The report of Prof Frimpong Boateng, former minister for Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation and chairman of Inter-Ministerial Committee on Illegal Mining (IMCIM) has just come to confirm the long-held view of many of us that the pledge by President Akuffo Addo to fight against illegal mining ( galamsey) is a hoax. In fact, the revelations unfolding in the report do not come as a big surprise.
However, it appears very difficult to understand that the report was submitted to the president in 2021 yet he never acted on it until the Minister made references to the report in an interview in 2023, and excerpts from the report subsequently got leaked. One would have thought that considering the pledge by the president, to the extent of putting his presidency on the line, swift action would be taken on the report but it turns out as a big disappointment as usual. Looking at the level of failure of the Akuffo-Addo-led government to live up to its own pledge, anyone would have expected to see the president quit his seat in line with his own pledge and not shield his cronies who are neck-deep in illegal mining.
The mining sector has historically been one of the major economic activities that contribute to national economic growth. Many countries have grown their economic stature by extrapolating natural resources through mining. Given the economic boom, not much attention is paid to the health implications of mining activities.
Ghana is among the top mineral producing countries in Africa. While large-scale mining companies obtain permits to extract the minerals, smaller groups and individuals also engage in small-scale artisanal mining. Most of these entities do not possess the requisite permits to operate, which makes the artisanal mining activities illegal. They negatively impact the environment, including the pollution of water sources, which puts local communities’ health at risk.
Ample data from sources such as WHO and CDC indicate that contaminated water and inadequate sanitation are linked to the transmission of diseases such as typhoid, cholera, and rotavirus.
Artisanal gold mining, though illegal, has become lucrative in Ghana. However, it devastates the environment, causes deforestation, and pollutes the water, air, and soil through the release of toxic chemicals. Data from CDC Emergency Preparedness and Response indicate that chemicals such as mercury and cyanide pollute water, air, and soil through natural processes and industrial activities, thereby posing potentially deadly threat to humans. Pollution of water bodies caused by illegal mining puts community health at risk. When water is contaminated with toxic chemicals, people are driven to find alternative water sources. Many of these sources are often contaminated with bacterial pathogens such as typhoid.
Similarly, heavy metal contamination in some water sources has caused water treatment plants to shut down. When these treatment plants shut down, a community can suddenly be without an improved source of safe water. This can force people to turn to unhygienic water sources that increase the risk of typhoid and other waterborne pathogens. Data from the 2020 Ghana Rapid Health Situation Assessment Report indicate a high prevalence of typhoid, among other diseases, in mining communities.
Media reports have also shown that some communities can only access contaminated water and this has caused an increase in skin infections and waterborne diseases. In the Shama District, located in the Western region of Ghana, which also have within it six communities known for illegal mining, [include names of the communities] diarrhoea cases increased from 5,000 to 10,000 in three years [add the year period ]. The communities with increased mining often lack health centers that can appropriately diagnose and treat individuals when they get sick. Evidently, the lack of typhoid diagnosing centers in the mining communities means that people may fall ill but not receive the needed diagnosis and treatment. Though this is public knowledge, the Akuffo-Addo government has done nothing about it whilst his party persons and bigwigs continue to destroy the Ghanaian environment through illegal mining even in his hometown in the Easter Region, Kyebi to be specific.
In 2017, the government placed an indefinite ban on small-scale mining activities in its quest to find a solution to the illegal mining scourge.
Weak implementation and the lack of enforcement of laws remained the biggest challenge in the fight against illegal mining in the country. An Inter-Ministerial Committee on Illegal Mining (IMCIM) was set up by President Akufo-Addo in 2017 to ensure coherence in the activities of agencies involved in the fight.
In July 2017, the government commissioned an anti-galamsey task force made up of a 400-member strong military and associated security agency called Operation Vanguard.
The team was tasked with tackling illegal mining in the Ashanti, Eastern and Western regions of Ghana – the most affected areas. Between 2017 and 2019, the team arrested over 2 200 illegal miners, including foreign nationals.
One arrest that gained national attention was that of the ‘Galamsey Queen’ – Aisha Huang, in May 2017.
The Chinese national gained notoriety for her deep involvement in illegal mining activities. She was involved in providing mine support services without a license, as well as illegal employment of foreign nationals.
The government of Ghana discontinued her trial and deported her rather than making her face stiff sanctions provided by law. Aisha Huang later managed to get into the country through the Ghana-Togo border in Aflao in the Volta Region to continue her illegal mining activities until some community members hinted at the security agencies to apprehend her who is currently standing trial. This represented a major setback in the fight.
Meanwhile, in February 2019, globally recognized investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas released a documentary that gained national attention.
In the documentary, some officers of the IMCIM including its secretary allegedly received bribes and encouraged illegal mining. The perception of the government’s weak will and selective prosecution has set a negative precedent and given others the impetus to continue mining illegally.
Ken Ashigbey, Covener of the Media Coalition against illegal mining expressing his disappointment in the seemingly lost fight against illegal mining in an interview said:
“Another failure was also the fact that the justice delivery system happened to be the weakest link in the whole chain because people were arrested and they were released with the tap of a finger”.
It has been clear from day one that behind the facade of the so-called ‘galamsey’ fight of the Akufo-Addo/Bawumia government, is a well-crafted ruse designed to appropriate the illicit ‘galamsey’ trade for NPP apparatchiks and higher-ups in the Akufo-Addo/Bawumia government and their foreign collaborators.
The clearest confirmation from countless instances of state-backed complicity, active participation and sometimes clear aiding and abetment of the illegal mining activities not only by officials of the NPP, but by some of the very men and women in the Akufo-Addo/Bawumia government entrusted with the responsibility of protecting our environment, is the Prof. Frimpong Boateng’s report. The report is just a confirmation of the old-age canker and the 419 tactics of this government in the name of fighting illegal mining.
It has therefore become very clear from all indications that the government has lost the fight against illegal mining.
Adding to the numerous disappointments that Ghanaians have already had in President Akuffo-Addo and his NPP government, with no doubt, the NPP will eventually be sent to the opposition in the 2024 general election.