Illegal miners have restricted the free flow of the Birim River on the outskirts of Akyem Aboabo to enable them to carry out their outlawed activities.

During a tour of the spot between Akyem Wenchi in the Denkyembour District and Oda, where the river course has been diverted and narrowed, last Friday, it was clear that large tracts of land along the river had been destroyed by the illegal miners, who were carrying out their activities, also known as galamsey, with impunity.

The Daily Graphic team found that many cocoa and oil palm farms had been destroyed without giving any compensation to their owners.

Although the team did not meet anyone on site, it saw some excavators which, according to a source, had been abandoned, while security personnel had de-mobilised others.

When the Daily Graphic contacted the Oda Divisional Police Commander, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Rev. Samuel Nyamekye Adane-Ameyaw, he confirmed the invasion of the area by illegal miners.

He said the division had mobilised policemen to undertake an operation in the area.

However, Rev. Adane-Ameyaw refused to give details of the illegal activities and rather directed the reporter to the Eastern Regional Police Command, with the explanation that two suspects were arrested during the operation to get rid of the illegal miners, with the case document sent to the regional police command for further action.

When contacted about the arrest of the suspected illegal miners, the Eastern Regional Police Public Relations Officer (PRO), Ebenezer Tetteh, declined comment, saying the Police Administration had directed all regional police PROs in the country not to grant any interviews to the media.

He, consequently, directed the Daily Graphic to contact his bosses at the Police Headquarters in Accra for detailed information on illegal mining activities in the Oda area.

Background

After six years of sustained and spirited measures implemented by the government to stop illegal mining in the country, the fight against the menace is far from over.

Illegal mining continues to wreak havoc on land, forest reserves and water bodies in mining communities, especially in the Ashanti, Eastern, Western and Western North regions.

Galamsey resurgence

When he took over the reins of power, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo vowed to clamp down on illegal mining activities in the country.

He put his Presidency on the line by pledging to fight the menace head-on, even if it meant losing the next presidential election.

Subsequently, the government, through the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, declared a relentless war on galamsey.

From 2017, the government took the fight against illegal mining to a higher level by banning all forms of small-scale mining in the country for almost two years and lifted the ban only on December 14, 2018.

With the overwhelming support of the media, key stakeholders were rallied to take the war to the galamsey operators on all fronts.

An Inter-Ministerial Committee on illegal Mining (IMCIM) was also set up, comprising relevant ministries, such as Lands and Natural Resources, Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI), Local Government and Rural Development, Defence and the Interior, to help bring sanity to the small-scale mining sector.

That was followed by the deployment of Operation Vanguard, a joint police-military task force, into mining communities to halt illegal mining activities.

Hundreds of excavators, equipment for dredging and washing the ore, known as changfan, and other equipment were seized by Operation Vanguard at mining sites.

After the lifting of the ban, there was a resurgence in galamsey activities in many parts of the country.

‘Galamstop’ drones and mining guards were also deployed to support the crackdown on the menace.

Fight not over

When he delivered a message on the State of the Nation on January 6, 2021, prior to the dissolution of the Seventh Parliament, President Akufo-Addo called for an "open and dispassionate conversation" about galamsey and its future.

He observed that the devastating nature of illegal mining required a non-partisan conversation and broader stakeholder engagement on how to come out of the woods.

"Should we allow or should we not allow galamsey, illegal mining that leads to the pollution of our water bodies and the devastation of our landscape? As I have said often, the Almighty, having blessed us with considerable deposits of precious minerals, there will always be mining in Ghana,” he observed.

National dialogue

Following that call, the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Samuel Abu Jinapor, convened a two-day national dialogue on small-scale mining in Accra on April 14, last year, bringing together all stakeholders to find the way forward to winning the galamsey war.

President Akufo-Addo, who opened the dialogue, reiterated the need for "an impartial and non-partisan dialogue" for the country to reach a consensus on a sustainable method of mining minerals.

The conference, which was on the theme: “Sustainable small-scale mining for national development”, brought together all ministers of Lands and Natural Resources in the Fourth Republic, all political parties, parliamentary select committees, mining industry players, faith-based organisations and civil society organisations.

At the end of the dialogue, the participants called on the government to take steps to put in place systems for the rigid application of the laws against illegal small-scale mining.

A 15-point communique read by Mr Jinapor at the end of the dialogue on April 15, last year stressed that sanctions and penalties imposed by the Minerals and Mining (Amendment) Act, 2019 (Act 995) should be applied to all those who infringed the law, irrespective of their political colour or socio-economic status.

It described galamsey as a national emergency that required urgent and concerted efforts to tackle.

It also called for similar consultations to be held in all mining regions and districts of the country.