Mining | Opinion

We must kill galamsey before galamsey kills us!

I make no apologies at all for returning to the subject of galamsey, much as I would have liked to talk about other issues in my column today.

For I once heard my elders demand, rhetorically: “kokoram aye wo a na woosu atipayier?” [If an unmentionable and calamitous disease (such as cancer) has caught you, do you cry over a mere headache?)

Yes, I could dissect under- or non-performance in our public life. The culprits are many and easily identifiable. But of what use will good public services, for instance, be to us when we no longer have good water to drink, because galamseyers have ruined all our water-bodies?

When galamseyers have made impassable, the paths we use to go to our farms to grow and collect foodstuffs?

When our brothers and sisters are being attacked and killed, before our very eyes, by cancers caused by the mercury, cyanide and other poisonous chemicals used in washing sand in our rivers and streams in search of gold?

When I stood on my own father's farm at Asiakwa, which had once been the source of succulent cocoyam leaves (nkontommire) very sweet cassava (because the roots were watered by the underground table waters of the nearby Supong stream); extremely delicious bananas; a place were beautiful birds thrived and game could be caught in  abundance…. when I saw this beautiful land turned into craters filled with greenish water with ridges around them that denied a foothold to all but careless idiots who wanted to drown; when I saw a parcel of land at least four square miles in size turned into a completely irreclaimable wasteland; then it was that I realised we were living in a country that had turned itself  into an unacknowledged lunatic asylum!

For how could humans with brains deliberately carry out such wanton acts of devastation against their own land, which has been made super-fertile by the Grace of God?The enormity of the crime which has been committed, not only in places I have been but in other localities around the country where conscientious journalists have videoed and publicised worse scenes, pales into insignificance when juxtaposed against the indiscretions in high places that some of my fellow citizens are excited about.

Yes, those political lapses do matter. But we take our eyes off the ball of galamsey at the risk of committing genocide – REPEAT GENOCIDE – against the generations that will follow us to dwell on this land 50 years hence or less.

An exaggeration, surely? I sincerely wish it were. This is how genocide is defined:

Genocide is intentional action to destroy a people … in whole or in part.

Now,  – I have a 5-year-old grandson whose ability to argue occasionally leaves me stumped.

“Grandpa, now that I am five years old, can I be allowed to….” and he would supply a word or term which describes something he had been told little kids were not allowed to do.

“No, not yet”, one would say.

“But I was told that I couldn't do that when I was only four years old. Now I have grown to be five years old! And I am still not allowed?” (Resentful Pout in evidence at this stage!)

How does one answer such logic? To him, the difference between four and five is enormous. He'd waited a whole three hundred and sixty-five days for it to happen! Yet, now that – what to him – was “maturity” had arrived, the advantages he had hoped to join other “mature” people to enjoy was still being denied him!

What would happen if a logic champion like him was appointed a judge 40 years from now and the State of Ghana was brought before him on a charge of negligence, leading to genocide? :

(Extracts from the Court Proceedings:)

PROSECUTOR: Your Lordship, in the year 1989, so-called “small-scale” or “artisanal” miners, upon the acquisition of a licence from the Minerals Commission, were allowed to dig for gold on lands allocated to them. But in less than ten years, this “small-scale mining” had degenerated into large-scale enterprises whereby the simple tools used for small-scale mining – pick-axes and shovels and pans – were eschewed.ich not only caused total devastation on the land but also churned up sand and soil from or riverbeds – 

 In their place had been brought excavators, heavy earth-moving equipment, stone-crushers and a machine called chanfan [imported from China] which churned sand and gravel out of riverbeds to be washed in search of gold.

JUDGE: Riverbeds? But that would constitute a flagrant breach of the Environmental Protection Acts?

PROSECUTOR: My Lord, I was coming to that. They also broke the Immigration Act by allowing Chinese nationals to partake in small-scale mining, although that business reserved exclusively to Ghanaians…

JUDGE: Ah yes – I see in your Deposition “A”…?

PROSECUTOR: Yes, my Lord. It is the Prosecution's case that agents of The Accused, acting severally, have deliberately ignored breaches of the laws they are supposed to enforce and have allowed foreign nationals, acting in collusion with "get-rich-quick Ghanaians",

 1: To make huge tracts of land no longer cultivable for food, with the result that mass starvation is now a distinct possibility in a future Ghana. Hence, my Lord, the grievous charge of genocide, as starvation is a form of mass killing.

2: To denude other similarly sizable tracts of land, including Forest Reserves, of timber, some of which are most valuable, and are under legal protection, to save them from extinction. And 

3: To expose every citizen of Ghana who has regularly drunk water from the affected rivers and streams over the past 20 years or so, to potential infection and resultant death,  from various dangerous diseases. Symptoms of these deadly diseases include muscle weakness; poor coordination; numbness in the hands and feet; skin rashes; anxiety; memory problems; trouble speaking; trouble hearing; or trouble seeing.

JUDGE: My goodness! So no Ghanaian who has drunk water from these poisoned rivers and streams can enjoy peace of mind from now on!?

PROSECUTOR: My Lord, another serious disease that is caused by high doses of mercury is a strange one called “Minamata disease”. It…JUDGE: I'd much rather hear evidence on that from a medical expert if you don' mind, Mr Prosecutor! Too many people claim expertise these days – by reference to the Internet!….


PROSECUTOR: Much obliged, My Lord. …Er, the Prosecution also intends, at the appropriate time,  to lead expert medical evidence to show that: exposure to mercury in children, in particular, may result in “acrodynia” or “pink's disease”, in which the skin becomes pink and peels off. Long-term complications may include kidney problems and most serious and tragic, considering the effect this could have on the future social and economic development of this country – decreased intelligence!

JUDGE: Whew! Decreased intelligence? That's certainly an oxymoron in this case, isn't it? Must you have some intelligence, to begin with before it can be decreased? And if you have inflicted mercury poisoning on your people for 20 odd years, then you couldn't possibly have had any intelligence, to begin with? But do go on……

PROSECUTOR: My Lord, at this stage, I would plead for an adjournment to enable me to furnish the Court with the names of eminent scientists, some based abroad, that the Prosecution intends to summon to provide expert evidence. Some of the embassies we wrote to have not yet sent us the required information…