|Abstract: ||When it comes to gold, Ghana’s mining industry is dominated by two main gold mining sectors: its large-scale mining (LSM) sector, and its small-scale or artisanal small-scale mining sector (ASM). According to Gavin Hilson (2001), the Ghanaian small-scale mining industry is said to be over 2,000 years old. A preponderance of evidence would suggest that metals found in the hands of Arab traders in the 7th and 8th centuries AD, could be traced to certain parts of the country. Ghana’s wealth of gold was largely responsible for the wealth of its ancient empires and cultures in the 15th and 16th centuries, hence its name, the “Gold Coast”. In recent times, Ghana has become one of the largest producers of gold in sub-Saharan Africa. Ghana’s role on the continent as one of Africa’s largest producers of gold is buttressed by the contributions made from small-scale mining and galamsey operators.
It is estimated that one million small-scale miners, comprised mostly of miners informally operating without any formal permits, are responsible for up to 30% of Ghana’s total gold output (Arkorful et. al, 2018). According to Aubynn (2009), since 1990, $7 billion has been invested in the country’s mining sector with its mines producing, on average, 1 million ounces of gold per year over the period, with 100 000 ounces of gold being produced by ASM parties. Within its ASM sector, exists the informal galamsey industry, mostly involving the participation of the poor and working class. Mantey et al. (2017) define “galamsey” as the practice of illegally mining and/or extracting gold found either below soil or water surface in Ghana. Moreover, Aubynn defines galamsey as the practice of “discretely gathering minerals found just below the soil surface and selling them in contravention to state laws” (Aubynn 2009). Aubynn’s definition of galamsey also highlights the roots of the term, coined during colonial times by those who observed how gold was gathered and sold in the Gold Coast.
Historically, traditional gold mining in Ghana involved the washing or ‘panning’ for gold along the banks of streams and rivers and ocean shores (Yankson and Gough 2018). The Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining sector exists as a highly informalized industrial sector that existed with a lack of regulation. In recent times, the ASM sector has undergone the process of mechanization, whereby operators within the sector, have increased their usage of modernized equipment. For example, galamsey operators typically use basic tools such as pickaxes, shovels, and sluice boxes; but also, more mechanized machines such as water pumps, explosives, excavators, and bulldozers. (Arkorful et. al 2018, page 16). Despite this, the practice of galamsey remains an informal activity that is artisanal for many who participate in it as a means of survival. As Hilson articulates, ASM in developing countries is a largely poverty-driven activity involving the application of low-intermediate technology and requiring low investments and high employment (Hilson, 2002).
The other aspect of its two main gold mining sectors is the Large-Scale mining sector (LSM), inhabited by both domestic and foreign corporate entities. Ghana’s Large-Scale and Artisanal and Small-Scale mining sectors are inextricably linked, with both sectors immensely contributing to varying levels of economic growth that Ghana has achieved since the 1980s, after the Economic Recovery Plan was implemented (crafted by the ruling party at the time, the Provisional National Defence Council, the IMF, and the World Bank). As Aryee et al. (2003) state, the 1980s saw an increase in awareness of the fact that the continued marginalization of the small-scale gold mining sector was detrimental to the economy. Since then, total ASM gold production has increased from 2.2% in 1989 to 34% of national production in 2012 (Busumtwi-Sam & Hira, 2018) This ultimately resulted in the formalization of the Small-Scale mining sector through the enactment of the Small-Scale Mining Law, PNDC 218, enacted in 1989 (Aryee et al.
2003, page 132). Recently, the use of mechanized equipment by galamsey operators, and their foreign counterparts, has led to the pollution of water bodies that surround communities, affecting the lives of many locals. As a result, and as will be discussed later in this paper, galamsey operators have been the subject of widespread public criticism as the main contributors of substantial damage to the ecosystems that surround the mining sites.
The practice of galamsey has become an occupation that has attracted those in need of a source of income, especially for those who do not have access to formal employment. However, those who decide to participate in the practice, often operate without a mining license. Historically, many authors have written about how illegal small-scale miners in Ghana, or galamsey operators, have generally been portrayed in highly negative ways, as mass campaigns against the practice have proliferated over time (Arkorful et al. 2018, Abdulai 2017, Tschakert & Singha, 2014). Furthermore, in recent times, the country has also borne witness to the influx of foreign actors, aiming to profit from the abundance of natural resources located in the country.
More specifically, Chinese miners have become involved in both the LSM and ASM industry, with certain Chinese miners known to have established relations with galamsey operators. As Aidoo (2016) states in his piece, the Chinese have been providing resources for machinery and technical knowledge. Additionally, some of the Chinese leaders and elites are said to rent out excavators, tractors, and generators (Aidoo 2016, page 58). These joint ventures between Ghanaians and Chinese ultimately precipitated a crisis that peaked in 2013, a crisis with significant diplomatic implications. As discussed later in this piece, the involvement of Chinese natives and operatives in the unregulated artisanal mining sector known as galamsey, a sector that has long been a livelihood option for many of Ghana’s poor and underprivileged, has had
negative socio-economic impacts, as well as, negative environmental impacts (Aidoo 2016, page 58). As to what extent the involvement of Chinese natives and operatives in illegal ASM has affected the framing of the galamsey operator in public discourse, that remains to be seen. However, this paper aims to possibly uncover the various factors that play in the construction of popular frames and stereotypes. Moreover, this has led to the development of friction between local small-scale miners, working in what is seen as an illegal and poorly regulated industry that has historically been seen as their own, and foreign miners that operate within it. In recent years, the scale of the involvement of Chinese citizens in Ghana’s illegal ASM sector has grown to such a rate that it has attracted the attention of the country’s major media. Crawford et al. (2015) state that by 2013, the presence of Chinese citizens in informal gold mining in Ghana led to “increasingly hostile” media coverage of ‘illegal Chinese miners’ and the instances of local conflict that occurred (Crawford et al. 2015, page 5). The main question that will be discussed in this paper is: What are the popular frames and stereotypes surrounding the caricature of the galamsey operator in Ghana, and how has this changed over time? Furthermore, an additional question that we may ask is: How do the representations, perpetuated by the media and government officials, affect how mining policies are shaped?|