13/07/2017 03:59 SAST | Updated 13/07/2017 11:28 SAST

The Tragedy Of Ghana's Blood Minerals And The Chinese Connection

The apparent romance between China and Africa resembles an abusive relationship.

Illegal mining operation in Kyebi, East Akim.
Illegal mining operation in Kyebi, East Akim.

It's a Monday morning, the traffic is always jam-packed, the airwaves are lit with lots of people saying lots of things but nothing really and all I wanted to do was to get to work. The race upon these asphalt ribbons echoed lots of hopes of a people optimistic about their tomorrows except mine was shattered by the frontpage images of these newspapers being hawked in the streets.

The hashtag #StopGalamseyNow is already beginning to fade just a few weeks after it seemed to have gained critical mass. We have acted as though we have never known or seen the effects of illegal mining and the involvement of foreign actors in this heinous activity everybody is suddenly hysteric about.

The real tragedy is not that our rivers are being polluted and biodiversity destroyed or that there are foreign agents acting with impunity within our space but that there are people among us who think the uproar is merely sentimentalist. The real tragedy is that we have waited too long to be furious at this menace.

The once pristine streams and rivers that gave many communities an identity, a history and a heritage are being destroyed. We are losing our water bodies to illegal mining, aided and abetted by the elite, the local chief, the government official seated in the capital city and irksomely, the Chinese too. The recent attempts to absolve the Chinese of blame in the "Galamsey" canker deserves to be scorned.

Deep down into the heart of the earth, shafts penetrate with ghastly persistence and perseverance. Men almost unrecognisable from the sheer dirt and resemblance of labourers from the coal mines that power the furnace of hell; they put their lives at risk daily to mine gold illegally in an operation christened "Galamsey" (meaning -- "gather them and sell" as has been the MO of these operators. These are small scale miners destroying our biodiversity on a large scale.

The involvement of Chinese nationals in illegal mining is an open secret. Evidently, the former lands and natural resources minister, Inusah Fuseini in an interview indicated - "Chinese Ambassador tried to undermine my 'galamsey' fight"; There have been several arrests of these nationals. I must commend the current Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, John Peter Amewu for his resolve and determination to take on the 'galamsey mafia'.

Lives have been lost. Galamsey took my friend, Major Maxwell Mahama who was lynched and burnt in the line of duty.

I am furious. As though it is not enough that they are destroying our lands, the Chinese Ambassador to Ghana had the effrontery to write to the government demanding that the media be gagged under the guise of seeking fairness. Small-scale artisanal mining is nothing new to us. It is part of our history, however; the washing of mercury into our streams and the pollution of clean sources of water is a recent invention with the help of foreign actors.

Our natural resources are being exploited, and we are being smoke-screened with asphalt roads whose life spans are just a decade or two whereas the biodiversity being destroyed took many decades to form and will take many more decades to regenerate that's if given the chance. The apparent romance between China and Africa resembles an abusive relationship.

Somebody asked me If I were stupid, and I said No!

In the heat of the galamsey fight and debate, the Ghana Association of Chinese Societies donates to Ghana Police. A few weeks later the Chinese Ambassador makes a donation of cash and computers to the Attorney General's Office. On the front page of national newspapers is a coloured photograph of the Inspector General of Police smiling gleefully as he receives the dummy cheque presented to him. You are probably asking, what is wrong with this? I will tell you not just why it is wrong but also why it is dumb. Ghana has lost a large swathe of vegetative cover, waterbodies and biodiversity to illegal mining.

"Ghana has lost more than 33.7 percent of its forests, since the early 1990s. Between 2005 and 2010, the rate of deforestation was estimated at 2.19 percent per annum; the sixth highest deforestation rate globally for that period (FAO, 2010)." This has been coupled with a decline in agricultural production and its contribution to the GDP. Ghana once upon a time was the largest producer of Cocoa but those glory days are long gone.

Lives have been lost. Galamsey took my friend, Major Maxwell Mahama who was lynched and burnt in the line of duty; taken in the fight against Galamsey. Just another reason why #Galamseymuststop!

Are the locals to blame for Galamsey?

The locals for years have been passive spectators of big corporations' plunder of their natural resources. They have no share of revenues -- all they get is some paltry CSR allocation which solves none of their problems. According to a World Bank Report, people living in resource extracting areas are usually the poorest, especially where the mining companies are not fulfilling their CSR obligations. So they take their destinies into their own hands by involvement in illegal mining. Though there has been a large presence of locals in the illegal mining business, the Chinese seem to have gained ground or are doing so at a very fast pace.

Apparently, the fear of poverty, misery, and starvation for many of these 'galamseyers' is greater than the fear of losing their lives in the dark pits they descend into to mine gold.

"The introduction of mining in farming communities has worsened the unemployment situation in mining communities and the hitherto farming communities are COMPELLED to abandon farming to undertake mining activities mainly "galamsey" mining with its attendant environmental problems especially pollution of rivers." (Mr. & Mrs. Koranteng of WACAM, Daily Stateman, 6th April 2017 edition, page 7).

Indeed, the fight against illegal mining cannot simply be won in the face of bans and embargoes and wide media campaigns, we must find alternative livelihoods for the persons being rendered unemployed. Otherwise, we may win a pyrrhic victory against this battle but lose the larger war against unemployment, poverty and deprivation.