Title: Illegal small-scale mining in Ghana: a protest of tradition against modernity?
Authors and Affiliations: Emmanuel Tenkorang
1University of Cape Coast, Cape Coast, Ghana
Abstract: In 1897, members of The Aborigines Rights Protection Society of the Gold Coast, an organization formed by traditional leaders and the educated elite to protest the Crown Lands Bill of 1896 and the Lands Bill of 1897 that threatened traditional land tenure, argued that there were no waste lands in the Gold Coast and that all lands were owned by someone (mostly traditional authorities on behalf of both their people and the ancestors). All activities that were undertaken with land as the main resource therefore had to be done with the approval of the authorities of these traditional institutions.
Traditional institutions provided social and political authority for those who regulated society in the pre-colonial era. These institutions included instruments of political organisation and socialisation such as chieftaincy and judicial systems, which reflected the norms, beliefs, taboos and value systems inherent in the society. One major resource that was regulated by these institutions was land and all the other resources attached to it, such as gold and other mineral resources. Controlling access to these precious minerals was one of the most important functions performed by traditional authorities. Gold was mined with traditional technology and on small scale level by local miners. Furthermore, small scale mining had customarily been undertaken within the traditional belief system where the Earth is believed to be a ‘living being’ therefore before mining is done, rituals were performed and norms observed to ensure fruitful and hazard free mining.
The attempt by the colonial government, and subsequently post-independence governments, to monopolise gold mining in the Gold Coast (Ghana) led to the enactment of policies and laws which weakened traditional authorities’ control of access to land and to the criminalisation of small scale mining in 1932 through the Mercury Ordinance. However, small scale mining continued, with mainly gold and to a smaller extent other metals being sold in neighbouring countries. When, in 1987, the government having realised that the country was losing revenue to neighbouring countries from the illegal trade in precious minerals from Ghana, officials decided to repeal the Mercury Ordinance of 1932. Subsequently, they created a department within the Minerals Commission which was responsible for licensing, regulating and supporting small scale mining in Ghana.
All these efforts of the state notwithstanding, many small scale miners have not regularised their activities and are therefore operating illegally. The rate of illegal mining in the country seems to be increasing, causing several environmental, social and health consequences. This situation raises the questions of how these miners gain access to the lands and who regulates their activities.
Given their status in ownership of lands and the belief systems within which small scale mining is organised, what role do traditional authorities play in the sanctioning and regulation of illegal small scale mining?