Opinions Tue, 18 May 2021

Ghana’s galamsey fight: Why do we look so helpless in addressing the Chinese question?

The past few weeks have been tormenting. I have not been myself: I am unable to sleep as I have to, I have been anxious and angry. The sight of our water bodies gets me crazy, and the thought about what the future holds for my generation and those to come gets me so frustrated. Even more agonizing is seeing foreigners, especially, Chinese, flouting our laws with impunity, polluting our land and water bodies, and going scot-free.

In April 2019, the Chinese ambassador is reported to have blamed Ghanaians for the illicit acts of his citizens in the destruction of the environment and of our water bodies. According to him, no Chinese knows the location of any of Ghana's mining communities or reserve, and that, it is Ghanaians who introduce them to the trade. He mentioned that “We don’t know where your gold is. We don’t issue visas too for the Chinese people coming to Ghana. Ghanaians issue the visas”. “Ghanaians aid the Chinese to where they can find your gold”.

Whilst I don’t want to delve into the validity of these claims, his remarks are salient. However, in the attempt to defend his people, and to absolve them of any responsibility, what the ambassador fails to show, is his willingness to help address the involvement of his citizens in the illegality. Maybe, that is not part of his terms of reference as an ambassador. But the question that begs many answers is that, would the ambassador’s reactions have been the same if his citizens were being invited into the country by Ghanaians (as he puts it) to be killed, maimed, or tortured in any form? What about if his citizens were looting valuables from China into Ghana with the same degree of impunity they operate galamsey?

I want to believe that as it is done by many embassies, the Chinese ambassador would have taken action including the least: issuing public notice(s) to his citizens to act responsibly. If the ambassador cared, he would be worried about the fact that his citizens are so disrespectful to the point of not wanting to obey simple rules, and that, their behaviour is waning any goodwill and respect most people have for China and Chinese. To the extent that his people are rather benefiting from the illegality, his remarks, without his action, appears to be an expression of interest in what his people profit.

But wait! Perhaps, I am focusing on the wrong person, or I may be addressing the issues wrongly. Maybe he is right because both are now old men who were the frontrunners of the “Kume preko” demonstration and our young who spearheaded the “Tikusayi” demonstration seem to be comfortable with what they see. No one sees the activities of these Chinese as a threat. Perhaps the politician is right that we have short memories. We have soon forgotten about slavery, colonialism and the neocolonialism projects.

Maybe he is right because, as a people, we have demonstrated throughout history that we are so weak and reckless. Our warlords sold us to the Arabs for salt and camels. And then our chiefs sold us to the Europeans and Americans for mirrors, wines and cigarettes. Later, our politicians began to sell us for visas and non-existing immunities. And because we have forgotten all these, now, we are gladly selling our wealth to irregular Chinese migrants for poison: gold for mercury.

Fellow Ghanaians, are we proving history right that we are so weak and reckless that we can’t address such a simple yet dangerous problem? Maybe history is right because, like our warlords of old, our own security forces support the idea that Chinese must eat at the detriment of the Ghanaian people. A Joy News publication in January 2021 had it that our own military men were guarding the Chinese to pillage the Manso forest. What a disgusting shame!

This is no news, as Aisha Huang operated for many years with military protection. Later, when Aisha was caught, the worst we could do to her was to, at our expense, fly her back to her country so she could enjoy her ill-gotten wealth in peace, kind courtesy, Yaw Osafo Marfo and Gloria Akufo. None of our fellow Ghanaians will ever receive this luxurious gesture from our government, except, perhaps, the recent ‘Rwandan tourists’ from AMA. With all her connections she built whiles in Ghana, one can speculate that she’s still engaged in the plunder in proxy.

On 11th May 2021, some three Ghanaians were jailed by a Koforidua court for engaging in galamsey. In fact, a simple google search says that many other Ghanaians have been jailed for the same crime. Whilst it is refreshing to read that the system is going at the galamseyers, it is so heartbreaking to know that no such news report exists on any jail sentence handed to any Chinese galamseyer.

Just a simple google search on “Chinese arrested for galamsey” reveals an uncountable number of arrests. However, with the same search engine, change the “arrested” to “jailed” and there is no single case. It appears that our prisons only exist for recalcitrant Ghanaians and not the recalcitrant Chinese. After all, Yaw Osafo Marfo, the then Senior Minister claimed that Ghana stands to gain nothing by jailing these Chinese galamseyers.

But do we have to blame the police? Maybe some do their best but the criminals don't get any successful prosecution at the courts. Are the judges taking goats and sheep to allow these criminals off the hook? Maybe not, as the Attorney General, and heavyweights like Yaw Osafo Marfo are just close by to order a halt to the court process. And if appointees of the President are ordering a halt to court proceedings, then, maybe, the President isn't also interested in ensuring that Chinese are treated the same manner as Ghanaians are for the same wicked crimes they both commit.

Or maybe the whole country isn't furious enough to the extent that the President that we employ isn't showing any interest in protecting our collective interests, and we seem not to care. Or maybe, also, the Parliamentarians whom we elected to act on our behalf are only mindful of their ex-gratia, and not to hold the executive into account on this. As far as the Chinese question is concerned, the GHC 29,000 per head that we pay to our parliamentarians has become a wasteful expenditure.

Our media isn’t talking about this much – even Samson’s take doesn’t share any take on this take. Maybe, the media has seen that authorities are not interested in the subject and hence, their silence. On 30th April 2021, when the Minister of Information organized a press conference to update us on the “Operation Halt” and the new directives of the Lands and Natural Resources Minister, he proved to the media why they have to be disinterested in the Chinese question. One of the journalist’s question bothered on: who gives these Chinese visas, and why? Also, how do we monitor their movements when they arrive in the country? Shockingly, the Minister disallowed the question claiming that “this is not the subject under discussion now”. If the Chinese question isn’t a question to be discussed in a press conference aimed at updating us on galamsey, then what is? We become so frozen as a people whenever China is mentioned in the galamsey debate. Even our president, with all due respect, has become too careful with the Chinese question so much that we don’t as a people see the relevance of answering questions pertaining to the Chinese involvement.

Our Minister for Foreign Affairs has never appeared in any of these press engagements to address the Chinese question. And to date, our parliament has also not hauled our Foreign Affairs Minister to tell us about the Chinese influx and what she is doing about it. No immigration boss has been hauled to parliament to explain their knowledge about the crises. The basic questions that we must be interested in are: how many Chinese are in the country? Who is doing what? Which group of Chinese immigrants are involved in galamsey, how do they get into the country? Is there any way that we can flush them out? And how are we guarding against future influx of these rascals? These, we need our Foreign Affairs Minister to address us on how she seeks to reform existing structures to frontally deal with the menace. In any serious country, that we need foreign investors does not mean that we leave our borders ajar for all sorts of unscrupulous characters to access. Given that most of these Chinese have given us reason to suspect that they have a blatant disregard for the laws of the country, do we have to continue with whatever system that we are operating now?

The Chinese question is now a taboo that nobody wants to touch. In most cases, we counter every question about the Chinese involvement with a cliché: “but it’s Ghanaians who bring them”. The question is, are the Chinese robots and so dumb that they would follow a Ghanaian anywhere that the latter tells them to go? What about the fact that some of these Chinese have been living in the country for a decade or more, and know the system better than some Ghanaians do. The starting point of the argument is that small scale mining is an illegal business for foreigners. That a Chinese, knowing this, decides to go into it with no shame, and running under the cover of “we are in collaboration with Ghanaians” is just foolish.

Indeed, the number of people involved in galamsey are so huge and presents one of the most important problems that ought to be dealt with. Broadly speaking, they can be categorized into three groups. There is local involvement, the involvement of other West African nationals, and there is Chinese involvement. Each one of these has its own ways of addressing. Fortunately, when it comes to the locals, we can easily reduce their numbers by providing more benign, well-regulated and efficient small scale schemes. And as the number reduces among the locals, it's easier to flush out the notorious few who fail to enrol. Regarding the foreigners, since the law doesn't and shouldn't provide any scheme for the foreigners which would allow us to regulate their activities, we just flush them out through carefully planned and massive swoops. Until these foreigners, especially, the Chinese, are dealt with in such a manner, our fight against the menace will only be a mirage.

Hei! I almost forgot that everybody seems to be afraid of the Chinese that even our gods and deities do. We Ghanaians are raised to believe that our river bodies are deities, very few will dare destroy them for fear of being punished by our deities. Yet, the Chinese, with impunity, disturb these deities without any repercussions. Maybe the gods and deities too are afraid of the Chinese. They can’t hurt nor protect themselves from the bigger culprits.

And our chiefs, the de facto oracles of the deities, have been so disappointing that they have even become the worst facilitators in the whole scheme. During the covid-19 pandemic last year and towards the elections, my village chief had no shame to grant this Chinese access to divert the course of the only major river source in our community in order to mine gold in the original river channel. Within a few weeks, these Chinese had diverted and mined, at least, 6 Km of the river channel. The cries of the people against this evil received no attention from anyone.

Just as the immediate past DCE of Juaboso (Western North), was not interested in flushing out the Chinese from the river in my community, our MP was deaf on the issue. The aforementioned knew about it but they did nothing. Worryingly, this treacherous and treasonable act of my village chief is being perpetrated by many other chiefs with such impunity. We are trading our wealth for poison!

Fellow Ghanaians, this web of weakness and ineptitude we seem to be entertaining isn't a good sign that we are descendants of our forbearers Kwame Nkrumah, nor JB Danquah, nor John Mensah Sarbah among others. We are not guarding the land bequeathed to us through the blood and sweat of the fathers. We are failing future generations. We must be reminded that we are failing our children and children’s children. Whilst most graduates can't afford a three square meal, these foreigners are exhibiting real cash – Cash, they are stealing from our soils and water bodies, replacing them with poison. It appears that the only crime of the hopeless Ghanaian graduates who cannot make ends meet is their refusal to shortchange the health, prosperity, and safety of future generations, by not doing the wicked acts committed by these Chinese immigrants.

In the first week of May 2021, many shared photos of two Chinese pounding fufu in the forest, and in the company of two Ghanaians, a man and a woman, with the latter preparing soup. The sad and painful reality isn't that the Chinese were pounding fufu in the company of Ghanaians, it was that this was in the forest. What were they doing there? Even more painful is that rather than feeling sad and expressing disgust, almost all comments on all platforms that shared it were making fun. We appear to accept them and what they do. Our unguarded and misguided gesture and hospitality towards foreigners is so disappointing and disgusting. History teaches us that when our forefathers failed to guard their hospitality towards foreigners, they ended up being taken as slaves.

We must be reminded also, that no country outside of black Africa treats black Africans with respect. And anywhere light-skinned persons live in the same place as darker-skinned persons, the result is that the latter is molested, disadvantaged, and despised, including cases where the lighter-skinned were rather the non-natives. We should be made aware that as we allow foreign criminals to steal our wealth, later, they will buy the prime lands and overtake every single sector, and the result is predictable. Those who have had some encounters with these Chinese rascals tell that the Chinese believe that we are all dumb. Of course, they will think this way because we seem not to take any action against them. Are we failing our children and children’s children, just as our forefathers did to us? We must wake up, folks. This isn't funny.

Let the singing birds sing to the likes of Manasseh Azure, H Kwesi Prempeh, Prof Gyampo, A Plus, Kweku Baako, Kwesi Pratt, Elizabeth Ohene, Bright Simons, Ace Ankoma, Kofi Bentil, Abronye, Sammy Gyamfi, Samuel Ablakwa, Sam George, Kennedy Agyapong, etc. that this is the time Ghana needs them most. Future generations need them to lead the conversation, the demonstrations, and the strikes. Maybe, these are the only language that will awaken our consciousness to the gravity of the Chinese question. The impunity with which these Chinese are disrespecting our laws isn’t something that we must be muzzled into silence about in the name of diplomacy. Our silence has been taken for weakness.
Columnist: George Atta
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