Citizen participation in Ghana’s gold mining sector: A ray of hope for 'galamseyers'?

Mining registration in Ghana is expensive, cumbersome, encouraging illegal mining

By Md Mostak Al Farhad
Published: Thursday 18 August 2022

A military team at River Offin in Ghana recently confiscated several chanfangs, generators, water pipes and barrels from the illegal artisanal and small-scale miners (also called galamseyers) during a crackdown, according to media reports.

The operation followed orders by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo-Addo who launched Operation Vanguard July 31, 2017 to curb illegal mining.

Ghana is one of the top two gold producers in the world. But 35 per cent of its output is from the artisanal and small-scale gold miners. The unregistered galamseyers also fall in this category.

The region’s gold has been mined by outsiders for centuries, starting with the Europeans who discovered and termed the land ‘gold coast’. The gold was traded for weapons which, in turn, were traded for slaves. 

In the 2000s, Chinese traders entered the sector, bringing heavy machines to the country. These were left back when they were deported in 2013. One of the objectives of the recent crackdown was also to destroy these machinaries.

Realising the importance of gold mining in the country, in 1989, three laws were passed, which allowed the Ghanaians above the age of 18 years to engage in small-scale mining operations as well as to purchase and use mercury required for their operations. 

The laws passed were The Small-Scale Gold Mining Law (PNDCL 218), The Mercury Law (PNDCL 217) and The Precious Minerals Marketing Corporation Law (PNDC Law 219). 

Licenses were granted on conditions such as the licensee can only mine inside a confined space of 25 acres.

Ghana has taken steps in the past to formalise the mining sector and address the problem of conflict, informality, poverty, illegality and lack of state control. The African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, which came into force in 2016, also focussed on addressing the “poverty paradox” and opting for sustainable mining. 

Formalising mining was an important step. The government made registration mandatory for all the miners under the Minerals and Mining Act, 2006. However, not every section of citizens could afford this. An applicant has to pay $4,000 to register.

Additionally, the registration process is cumbersome and can take up to two years. So, several miners were forced to operate unlawfully. 

In 2011, Maconachie and Hilson in their paper Safeguarding livelihoods or exacerbating poverty? argued that the top-down nature of the formalisation process in Ghana not only benefits the large-scale mining companies but also leaves few viable spaces for the artisanal and small-scale gold miners.

Poverty, along with the system not favouring the poor households, is slowly creating a mistrust between the government and the artisanal and small-scale miners.

Galamsey is a result of this mistrust. The recent military clampdown at River Offin has been criticised heavily by the citizens because of the way these galamseyers were treated by the armed forces.

Ghana created the Mineral Development Fund (under the Mineral Development Fund Act, 2016) with an objective to benefit the mining communities. However, since these galamseyers are considered a “menace” to the society by the government, they are often excluded from the decision-making process.

Adopting sustainable practices

Inaction to address these implementation challenges is only going to escalate the conflict between citizens and the government. Worldwide, unsustainable mining practices have caused more harm than profit in the longer term, while simultaneously dismantling the social fabric of a society. 

In order to avoid such a situation, four solutions could be adopted. 

First, there needs to be proper institutions with implementing officers at the ground-level properly trained and well-versed with the regulations and environmental effects of mining activities. 

Unregulated mining activities are also detrimental for the environment. This is evident from the massive yellow patches (arid land) visible from satellite imagery and is highly concerning from an environmental perspective.

It is important for the local-level leaders to create a sense of trust amongst the miners since these officers are the intermediary between the government and the local people. The communication between these officers and the miners becomes vital in this scenario.

Second, there should be reevaluation of the licensing system. The fee as well as the duration of the licensing system should be reduced and made easily accessible to the miners (especially artisanal and small-scale miners). 

Third, the administration should monitor the large-scale miners if they are employing indigenous people. Poor development outcomes in communities hosting these large mining companies are a result of the inadequate, one-time compensation for land when it is allotted for mining purposes. 

Also, the mineral royalties held back by the local authorities, which are transferred back to the mining areas, should be properly monitored. The ownership of the mineral royalties, when distributed in an equitable manner, will bring a sence of ownership. This will, in turn, bring back trust among local stakeholders.

Finally, there should be active representation of the entire stakeholders, including women, marginalised communities such as the galamseyers and other unregistered miners. Citizen participatory governance platforms should provide power balanced spaces for stakeholders to influence decisions relating to benefit sharing.

Non-profits should conduct training programmes for the on-ground implementation officers. They should work with the government to:

  • Revisit and reformulate policies
  • Point out loopholes 
  • Create more sustainable and achievable plans and policies to bring back trust among the artisanal and small-scale gold miners 
  • Formalise the entire system more adequately.

They can play an active role in disseminating knowledge in collaboration with  academic institutions and the legal administration. This can make miners aware of  environmental pollution associated with the activity.

Miners should also be trained for benefit-sharing so that the participation of the stakeholders is increased while understanding their legal rights. 

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.