The government of the Republic of Ghana should endeavour to minimize the politicization of the issues surrounding the illegal mining, popularly known as galamsey and address the problems from professional and technical perspectives. Although it is the responsibility of the government to create small-scale mining opportunities for Ghanaians as part of their national heritage, the mining operations should be conducted in safe, environmentally-friendly, sustainable, and conflict-free manner. Well trained and knowledgeable technical experts should be allowed to assist in addressing this critical issue of national concern.
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. ASM contributes 30% to 40% of total gold produced in Ghana and the sector supports traditionally agrarian rural households to build more resilient and diversified livelihood strategies. The sector is a “get-rich-quick” venture that has created jobs and contributed remarkably to the growth of the local economies in the respective communities. It is operated in about 13 out of the 16 regions.
The ASM sector in Ghana constitutes Licensed Small-Scale Mining, Illegal Mining popularly known as “Galamsey” and the recently established Community Mining. The activities expose the miners and the respective communities to obvious environmental, health and safety (EHS) problems. Anecdotal evidence from ASM mining sites in Ghana indicate that the drinking water sources in pervasive ASM areas are significantly contaminated with heavy metals of notable public health and ecological concerns.
These problems arise as a result of reckless disregard for wastewater control and land reclamation practices. Additionally, some ASM operators encroach into large-scale mining concessions, while other factions engage in concession ownership disputes, leading to conflicts. Surprisingly, small-scale miners benefit from highly profitable returns but the government does not currently have pragmatic systems in place to effectively collect taxes from the operators. The country loses huge sums of money from the small-scale mining sector every year.
Mineral concession related riots between ASM factions have led to 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). Such wars are usually caused by lack of law enforcement and injustices. They lead to many deaths, property destructions and last for many years.
Mineral conflicts and encroachments can have negative impacts on investor confidence for a country. These factors cause production delays and depletion of mineral reserves, thereby affecting the business case of the company under consideration. These attributes play critical roles during assignment of confidence index for mineral investment decisions. Ghana’s reputation as a destination for conducive and sound mining investment can be tarnished with a possibly degraded investor confidence index. The international mining companies may refuse to further invest in the country, if the galamsey problems are not addressed properly.
Although associated with compelling challenges, the ASM 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 comparatively low income will not be a realistic replacement and efficient strategy to solve the galamsey problems. The government should adopt a holistic approach to address the issues from professional and technical perspectives, instead of resorting to politicization of the matter with unproductive assurances to deceive the public.
Sincerely. current operational practices by both the legal and illegal miners cause environmental and social problems To address the challenges, the following approach can be considered: (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) Corruption-free tax collection system (9) Effective monitoring and (9) Indiscriminate law enforcement.
In my view, the 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