In recent weeks, stories have emerged of the Government’s latest attempt to end galamsey in our communities. Operation vanguard is aimed at flashing out so-called ‘illegal mining’ groups and does not affect so-called investors, meaning foreigners, who are mainly westerners. The Chinese have been demonised alongside our galamsey youth.
Undoubtedly, galamsey constitutes one of the menaces we face in Ghana today, alongside political gangs. Ending this menace is therefore a national duty. Dealing with this was an election promise of the current government.
However, the sight of armoured vehicles, well-armed soldiers and police, and threats by politicians and so-called “Media Coalition Against Galamsey” gives me the jitters.
In Ghana, we have our own ways of dealing with conflict and issues that affect communities. Violence or the threat of it should be the last resort. Youth in galamsey pits are not therefore the fun of it. They need to feed their families. Hence any attempt to end their presence in the galamsey business should be preceded with dialogue about jobs and government assistance for them to go into small businesses. ‘Operation Vanguard’ is like putting the cart before the horse.
The Youth are being driven from galamsey pits before the government and private sector can create opportunities for them. recently Public Agenda published a story in which a Minister was quoted as saying that galamsey youth should be required to go back and reclaim the lands they have degraded, before they are given back their concessions . Is this a realistic expectation?
long ago, in Nigeria, the Government resorted to force to deal with Niger Delta Militants. It ended in a brutal conflict. Eventually, Governments in Nigeria did what they should have done in the first place. Dialogue and negotiation. I can hear some whimpering that Ghana is not Nigeria. Lessons are there to be learned.
The trend of deploying soldiers and the Police services to deal with civil matters is a worrying development. Ghana is not at war. The youth digging and dying in galamsey pits are not our enemies.
At this early stage let me pose the question whether it is permissible for foreign companies to poison our water, degrade our eco systems, and remain protected while our youth face the might of the Ghana army and police?
More importantly, what is being done to ensure that the Operation Vanguard does not lead to human rights abuses in these communities where the operation is taking place? Can the Armed Forces and the Police Service deal with the deluge of court cases that arise from this operation?
Some caution is required here. Already, one person has died in the early days of ‘operation vanguard’. We operate in a democracy in which leaders are elected, and one in which the rights of people should be respected. All sections of the society should be protected, be they rich or poor. The youth need to be protected and not demonised. The sight of armoured cars and well-armed police and army personnel marching towards galamsey pits is not a reassuring sight. This is not Ghanaian.