Consensus building assemblies grounded in local structures and knowledge of the Upper-West region successfully created an inclusive coalition of support, empowered women, established Biological Community Protocols, and lobbied against a government approved mining scheme.
Problems and Purpose
With the continued intensification of mineral surveying, combined with a national policy environment favouring foreign investment and resource-led development, rural communities in Ghana are increasingly being left out of consultation processes resulting in land conflict. In addition, multi-national mining companies operating in Ghana have a long record of alleged environmental degradation and human rights abuses – including the destruction of homes, contamination of water sources, rape as intimidation, and the murder of community anti-mining activists (CHRJ, 2008). Local communities have long complained about being silenced in decision-making and governance of resource development schemes. Remedying this trend requires ongoing innovative partnerships and participatory strategies that utilize local social-cultural values and knowledge to create consensus and organize effective coalitions to mitigate land conflicts and enhance rural participation in land governance.
In 2004 the Ghanaian government, after a series of closed-door negotiations, formally granted the Australian mining company Azumah Resources Limited permission to prospect for minerals in the Upper Western region. Even though this encompassed the community of Tanchara and surrounding sacred groves, the Tingadem (local traditional-spiritual leaders) and community members were not consulted during this process. Within this context, the Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Organizational Development (CIKOD) in partnership with the Tanchara community began organizing consensus building assemblies, utilizing local traditional structures and knowledge of the Upper-West region, to successfully create an inclusive coalition of support and lobby against Azumah Resources Limited.
Background History and Context
While mining has played a central role in the politics of Colonial Southern Ghana, prior to the late 1940s the Northern Territories remained relatively underexplored by mineral surveyors. From 1948 onward, a new strategy of land planning by crown corporations involving the surveying and mapping of ‘unsettled’ areas was used to reclaim undeveloped land for farming, cattle, mining and forestry (Grischow, 2001 & 2006). As a result, land conflicts intensified as the commercialized value of land led to new competitions between communities/chieftaincies and against the government. This unlocking of the Northern Upper-West region set a new policy path nurturing mineral extraction and was taken up by subsequent post-colonial governments, from Kwame Nkrumah’s state-led industrialization from 1958-1966 to liberalization under the Progress Party in the 1970s. The Economic Recovery Program sponsored by the World Bank in 1983 further transformed the Ghanaian economy, liberalizing trade and creating an attractive environment for increased foreign investment in the extractive resource sector (Ayelazuno, 2014). In 2000 the Ghanaian Government identified the Upper-West as having a “high mining potential” for gold, further leading to an intensification of mineral surveying and development in Upper-West Ghana (YANGMAADOME et al, 2012). In 2004 after a series of closed-door meetings with the Ghanaian government, Azumah Resources Limited was granted excavation rights, beginning mineral surveying for the Wa Gold Project in 2010.
In May and June of 2011 CIKO, already promoting community development within Tanchara since the early 2000s, partnered with the local Tingadems, to present information regarding multi-national mining, the Report on the Value of Women, and indigenous strategies for effective resistance. Out of this a consensus formed regarding the value and new role of the Pognna – the queen – and women in decision making and activism regarding land conflict. Over the next year a campaign of radio broadcasts, local meetings organized by women and chiefs, formal petitions, and the creation of the BCP (biocultural community protocols) Act – although lacking legally binding mechanisms – forced Azumah to recognize the land rights of the Tanchara and halt all operations (Guri et al., 2012). Since 2012 there has been a continued need in the Upper-West to connect effected local communities, traditional structures, and NGO’s within participatory coalition movements to participate in resource development consultations and have indigenous voices, customary laws and sovereignty rights legally enforced through recognized legally enforced policy protections (IIED, 2012).
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
There was little operational funding required for organizing assemblies and meetings either by the Tanchara chiefs or the Pognna, as the infrastructure, participant membership, and format-structure already existed within Tanchara and the Upper-West more generally. All related costs to radio advertisement, ground operations, transportation, and the publication of mining and indigenous knowledge studies by CIKOD in Tancharra are not known. Its general funding derives from its partnered international and national organisations such as the International Tree Foundation and Wishes Alliance. CIKOD also has a considerable private donor list which is continually growing and being updated vis-à-vis new partnerships, donors, and increased media attention.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Participants initially comprised of members of the Tanchara community – those directly affected by the potential appropriation, surveying, and excavation of land by Azumah Resources Limited – and ten local Tingadem chiefs. However, with the development of consensus surrounding the traditional role of the Pognna and women in politics, after May/July 2011, meetings of just women mobilized by the Pognna were common place. Furthermore, integrated meetings among chieftaincies in the Upper-West involved an array of local actors from outside of Tanchara as the process of coalition building culminated in the organization of the Upper-West Coalition on Mining, Food, Water and Sacred Natural Sites. Indigenous knowledge and the sharing of experience/concern provided the framework for the assemblies. Many members from CIKDO participated in this partnership, but the role of executive director Bernard Guri Yangmaadome and regional coordinator for the Upper-West Daniel Banuoku Faabelangne was essential to coordinated ground activities, publication materials, and drafting the Community Protocols.
Methods and Tools Used
Originating in Ghana, the self-described mandate of CIKOD is to “to strengthen the capacities of communities through traditional authorities (TAs) and local institutions to utilize their local and appropriate external resources for their own development” (CIKOD, 2017). Working with the local leaders of Tanchara the CIKOD organized a few initial participatory district assembly meetings within the community, presenting information related to the threats of mining extraction but also indigenous strategies for land governance from Upper-West Ghana (CIKO, 2012). This process produced an important consensus within the community regarding the revitalization of the traditional role of the Pognna and women within decision processes within Tanchara (Guri et al., 2012). The direct empowerment of women and new inclusions within political life further contributed to the effectiveness of the anti-mining coalition. This participatory innovation and indigenous deliberative methods, combined with the resource assistance of CIKOD, enabled for a range of strategies from radio broadcasts, formal petitions to the government, to the creation of the Biological Community Protocols (BCP) – a tool that affirms the community’s traditional knowledge, practices, and laws, connecting them to formal legal systems (BCP, 2012). This effective participatory coalition forced Azumah representatives to attend the local assemblies and recognize Tanchara land sovereignty.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
A participatory consensus building approach was utilized in the various district assemblies held in Tanchara concerning the activities of Azumah Resource Limited. Attendance to these assemblies was open to any member of the community, male or female, and anyone in attendance was freely able to voice their opinion/experience on the issue. The meetings were often structured in the shape of a circle. Video recordings of some of these assemblies reveal that individual participants varied from local farmers, herdsman, and mothers. While no one in the video expresses positive aspects of illegal mining – illegal in the sense that they were not consulted and it violates customary law – there is an openness towards “environmentally sensitive development led by the community” (CIKOD TV, 2011). Generally, the topics of concern range from potential human rights abuses, environmental degradation and the commodification of sacred sites. This shared assembly-style deliberation is characterized by a member as being a process of learning from each other but united through a shared concern about the “mining company that is about to enter our community” (CIKOD, 2011). The Tingadem and Pognna in joint community assemblies would sit near the front, while members from CIKOD presented slideshows and community members spoke from their location.
Consensus was achieved within Tanchara surrounding two important issues, the first being the revitalization of the Pognna and women in politics. Participatory deliberation was provoked by a series of assemblies organized by CIKOD where indigenous regional knowledge was presented and shared via the “Study on traditional women leadership (Pognamene / Haala-Kuoros) in three districts in Upper-West Region in Ghana” (CIKOD, 2010). This led to a self-described consensus in the community concerning the importance of the revitalization of the role of the Pognna and women in not only anti-mining activism but “any issue that effects the community” (CIKOD TV, 2011). Video recorded interviews with the Pognna and Tingadem taken in late 2011 suggest that there is a lasting participatory united front within the community and an increase in deliberative participation among women on a variety of social, economic, spiritual and political issues effecting the community.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
As of 2017 Azumah Resources Limited has not conducted any land surveying or mineral excavation in Tanchara or the surrounding sacred groves in Upper-West Ghana. The consensus and coalition building process nurtured at the local level was effective in resisting mining and establishing an official set of biocultural community protocols (BCP) which codified in writing the traditional rights, sovereignties, laws, and knowledge(s) of indigenous peoples over their resources and land (BCP, 2012). The Tanchara community has been very successful in enlisting the support of local government structures and including all stakeholders in the process of reaching consensus, coalition building, lobbying, and the drafting of the BCP.
One of the most significant supplementary effects of the district assemblies mobilized by the Tingadem of Tanchara and the CIKOD, was a revitalization of the traditional indigenous role of women within Tanchara political life (Guri et al., 2012; CIKOD TV, 2011). By exploring anthropological and oral histories of the Upper-West region in Ghana presented by the CIKOD, it became clear that women were being marginalized and under-utilized politically (CIKOD, 2010). As one Tingadem named Naa Yaa-yin Nibur remarked, the “CIKOD has allowed us to revive our [Tanchara] traditions…they opened our eyes to the traditional women leaders, the Pognna, who are active now” (CIKOD TV, Feb 16 2011).
This resulted in two important local innovations in Tanchara, the first being the designation of a mutually decided upon Pognna – denoting queen – whose role is not to formally ‘rule’ over the female contingent of the community, but rather to organize discussion and promote the decision making capacity of local women and girls within Tanchara. Pognna Kuudasie of Tanchara in remarking on this new role notes that; “As Pognna, I mobilise my fellow women whenever we need to discuss any issue…We need to be united! We need to agree! Everybody should take care of the land to prevent conflicts” (CIKOD TV, Feb 16 2011). Secondly, the political decision making empowerment of women within the community broadly was significant in the mobilization/activism against Azumah Resources. Mobilized by the Pognna, women were meeting regularly to discuss the Azumah issue and possible strategies for its resolution. Moving beyond this case study, the Pognna and women in Tanchara have continued to play significant roles in local decision making processes.
As a result of this case and given the widespread nature of rural communities being silenced in resource development consultations, the Upper-West Coalition on Mining, Food, Water and Sacred Natural Sites has been organized to connect communities effected with NGO’s and resources. To date, Azumah Resources Limited has not operationalized the Wa Gold Project nor surveyed the Tanchara and surrounding sacred groves. Daniel Banuoku, co-founder of CIKOP comments that “the formation of the Coalition is a wakeup call to the environmental genocide committed in the name of mining in the Upper-West. As would have been done to perpetrators of war crimes, we need to be morally strong to prosecute illegal miners with free conscience.” (CIKOD, 2012). Recent triumphs for the coalition include winning the support of the Upper-West House of Chiefs who recently called upon Ghana’s Minister for Lands, Forestry and Mines to establish a moratorium on mining.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Indigenous led development and consensus building requires “going at the pace of the community” and ensuring that traditional authorities are held accountable to the community (Guri et al., 2012). This requires sensitivity for coalition members outside of the community to respect local processes of decision making and consensus building. This social-cultural sensitivity has the benefit of nurturing grassroots enthusiasm and organizing among an emotionally invested membership within the coalition. In the case of Tanchara, this led to effective participatory decision making enabling a variety of anti-mining lobbying strategies to be unified under a clear democratically conceived mandate reflective of indigenous sovereignty, knowledge, and values. Yet in the context of Ghana generally, mining companies have often bribed chiefs to bypass consent mechanisms. This requires that customary practices and identified traditional authorities be continually examined against all the views of community members. Participatory decision making must also be used to prevent conflict and internal community antagonisms – communities must be actively self-regulating and staying informed collectively (IELL, 2012).
CIKOD describes the main lessons learned and challenges encountered with the Tanchara biocultural community protocols (BCP) as centring on the lack of legal backing for both customary law and the BCP, a lack of customary law enforcement among the youth population, a lack of information about state level agreements/laws, and sentiments of suspicion surrounding the need to have BCP if it is not legally binding (IIED, 2012). While the Ghanaian government is currently respecting the BCP, there is nothing other than mobilized consensus/activisms of the Tanchara and Upper-West stopping Azumah from conducting mining. Therefore while the BCP and the formation of the Upper-West coalition against mining is an effective start, more state engagement is needed to legally enshrine enforcement mechanisms for indigenous land and resource sovereignty.
Commentaries and Criticism
The lack of binding regulatory mechanisms and legal recourses for communities negatively affected by illegal mining, as previously stated, depends on the support of local and national governments. Even if consensus is reached, an effective coalition built upon tradition, and codified within a BCP, mining actors with direct government contracts can still bypass traditional authority (IIED, 2012). Commentators also note that by removing the prospect of mining and associated jobs, some argue that more work needs to be done to promote alternative livelihoods that may replace mining (Akologo and Guri, 2016).
A further important criticism comes from the lack of youth engagement within the participatory district assembly process in Tancharra, their absence from the CIKOD TV video series, and from the official reports. As elders in these rural communities age, it is not clear how maturing youths will take up, abandon, or change traditional authority structures and customary laws (CIKOD, 2012). BCPs could become even more weakened if they begin to lack support within the community itself. However, Tanchara elders and CIKOD have begun strategizing ways to remedy this through pairing youth with Tingadem and touring to other effected communities by mining (CIKOD, 2012).
At a more general level criticisms have been raised regarding the role of traditional authority in community led development and the unquestioned assumption that traditional community is a positive vehicle for social cohesion, participation, consensus building, and group harmony in Northern Ghana (Grischow and McKnight, 2003; Longi, 2012). It is argued that chieftaincies are legacies of an indirect rule colonial system and that traditional structures/authorities are often the cause of antagonism, nepotism, and corruption within communities rather than promoters of egalitarian decision making. Therefore, policies that evoke tradition may exacerbate land conflict rather than reduce it, and centralize decision making rather than democratizing it.
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Ayelazuno, Jasper Abembia. “Neoliberalism and Growth without Development in Ghana: A Case for State-led Industrialization.” Journal of Asian and African Studies 49,1 (2014).
IIED, 'PLA 65 - Biodiversity and culture: exploring community protocols, rights and consent', https://www.iied.org/pla-65-biodiversity-culture-exploring-community-pro...
Emiljanowicz, Paul. “Conflicts of Interests: Official Development Assistance, Corporate Social Responsibility, and the Extractive Sector.” Institute of Globalization and the Human Condition (McMaster University MRP, 2015).
Grischow, Jeff. “Late Colonial Development in British West Africa: The Gonjo Development Project in the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast, 1948-57,” Canadian Journal of African Studies 35, 2 (2001): 284
Grischow, Jeff. Shaping Tradition: Civil Society, Community, and Development in Colonial Northern Ghana, 1899-1957. Brill Academic Press, 2006.
Guri, Bernard and Daniel Banuoku Faabelangne, Emmanuel Kabchebe Derbile, Wim Hiemstra and Bas Verschuuren. “Sacred groves versus gold mines: biocultural community protocols in Ghana.” IIED June, 2012.
“PLA 65 - Biodiversity and culture: exploring community protocols, rights and consent.” International Institute for Environmental Development June 2012.
“Study on traditional women leadership (Pognamene / Haala-Kuoros) in three districts in Upper-West Region in Ghana,” Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Organizational Development (2010).
Tanchara Tingadem and Pognna Interview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVsXrioChsg
Unmasking Land Grabs in Ghana Report http://afjn.org/documents/2016/08/unmasking-land-grabbing-in-ghana-resto...
The first version of this case entry was written jointly by Paul Emiljanowicz and Bonny Ibhawoh, McMaster University.
Lead image: "Chief Yaayin Niber Naa of Tanchara, & his traditional council, Lawra" © Peter Lowe / CIKOD https://goo.gl/rjyzS3