Politics of Poverty

Community right to decide under threat in Ghana

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Traditional leaders have an obligation to consult with their constituencies, but these decision-making processes can be short-circuited.

In previous blogs, I’ve talked about Oxfam’s “Right to Know, Right to Decide” campaign and our global advocacy to promote the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), which holds that local communities must be adequately informed about oil, gas, and mining projects in a timely manner and given the opportunity to approve (or reject) these projects. International law and jurisprudence recognize FPIC as a right for indigenous peoples.

However, in practice some companies also recognize the value of obtaining a “social license” from local communities or committing to a higher FPIC standard, whether or not their projects impact indigenous peoples. Governments and companies that fail to implement FPIC adequately run the risk of finding their projects mired in social conflict.

In Ghana, tensions have emerged between community members and mining companies around issues such as the environmental impacts of mining and land acquisition disputes. For example, in the small city of Prestea in the western region, tensions between community members and Bogoso Gold Mines (a subsidiary of Golden Star Resources) arose as a result of cyanide spills and alleged damage to homes from mining explosives and eventually led to project suspension.

Last month I had the opportunity to talk with members of the Saaman community, located in the eastern region of Ghana, about their opposition to a mining project operated by the Ghanaian company Solar Mining. Many Saaman community members, including the local Assemblyman, have protested against the project over concerns regarding its impact on water quality. According to local community members, the Ghanaian police and military forces have responded to local opposition using violence and aggression. During our visit, community members reported incidents of police and military forces employing intimidation tactics such as shooting guns, striking them with guns, and pulling them from their beds at night to threaten and harass them. The situation has become quite tense, with no clear resolution in sight.

Oxfam parter organization WACAM has been supporting members of he Concerned Citizens Association of Prestea, such as Dominic Nyame pictured above, in their efforts to negotiate with a mining company around issues related to air and water pollution, and the proposed expansion of mining operations. Credit: Jeff Deutsch/ Oxfam America

Several community members also reported frustration with not having been consulted on the mining project prior to the decision to develop the mine. Many community members that we spoke with recognized the authority of their traditional leader (or chief) to make decisions that affect the entire community, and also acknowledged their chief’s approval of the mining project. However, they noted that traditional leaders have an obligation to consult with their constituencies, and in this case it appears that this decision-making process was short-circuited. Several community members that we spoke with reported inadequate consultation around the mining project, and some contrasted this with the example of a highly participatory community engagement process around planning for a recent school building project. This community input will feed into a research report on FPIC and consultation processes in Ghana that Oxfam partners will publish later this year.

FPIC processes offer governments and companies a valuable tool to facilitate participatory decision-making. When implemented early enough and effectively, these processes safeguard against the emergence of social conflict by ensuring that projects that diverge with community land use priorities do not proceed. At the same time, for projects that communities chose to approve, FPIC processes represent an opportunity for project developers by offering a framework for regular and ongoing dialogue and negotiation among the parties.

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