Ghana produces a variety of minerals including gold, diamonds, manganese, and bauxite, with gold accounting for over 90% of its overall mining output.
In June 2019, the country became Africa’s number one gold producer, beating South Africa, which has held the continent’s top spot for several years.
Factually, Ghana’s gold is also easier and cheaper to mine, which has seen leading companies such as Gold Fields and AngloGold Ashanti align their strategies towards the West African nation.
Despite these impressive facts, Ghana’s mining industry is heavily plagued with the menace of illegal mining which occurs mostly in the artisanal and small-scale mining subsector.
AUTHOR: Kwesi Koomson, independent communications and research consultant
The subsector employs over 1 million people and contributes significantly to Ghana’s total production output.
Although small-scale mining is legalised with required procedures to formalise the activities of players in the sector, the existing bureaucracies, coupled with increased unemployment and poverty has made illegal mining (often referred to as ‘galamsey’) even more attractive in this West African country.
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.
This was met with heavy resistance by duly registered small-scale miners. Successive governments, specifically over the last two decades, have made efforts to clamp down on the menace, but it is clear that illegal miners have a stronger will and have become more creative in sustaining their activities.
Weak implementation and the lack of enforcement of laws remain the biggest challenges in the fight against illegal mining. 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 is tasked with tackling illegal mining in the Ashanti, Eastern and Western regions of Ghana – the most affected areas. Between 2017 and 2019, the team has arrested over 2 200 illegal miners, including foreign nationals.
Gaining national interest
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. This represented a major setback in the fight.
Meanwhile, in February 2019, globally recognised investigative journalist Anas Aremyaw Anas released a documentary which 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”.
The Media Coalition against illegal mining, which comprises major media organisations in the country, was formed in April 2017. Its role has undoubtedly made illegal mining a national issue that requires national attention.
Civil society groups joined the media to support the campaign but their steam has waned due to government’s lack of commitment.
The Minerals Commission, the regulator in this space, which has been tasked with the responsibility to monitor mining activity and ensure compliance does not have the power to prosecute, and can only do this through the police.
At any given instance when the police fails to take the required action, the Commission has no other means to ensure compliance. While the other challenge of being under-resourced exists, the Commission and its district offices do not have the needed capacity to win the fight against illegal mining.
Small-scale license bureaucracy fuels illegal mining
Moreover, the bureaucracy associated with acquiring licenses for small-scale, reconnaissance and prospecting propels miners to rather mine illegally.
To ensure more positive strides in this fight, it is important for government to review this process for small-scale and artisanal miners, and also ensure improved coordination between traditional rulers.
Below are the various steps a prospective miner undergoes goes to acquire a license from the Commission:
- Step 1
Submit application: Once having gathered and completed all the required documents, these are submitted to the district office. It takes five days to review the application. This is followed by an additional five days for notification of errors.
- Step 2
Publish in Gazette: 15 days after recording, MTD publishes application in the gazette, notifies chiefs and traditional authorities through the Minerals Commission district offices.
- Step 3
Stakeholder feedback: 21 days, stakeholders submit concerns over the application.
- Step 4
Commission considers application: 30 days, the Minerals Commission considers the application and recommends to the Minister.
- Step 5
Minister takes decision: Within 60 Days the Minister takes a decision on the application.
- Step 6
Approval/Rejection: 21 days notification of applicant and fees payable if approved. Reasons are given if rejected.
- Step 7
Applicable fees paid: Within 60 days, applicant pays applicable fees and gives notice of acceptance of the grant to Minister and Commission in writing.
- Step 8
License: Minister on proof of payment of applicable fees, issues license to applicant within 30 days after the date of acceptance of the grant.
This means, it could take over 120 days to acquire a license.
The need for tighter regulatory controls
While the change in the attitude of citizens is important, the control of illegal mining can only be achieved by continued education and the strong enforcement of existing laws that guide the sector. There is an immediate need for tighter regulatory controls.
This can only be achieved by effectively resourcing the institutions responsible. Policy reforms are also essential to creating sustainable solutions to this menace. Policies that limit prospective miners’ ability to acquire a certain acreage of land needs to be created to ensure effective monitoring.
It is commendable that government is creating alternate employment opportunities in the agriculture sector with its ‘Planting for Food and Jobs Programme’ in many communities where illegal mining exists. This has the potential to create a lasting positive impact.
About the author
Kwesi Koomson is a senior communications and research consultant. He has provided research, evaluation and stakeholder engagement advisoryfor the Ghana Chamber of Mines, Microsoft Ghana, Google Ghana, the ECOWAS Commission, Mastercard Foundation and the Bill & MelindaGates Foundation.
He has extensive experience in design and implementation of communication strategies aimed at improving businesses. He worked as a political risk analyst for UK based intelligence firm, africapractice. In 2015 he worked as the research consultant for the Leadership in Conservation for Africa’s conservation project, supported by Goldfields Ghana.
Koomson has also provided support on communications related projects for the President of Diageo Africa, John O’Keefe. His experience cuts across various sectors including, mining, oil and gas, media, technology, market entry, and the arts.