Ghana: Akyim community protests against Newmont

Oheneba Kwabena Frimpong Denkyira (aka Nana)

Nana calls for the support of the international community to fight against the invasion of Newmont in their lands. Photo by to Conor Ashleigh (http://conorashleigh.com/)

Oheneba Kwabeng Frimpong Denkyira or fondly known as “Nana” is from the Akyim community in Ghana’s forest zone in the eastern Region.  Nana is a product of  a royal family whose father was a chief. In line with their cultural arrangements and traditional governance system, Nana inherited the reins of authority from his father upon his death and is now chief. Nana calls for the support of the international community to fight against the invasion of Newmont in their lands.

In 2008, communities heard of the planned open pit gold mine in the Ajenjua Bepo Forest Reserve in the Birim North District in the Eastern region of Ghana by the Newmont Mining Corporation. In the beginning no one in Nana’s village opposed this project as they were not sure of the impact Newmont would have on their lives and livelihoods.  When the Akyim community heard about the coverage of the project, it then became apparent what this would mean to their way of life, to the forest and to the resources within. The coverage of the Akyem mine would occupy an area of 1.65 miles long (2.6 km) and a half mile across (.8 km), and would create waste piles 60-100 m high. This meant that the mine would destroy an estimated 183 acres (74 ha) of forest in the reserve, threatening the Reserve’s noted diverse wildlife and plant species, including several rare species of birds, amphibians, and mammals, and displacing the farming communities that live around the forest.

Nana stressed that the Ajenjua Bepo Forest Reserve is one of the rare forest reserves in Ghana where the reserve serves as an important habitat for several important species. These include a tree frog and a flying squirrel that are of serious conservation concern.  The Reserve is also critically important to farmers in the area because of how its hills and forests promote rainfall and a steady water supply. The mining activities could severely contaminate water supplies in the area, including in their drinking water supply. The communities were very concerned with what the impacts the mine have on their water and the crops that the local communities rely on.

The project came out of nowhere and the Akyim people were not informed that the planned project was already underway. In the next couple of years, Newmont encroached onto their land, destroyed the Reserves,  began polluting their waters, they divided families, displaced and then forced relocated families from their land. The mining project came around the time the Ghana’s Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) exposed in a report the “widespread violations of human rights of individual members of communities and communities’ collective rights” and “widespread pollution of communities’ water sources, deprivation and loss of livelihoods.”

Nana shared that they were a community who lived their lives at peace with their environment and with their families. This invasion, however, propelled them to protect their rights, their lives and their livelihoods. The Akyim communities started to protest against this project but that they were no match for this big company called Newmont. They then called for the assistance of nearby communities who were able to link them up with NGOs like FoE Ghana and Earthworks (No Dirty Gold campaign).

This matter was even brought to the attention of the Human Rights Commission in Geneva. However, instead of Newmont answering queries, the traditional chiefs were made to answer them. Despite the fact that Ghanaian national policy does not allow mining to take place in protected forest reserves, and Newmont violated this rule, the

Government continued to defend the corporation stating that it was a “degraded forest reserve”. The government completely ignored how the communities took care of the Reserves and the life within these forests. It became obvious to Nana and the communities that the government was more in favor of economic gain versus protecting life.

To silence the growing unrest, Newmont decided on giving out compensation packages without any community consultation; this caused the arrests of many and even conflict within their communities where rumors that Akyim community members and leaders accepted money in exchange to agreement and silence.  Newmont made their offer glitter in the eyes of the families who were pushed to their limit and who were forced relocated from their lands.

Newmont not only invaded their lands, they also happily sowed distrust and conflict in the communities. Nana together with other community leaders and members fought hard against Newmont and also worked towards reuniting their people, uphold their rights and their dignity. They are now exposing the realities on the ground and exposing the truth which will help let the Ghanians and the international community know about their struggles. They are also working closely with the media to share their stories and are also reaching out to more NGOs and to the international community to help them in their struggle.

What can we do, what actions can we take in order to support indigenous peoples/community struggles?  Nana said that he was at the conference soliciting international support for a campaign against Newmont outside Ghana. He wanted the outside world to know of the atrocities in his village caused by this huge corporation. His people want the Government to rescind the agreement with Newmont and to uphold the policy of “no mining within forest reserves”. He hopes that much more can be done.