According to KPMG GLOBAL MINING INSTITUTE, Ghana presents several opportunities in the mining sector, especially in the gold industry. Statically, it is proven that Gold represents Ghana’s major export commodity, providing, 50% of GDP, (Ministry of Land and Natural Resources (MLNR), 2003). Ghana is also the second-largest gold producer in Africa, after South Africa and the 10th largest globally with Peru being the sixth largest producer. The other important mineral resources are oil, diamond, bauxite and magnesium. Mining has become a controversial business everywhere. The continuous debate of the mining business is due to its great economical contribution to the country.
Within the past few decades, Ghana’s mining sector specifically the small-scale mining sector has been defaced with arguments mainly as a result of its threats to sustainable development. Small scale mining in Ghana generally refers to artisanal mining of precious minerals particularly gold and diamond. Artisanal and Small-scale mining is a practice that involves rudimentary techniques of mineral extraction, highly manual processes, hazardous working conditions, and frequently affecting the human and environmental bodies negatively. In Ghana, it is estimated that two to three million people are engaged in this activity; about 170,000 are directly or indirectly into illegal mining (galamsey) as they solely depend on it for their livelihoods.
The term ‘galamsey’ is a local dialect, coined from the statement, “Gather and Sell” as it explains what these workers do. This activity is flagged as a lucrative venture and a quickest way of earning an income which makes local Ghanaians, particularly the youth the active participant in this sector. Illegal mining seeks to be the only alternative of alleviating poverty to the people involved but in two folds perpetuates poverty through high sensitivity to physical hazards, illness, accidents, and lack of knowledge about more efficient, safer, and environmentally friendly techniques. In recent cases, there has been a season of tragedy as it has been recorded that people involved in this activity lost their lives as a result of being trapped when a pit collapses or a landslide occurs and affect the water bodies. On Wednesday, November 11, 2009, an estimated 30 illegal miners lost their lives as a result of landslides at Dopoase in the Wassa Amenfi East District of the Western region where 14 out of the 18 retrieved corpses were women. Similarly, there was another tragedy at Dunkwa On-Offin in 2010 in the Central Region where several miners were trapped in a pit when it caved on them near the Offin river resulting in the death of 100 miners.
The inception of this activity is not affiliated with a single body or organization. Citizens are equally to be criticized. It is known that this activity takes place under cover of darkness or hidden places such as forests, existing farms, river beds, valley and remote areas aided by foreigners especially the Chinese.
Since 2000, about 50,000 Chinese gold miners have migrated to Ghana to engage in small-scale mining. The rapid relocation of these foreigners was mainly driven by the high demand for gold prices, increasing cultural corporation between China and Ghana and the largely informal nature of the illegal mining. The remodel traditional method of using pickaxe, shovel and pan to new technology such as the use of excavators cause environmental threats and social conflicts where the indigenes attacked the armed Chinese miners. Consequently, there is a proven climatic and social change due to the nature of the work, bad weather conditions, and degradation of natural resources which disturbs human survival in these artisanal environments. The primitive techniques of these miners which are illegal and unregulated contaminate the water as a result of the discharged sewage which contains toxic chemicals such as cyanide and other organic chemicals used in the processing of mineral ores. These chemicals together result in waste with high acid levels which either seep into underground water or flow into the environment posing danger to the people.
The unchanged attitudinal behaviour of the political actors, law enforcement bodies, local chiefs and farmers towards the practice of illegal mining make this activity thrive. The law enforcement body provides these foreigners with guns to defend themselves from locals on the grounds of generating a beneficial budget for the police and immigration authorities. There is also a lack of political will to combat this activity which is evidently because these politicians also benefit from these activities; the political leaders send threats to the appointed leaders of the task force to release the seized excavators or lose their jobs which derails the nation’s fight against galamsey. Chiefs and landowners of these mining areas are rendered powerless when the foreigners proceed to work on their lands with a granted permission from the lawmakers in the state. In a quest to fight this activity, in May 2013, former President, John Mahama set up an inter-ministerial task force to roll out illegal small-scale miners where they were able to deport 4592 Chinese officials by mid-July 2013 but despite their efforts failed to entirely wipe out illegal mining activities. Similarly in August 2017, the task force arrested over 1370 miners including 247 Chinese officials with consequent arrest 33, 15, 7, 24 in April, June, August and September respectively.
Although these actions brought about diplomatic dilemmas to Ghana, President Nana Akufo-Addo on his visit to China in 2019 assured the Chinese officials on how the country remains keen to encourage economic corporation but would not hesitate to persecute China national involved in the illegal mining activity to ease the diplomatic tension between these two countries.
In a scientific published article by the World Bank titled, Strategy for African Mining, it is estimated that some 30,000 people are employed within the legalized segment of the Ghana small-scale mining sector. Minerals Commission and Ghana Chamber of Mines, also noted that 60 per cent of the country’s mining labour force is, in fact, employed at small-scale mines. Regional employment assessments have estimated that over 6,000 illegal and 117 registered artisanal gold mines are found in Tarkwa alone. According to the 2008 Ghana Chamber of Mines (GCM) report, illegal mining activities (galamsey) have been increasing with an estimated number between 300,000 and 500,000 artisan miners comprising one of the largest groups of illegal miners on the continent disregarding the small-scale mining laws promulgated in 1989 with its continuation in the Minerals and Mining Act, 2006 (Acts 703) which expresses the basic position that minerals in their natural state are owned by the state and outlines the license scheme for mineral operations, the incidence of the various mineral rights and the power of the principal regulatory institutions yielded no results as according to the 2008 Ghana Chamber of Mines (CGM) report, illegal mining activities have been increasing with an estimated number between 300,000 and 500,000 artisan miners yielding one of the largest groups of illegal miners on the continent.
Nationally, galamsey addresses huge sums in lost incomes and exports. In 2016, the Ghanaian government lost an estimated $2.3 billion in financial incomes through illegal mining. Comparatively, the country’s top three major unfamiliar organizations by and large produce over 30% of the country’s gold creation and add to above half of the government incomes. It is in this margin both in terms of the output and labour force that the government must formalize galamsey practices as it would represent a critical fiscal boost for the country not disputing the fact on how it is publicly known as a challenge for the government to set policies on how to benefits from the artisanal and small-scale mining while minimizing the negative consequences associated with it although the diamond mining activities has been regulated under the Minerals Act since 1962. The government must however educate and provide the miners in the rural areas the needed resources in terms of tools for a safer conducive environment and preserve the natural bodies. The means of controlling the galamsey activities do not entirely depend on
the political actors. It must be recognized as a collective effort, from political actors, chiefs, the law enforcement body and the citizenry.
To conclude, this research has addressed a number of significant issues which shows that illegal mining if not harnessed would stall the country’s development and the smooth running of the country.
The 1992 constitution of the Republic of Ghana states that chiefs are the overall custodians of the customary land however, the state own the resources underneath or on the surface of the land. It is in this regard that the government must involve the traditional leaders and other stakeholders and be on the same page in relation to the laws and policy making.
The government should employ ways to enlighten and aid the people involved in this activity to improve their standard of living. This can be done by educating them on the prices, providing them with well- equipped tools, creating a forum where miners can share their experiences on the financial means of production and processing respectively.
The government can grant university graduates from the mines sector to regulate these activities. Mining schools in the country with the authorization of the government can establish a consulting firm where the students and graduates can be recruited as monitoring officials instead of the security officials which also helps reduce unemployment in the state.
The government should register the small scale or galamsey business under a well-structured established corporation with norms and values to uphold which will help regulate and manage this activity to ensure effective and environmentally friendly mining techniques.
It is quite known and asserted that abolishing galamsey is not the best option for the government. The state can however, curb the problems by enforcing fixed regulations in the various mining codes with regards to environmental restoration. For instance, strict rules should be adopted to ensure that miners cover their pits when they finish their operation.