Development Discourse with Amos Safo: Instability in ECOWAS fuelling galamsey


“In fact, if I had my way mining in forest reserves by both local and international companies would be banned. Also, all pending applications for mining in forest reserves and near water-bodies should be withdrawn.”

Political instability and economic stagnation in some West African countries could perhaps be fuelling the unceasing migration of their citizens to Ghana – with the attendant rise in crimes like human trafficking, armed robbery, hijacking, piracy, kidnapping, trade in foreign currencies and money laundering, among others.

The large number of other ECOWAS nationals like Nigerians, Nigeriens, Burkinabes, Malians and Togolose openly indulging in illegal mining, popularly called ‘galamsey’, attests to my assertion. These ECOWAS nationals are brazenly destroying our environment in broad daylight. Comparatively, nationals of these countries see Ghana as a haven; a land in which they can fulfil their dreams of combatting poverty.   When these migrants succeed in entering Ghana, thanks to the porous security at our borders, they celebrate it as their biggest achievement.

Ordinarily, this dream to shatter poverty in Ghana is not a bad idea; but the extent to which these nationals are taking our hospitality for granted gives cause for worry. The fact is that Ghanaians tend to love and help non-Ghanaians; sadly, though, some of these non-Ghanaians tend to abuse the legendary Ghanaian hospitality by engaging in armed robbery, kidnapping, human trafficking, hijacking, and lately illegal mining.

Honestly, while some ECOWAS citizens often engage in genuine business, most of them often engage in criminal activities that are bedevilling our dear country. Some conspiracy theories suggest that some of these ECOWAS nationals are often mobilised by political parties to cause chaos during elections. Examples of election-related violence some ECOWAS citizens engage in include voting, ballot-snatching and violence. In fact, Ghana offers the assurance of political stability for many Africans – which is the prerequisite for peace and economic progress. However, if the current government and subsequent one fail to combat galamsey, it might trigger the next big war in Ghana.

We need to be reminded that galamsey stoked ethnic war and instability in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and accounts for ongoing instability in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In view of this, galamsey should be declared a national crisis and all foreigners should be compelled to abide by this declaration. As happened during the COVID-19 pandemic, President Akufo-Addo should relaunch the ‘Fellow Ghanaians’ series to update us on the state of illegal mining and restoration of the ecosystems around our rivers and farmlands.

Stability and Growth

Whether national well-being is gauged at the macro or micro level, no one can deny the fact that political stability is very important for economic development. Many experts contend that democracy can only thrive in a stable political environment. This implies an environment where the fundamental political and civic rights of citizens are respected and institutionalised. This is the surest condition for peace to return to the troubled countries in West Africa.

While the recent rise in violence and conflict, religious extremism and other emerging threats have sparked concerns over the future development of West Africa, efforts to prevent conflicts have not improved; thus contributing to overall instability. At the national level factors like decline in economic growth, deepening in equality, and rising marginalisation are rife among the youth of West Africa. Small wonder that West Africa’s active youth populations are becoming frustrated in the face of unending unemployment and widening poverty. Even in relatively stable countries like Ghana, such frustration among the youth exists – but not on the scale of countries like Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Togo and even La Cote d’Ivoire.

Justification for coups

In recent years, West Africa has witnessed a spate of coups and attempted coups which give indication that the region is far from the desired peace and stability. Coups are not only a security threat but also constitute one of several challenges which include religious extremism, drug trafficking, human trafficking and piracy. These security threats are the result of the persistent and sustained weakening of democratic and constitutional arrangements for regime change. Countries that have gained notoriety for military coups are Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea, whose nationals dominate the list of immigrants in Ghana and are variously accused of many crimes… including illegal mining.

While coup leaders often justify their illegal actions as their solution for protection of the state and constitutional order, evidence suggests that coup regimes frequently fail to improve on the economic conditions they inherited. In this regard, it is equally significant to put the spotlight on the emergence of constitutional coups – whereby elected presidents undermine the constitutionally agreed tenure to perpetuate their rule.

A recent case was in 2020, when President Alassan Quattara of Cote d’Ivoire refused to step down after a two-year tenure. His justification was that the first two-year tenure did not count because the country adopted a new Constitution in 2016. Quattara was not the first in this endeavour. Others like Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo, Alpha Conde of Guinea, Yahya Jammeh of Gambia and Paul Biya of Cameroon set the precedent. Over time, the countries where these unconstitutional regime changes or overstays occurred have not shown any sign of political stability and/or economic progress.


It is significant to note that a Freedom House Ratings recently categorised only five of the West African countries as ‘free’ – with eight of them being ‘partly free’ and three classified as ‘not free’. Based on the number of countries that are ‘partly free’ and ‘not free’ with reference to political rights and civil liberties, it can be safely concluded that West Africa is still volatile.

There is however a short list of countries that continue to be the bright spots of West Africa. These countries are Benin, Ghana, Cape Verde and Senegal. Sadly, Mali, which used to be among the countries in West Africa that offered hope has gone down the slope – witnessing four coups over the last decade.  Little wonder that Mali is sliding economically and politically; hence the mass migration of Mali’s youth to other countries – with Ghana as their favourite destination.

Though economically Ghana is not out of the woods yet, the country’s democratic consolidation since 1992 is a shining example in a sub-region beset with military coups, religious extremism and general economic hardships. Ghana is a worthy example of opening up political space for multi-party democracy to thrive. Undoubtedly, development policy has a critical role to play in supporting stability to reduce conflict and violence over the long-term. This requires interventions in many areas: including support for lagging regions; strengthening local governance; improving land management; and spurring job creation among others. Whereas previously ECOWAS was a strong factor for regional integration and conflict resolution, this is no longer the case – as ECOWAS nations have been unable to whip their errant military and elected leaders into line.

Institutional development

Studies have shown that while promoting growth and poverty reduction is very important, policies do not promote stability unless they are equitable and inclusive. To curb instability, ECOWAS leaders need to be intentional about strengthening state institutions to promote accountability and transparency. In fact, institutional development should be a priority, since most state institutions – including the police and military – are weak in promoting peace and stability.  Trade-offs are needed to build cohesion and improve the efficiency of institutions. In fact, institutional development should be fully integrated in development planning and policy development of ECOWAS countries.

Below are some factors that are critical for stability in West Africa:

  • Reducing in-country, sub-regional inequalities
  • Improving land management and reducing conflict around land
  • Improving management of revenues and benefits from extractive industries
  • Strengthening management of migratory flows and improving migrants’ rights
  • Fostering youth participation in the economy
  • Enhancing effectiveness and legitimacy of the security and justice sectors, and pursuing the improvement of local and central governance accountability.

Declaration of war

Finally, government should reclaim the power and responsibility bestowed to them by the electorate by banning imports of mercury and the manufacturing and import of ‘chanfang’ – the Chinese machine use to mine and destroy our rivers. Inter-governmental agencies – military, police, immigration and local government services – should rise and defend Ghana against illegal mining. The onus is actually on the military because the president is Commander-in-Chief of Ghana Armed Forces, and if their commander declares war they have to execute that war and come out stronger. Government should be encouraged that more Ghanaians are against galamsey than the few greedy ones and their foreign accomplices who support it. In other words, government has the support of well-meaning Ghanaians to combat galamsey and save our water-bodies and cocoa farms… which are our lifeblood.


Asante-Apeatu, T, Obeng, G & Sarpong, E. 2002. « Instability and coups in West Africa: A call for collective action

Boafo-Arthur, K. 2008.  Democracy and stability in West Africa: The Ghanaian Experience. Department of Peace and Conflict Research Uppsala University & Nordic Africa Institute Uppsala.

Marc, A. 2015.  Six ways West Africa can build political, social and economic stability.

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