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11.11.2008 Feature Article

A decade of community-based mining advocacy in Ghana - WACAM's story

A decade of community-based mining advocacy in  Ghana - WACAM's story

Recently, one of the effervescent human rights and environmental advocacy organisation in Ghana, WACAM celebrated its 10th birthday in Accra under the theme “A Decade of Community-Based Mining Advocacy in Ghana – Challenges and Prospects.” In retrospect, anybody who is conversant with the history of this organisation would not be far from right to describe the anniversary as WACAM's decade of grace, struggle and punctiliousness - a decade of resilience and perseverance which is indeed worth celebrating.

For many years, multinational mining companies had a field day in Ghana and other developing countries due to the absence of social movements to galvanise the struggles of affected communities into a legal pressure and resistance against the injustices associated with mining operations. The weak mining laws coupled with the low capacity of community people provided the mining companies with enough space to be a law unto themselves.

In Ghana, the central government by law was the custodian of lands endowed with mineral resources. The government used its trusteeship role over mineral wealth to allocate community lands to mining companies.

The involvement of the rightful owners of the lands including traditional rulers, family heads, individual interests and the affected communities in the decision-making processes relating to the use of large tracts of indigenous lands for surface mining were either minimal or non-existent.

HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES
But for WACAM, the ever growing human and environmental rights abuses committed by the multinational mining companies in the mining communities would have assumed irrepressible state.

WACAM's vision is “to ultimately transform into a social movement which is well structured with resources and capacity to influence policies in favour of the marginalised people, especially those living in mining communities.” As enshrined in its mission statement, “WACAM seeks to protect the environment, natural resources and rights of marginalised mining communities through networking, advocacy, campaign and representation within a legal framework that is sensitive to the concerns of mining communities.”

OBJECTIVES

The objectives of WACAM is to work with mining communities for the protection of their rights, sensitise those whose lands have been ceded to mining companies to obtain acceptable compensation or appreciable packages in relocation and resettlement issues pertaining to mining and to liaise with governmental and other agencies on issues of concern to the mining communities.

WACAM also raises public awareness about issues on mining, environment and livelihood while collaborating with other groups and organisations with similar interest. Thematically, WACAM concerns itself with issues on human rights, community livelihood, environment, gender and mining and youth and mining advocacy.

THE GENESIS OF WACAM

The efforts to mobilise the communities around the critical issues arising out of the increased mining activities started around 1992 by Mr. Daniel Owusu-Koranteng who is the Executive Director of WACAM and his wife Hannah Owusu-Koranteng, the Director of Training and Research. Patriots such as the Late Ibrahim Issahaku, Baba Umaru Tsalhatu, Ralph Agbelenyo and other friends supported the idea of mobilising public support for the efforts that had been initiated to organise the mining communities. Mr. Owusu-Koranteng was the Co-ordinator of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) in the Wassa West District whilst Hannah was the Subject Matter Specialist of the Women in Agric Development of MOFA in the Wassa West District at the period when eight multinational surface mining companies were established in the Wassa West District.

Being officials of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture placed couple in a unique position for direct contacts with peasant farmers who had been affected by the operations of the surface mining companies. In an effort to support the struggles of the affected peasant farmers, the pioneers realised that the mining companies had great support from state agencies and therefore had to resort to independent popular mobilisation of the affected communities as an effective way of struggling against the negative effects of mining. A decision was thus taken to organise a Christmas party in December 1995 and some of the affected people in Atuabo which is one of the important Wassa communities that was faced with displacement by Goldfields Ghana Limited were invited to tell their story at the party which was attended by activists and people with nationalistic sentiments. Appeals were made at the party to solicit financial support for the mobilisation of the affected communities. The appeal for support at the Christmas Party yielded GH¢6 (Six Ghana cedis) then ¢60,000 and that became the seed money for the building of the organisation that developed into Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining now known as WACAM. Today, WACAM is not only visible but also vibrant in all the mining communities in Ghana championing the course of the marginalised communities affected by mining.

SOME ACHIEVEMENTS OF WACAM

WACAM has made enormous contribution to the sensitisation of the Ghanaian public on mining issues. There was little information in the public domain on the negative environmental, social and economic impacts of mining in the past before the formation of WACAM. An important achievement of WACAM's advocacy work is the increased information on mining impacts through the media and this has generated much public interest on mining issues. Many Civil Society organizations including NGOs and the media have shown great interest in mining issues and this has helped to amplify mining community issues to the Ghanaian public. The media sensitisation on mining impacts has helped to reduce the strong influence that the mining companies had over the media, which helped the mining companies to extol only the benefits of mining, and downplayed the negative effects of mining on affected communities.

It collaborates with the Centre for Public Interest Law (CEPIL) in providing legal support to mining communities. The legal support to mining communities has helped some mining communities to redeem their rights in court on the violations of their rights. WACAM, Third World Network and CEPIL supported a group of Landlords in Atuabo and Akontanse called the “Lawyer Group” who rejected the paltry resettlement package of Gold Fields Ghana Limited (GFGL) and resorted to court action for about four years. In addition to the legal support to the group, WACAM engaged in local and international campaigns, which led to an out- of- court settlement in the Atuabo/Akontanse case. Originally, GFGL had reduced the number of rooms of the affected households by 50% and paid 500,000 cedis (about $80) to a greater number of the affected people. WACAM, CEPIL and Third World Network were able to negotiate an out-of-court settlement in 2001 for the “Lawyer Group” which included a community Clinic for New Atuabo and three boreholes. In addition to the negotiated community projects, the individual Landlords in the “Lawyer Group” received compensations ranging between 16 million cedis (about $2500) and 18 million cedis (about $2800) for the reduced rooms in addition to the payment of 2 million cedis as inconvenience allowance to each Landlord in the “Lawyer Group”. An important achievement in the negotiation was that the crop rates used in computing the rates for the „Lawyer Group was three times the original rate of compensation that the company paid to majority of the affected people of Atuabo and Akontanse.

WACAM and CEPIL also supported the people of Nkwantakrom who took legal action against Ghana-Australia Goldfields (GAG) for the demolition of about 40 houses, Early Childhood Centre, Mosque and church belonging to the people. AngloGold Ashanti Iduapriem Mine inherited the case when it purchased the assets of GAG in 2004. The High Court in Tarkwa made a landmark judgement in favour of the Nkwantakrom community on the 20th of December 2007. The judge asked AngloGold Ashanti Iduapriem Mine to pay compensations for the destroyed properties totalling about 670,000 Ghana Cedis (about $650,000). Though the company had appealed against the judgement at the Appeal Court, the judgement had increased the confidence of the community people in legal struggles. The case lasted for 10years (1997 to 2007) and the support of WACAM and CEPIL sustained the Nkwantakrom people in the prolonged litigation. The company had been asked to deposit a third of the compensation granted at the court as the case goes through an appeal.

Another engagement between WACAM and FIAN (German Human rights NGO) in a three-year campaign from 2001, on issues of communities affected by the operations of Ghana-Australia Goldfields (GAG) now AngloGold Ashanti Iduapriem Mine yielded positive results.. As part of the campaign, WACAM and FIAN held GAG and the lenders, which included the International Finance Corporation (IFC) responsible for the problems of the communities. The community complaints by WACAM and FIAN formed the basis for the development of an Action Plan and Community Development Plan (CDP) to address the short and long-term problems of the communities. The Action Plan and CDP, which were developed through consultations and negotiations between WACAM/FIAN and GAG/Lenders, include the construction of boreholes, schools, provision of scholarships to children of affected communities etc.

WACAM has contributed to the reduction of violent conflicts between affected communities and mining companies by getting affected mining communities to appreciate the importance of using legal procedures and campaigns in their struggles. WACAM's work has increased the confidence of affected peasant communities in the judicial system through its rights-based education and by so doing, has contributed to the democratic governance of Ghana and the Rule of Law.

WACAM had worked on the cyanide spillages of Goldfields Ghana Limited (GGL), which affected the Abekoase, the cyanide spillage of Teberebie, cyanide spillage of Golden Star Resources (Prestea/Bogoso Mine), cyanide spillage of Akyempem mine of Golden Star Resources, etc. As part of the Early Warning system on cyanide spillages, WACAM had trained community activists on how to identify cyanide spillages. The trained activists had been instrumental in raising the alarm on cyanide spillages which affected community streams early enough to avoid the situation of community people drinking streams polluted with cyanide. The campaign by WACAM on the cyanide spillage of GGL compelled the company to construct schools, roads, community meeting centre, clinic in addition to alternative livelihood projects for the communities.

WACAM successfully campaigned for environmental and social justice for the communities affected by the operations of Ashanti Goldfields Company now AngloGold Ashanti in Obuasi area. The campaign had resulted in AngloGold Ashanti accepting to dialogue with WACAM and the affected mining communities to address the problems. WACAM together with the Communities and AngloGold Ashanti have formed a Joint Investigations Committee to investigate the claims of violations of the rights of the mining communities.

WACAM had worked hard over the years to grow from a small community-based NGO to an organisation with national and international credibility. A BBC team that was in Ghana in 2000 for a documentary on Globalisation described WACAM as “the most inspiring group of people they met on their trip to Ghana.” WACAM is part of the Global Mining Campaign, which is a global network of a number of mining advocacy organisations and human rights organisations.

In June 2005, a security team acting on behalf of AngloGold Ashanti Obuasi mine shot Awudu Mohammed a 'galamsey' suspect. The company denied shooting him and explained that the victim sustained the wounds that gushed out his intestines when he attempted to escape arrest by jumping over a wall and in the process was pierced by spikes. WACAM and National Coalition on Mining (NCOM) embarked on a sustained campaign on the issue with the support of the media until a report presented by a team of medical officers in June 2006 confirmed that the wounds sustained by Awudu Mohammed was from gunshots and not spikes.

WACAM has been in the forefront of raising public awareness on the effects of cyanide spillages on mining communities and holding mining companies responsible for the effects of cyanide spillages.

WACAM is a member of the NCOM, which is a coalition of NGOs campaigning for mining Law reforms in Ghana. The coalition campaigned for adequate protection of the rights of mining communities in the event of mining, payment of compensation to restore the livelihood of affected communities, compensation for fallow land and enforceable standards to prevent Cyanide spillages as part of the mining law reforms. Some modest gains of the campaign on the mining law reforms include provisions in the new Minerals and Mining Act, 2006 (Act 703) that establishes compensation principles which takes into account loss of expected income depending on the nature of crops on the land and their life expectancy. Additionally, the new Minerals and Mining Act makes provision for compensation of land. These provisions did not exist in the previous mining law (PNDC Law 153).

WACAM worked with the League of Environmental Journalists and the Assemblywoman for Bonsa Electoral area in 2003 to campaign against the disposal of Manganese waste into River Bonsa by the Ghana Manganese Company (GMC). The Bonsa River is the source from which the Ghana Water Company treats water for distribution to Tarkwa and its environs. The campaign compelled GMC to stop the disposal of Manganese waste into river Bonsa.

With support from IBIS, RAVI, Oxfam America and DKA, WACAM developed a leadership training programme for women in mining communities. Some of the women activists have emerged as community leaders in Teberebie, Dumase, Amamom, Anyankyirem, who are providing direction in community struggles. The community group formation strategy and awareness creation/education programme of WACAM, which is supported by RAVI, Oxfam America and IBIS, had empowered WACAM activists in affected communities to have effective engagements with multinational mining companies.

WACAM worked with organizations such as Oxfam America, Global Response, Earthworks, FIAN, JATAM, GRUFIDES, and American Indian Movement etc to develop a Shareholder campaign on Newmont. Resulting from the shareholder campaign was the adoption of a resolution presented by one of the Shareholders at the Annual General Meeting of Newmont in April 2007 that a Committee of independent Board members should be formed to conduct a global review and evaluation of the company's policies and practices relating to existing and potential opposition from local communities.

WACAM's advocacy work in the Obuasi area had empowered affected mining communities and the media to raise concerns about the negative effects of the operations of AngloGold Ashanti Obuasi mine.

WACAM's campaign in 2005 compelled Newmont, Ahafo mine to stop the disposal of faecal matter into River Asuopre, which served as the source of drinking water for Asuopre and other communities.

In the year 2000, WACAM and FIAN presented a petition on human rights violations in mining communities in the Wassa West District to the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ). A preliminary investigation of CHRAJ based on the petition established human rights violations in the mining communities. On the basis of the preliminary report Mr. Emile Short, the then Commissioner of CHRAJ and Prof. Ken Attafuah were members of a three-member panel to investigate complaints of human rights abuses by mining companies from 10th to 12th September 2001. In 2005, the National Coalition on Mining (NCOM), a coalition of about 20 advocacy organizations including WACAM as part of a campaign against violence perpetrated by mining companies, catalogued a number of human rights abuses in mining communities. On 4th September 2008, CHRAJ launched a report on the State of human rights in mining communities in Ghana and the report confirmed the Human rights abuses perpetrated by mining companies in mining communities. The report confirmed that AngloGold Ashanti Obuasi mine operated a private detention facility as follows:” The former detention facility could be compared to that of a Police station where statements were taken. There was also a room where suspects used to be kept and this normally had one person at post”. CHRAJ concluded in the report that “The results show that there is widespread evidence of widespread violations of human rights of individual members of communities and communities' collective rights in some mining areas in the country. The Commission obtained sufficient evidence to conclude that there has been widespread pollution of communities' water sources, deprivation and loss of livelihoods. Several allegations of excesses by security agencies and the security contractors of the mining companies were documented. Some of these excesses were of a serious and grievous nature.”

In October 2005, WACAM, CEPIL and the communities affected by the operations of Newmont Ahafo mine sent a petition signed by 1205 community people to the Board of Directors of International Finance Corporation (IFC) requesting that the management of Newmont Ahafo mine should address the problems of the affected communities before been granted the $75 million loan by IFC. The petition compelled the government of US to seek further information from WACAM on the community concerns. The Environmental Protection Agency of the United States of America that was commissioned to review the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) of the Newmont Ahafo Mine as a result of the community petition, found many flaws in the EIS of Newmont Ahafo Mine. Some of the flaws of the EIS included the establishment of a monitoring location 2.5 km away from point of cyanide containment and the use of wrong methods to assess the acid generation potential of the rocks that would be mined. The review of the EIS formed a basis of a campaign by WACAM and the company responded that it had taken steps to address the issues raised in the review of the EIS.

WACAM and the Concerned Citizens Association of Prestea campaigned against the mining operations of Golden Star Resources (Prestea/Bogoso Mine) which affected the people of Prestea, Himan and other communities. The pressure of the campaign compelled the Environmental Protection Agency to suspend the operations of the company on 28th September 2005 for about two months for the company to address some of the concerns of the affected communities.

WACAM had shared its community-based advocacy experience with NGOs and communities in Ghana, Senegal, Mali and Burkina-Faso. The experience sharing has been useful in the efforts of the ECOWAS Commission to harmonise policies and guidelines in the mining sector of the West African sub-region.

CHALLENGES

The weak mining laws in the country coupled with the delay of cases at the courts remain among the major challenges confronting WACAM. Like any human institution, WACAM also faces financial and logistical constraints. As at now most of WACAM's staff still work as volunteers. Harassment and threats of WACAM members and staff are very prevalent.

CONCLUSION

Whilst I congratulate WACAM and say kudos to both surviving and deceased founding fathers whose toil, struggle and selfless dedication have brought WACAM that far, I say more grease to the elbows of the Executive Director and his wife, affectionately called Mama Hannah, as well as the staff and the entire membership of WACAM.

The Executive Director of WACAM, Mr. Owusu-Koranteng has always maintained that the country's growing foreign direct investment and production in the mining sector had been destroying the national economy, the environment, community livelihood and human rights for the past 20 years. Though some remarkable feat has been achieved the advocacy of WACAM, the task ahead is even tougher.

Mining communities, I believe would enjoy to the fullest the benefits of the wealth God has bestowed on them if more vibrant human rights and environmental advocacy organisations like WACAM would spring up, stay focused and reject any form of inducement. With the slogan of WACAM, “WACAM-ASETENA PA”, I end by saying “bonne anniversaire.”

The Chronicle
The Chronicle, © 2008

This author has authored 68 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: TheChronicle

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