MAC: Mines and Communities

In Ghana, a mining activist fights the gold goliaths

Published by MAC on 2012-04-18
Source: Toronto Star

For earlier article on MAC, see:

Another shooting at AngloGold Ashanti Obuasi Mine

In Ghana, a mining activist fights the gold goliaths

Toronto Star

7 April 2012

TARKWA, GHANA-Whether on billboards along the roads or embroidered on shirt collars, mining companies are ubiquitous in this jungle hub of Ghana's Western Region.

 Ghanaian activist Daniel Owusu-Koranteng
Ghanaian activist Daniel Owusu-Koranteng
Paul Carlucci/For the Toronto Star

Their presence is sometimes lost behind the lazy-leafed plantain trees, drooping palm fronds, and steep, green hills encasing the town, but a mountain of waste rock obscures much of the horizon.

"They take the gold and leave these kinds of things," says Daniel Owusu-Koranteng, executive director and co-founder of the Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining (WACAM).

Ghana, once known as the Gold Coast, is the continent's second-biggest producer of gold, after South Africa. It is also home to significant deposits of bauxite, manganese, aluminum and diamonds.

But a 2008 report by the country's Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice highlighted a litany of abuses in the mining sector, including torture, illegal arrests and detentions and violent disruption of community protests.

That's where Owusu-Koranteng and WACAM come in.

Owusu-Koranteng is the vociferous and often controversial public face of the organization, which works in about 60 of Ghana's mining communities. Its aim is to "aid communities that are adversely affected by gold mining" - by helping residents mobilize against human rights abuses, negotiating better compensation packages from the mining companies and raising awareness about the environment.

Owusu-Koranteng and his wife, Hannah, founded WACAM in 1998. Although the couple live in the capital of Accra, the organization is headquartered in its birthplace of Tarkwa, an area with the densest collection of open pit mines in West Africa.

At 56, Owusu-Koranteng proudly calls himself a warrior. His family history includes a military-inspired migration to the country's Eastern Region, where he says a great uncle led a charge against a rival tribe and helped form a new state.

His father, who died when he was 10, was a Presbyterian pastor. His mother, who never remarried, took care of Owusu-Koranteng and his four siblings, working any way she could, whether as a street-roving seamstress or beachside fishmonger. That, he says, is the Koranteng warrior spirit.

"My father was a fine gentleman - an intellectual - and they were two contrasting characters," he says. "I'm a combination of my father's fine nature and my mother's courage."

His mother died five years ago, at 83, from kidney disease.

They gave her a royal funeral, he says, befitting the family's regal history. Owusu-Koranteng says he was in line to be village chief but felt his calling was elsewhere, first in the country's anti-colonial nationalist movements and then in the mining sector.

He doesn't look like much of a chief. At home, he sits on the floor in denim shorts, sometimes without a shirt, his generous stomach obscuring his belt. He divides his attention between the news and a laptop.

In battle, he earns the scorn - and maybe fear - of his opponents. Village chiefs, members of parliament, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Chamber of Mines have all criticized him, insisting he jumbles his facts, is needlessly adversarial and deliberately misrepresents big companies because he is resolutely anti-mining.

Toni Aubynn, the chamber's new CEO, is an acquaintance of both Owusu-Koranteng and his wife.

"The chamber has a rather positive impression about them," Aubynn says from his Accra office. "We think there's a need for an organization that tries to look at where the industry is going wrong. There's a proverb. . . that says whoever is cutting the path doesn't know if the back is crooked."

Rattle off some of WACAM's public statements, however, and the tension begins to surface. Maybe, Aubynn suggests, it would be better if the two worked together, say on small-scale illegal mining, which is also harmful to human rights and the environment.

Bring those statements back to Owusu-Koranteng and the tension snaps.

"Does he give us money to tell us what our mandate should be?" he practically spits, the wrinkles on his face tightening with anger. "Do I set targets for them? We have a mandate of multinationals. They want to divert us."

In Tenerebie, not far from Tarkwa, there are people who embody that mandate. Relocated in the early '90s after AngloGold Ashanti bought their land, some people in the community say they have yet to receive compensation for the loss of their farms, that their three rivers are polluted beyond use and their men have to migrate for work.

"Our farms have been destroyed with waste rock," says Emilia Moateng, a mother of three whose husband has left to find work. "We don't have farmlands. We have to go to different communities to look for sharecropping."

In February, WACAM and AngloGold Ashanti began discussing the situation - this after a June 2011 court order forced the company back to the table. The company says it's trying to resolve all issues of compensation and that the water was polluted by illegal miners.

But Owusu-Koranteng also plans to push the issue of mining onto the country's 2012 election agenda.

"The point," he says, "is that the gold is here for all of us."

Cops brutalize colleague for arresting ‘illegal' gold miners

Ghanaian Times

12 April 2012

A police detective who embarked on an operation to arrest illegal miners in the Manso area of the Ashanti region, had the shock of his life when a team of policemen, who should have instead assisted him, attacked and brutally assaulted him.

Accusing him of embarking on an unlawful operation, the policemen mercilessly beat up their colleague, Detective Inspector Richard Narh Tettey, and set free the nine suspects, including six Chinese, whom he had arrested during his operation.

After the beatings, the team bundled Inspector Tettey and locked him up in cells at the Bekwai Police Station for hours.

This was in spite of the fact that Inspector Tettey insisted that he was duly detailed to effect the arrest of the illegal miners.

A source at the Ashanti Regional Police Command which disclosed this to the Ghanaian Times said that even though Insp. Tettey identified himself as a policeman and maintained that he was on lawful duty, they beat him up and set the illegal miners free.

Detective Insp. Tettey when contacted, explained that he was assigned by the Ashanti Regional Police Command last Thursday, to undertake an operation in the Manso area of the Amansie West District of Ashanti where some Chinese and Ghanaian illegal gold miners, popularly called 'galamsey' operators were said to be destroying vast lands in the area.

After he had arrested the suspects, however, he was confronted at Manso Mim junction by his colleague policemen from the Manso station, who subjected him to severe beatings.

At the moment, the Ashanti Regional Police Command is tightlipped over the matter.

Inspector Tettey, attached to the Ashanti Regional Police Criminal Investigations Department (CID), declined to give further details because the case was being investigated.

However, he insisted that the assignment was official and that it was booked in the station diary both at the CID office and the Buffalo Unit, adding that it was the Deputy Regional Crime Officer, Assistant Superintendent of Police Kingsley Aboagye who got wind of it and intervened for his release from the cells at the Bekwai police station.

Some inhabitants of the area alleged that the 'galamsey' operators were in league with the Manso District Police Command.

Efforts by the Ghanaian Times to contact the Manso District Police Commander, Superintendent Stephen Kwakye, for comments were fruitless.

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