Ebenezer Immanuel Obeng-Akrofi

Devoid of any attempt to extenuate the absolute truth, Ghana has woefully failed and has exposed herself as a country with notoriously delinquent leadership with a knack for poor governance particularly when it comes to fighting cancerous social ills with covert benefits for the political class.

A case in point is the menace of illegal mining popularly called “Galamsey”. On this monstrosity with widespread tentacles, I dare argue that a genuine lack of political will coupled with woeful institutional failure has contributed to the never-ending insurrection which has become an existential threat to the nation. At all levels, it is evident that there is absolutely no ounce of integrity nor a sense of urgency to deal with the horrifying amoral indulgence of illicit small scale mining. Over the last four years especially, the situation has viciously cascaded and metamorphosed into a criminal enterprise of national pre-occupation.

Before the 2016 general elections, there was a nationwide uproar against the increasingly rampant activities of illegal small scale miners. Like a citizen’s revolution, members within communities with the prevalence of Galamsey had mounted up a resistance lead by the youth. In some instances, Chiefs were destooled for their alleged involvement. With the many socio-economic inefficiencies and growing disaffection for the then National Democratic Congress (NDC) government led by former President John Dramani Mahama, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) flagbearer now incumbent President capitalized on the situation and urged the already fed up voters to vote massively for his party to move the country out of the apparent mess created by the NDC.

The results of the 2016 general elections were clear, with over a million votes the Nana Addo NPP had ousted the Mahama government. After the political transition, citizens’ expectations were high and as has become the norm with many modern governments, the first 100 days of administration would be crucial in securing mass support for the government’s policy aspirations.  The President indicated as part of his to-dos, the clamping down of Galamsey operations across the country. He further made a vow to be held personally accountable if he did not go through with his promise. In August 2017, Operation Vanguard was launched with the sole mandate of neutralizing the operations of the illegal miners. Like a well-scripted play, perpetrators were in no time flushed out and their equipment either seized or destroyed. Anas Aremeyaw Anas, an investigative journalist of worldwide repute through an undercover investigation indicted a Presidential staffer who coincidentally doubled as the Secretary of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Illegal Mining. Media was agog with the news and swiftly, there was official communication from the Presidency to respond to the development.

Consequently, the Criminal Investigation Department of the Ghana Police Service cleared the said staffer of any wrongdoing. Interestingly, however, the then Special Prosecutor indicated that his office had been petitioned to investigate the matter and was therefore surprised to see publications to the effect that the persons involved had been exonerated. Years down the line, a conclusive report on the findings of the said investigation is yet to be published if at all.

Perhaps, the saddest part of the issue yet to be mentioned is the involvement of foreign nationals in this illicit activity. Traditionally, small-scale mining was the preserve of locals using hand-operated tools. But the recent influx of foreign nationals – predominantly Chinese exacerbated the issue. They are known to use more sophisticated machines that have gradually replaced the rudimentary methods and implements used by the locals. Although there are instances where these foreigners have been arrested, in most cases they have been released sooner than expected. In a very popular case, a Chinese national by the name of Aisha Huang became known as the Galamsey Queen because of her deep-rooted involvement in the enterprise. Unsurprisingly, it did not also take long for her to be released and repatriated. More interesting was a “caution” to the Ghanaian government by the Chinese Mission to guide media reportage on the involvement of its nationals in the illicit activity.

Recently, the re-launch of the anti-Galamsey campaign through Operation Halt although welcoming is a shameful admission of the poor performance in combating this menace. There is no doubt that the occasional military crackdowns where armed security forces raid the sites of miners to arrest them and confiscate their assets have failed, in recognition of the growth of illegal mining activities in recent years.

Undoubtedly, this new enthusiasm while covert deals and complicit scavenging persist is at best window dressing which cannot deal with the primary systemic causes of the menace.

First, the politicization of Galamsey discourse. With the inherently political nature of the menace, any crusade which does not address the political rhetoric is unlikely to succeed. As electoral competition has become more intense, the discourse has also become partisan with opposition parties frequently sympathizing with illegal miners in a quest to make the incumbent unpopular thereby gaining political advantage as has been witnessed with the two major political parties in the country over the years. Also, the perpetrators are very much aware of the importance of their vote and often tend to exploit the political vulnerability of both incumbents and those seeking power. A clear instance is where some youth vandalized party offices of the NDC back in 2016.

Worth mentioning is also the absence of strict laws on political party campaign financing. The questionable and complex nature of political party financing is a major contributor to the Galamsey tentacles and systemic cover-ups without sanctions for powerful puppeteers of the political establishments. Indeed, due to their influence and support for the parties, it is absolutely no surprise that the menace still persists.

Another crucial factor is sheer greed and corruption. Illegal mining still flourishes because it serves the interests of various actors, including some chiefs who gain through the royalties they receive in exchange for land; and the political, business, and local elite who own the concessions that operate outside the legal mining framework. Tackling the problem will require a multifaceted approach to be pursued comprehensively and in a long-term manner. This will particularly demand a strong political will and a re-orientation of the entire population. To those who assist blindly in the collective destruction of our environment claiming they have no alternatives, my plea is to desist from the plundering because we all have a shared responsibility in protecting our environment for posterity.

With a renewed culture of non-complacence and the quest for a common good, let’s all rise up to defend our forests and water bodies from the ravages of illegal mining.