The continuous global demand for minerals, particularly precious metals such as gold has made mining a lucrative business, which has attracted youth participation. Currently, Ghana is the largest gold producing country in Africa and ranked sixth in the world. The Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM) operations contribute between 30% and 40% of total gold produced in Ghana. Generally, the sector supports traditionally agrarian rural households to build more resilient and diversified livelihood strategies. Hence, the government should create opportunities for Ghanaians to operate sustainable small-scale mining from their own lands as part of their national heritage.
The ASM sector in Ghana constitutes Licensed Small-Scale Mining, Illegal Mining popularly known as “Galamsey” and the recently established Community Mining. It is a “get-rich-quick” activity and an important source of minerals and metals. The sector has been practiced for more than a century in rural communities in Ghana, created direct and indirect jobs for the youth and contributed remarkably to the growth of the local economies in the respective communities. That notwithstanding, anecdotal evidence from ASM mining sites in Ghana shows that operations on those sites are fraught with uncontrolled use of chemicals, poor disposal of untreated mine wastewater and reckless disregard for land reclamation after mining.
Sincerely, small-scale mining is associated with many significant environmental and social challenges that need fixing. It is surprising that the ASM owners benefit from highly profitable returns without taking responsibilities in environment, health and safety issues associated with their operations. Currently, the Ghana government does not have pragmatic systems in place to collect taxes from ASM activities. Although it is a moneymaking venture, the ASM business exposes miners and communities to environmental, health and safety (EHS) problems. It is obvious that the drinking water sources in areas where ASM is pervasive are significantly contaminated with heavy metals of notable public health and eco-friendly concern.
On the social problems, mineral concession encroachments, struggles and litigations sometimes lead to misunderstandings that generate conflicts. Across the world, mineral concession related riots mostly take away thousands and millions of lives, destroy billions worth of properties and take many years for them to be resolved. Such despicable and inhuman crimes start with minor conflicts in mining areas like it is currently happening in Ghana. Also, mining concession encroachment causes depletion of mining company total mineral reserves and negatively affects its business case. This can tarnish the country’s reputation as a destination for conducive environment for sound investments.
Investigations have established that current and previous riots in the mining areas in Ghana arose from two fundamental issues, including concession ownership disputes between two small-scale mining factions and land encroachment into large-scale mining concessions. The riot that happened on Friday April 1, 2022 at Akyem Asunafo in the Atiwa West District was due to mining concession ownership dispute between two small-scale mining factions. At Teleku-Bukazo in the Ellembelle District, the shooting incident happened on the same last Friday, April 1, 2022 was due to the arrest and prosecution of illegal miners who encroached into a mining concession owned by Adamus Resources Limited. The Tarkwa conflict on March 23, 2022, involved two small-scale mining groups who had controversy over mineral concession ownership.
In the past, similar riots occurred in other areas in Ghana but the government could not put proper future mitigation plans in place to address possible recurrence. Mismanagement and selective application of the law have resulted in the recent similar conflicts that have led to deaths, recorded degrees of injuries and damage of properties. In July 2016, illegal miners invaded into an active mining site of Newmont Ahafo Gold Mine in the Ahafo Region. In August 2015, Ayanfuri residents in the Central Region clashed with Perseus Mining Company, as the company refused to relinquish part of its concession to the small-scale miners for their operations.
Around December 2014, encroachment was one of the key operational challenges that contributed to the temporary closure of AngloGold Ashanti Mine in Obuasi in the Ashanti Region. Invasion of illegal miners in the underground operations played a major part in undermining the company’s production performance. Additionally, the influx of illegal miners, including some foreign nationals on Asanko Gold Mining concession and building of unapproved structures on the company’s lands in the Manso areas in the Ashanti Region can impede the development of the company’s Life of Mine Planning. Unfortunately, all these major companies are helpless because the mining regulatory authorities feel reluctant to combat the encroachments for political reasons.
These conflicts are serious national security issues that require immediate action from the government to curb any unforeseen circumstances. The President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo must ensure that the heads of law enforcement institutions in Ghana, including the IGP, Interior Minister, Chief Justice, Attorney-General and the National Security Minister execute their constitutionally sanctioned duties diligently and effectively devoid of favouritism and selective justice. Also, the Lands and Natural Resources Ministry should expedite its efforts to change the face of small-scale mining activities to enable environment-friendly and formalized operations.
Civil disorders that emanate from mining conflicts have serious negative impacts on the nation in terms of investor confidence and political instability. Mismanagement of mineral conflicts due to lack of law enforcement and injustices led to the devastating civil wars in other countries, including DR Congo, 1996 (gold, diamond, copper, coltan); Angola, 1975 (diamond, oil); Liberia, 1989 (gold, diamond, iron); Sierra Leone, 1991 (diamond); Sudan, 1953 (oil); Cambodia, 1978 (gems); Morocco, 1975 (oil, phosphate); Colombia, 1984 (gold, oil); Indonesia, 1969 (gold, copper); Papua New Guinea, 1988 (gold, copper); Afghanistan, 1978 (gems, opium) and Burma, 1949 (gems, tin, opium).
Considering investor-distrust, many large-scale mining companies feel reluctant to invest in countries with terrible investor confidence index. During the feasibility studies of mining projects, quantitative analyses of investment risks are conducted to evaluate the viability of a project’s success in terms of political stability and profitable returns. Encroachments and riots are key factors in mining areas that delay productivity and hence, such attributes play critical role in assigning confidence index in mineral investment decisions. The law enforcers must stop politicizing the galamsey issue and crack the whip on offenders to build investor confidence.
Regardless of the fact that ASM is associated with compelling challenges, the sector can be effectively managed to create millions of productive and lucrative employment opportunities for the Ghanaian youth. There are few other profitable employment opportunities similar to ASM and therefore creating alternative livelihood with low income will not be a realistic replacement and efficient strategy to solve the galamsey problems. The fundamental issue is that the current operational procedures used by both the illegal miners and the legally licensed small-scale miners lead to water pollution and land degradation, unlike the standardized practices followed by the large-scale mining companies. The government should adopt a holistic approach in dealing with the ASM problems from professional and technical perspectives.
Effective management of the ASM sector can be achieved through (1) Strategizing to avoid concession encroachment (2) Proper land acquisition (3) Rightful registration plan (4) Legitimate, expedited and decentralized permitting process (5) Development of standard operating procedures (6) Establishment of standardized mining regulations (7) Pollution-free mining strategy (8) Effective monitoring implementation and (9) Indiscriminate law enforcement. Implementation of these suggestions can help in controlling the alarming rate of riots and ensure environmentally-friendly small-scale mining operations. This approach can result in sustained economic growth, gratifying employment opportunities, poverty alleviation and important source of tax revenue generation across the mineral wealth regions in Ghana.
Solomon K. A. Owusu, PhD
Mining Engineering & Mineral Economics Consultant