A report in the Daily Graphic of 8 December 2017 reads: “The police in the Upper West Region [of Northern Ghana]have destroyed three chanfan machines and accessories used for illegal mining [galamsey] along the banks of the Black Volta in the Lawra District. [This] followed an exercise at the [Upper West] region's most [notorious] illegal mining hub, where illegal mining activities have seriously polluted the Black Volta.
“[The Police]….told the media that …about 12 young people working with the machines (which were mounted on wooden platforms [erected] over the river, bolted into Burkina Faso territory [on seeing the police]ENDQUOTE
The use of “Burkina Faso territory” as a haven where galamsey operators from Ghana can run to when chased by our police, is an extremely serious development. For serious criminals, especially smugglers, have always tried to be “extra-territorial” in the sense that they commit crimes in one country and run into another. Unless Interpol intervenes – which is a protracted exercise – the criminals can enjoy the protection of their “host country”, which can pretend not to know anything about the criminals, especially if the criminals are rich enough to bribe the relevant law enforcement agencies. And, of course, they are aware generally that most states are deferential to their neighbours when it comes to the issue of observing international laws relating to “territorial integrity”.
But border troubles can grow from small almost artificial breaches of international law to become “incursions” of various types that can threaten the peace of a whole region. South-east Asia is one of the best examples of this. The Americans' war in Vietnam affected the neighbours of Vietnam, especially Laos and Cambodia. Cambodia was eventually thrown into the hands of the “Khmer Rouge”, whose reign of terror was one of the worst in recent history.
So, our Ministries of the Interior, Foreign Affairs and Defence should no wait but get together very quickly and alert the Burkina Faso Government to the activities of the galamsey operators in Ghana. Evidence must be furnished to the Burkina authorities demonstrating that criminals are using Burkina Faso territory as a springboard to commit crimes in Ghana.
Now, the seriousness of the situation will be better appreciated if the crime the gangs are committing is changed – for illustration purposes – from galamsey to acts of terrorism. If terrorists from Burkina Faso were to carry out a strike in Ghana, would the Burkina Faso Government co-operate with the Government of Ghana in trying to arrest and punish them? The situation provides as good a test case as any that could threaten co-operation under the ECOWAS Treaty. Galamsey is a crime of a particular type but to us, it is just as serious a crime as terrorism is, because it threatens the future of our country's capacity to be habitable.
Incidentally, the Minister of Defence, Mr Dominic Nitiwul, had some interesting things to say about the efforts the Ministry of Defence is making to end galamsey, when it came to his turn to “Meet The Press” at the Ministry of Information on 7 December 2017. Mr Nitiwul has a good sense of humour: he drew attention to the fact that he, as well as the Minister of Information, Mr Mustapha Hamid, and other politicians present, were dressed “in white” to mark the first anniversary of the NPP's victory in the 2016 elections.
He next went on the offensive and accused ex-President John Mahama and some of his associates of contriving a scheme whereby they had managed to sell Ministry of Defence lands to themselves. It was not “wise” for Mr Mahama and his colleagues to have encroached on lands meant for the use of the military, Mr Nitiwul said. “I won't say any more than that.”
The sale of the lands to NDC top guns has been volubly denied, of course by NDC operatives. So maybe a commission of enquiry would be the best way of establishing the facts of the matter. That should only come after the deadline given to the alleged encroachers – 31 December 2017 – to give up the lands, has passed.
Because the Ministry of Defence lands issue sounded so sensational, reports of Mr Nitiwul's address were largely taken up by only that issue. But he made some interesting revelations. For instance, of Operation Vanguard, he said: “We are all aware of the negative impact of illegal small-scale mining, popularly known as “galamsey”. Our water bodies across the country… have been polluted, endangering the lives of our people. Our forests are being depleted at an alarming rate;… our environment is also being degraded at a terrific speed, sadly while we look on. Some will argue that it provides [a] livelihood to many of our people; but one would ask, at what cost?”
Operation Vanguard was not meant to fight anybody, but rather “to save all of us”, Mr Nitiwul declared.
He went on: “Since the launch of the Operation, this bad practice has ended in many areas. Highlights of arrests and seizures during the period 1 August – 30 November 2017 were: No. of arrests (of persons) – 673; excavators [seized] -143; chanfans– 1,719; arms/ammunition seized: Arms – 28 varieties; ammunition – 301 [of various types]; [plus] some “explosives.”
Mr Nitiwul said he had visited the operational areas of Operation Vanguard in Ashanti, the Western and Eastern Regions recently and could attest to “the good work” being done. “The greatest challenge now is the restoration of the degraded environment and its maintenance to forestall a relapse. I wish to reiterate here my commitment to assist by getting troops to help in tree-planting to reclaim degraded lands. The force behind Operation Vanguard derives from the President’s avowed commitment to end this canker and here I urge all those who are engaging in this illegal activity to put a stop to it.” Mr Nitiwul added.
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