Abubakari Sadiq, a galamsey miner at Konongo Odumasi, has seen 30 colleagues die in mine pit collapses over his 23-year mining career.
He has also seen countless miners die of silicosis, an incurable disease which affects the lungs, because of years of inhaling dust from the stones being ground to extract the gold.
But he says he does not care. For somebody such as Sadiq, quitting this kind of activity is impossible. Engaging in galamsey – the popular term for illegal small-scale mining – is what he and his colleagues do in order to feed their families. For the youth in Konongo Odumasi, many of whom have not gone to school, galamsey is all they know.
“We can’t stop doing this job and we won’t stop,” he says. “This is what sustains the town.” Estimatedly, there are over two hundred thousand small-scale miners in gold rich areas across Ghana, according to international organizations.
Galamsey has been a major headache for many governments. Over the years, law enforcers have had a tortuous time dealing with illegal miners, who have armed themselves with sophisticated weapons.
In February, for instance, the military high command in Kumasi was infuriated by a bloody attack which left two of its men severely wounded by illegal miners.
Their activities are not only destroying the country’s land and water bodies, but also causing children to drop out of school to work at mining sites in order to make quick money – in clear violation of Ghana’s laws on child labour.
It is estimated that 300 people have lost their lives between 2011 and 2012 alone. These miners also evade taxes that are due the state.
To add to government’s difficulty in cracking down on galamsey operators is the involvement of some Chinese nationals, whose activities were described by the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources Alhaji Inusah Fuseini as an “affront to the laws” of the country in an interview.
The issue has become so severe that Minister Fuseini told Citi News that a Chinese delegation recently came to engage with the ministry on how to control the proliferation of Chinese nationals in illegal mining.
In an interview, Alhaji Inusah Fuseini outlined concrete measures he intends to take to arrest this galamsey phenomenon and increase the number of legalized small scale mining operations.
He expectant that the country could see some success in as little as a year. But one critic says a main aspect of the government’s strategy may not succeed. The presence of the Chinese in galamsey, according to Minister Fuseini, poses security and social threats.
He noted that in the past two months, 37 Chinese nationals have been repatriated for arriving in the country with fake visas. Some have also been arrested for mining without a permit.
In a village called Nsiana, residents complained that some Chinese-operated mines were polluting the rivers, which were their only source of water. Residents threatened to fight the Chinese miners, who then drew guns, firing off some shots before the police arrived to stop the violence.
Ghanaians are divided on the issue of Chinese involvement in illegal small-scale mining. Patrick Ofori, a goldsmith, told Citi News “What is making it even more dire is the involvement of Chinese illegal immigrants.” But Issifu Gariba, a galamsey operator, thinks the Chinese are of great help. “The Chinese partners are helping but there should be limits and a framework to guide them,” Gariba says.
The Chinese invasion in galamsey has become so intense, that, alarmed, the Chinese government sent a delegation to Ghana to find ways to control the situation, Minister Fuseini told Citi News. At the meeting, the Chinese delegation grumbled about its difficulty in properly regulating its nationals coming into Ghana. It was revealed that the Chinese fly into Togo and are then driven across the border. This way, they evade the process of acquiring resident and work permits.
According to Minister Fuseini, the Chinese delegation also admitted their inability to identify genuine and fake Ghanaian visas issued to their nationals. “It requires collaboration between Ghana and China, working with our various embassies and foreign ministries,” the minister said. “Attempts are being made to look at even our visa, and the watermarks, to ensure that they are not susceptible to being faked.”
Galamsey undoubtedly has become difficult to curb because, despite the danger associated with this trade, it is also very lucrative. Sadiq, the galamsey operator, says he has acquired several properties, making it impossible for him to quit even though he has seen many of his friends die. Sadiq’s position notwithstanding, the ministry is bent on cracking down on illegal mining by engaging with traditional authorities, such as chiefs.
The problem is that some traditional authorities have occasionally been accused of giving mining concessions to people who have no legal permit. The minister, however, indicated a new willingness among chiefs to get on board with the fight against galamsey.
There is also a directive by President John Dramani Mahama to hold Metropolitan, Municipal and District chief executives (MMDCEs) responsible for overseeing galamsey activities in their jurisdictions. But local government analyst George Kyei Baffour has cast doubt on this move.
He told Citi News, MMDCEs may not have the clout to deal with the offenders, many of whom may have played a role in helping get the government elected. He cites a lack of resources among cash-strapped local officials, as well as the political nature of the appointment of the MMDCEs, as the main hindrance to carrying out this part of the president’s directive.
Wassa Communities Affected by Mining (Wacam), a nongovernmental organization that ensures environmentally responsible and community- focused mining, has been monitoring the mining industry for 15 years.
Associate executive director, Hanna Owusu Koranteng said there is illegality among both small-scale miners and larger international companies that needs to be addressed.
In an interview with Citi News, she noted the failure of systems and structures of the state to deal with the illegalities. “Regulators should be given the needed tools to work. If we talk about (the Environmental Protection Agency) not having well equipped laboratories, then we have a problem,” she said “We should act like a sovereign state and institutions should work. Otherwise, the story is not very good.”
Madam Owusu Koranteng also insisted a strong political will is required by government to deal with galamsey. She said that, until then, Ghana has to deal with the issues left behind from these illegal activities.
She explained that millions of cedis will have to be spent to address the pollution of water bodies and land degradation.
Another reason why government is so intent on fighting galamsey is the recruitment of children to help with the mining. This is in clear violation of the Ghanaian constitution, as well as the Children’s Act of 1998, which prohibit child labour in mining and other arduous work.
The ministry has identified its national school feeding program as a means to discourage school children from patronizing illegal mining sites. The major activity for children at these mines is washing the gold. Children who have poor parents find this lucrative, and have abandoned school in pursuit of quick money.
The ministry believes children will desist from going to mining sites if they are fed well in school.
NGOs are also partnering with the ministry to embark on alternative livelihood programs. This is to get the youth to find sources of livelihoods other than galamsey.
Minister Fuseini explained that a lack of capital and disinterest from established banks pushes potential miners into the arms of money lenders. Potential miners are then forced to abandon the process of acquiring permits because high interests on loans.
The ministry intends to go through MASLOC (Micro finance and Small Loans Centre) in order to give lower interest loans to those who want to go into mining.
The minister highlighted the environmental damage caused by the use of crude and inappropriate technologies by small scale miners. To improve on the technology, the ministry requested that the Intermediate Technology Transfer Unit at the Ministry of Trade and Industry develop appropriate technology for small scale mining.
Training and education is another way the ministry is hoping to get many illegal miners to legalize their activities and to observe better safety standards.
With about 30 percent of the 3.6 million ounces of gold produced in 2011 coming from the camp of small scale miners, the ministry is not about to ban mining altogether. “Government doesn’t intend to ban small scale mining,” Minister Fuseini said. Rather, “government is hell bent on regulating its activities.”
By: Betty Kankam-Boadu/citifmonline.com/Ghana