Ghana was known formally as the “gold coast” because of the abundant gold that was found by the arrival of the colonialist in the early parts of the 18 century. This exacerbated into a gold trade which later transformed into a trade in slaves.
In recent times, Ghana is experiencing a new gold rush as more people try to get access to its most famous export. The precious mineral also has a good monetary value on the world market. Unfortunately, much of that effort revolves around unlicensed mining operation which is illegal and operates alongside licensed mining companies. This practice is known in Ghanaian parlance as “galamsey” or gather them and sell. Although the benefits are enormous, it on the other hand destroys the environment. Galamsey also causes serious water pollution which unfortunately serves many villages and communities as the main source from which they drink, cook and water their animals and crops. Water from these rivers is the backbone of these communities. It is not surprising that this results in massive deaths and health related problems to communities and villages. A disturbing phenomenon for many mining operators (mostly illiterate and uneducated) these days is their shift of focus onto the rivers themselves, using specialist imported machinery to suck up mud from the river bed. This is then treated with hazardous chemicals, including cyanide, lead and mercury to extract the gold before the waste is deposited back into the rivers. This again dries up many of the rivers in no time for it to hold enough water during the next raining season.
In some parts of Ghana, this practice has caused trains to derail as the mining activity (mainly shallow or surface mining) is done very close to rail tracks. This also puts the lives of many travelers at greater risks on a daily basis. Many miners also lose their lives as mines collapse on them or mines become flooded when they use a trial and error method to dig for the precious metal.
What then has the government done to curb this illegal operation? Although it is reported that there has been special tasks force set up to crack down on these illegal miners, the business continues to thrive on a daily basis. What is sad is the presence of minors (boys between the ages of 10-17years) who work on these mines for a meager wage. The bane of all this is that officials are corrupt or being corrupted in one or the other as money changes hands between the mining operators and officials who are responsible for checking that this practice stops and the perpetrators brought before the law.