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Opinions of Saturday, 12 March 2011

Columnist: Addae-Bosompra, Ernest

Illegal Mining; My Journey To Ancient Kyebi

Town Planning Strategies for Rural communities

By Ernest Addae-Bosompra

There is deep dissatisfaction and anger amongst most Ghanaians’ in the diaspora about the destruction and dissipation of ‘tradition and heritage’ in our historical towns in Ghana’s rural areas for the sake of financial gain. Ancient Towns once lost cannot be regained. Rural communities appear to have disproportionately large unemployment, poor run down public services, talents wasted and opportunities taken away.

Planners it seems in rural areas operate with an ineffective information base, a serious lack of resources, overwhelmed by the intrusion of customary systems and outdated practices. The maps they produce are unreliable and out of date. They lack the necessary training to deal with the current challenges. Town Planning in kyebi as a public service is very poor and has failed in their duty to protect the ancient town. What we hold dear about the town’s history and heritage seems to be disappearing.

Our Planning policies are insensitive to the hardships of the underclass and poor in our society. Yet it was for the very noble purpose of overcoming poverty and homelessness that the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act of our colonial masters were adopted by Ghana. We have been betrayed at the very least by those given the authority to administer land held in trust for Okyeman.The ancient woodlands of kyebi have been sold by the acre to ruthless miners who use mercury and other substances to derive Gold and Diamonds from the land.

The Birim River gives its name to the ‘Birimian rock formation’ which apparently yields most of the gold and diamond in the region. Ghana adopted conventional mining and extraction processes, developing deep underground mines in the Ashanti belt. Towns like Prestea, Tarkwa, Akwatia, Obuasi and Konongo use the conventional mining and extraction processes because most of the minerals are found in rock formations.

However, Kyebi’s rich natural resources, is buried in their tropical Rain Forest with fertile river valleys, deep heavy soil and fresh fauna and these forms of conventional mining and extraction processes cannot be applied to the ancient Town without destroying the historic qualities and heritage of the town. Fertile river valleys are too important for the survival of rural agricultural economies and should therefore not be tampered with for financial gain. Heritage once destroyed can never be redeemed. We have always been dependent on agriculture for our local economy. Historically we have always farmed this rich and fertile land.

The bulldozers and heavy machinery have moved into town without consultation and notification of the residents of kyebi. Now there is conflict. Kyebi a historic town, with predominantly rural and agricultural surroundings now marches the destructive path of other mining towns such as Prestea, Tarkwa, Akwatia Obuasi, and Konongo surroundered by illegal mining, contaminated land and disease.

My journey to Kyebi –November 2010

I was invited to kyebi by the MP for Abuakwa South- Atta Akyea, when he visited England as a guest of Our High Commissioner –H.E. Prof Kwaku Danso Boafo.

On arrival at kyebi, I paid my respects, to Hon Atta Akyea and drove to the outskirts of the town to see for myself the impact of illegal mining on this Ancient Town. The physical changes on the Town were noticeable. The nature reserves such as the butterfly colonies and heritage sites I knew as a child were long gone and in its place a cluster of illegal mines, deep trenches and open cast mines littered the landscape. Photo 1; was taken just on the outskirts of Kyebi (near Abuakwa State College) and it shows a deep trench with no fencing or protection a few feet from the main road. Photo 2; shows heavy machinery at work in the ancient woodland. I saw a bulldozer tearing down ancient woodlands, removing large quantities of topsoil and discarding the felled trees as if the amenity value of trees meant nothing. Some of the trenches were filled with water. The River Birim appeared to be contaminated because I saw evidence of attempts to try and change the direction of flow of the river Birim. There was no other explanation for the discolored water that came out of the taps. I met several illegal miners popularly called ‘Galamsay’.

The District Planner is responsible for implementing the Planning Laws in the Town. Some residents painted a picture of a Government Department charged with the duty to implement planning policy but often colluding with other officials, foreign investors and a few local chiefs to amass wealth from the natural resources held in trust for the people. The District Planner they claimed was autocratic in his management style. As a Government official charged with representing the Interest of the ancient town, he appeared to represent the interest of foreign agents and private developers. In a very reprehensible way, he was the point of contact for all stool land. This is a dereliction of duty. The end result was always destruction and failure in protecting the community

Town Planning Strategies for Rural Areas

Following a meeting with Alistair Blunt and Lawrence Dakurah of The Town and Country Planning Department and Jimmy Aidoo of the Land Administration Project (LAP) in Accra, it appeared that the challenges facing the administration of land in Ghana involved problems such as the general indiscipline in the land market, indeterminate boundaries of stool lands, compulsory acquisition of lands by government, inadequate security of tenure, out dated legislation and a weak land administration system.

Work being done by the Monitoring and Evaluation Unit of LAP is an example of how Ghana’s Land Use Planning can be rejuvenated. Government must rejuvenate Land Use Planning and Planning Management in both urban and rural areas by passing a new law for Spatial Planning – a new system of planning that links national development policy to Spatial Development Framework (SDF) using GIS based technology. SDF’s are currently being prepared for fast growing areas like the oil find area of Sekondi-Axim corridor, Dodowa-Prampram corridor, Ejisu-Boankra Corridor and Winneba-Kasoa. This it is argued will radically alter the way planning decisions are made.

So how will Kyebi an Ancient Town benefit from this new system of land use planning and what vision should drive this change? My visit demonstrated that the town is not benefiting from protection, preservation and enhancement and is developing at a speed and manner that overtakes the capacity of our institutions such as planning to control the population growth and the local economic activities.

Kyebi’s local economy has shifted from a rural economy to a more mixed economy. Agriculture was the main form of economic growth, but in the last few years the evidence will suggest a “rural economic diversity”. Mining forms part of this diversification. The challenge for Town Planning strategies must therefore be to manage the rural areas in ways that meet current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. Sustainable development must be at the core of this vision.

Greater priority should be given to restraint of potentially damaging developments that affect areas that have been designated for their landscape, wildlife and historic qualities in a new system of Spatial Development Frameworks. Kyebi could adopt a ‘Criteria based strategy’ as part of their Development Plans. What this means is that the District will set out a criteria for permitting developments such as ‘Mining’ in the area. The criteria for assessing the suitability of mining schemes will include; the potential impact on landscape, natural resources, heritage, ancient woodland, biodiversity and wildlife including the preservation of land and buildings of historic or architectural importance.

We must introduce a grading system to prioritise these sites from high to low in their significance. Any mining activity that does not meet the above criteria should be refused planning permission. Except in exceptional circumstances mining activities should not take place at all in areas graded as meriting high protection. Any deposits that are found beneath important habitats of national and international significance should be safeguarded against surface development which would preclude their exploitation in the future.

Conclusions

Ancient Woodlands and Forest Reserves constitute the principal surviving evidence of kyebi’s historical past. However they are vulnerable to modern development and changes in land use and are easily lost or damaged. The preservation of these sites is a legitimate objective against which the demands of development must be balanced and fully assessed. The destruction of our ‘Heritage and History’ should be avoided and should never take place without an appropriate level of investigation and recording to be undertaken. Our Planners must require mining companies to follow stringent environmental and rehabilitation codes in order to minimise the environmental impact and avoid negative human health.

Finally what can we all do to help protect our ancient and historical towns in Ghana? For those of us in the diaspora, we can start by lobbying our High Commissioners and Ambassadors to help prioritise these sites against destruction- join the fight against the theft and destruction of our homeland by illegal miners. We must increase public awareness of historical and archeological heritage of our rural areas. The wealth and deposits of ‘Kwaebibrim’ must be documented and its management encouraged as an educational and recreational resource. Both Central Government and District Authorities must work together to promote conservation, protection and enhancement of our land. ‘Heritage and History’ defines us and protecting these resources secures our future.

Ernest Addae-Bosompra is a Town Planner in the UK and a member of the International Development Network (IDN) Contact; addaeb@hotmail.com

Galamsay – homeward bound Galamsay-Oman JSS in kyebi