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Mon, Aug

‘Galamsey’, a scary sight in Atiwa

Illegal mining, known as galamsey, is destroying our environment and polluting water bodies

After a recent three-week visit to my home town in the Atiwa District, I have spent sleepless nights agonising and grieving over the incalculable damage which the Chinese are inflicting on our country, particularly in the rural areas through illegal mining and galamsey, and the consequent massive degradation of our land and pollution of almost all our river bodies.

The iconic and totemic river of the Akyem ethnic group, the River Birem, wrongly spelt Birim, had long since been degraded into a slow moving muddy sludge, but now I noticed that all her tributaries such as the Asuorkoor and Boanor have also been heavily polluted and even more dangerously, poisoned with cyanide and mercury, converting the previously crystal clear colour into greenish brown waste water.

Our forests have been quite irreversibly degraded and our cocoa farms, oil palm plantations, as well as other cash crop and food crop farms are being totally destroyed by these rapacious swarms of Chinese gold diggers, fortune hunters and their Ghanaian surrogates, collaborators and connivers!

And what are the local people and their chiefs doing about all these? Well, the Chinese legions and their local auxiliaries are armed with a wide range of modern weaponry, including the famous AK47s, SMGs, Israel Uzi submachine guns that would put many African armies and police forces to shame! And they always entice the teeming unemployed youth of our towns and villages to their side with promises of instant lucrative jobs. So, woe betide any chief or opinion leader who is fingered by the Chinese and their assigns as seeking to put obstacles in their way!

Such "uncooperative" chiefs and opinion leaders are invariably subjected to cruel physical and verbal molestation and often driven out of town! Some murders of chiefs in recent years in the country are perceptibly traceable to Chinese-run galamsey! Rather sadly, Ghanaian chiefs don't own any modern weapons at all even for self-protection, with the only likely military equipment available in the stool rooms of most Ahenfie being a few rusty muzzle loaders left over from the Yaa Asantewaa War against the British Colonial forces in 1900!

Quite apart from this fact, the Constitution and the Minerals and Mining Act vest the ownership of all minerals in the country in the President who then delegates all licensing authority over minerals and mining to the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, and further down to the Minerals Commission who together are responsible for the issuance of prospecting and mining licences to would-be miners, including the Chinese and their Ghanaian front men.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is then supposed to have the final say by issuing out the Environmental Impact Clearance Certificates before the commencement of actual mining operations. In all these, the chiefs and their communities' influence are very minimal indeed. And yet there is a widespread belief and perception throughout Ghana that the chiefs are the "worst culprits" as a friend of mine recently put it, for the depredations of the Chinese gold diggers and galamseyers, a situation totally out of keeping with the facts on the ground!

The only thing that the chiefs have is the social licence that requires their "cooperation" with all mining groups holding the necessary licences, but any chief refusing to "cooperate" can simply be ignored or shunted aside, or else have his own irate unemployed youth physically unleashed on him and his supporters for attempting to misdirect and sabotage their employment opportunities and personal progress. Indeed, I have personally been shut up in my one-entrance- and-exit-only Ahenfie for a whole anxiety-packed day by an irate group of some 500 youth high on hard liquor and perhaps other substances baying for my blood for similar alleged sabotage offences!

And so until we as a people come up with the unvarnished truth about the real culprits of the Chinese operated galamsey menace, we shall never be able to, and in the position to bring it under effective control. For instance, who is responsible for bringing all those continuous swarms of Chinese fortune hunters into the country?  Is it the largely rural domiciled chiefs or is it the Immigration people or the police? Or is the widely held perception on the ground that behind the Chinese-run galamsey and illegal mining business are certain ministers of state, political appointees and politically connected high-ups who through their control of the mass media and other levers of state power conveniently deflect blame and attention onto chiefs who are largely helpless and voiceless?

What are we doing?

The situation is so dire that even the state-controlled forest reserves are being invaded and plundered by the Chinese and their Ghanaian henchmen with excavators and the full range of other mining equipment. And yet we have always had a government which controls the Ghana Armed Forces, the Police Service, the BNI, the Immigration Service, the National Security Organisations, the other structures of state administration such as regional ministers and the district chief executives!  So who is really in charge here, the chiefs? Aren't all these awesome powers of coercion under the control of the government?

And so what has the government which owns and controls all these means of lethal force been doing all these years about this brazen, open and undisguised invasion and visible presence of Chinese fortune hunters and gold diggers throughout the country? Do we have a governing authority in the land guarding over our national interest and sovereignty at all? Would any Ghanaian or African be permitted to do in China even a tiny fraction of what the Chinese are doing here in Ghana? So I ask again, is anybody in charge of the entity called Ghana at all?