The Readers Hub is pleased to bring to you another informative and most insightful interaction from our SOCIAL MEDIA MONK session.
On 1st June, 2020, The Readers Hub hosted one of its members on our SOCIAL MEDIA MONK handle. It was moderated by Mr. Danaa Samad. The thematic concern of the discourse was dubbed: The Environment: criminalizing Galamsey Activities and Rural Livelihood in Ghana.
Galamsey (illegal mining) has been a topical issue over the years. A crack down on the activity in recent times has led to many infractions on livelihoods and economic activities. The situation of Galamsey presents a catch 22 scenario for government and it has subsequently led to a general feeling of a failed mission in our part of the world.
The activities of Galamsey involve water use methods and alluvial mining techniques that cause devastating pollution of rivers, streams and lakes. Toxic chemicals such as mercury that have long health implications on communities for generations are released into our water bodies. This practice has been christened in the Ghanaian parlance as Galamsey. It is usually undertaken without state permission, in particular the absence of land right, licenses, exploration and mineral rights.
Taking it a step further, until quite recently, most analysts and policy makers have interpreted Ghana’s Galamsey menace as technical and economic (not political) driven by cumbersome and time-consuming processes involved in acquiring the necessary license for engaging in Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM).
Among other factors considered are; widespread poverty and youth unemployment in rural areas, and perceived social injustices resulting from the displacement of indigenous communities by large-scale expatriate mining companies. Consequently, efforts in curbing the Galamsey menace have focused mainly on the provision of technocratic solutions such as simplifying and decentralizing the ASM licensing regime.
To help us digest the topic for tonight is one of our READERS. He is an expert with vast and valuable knowledge in environmental science and policy. And with the help of one of our finest moderators-Mr. Danaa Samad, he will take us through one of the most important areas of most unskilled Ghanaian labour, their quest for livelihood, government policy on Galamsey and the impact it has on our lives and the environment.
Ladies and gentlemen, please help me welcome our guest for tonight Dr Francis Xavier Dery Tuokuu, a Postdoctoral Fellow at York University in Toronto, Canada.
Danaa Samad: Welcome Dr.
Dr. Francis Xavier: Thank you my brother
Danaa Samad: The albatross around our neck as a country has been Galamsey. As an expert in the field of environment and policy; how will you explain Galamsey to a lay man?
Dr. Francis Xavier: Thanks for having me. Good evening to everyone. Indeed, Galamsey comes from the expression ‘gather them and sell’. It is the illegal component of small-scale mining. Thus, galamseyers (miners) often “work without a license, have no concessions of their own and operate uncontrollably within the concessions of large-scale mining companies or in areas prohibited for mining such as forest reserves.”
Danaa Samad: In effect therefore, what is the difference between Galamsey and small-scale mining please?
Dr. Francis Xavier: The difference between the two is that, the legally registered mines are referred to as “small-scale mines” whereas the unregistered or informal mines are referred to as “galamsey” even though the two forms are indistinguishable in their operations.
Danaa Samad: In terms of registration, how is it that Small Scale Miners are able to easily register and operate yet individuals who end up in illegal mining find it difficult to register. Could it be deliberate to keep concessions to some people or companies for obvious reasons?
Dr. Francis Xavier: Generally, there are bureaucratic bottlenecks involved in registering a small-scale mining business. For instance, if you are in Nandom and you want to register a small-scale mining business, you have to travel to Accra to do that. The registration process is centralized which makes it difficult for miners to register.
Also, some miners basically don’t understand why they should register their operations because the land is theirs. They have birth rights to the ownership of the lands, so why register? The procedures involved in the registration process are so cumbersome that some miners feel reluctant to register their operations.
In a related development, the mining laws in Ghana generally favor the large-scale mining sector, which is mostly controlled by multinationals. And because the government receives lots of revenues and royalties from these multinationals, the mining laws tend to discriminate against the small scale mining sector. Basically, this partly accounts for the seeming inherent tensions between large scale mining companies and the small-scale mining sector.
Danaa Samad: You have been in the field for some time now, what do you think are the reasons why people go into Galamsey?
Dr. Francis Xavier: This is a very important question. Galamsey is generally a poverty driven activity. It is true that some people are into it because they want to ‘get rich quick.’ However, most people are into Galamsey because of poverty. If you take the Wassa mining enclave (Tarkwa, Bogoso, Prestea etc.), for example, about 70% of the lands there have been given to large-scale multinational mining companies. Meanwhile, most of the people in those areas are farmers. What do you expect them to do? They have no choice than to engage in Galamsey activities.
And while the large-scale mining companies often claim mineral rights to the ownership of those lands, Galamsey miners on the other hand, claim birth rights to the ownership of the same lands.
Danaa Samad: If mineral companies claim mining rights (by law) and Galamseyers claim birth rights (customary) to lands, why do we have stand-offs between the two since agreements are entered into as far as entitlements are concerned?
Dr. Francis Xavier: As I stated earlier, the agreements usually favor the large-scale mining companies. As a consequence, community members and Galamsey miners often feel left out in the governance of the resources. Also, once mineral rights are given to these companies, the land owners are given little or no compensation. Sometimes, they are relocated to areas that are not productive. The minerals and mining Act of 2006, Act 703 as amended in 2010 and 2015 states that wherever a mineral is discovered, it belongs to the president and he holds that in trust for the people of Ghana. The implication is that, if gold is discovered on your land, the land no longer belongs to you but to the president and for that matter, the government. That is one of the reasons for the tensions in mining areas.
Danaa Samad: Interesting perspectives! (Smiles). Why are Galamsey activities criminalized?
Dr. Francis Xavier: It is because of the extensive reports and complaints about the negative social impacts and pervasive environmental degradation caused by the activities of miners. These uproars have led to the criminalization and demonization of Galamsey activities in public discourses within the country such that some people now describe the activities of Galamsey miners as a menace or threats.
Sorry to say this, but Ghanaians generally don’t understand the dynamics of Galamsey activities and so anytime there is a media reportage on the activities of Galamsey miners, people want to deal with it emotionally. But that shouldn’t be the case. Galamsey activities must and should be looked at from a livelihood perspective.
Danaa Samad: With regards to the environment and the activities of Galamsey, are we saying the big mining companies don’t cause havoc to the environment as well?
Dr. Francis Xavier: The point must be made that mining activities, whether big or small have debilitating effect on the environment. If you talk to Galamsey miners, they will tell you the ‘big companies’ pollute and destroy the environment than they do. For me, that is true except that because the big companies have concessions, you are able to regulate them. Moreover, the destruction is mostly limited to their concessions even though that may have a replete effect on the larger environment. On the other hand, Galamsey miners have no concessions of their own. For them, wherever, they believe they will find gold, they dig, whether in rivers, on farm lands, inter alia. That is the difference between the two.
Danaa Samad: That said, what are the policies governing small scale mining in Ghana?
Dr. Francis Xavier: PNDC Law 218 was enacted in 1989 to regulate the small-scale mining sector. It has since been revised and incorporated into the minerals and mining Act of 2006 (Act 703), as amended in 2010 and 2015. Note that the Policy permits ONLY Ghanaian citizens to register with the Minerals Commission before they can operate, but like I said earlier, because of bureaucratic bottlenecks involved in the registration process, most miners don’t register their operations. Indeed, 85% of small-scale miners are operating illegally. In other words, 85% of small-scale miners are galamsey operators.
Danaa Samad: In recent times, the Government had to take stringent actions against Galamsey operators by declaring their activities as illegal. Indeed, media reports have shown that most Galamsey enclaves were dismantled. We were shocked to see that Galamsey activities with its resultant destruction of our vegetation cover are largely spearheaded by Chinese nationals. How porous is our policy implementation regime given the wanton dissipation of our land by nationals of other sovereign nations?
Dr. Francis Xavier: Indeed, between 2008 and 2012, about 50,000 Chinese nationals were said to have been engaged in Galamsey activities in Ghana. I don’t have the updated figures. Sadly, some of them are aided by our own people including chiefs and politicians. Those of you who have been to Wassa Akropong will agree with me that the Chinese have taken over the community. Almost every sign post in that community is written in Chinese. I can even share some pictures with you later to confirm this claim. Meanwhile, the law doesn’t permit foreign nationals to do small-scale mining business.
Also, my PhD research concluded that the problem within the mining sector in Ghana is not the lack of policies but the inability or lack of capacity to implement the existing policies. And this is largely due to a stakeholder dissonance in the implementation of environmental policies
Initiatives such as Operation Vanguard might produce a short-term result that the government can use to highlight their effort to address the problems with Galamsey. However, such initiatives are ultimately not sustainable and undermine the long-term prospects for formalizing the small-scale mining sector.
Danaa Samad: If measures such as Operation Vanguard are not sustainable, what are some of the sustainable ways of keeping the excesses of Galamsey in check?
Dr. Francis Xavier: The way forward is to formalize the activities of Galamsey operators. By formalization, it means by recognizing their rights to land and mineral ownership; provide them with credit facilities, liaise with banks that give them credit to buy their gold. That is the only way we will be able to control and monitor their activities. Thus, the sector should not be criminalized but supported by stakeholders including the media.
Danaa Samad: But how will the state control sparse activity levels of these groups across the country especially in remote areas and forests which are home to flora and fauna should the state formalized these activities?
Dr. Francis Xavier: By decentralizing the operations of minerals commission, Mr. Dery will not have to travel from Nandom to Accra to acquire a small-scale mining license. Thus, each district office of the minerals commission will be in-charge of registering and monitoring the activities of Galamsey miners across the country. Without that, it will be difficult for officers in Accra to travel to all parts of the country to do monitoring. That is the first and most important thing to do, in my view; and once their activities are formalized, they no longer are Galamsey miners, but small-scale miners
Danaa Samad: In your honest opinion, do you think the present fight against Galamsey has been effective?
Dr. Francis Xavier: Not at all. The government’s “military approach” is not the way to go. Like I said earlier, that approach will only solve the problem temporarily. To deal with the problem, Galamsey miners must be involved in the decision-making process. They must also be given some mineral and land rights.
Danaa Samad: How would you have advised government, if given the opportunity to meet the president on a face-to-face interaction?
Dr. Francis Xavier: increase in stakeholder engagement involving Galamsey operators is highly recommended to ensure sustainable mining practices in the sector. My experience on the ground has taught me that, whenever people are involved in decision-making regarding policies that affect them, they claim ownership of the policies and once they do that, they ensure their effective implementation. That is the number one suggestion I would have given to the government if I were contracted.
Danaa Samad: But as illegal as it is, I wonder if they have a union to represent them in decision making processes and whether they can even be a chair for them at the table since their activities are deemed illegal
Dr. Francis Xavier: They are highly connected. They have leaders and financiers. Those should be your target if you want to engage them in any conversation.
Danaa Samad: Wonderful! In your research, would you say Galamsey has contributed positively to the local economy and the livelihood of rural folk in general?
Dr. Francis Xavier: Like I said earlier, Galamsey is a poverty driven activity. Out of the estimated 1million people in the small-scale mining business in Ghana, 85% of them are Galamsey operators. Thus, there is a direct linkage between rural livelihoods and Galamsey mining. Apart from that, 1/3 of all of Ghana’s gold comes from the small-scale mining sector. The implication is that the sector has the potential to improve rural livelihoods and the economy if given the needed support.
I have talked to farmers in some mining areas who claimed that, because farming is a seasonal activity, they do Galamsey to either supplement income from their farming activities or to finance their farming projects.
Danaa Samad: Our farmlands have minerals and minerals do get finished but farming is more sustainable. Would you recommend Galamsey over farming?
Dr. Francis Xavier: Let’s formalize Galamsey operations. Let’s also give support to our farmers so that we can have both activities going on concurrently. Remember, we need to diversify our economy and not concentrate on one activity.
QUESTIONS TME WITH OUR READERS FROM (THE READERS HUB)
Ghaniyu: If I get him right, once a land is discovered with some mineral resources, it becomes the property of the state, is it possible for the government to establish state own mining companies to take over the operations of these discovered resources so as to curtail the environmental degradation?
Dr. Francis Xavier: That is a good question. The extraction and production of minerals is capital intensive. Our government doesn’t have the capital to be able to do that. That is the problem. All that government has to do; to curtail environmental degradation is to enforce the law. I must be quick enough to add that the laws are there, but they don’t bite.
- I humbly wound like you to ask Dr., what are some of the concrete measures that worked or are working in other jurisdictions to curbing galamsey, and can same be implemented here in Ghana?
- Would you be comfortable to say that ours here in Ghana is a national security threat, and what are some of the reverberations going into the future if this is not stopped?
Dr. Francis Xavier: Great question. Galamsey is popular in Latin America, Asia and Africa. In South Africa, they call it Zama Zama mining. Now to your question, Tanzania came to Ghana to learn about small-scale mining. They are now doing far better than us in terms of formalizing the operations of miners. So, we can learn best practices from countries like Tanzania. It boils down to formalizing the activities of Galamsey miners by giving them support in the forms of credit, ready market and recognition
And to the second leg of your question, I would say yes, it’s a national security threat. If you agree that unemployment is a national security threat, then stopping Galamsey activities is equally a national security threat. The only way forward is to formalize, formalize and formalize the activities of miners (Smiles). As I said earlier; Galamsey is largely a livelihood issue. Stop Galamsey and you will be ending the livelihoods of many. If you go to the Tarkwa mining area, Galamsey is the heart and soul of many families.
Bassing. A.M.A.Kamal: With your vast experience, what amendment (s) if any, would you recommend in the minerals and mining Act of 2006, Act 703 as amended in 2010 and 2015
Dr. Francis Xavier: First of all, I will recommend that the compensation scheme be renegotiated with all stakeholders. The current compensation package doesn’t favor the original land owners. Dr. Elias Kuusaana and others did a detailed study of the rightful beneficiaries of mining compensation. I will suggest you read that paper. Secondly, I will also recommend that small-scale miners be given some portions of large-scale mining concessions to mine. Thirdly, I will recommend that before a mining company starts operations, they should agree on some terms with the government and community to undertake some specific infrastructural projects. There are several others I could recommend, but for the lack of time.
Danaa Samad: It is getting more interesting but we are running out of time. Any closing remarks please?
Dr. Francis Xavier: Thanks so much for having me. The small-scale mining sector has the potential to create jobs and improve rural livelihoods across the country. Therefore, those operating illegally must be brought on board and supported. They need the support of all stakeholders including all of us.
Danaa Samad: Thanks so much for the insights. It has been revealing and educative. READERS, this is where we draw the curtains down for tonight’s SOCIAL MEDIA MONK handle. Thak you all for the audience and have a good night.
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Hub Editor: Bassing. A.M.A.Kamal.