To Ban or Not to Ban: A “Citizen” Perspective on Galamsey

Source: Ghana || Kenneth Bansah
Date: 13th-april-2017 Time:  10:59:44 am

Share this story:

Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) is a multimillion dollar industry and contributes significantly to socio-economic developments in the countries where it is practised. According to a 2013 World Bank report, artisanal and small-scale mining occurs in about “80 countries and accounts for 80% of global sapphire, 20% of gold mining and up to 20% of diamond mining”. On the continent of Africa, ASM occurs in about 45 countries, providing direct employment to more than 9 million people and supporting over 54 million dependents. It is a significant source of cobalt used in the production of lithium ion batteries to power cell phones, laptop computers and electric vehicles. Artisanal miners in Congo, Ghana and Sierra Leone, for example, are a major source of diamond. Global Press Journal recently reported that artisanal and small-scale mining outperformed large-scale mining of gold in Zimbabwe in 2016. The sector contributes significantly to the 90% mineral export in Sierra Leone.

In Ghana, artisanal and small-scale mining occurs in two forms: licensed operations and unregistered operations called galamsey. Galamsey is a term derived from the English phrase, “gather them and sell”. It has been practised in Ghana for more than a century, providing jobs to many people in rural communities where the activities occur. Conventionally, the miners use rudimentary tools such as hammers, shovels, pickaxes and spades to dig the ground for gold or diamond. Their finds are typically sold on the local market for making jewellery and other precious artefacts.

In 1989, the government recognised the need to regulate galamsey, and promulgated the Small-Scale Gold Mining Law - 1989 (PNDCL 218). The law required Ghanaian citizens who are at least 18 years of age to apply for a license to engage in small-scale mining. This law, which is still in use, did not recognize galamsey. It can, therefore, be inferred that galamsey is an illegal activity under PNDCL 218. Following promulgation of the law, the Minerals Commission of Ghana established Small-Scale Mining District Offices to offer support services to registered/licensed or potential artisanal and small-scale miners. Currently, there are nine Small-Scale Mining District offices located in Tarkwa, Bibiani, Dunkwa, Asankrangwa, Konongo, Bolgatanga, Wa, Assin Fosu, and Akim Oda.

Over the last two decades, however, the law has failed to keep pace with the level and rate of the mining activities. Bureaucratic bottlenecks and cost of seeking licensure have been a major setback to many of the potential artisanal miners who typically lack income and formal education. These among many other issues such as high levels of poverty and lack of alternative employment have caused many people to operate illegally. Additionally, foreign investment and participation by community leaders have facilitated the activities and widened the scale of mining.

Results of the illegal operations include massive land degradation, water pollution, mercury releases, destruction of farms and arable lands, security issues and social vices such as truancy and teenage pregnancies. Commonly discussed in the public, are the issues of land and water degradation. Indeed, the level of vegetation and water quality depletion caused by galamsey should be a concern to many people in the country and around the world. I have observed traces of toxic heavy metals in fish and high turbidity levels in streams/rivers affected by galamsey.

Due to the environmental and social issues related to the mining, many people have called for a temporary or total ban of the activities. Also, in the last five years, government intensified the use of security forces as means to stop galamsey. This effort (security intervention) has proven to be unsuccessful for many years.

It is in this regard and for several other reasons that I advocate the regularisation of galamsey through a comprehensive re-formalization of the artisanal and small-scale mining sector in Ghana. As a first step, government and stakeholders should stop criminalizing and marginalizing galamsey operators and recognize them. The re-formalization process should aim at promoting sustainable artisanal and small-scale mining to ensure socioeconomic and environmental performance.

Ghana stands to gain from sustainable artisanal and small-scale mining. The lives of many impoverished local people can be improved through sustainable ASM. More than two million people are estimated to engage in galamsey. And over one million are engaged in licensed small-scale mining. These people, also support millions of dependents. That is, over 10% of Ghana’s population depend on artisanal and small-scale mining.

The following are proposed for dealing with galamsey:

1. A comprehensive overhaul of the Small-Scale Gold Mining Law - 1989 (PNDCL 218). The law has failed to keep pace with increasing mining activities in the country. Further, the law does not prescribe specific measures for restoring mine degraded soils and does not cover underground operations. For example, Section 11 of the law states that “a person licensed to mine gold under this Law may win, mine and produce gold by any effective and efficient method and shall in his operations observe good mining practices, health and safety rules and pay due regard to the protection of the environment”. This law is vague because it does not prescribe specific requirements for mining and protecting the environment, and opens diverse application based on knowledge, experience and financial standing of the miner (license holder).

Also, many people are concerned with increasing mechanization of artisanal and small-scale mining and often criminalize the use of such mining equipment in the activities. As much as increasing sophistication has widened the scope of mining and significantly impacted the environment, it must be noted that the law does not prescribe specific tools for the mining.

Even though, there are some regulations to cushion the law, it must also be noted that, an excellently designed and constructed structure will fail on a bad foundation. This is because the foundation may lack sufficient rigidity to contain the load from the structure. The vagueness of the law in many aspects require the enactment of a new law to ensure sustainability of the sector. The Small-Scale Gold Mining Law -1989 (PNDCL 218) should be repealed and replaced with a comprehensive law that can stand the test of time.

2. Recognizing galamsey operators and involving them in decision-making processes. It is important not to criminalize galamsey operators. Agreeably, it is worrying and aesthetically objectionable to see important rivers such as the Pra, Birim, Tano, and Bonsa become murky brown leading to quadrupled water treatment cost and shutting down of water treatment plants. It is also understandable, the outrage engendered by land and forest devastations caused by galamsey. Galamsey is also posing threats to food security and has become a national security issue.

However, sustainable ASM can significantly minimize the negative issues. To make ASM sustainable, I propose "Artisanal Mining Farms" - where Minerals Commission together with all stakeholders demarcate potential mineralized mining sites for the operators. The Farm may contain 10 to 20 participants (or any number deemed suitable) and a dedicated area as central processing point, where processing of the excavated material is properly controlled and the sale of the product regulated.

The Artisanal Mining Farms would have management team comprising local community leadership, miners and authorities. The miners together with stakeholders (management) appoint someone as "Farm Manager". Such person should be experienced and have qualifications in environmental and safety management and engineering. He/she must also be current with mining regulations and international best mining practices. The Farm Manager shall ensure that mining is done in the manner prescribed by law and in accordance with standard practices.

The Farm should also have qualified resident officers from Minerals Commission and Environmental Protection Agency to offer direct support services to the miners. Further, authorities can team up with the National Service Secretariat to post “interested” service persons to the “Artisanal Mining Farms”. In recent times for example, mining engineering graduates have been posted to serve at various hospitals or institutions unrelated to their profession. These service people can be channeled into working at the “Artisanal Mining Farms”.

3. Use of security forces to fight galamsey should cease. Security forces involvement only goes to worsen the situation. There are many reasons why people do galamsey: some mine for justice - because they feel marginalized and unrecognized. There are many instances where galamsey operators have cited reasons such as lack of employment in the large-scale mines, even though, such large firms operate on their lands or might have relocated them for mining. Those people dig for justice- they want recognition and opportunities for livelihoods in the large-scale mines.

Many also mine due to poverty, and they dig for survival. With a staggering youth unemployment, it is not surprising to find many youth in galamsey. In previous articles, I have shared a common parlance in the galamsey circles: "it is better to die looking for food than to sit and die from hunger". The resolve to dig, no matter the forces that stand against them, have often resulted in violent confrontations between galamsey operators and security taskforce. The results are usually, fatalities, serious injuries, property damage, loss of huge capital, heightened disaffection, increased environmental devastations among several other issues.

4. Capacity building at the regulatory institutions. Minerals Commission, Environmental Protection Agency etc. require adequate qualified staff, facilities, routine training etc. to execute their tasks effectively and efficiently. Obsolete facilities at the regulatory institutions and lack of adequate trained and qualified staff are partly responsible for undermining oversight by the regulatory institutions.

To conclude, let us recognize galamsey and regularize the activities. Countries such as Ethiopia, Suriname and Burkina Faso are making strides in artisanal and small-scale mining. Let us learn from them and aim at "Sustainable Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining". Sustainable artisanal and small-scale mining can bring remarkable socioeconomic developments to rural economies and generate significant revenue for government. Ghana stands to achieve more from sustainable artisanal and small-scale mining as ASM accounts for more than 30% of total gold produced and is the sole producer of diamond in Ghana. Galamsey operators are contributors of this significant milestone. ASM is widespread and provides income and livelihood to more than 10% of Ghana’s population. It is an institution of significant economic potential and needs to be developed.

Over the last seven years, I have conducted research in artisanal and small-scale mining and interviewed police officers, community leaders, local people and more than 1,000 galamsey participants about galamsey and related mining issues. Based on compelling evidence, I have no reason to believe that a ban on the already prohibited activity or military/security intervention would solve the galamsey issues. Such intervention would have serious ramifications for people, country and the environment.

I, therefore, encourage authorities to let these views expressed here inform their decisions on galamsey and ASM in general, to ensure socioeconomic and environmental performance.

Kenneth Bansah (30/03/2017).


PhD Mining Engineering Candidate and Graduate Research Assistant - Missouri University of Science and Technology, USA

Lecturer, Mining Engineering – University of Mines and Technology, Tarkwa, Ghana

Director – Mining & Community Research (non-profit organization)

Director – Safety & Environmental Research Consultancy Limited

  What others are reading

  More in this section