Ghana: Locals learn to defend their rights against companies
Farmers in Ghana talk candidly about the impact of gold mining on their communities and how—with education about their human rights-—they can hold mining companies and the government accountable.
Paul Ayensu, a farmer in a small town called Teberebie, had a tiny farm, just a third of an acre cut out of the intense green of Ghana’s western rain forest. He grew 12 different crops there: yams, oil palms, cassava, pineapples, cocoa, and many different vegetables. “I was growing a lot of food, and I was making money,” he said. “I spent all of my time there.”
When the government conceded the minerals under his farm to an international mining company in 1991, 37-year-old Ayensu and his wife and four children discovered that the payment he was to receive for his land had been arbitrarily cut by two-thirds. “I was not happy, and I cried,” Ayensu said later. “It was because of this farm that we could eat...now my children are out of school. I can’t go to my farm ever again.”
It’s a common story, one repeated in many other mining countries, but in Teberebie the farmers are shifting the balance of power by learning, understanding, and asserting their basic human rights.
Going for the Gold
Most of the wealth mining generates goes right back out to foreign companies operating the mines. A 2005 UN report estimated that just five percent of the $894 million from mines in 2003 was captured in Ghana, a mere $46 million in Ghana’s $11 billion economy. “Our country is poor because our resources are under the control of those with all the money,” says Daniel Owusu-Koranteng, executive director of Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining (WACAM), an organization that helps people protect the environment and defend their human rights. “Ninety-five percent of the mining revenues go out of the country, and only five percent stays—along with 100 percent of the problems.”
The problems go beyond farmers losing their land. The BBC reported in 2006 that at least 12 people have been shot in violent confrontations with mine security and police forces. There have also been numerous cyanide spills near rivers and streams needed for drinking and irrigation. Owusu-Koranteng said that the five percent retained in Ghana from mining can’t come close to redressing all these problems.
Oxfam America is funding the work of WACAM, Owusu-Koranteng’s organization. WACAM teaches villagers about the constitution of Ghana and their rights under the 2006 Minerals and Mining Act. Armed with this information, farmers can then assert their rights to fair compensation for their lands and hold the companies responsible for damage to the environment.
What Respect Looks Like
The 400 villagers of Abekoase, half of whom had already been displaced by the Gold Fields mine, took the company to court in March of 2002. By the end of 2003, Abekoase and Gold Fields had reached a settlement out of court that included a community center building and a development fund of roughly $27,000 being used to build a new school and teachers’ quarters. A palm oil processing center is also still under construction.
“The settlement was pretty good,” Chief Nyamiketh said, crediting WACAM and CEPIL for their advice on the case. “If it had not been for WACAM, we would not have gotten any help, because it seems the government institutions are on the side of the mine companies.”