Dealing With Illegal Mining, A ‘Nightmare’

Samuel Abu Jinapor


A WELL-armed police officer beamed at an entrance leading to the first of three doors before entering the main office of Ghana’s Lands and Natural Resources Minister Samuel Abu Jinapor.

At the waiting area, three large framed pictures depicting the mining and extractive industries hung on the wall to welcome visitors as I waited patiently for my turn to be ushered in by the minister’s orderly.

Smartly dressed and relaxed behind his desk, he took a quick glance at me as I entered his spacious office, and immediately buried his head into a pile of papers before him.

I took close to 10 steps to reach his desk to exchange pleasantries. He is a lover of books including Tom Wright and Bradley Hope’s ‘Billion Dollar Whale’ stuck among a pile of literature behind him, next to a black and white painting of himself.

At age 39, Jinapor has been tasked by his political godfather, President Nana Akufo-Addo to help address Ghana’s age-old complex environmental problem – illegal mining, popularly known as galamsey.

Ghana, formerly known as the Gold Coast, is the leading African producer of the world’s most precious metal and sixth globally.

However, artisanal and small-scale mining – a low-tech, indigenous mining subsector – has culminated into uncontrollable widespread illegal mining across the West African country.

Fraught With A Lot Of Challenges

While illegal mining supports livelihoods, it has caused severe damage to the environment. It is blamed for the destruction of farmlands and pollution of water bodies. It denied the state revenue an estimated US$2.3 billion in 2016, reports The Conversation.

“I walked into this office finding a mining industry which was without a shred of doubt robust and very active,” Jinapor tells The Africa Report. “But it is fraught with a lot of challenges including illegal small-scale mining.

“I can’t say as a minister that the Ghanaian mining industry is in a position where I can confidently come to the conclusion that it’s satisfactory. We are still grappling with issues such as illegal small-scale mining,” Jinapor says while stealing a glance at the huge TV facing him.

Small-scale mining in Ghana, which employs over one million rural Ghanaians directly, supports millions and contributes up to 43% of the nation’s total gold production, according to the Lands Ministry.

However, more than 85% of small-scale mining operations still occur in the informal and illegal sector of the economy and remain largely unregulated, which causes severe damage to water bodies and the environment.

Jinapor bent in search of a file while exuding optimism that most of the measures he has spearheaded since assuming office in March 2021 will eventually pay off.

“A great deal of work has been done,” says the former deputy chief of staff. “Some progress has been made. We have been able to construct a framework that if we persist and do the right things and continue to be determined I believe we’ll come to grips with the issue of small-scale mining.

“We appreciate that even while we continue to make the effort to reform the industry and bring innovative ways for the small-scale mining industry, people will still continue to be recalcitrant and will flout the rules. That’s why we have the law enforcement approach where we are deploying soldiers to clamp down on the illegal small-scale miners,” he adds.

“The government of President Akufo-Addo is fully determined to go through the full throttle of this manner and be tenacious on the issue of small-scale mining. We need to sanitise the mining industry of our country and rid it of illegalities to be able to contribute to the national economy.”

Politicising The Fight Against Illegal Mining

As a personality whose political career took off in his early 20s as a communications aide to former President John Kufuor on a historic visit to the UK in 2007, Jinapor is aware of the fact that fighting illegal mining comes with a huge political cost.

His boss, Nana Akufo-Addo, whose framed picture is hung right behind him in his office, lost a significant number of votes in his second term bid in the Western Region of Ghana, having launched a crackdown on illegal miners in those areas in his first term.

Jinapor said although opposition politicians are resorting to propaganda to incite the locals, the government will not relent and will continue to engage with traditional leaders and communities to make the fight successful.

“Community support is important. The cooperation and collaboration between traditional authorities and political leadership are absolutely crucial,” the trained lawyer says. “I see the situation as a national challenge which requires a national resolve to deal with it devoid of petty partisanship. But that is not the case.

“A lot of political parties have unfortunately politicised the issue of illegal small-scale mining, whether it’s the question of ruling party members and activists believing that it’s their entitlement to be involved in the mining industry, regardless of how they do it, or it’s the opposition party elements who will tend to use this as fodder for political propaganda that continues to be a challenge.

“It costs a lot of money to deal with a matter as huge as illegal small-scale mining,” Jinapor said.

Occupational Hazards

It is widely believed that powerful politicians and chiefs have a hand in illegal small-scale mining including undocumented Chinese nationals, who import heavy equipment such as excavators, intensifying the environmental impact of artisanal mining in most areas.

Jinapor may have stepped on several toes directly or indirectly in the course of discharging his responsibilities. But the father of four daughters says he is not scared for his life because he is doing the right thing.

“In everything that you do, especially in dealing with matters such as this nature, where you are dealing with resource and money and people’s source of wealth there are those who will be happy and applaud you and there are those who will be affected,” he says.

“Therefore, what is required is sophistication to understand that the calling comes with consequences. One has to be tough enough to be able to go through such situations.”

COP27 And The Way Forward

Starting his political career as a campaign aide to then-opposition leader Akufo-Addo in 2007, Jinapor now rolls with the big boys in the world of politics.

He and the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, Senator John Kerry, co-chaired the maiden ministerial meeting of the Forests and Climate Leaders’ Partnership (FCLP) at COP27 in Egypt last month.

“It was a wonderful COP. Ghana made meaningful contributions and came back with a very concrete outcome which we’re going to implement as part of efforts in halting climate change.

“Ghana is a forest country and the world looks up to Ghana in terms of forest and nature-based climate action,” he says adding “We need a mechanism to ensure we move from talk to action. The history of climate change is evident to all of us. But by and large, climate change is a global issue and requires global concerted effort.”

BY Kent Mensah