible for destroying their heritage in pursuit of status, wealth, luxury and power.

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