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Opinions of Monday, 25 January 2010

Columnist: Yeboah, Stephen

Why “militarization” in the mining sector must stop!

The increasing trend of “militarization” in the mining sector when abusive security agencies act to protect industry operations in the country leaves much to be desired. As it’s always anticipated to be, the systematic use of violence and abuses against local people by multinational mining companies under the guise of ensuring peace and order and/or protection of private properties have been swept under the carpet simply because mining revenues contribute much to Gross Domestic Product, employment generation and many other gains.

The cases of incessant beatings, molestations and intimidations of several poor people in the mining communities by the so-called efficient and caring companies are difficult to ascertain especially when Ghana is known to be the beacon of peace and stability in Africa with her unwavering democratic credentials. The escalating abuse of human rights in the mining sector, without shred of any doubt, reveals the startling reality of how ‘dirty’ our gold is. It’s simply the manifestation of the “Paradox of Plenty”.

It is important to note that Ghana ought to stop these dreadful acts if development and for that matter plans to ensure improved livelihoods of all people are to be actualized. It is in the supreme interest of the country that we all demand positive developments in the vibrant mining sector.

Militarization in perspective

The acts of militarization in the country are driven by the attempts of transnational mining companies and even the government to quell or put an end to local resistance to the large-scale impacts of operations. It is fact to establish that the people are right to resist what impinges on the fundamental human rights and what denies them of their basic needs. The use of violence has been identified with Ashanti Goldfields Company (AGC) now AngloGold Ghana Limited, Newmont Ghana Gold Limited, Goldfields Ghana Limited Damang Mine (formerly Abosso Goldfields Limited), to mention just a few.

There are numerous cases where artisanal miners have been attacked by AGC (now AngloGold Ghana Limited) guard dogs and security agencies. Between 1994 and 1997, according to WACAM, a vibrant non-governmental organisation in the mining sector, the then AGC security personnel in conjunction with the police and the military had killed three artisanal miners. Again in one incident in January 1997, 16 artisanal miners were severely beaten by AGC security personnel.

In response to the increase in violence against the poor in mining communities, the National Coalition on Mining (NCOM) at the International Press Center on May 4, 2006 launched a campaign to stop violence in the mining sector. Interestingly on June 6, 2006, barely a month after the launch of the campaign to stop violence, a total of 76 people in Ntotroso community near Ahafo Kenyasi received various injuries as a result of their demonstration to protest against unfulfilled promises by Newmont Ghana Gold Limited. When Newmont Ghana started operation in the area, the company promised the local people in Ntotroso it would employ 50% of the total workforce in the community. After three years, when the people realised that the number of persons employed fell far below the 50% promised them, went on a peaceful and legal demonstration and that resulted in the gruesome abuse of the people by the police under the command of Newmont Ghana.

Another recent evidence of militarization occurred on December 8, 2009 when a military contingent under the command of Goldfields Ghana Limited Damang Mine beat demonstrators and 2 Journalists from Metro TV. The people of Atta ne Atta community being fed up with intense blasting, dust and noise pollutions and destroyed source of drinking water made complaints to the Environmental Protection Agency, the District Chief Executive of the Prestea-Huni Valley District and the Member of Parliament for the Prestea-Huni Valley Constituency about their plights. Without hope of any intervention, the people had to resort to a peaceful demonstration on December 8, 2009 after getting the go-ahead from the Tarkwa Divisional Police Command. It is sad to know that Goldfields Ghana Limited Damang Mine called the military to brutalise innocent people in the community including the two journalists who tried to capture the incidence.

The burning question that remains unanswered is that is it wrong to oppose operations that affect ones livelihoods? The above examples are just the tip of the iceberg. There are more serious ones happening in secrecy and it is about time the country set the record straight.

The impact on the economy

Seeking for a solution to this dilemma is long over due. The abuse of human rights by mining companies if not stopped would not only exact a heavy toll on Ghana’s aspiration to become a middle income country but would pose a greater risk to her democratic credentials that are touted in the world. After all, the people of Atta ne Atta and Ntotroso had the right to demonstration as spelt out in Article 21(d) of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana, which states “all persons shall have the right to freedom of assembly including freedom to take part in processions and demonstrations”. We should therefore know that these dehumanizing activities which are gaining unenviable foothold in the country are not only the failure of the State and its institutions to ensure credible rule of law but concurring to a situation where abject poverty should reign.

It is imperative to realise that those brutalised to death especially with breadwinners would render many families impoverished and incapacitate their ability to enjoy the full benefits of life. We would be breeding extreme poverty than to eradicating it. If the country should sit unconcerned, then what would be the benefits of drawing up development plans and even expanding infrastructure? Already, the people in the mining communities reel under the threats of both abject poverty and environmental degradation. Militarization makes a serious case altogether since it exacerbates miseries. Poverty in mining communities amid plenty potential mineral wealth is completely unacceptable.

It is striking to know that these acts of militarization are pronounced in the oil and gas industries than in the mining industry. Here, it is highly possible that what is happening in the mining sector would be repeated in the oil and gas industry if security agencies that operate in favour of companies are not made aware of their limits. Do we want what is happening in Nigeria (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta) and Angola (Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda) to occur in Ghana? Certainly not in the country blessed with peace and stability. There would one day be a situation where the local people would no more be able to tolerate these abuses by mining companies and could trigger the unexpected and the unthinkable. It is expedient for the sake of the state of the country’s security that we nip the situation in the bud in the emerging oil sector.

One sensitive issue that needs urgent redress has to do with the way and manner our security agencies are cheaply employed to brutalise innocent people. Being induced with money, the police and the military are made oblivious of the laws of the land. The people of Atta ne Atta were granted the constitutional right to undertake the demonstration by the Tarkwa Divisional Police but received nefarious opposition from the military. This clearly reveals the conflicting roles and lack of coordination between the police and the military. It is indeed a heavy blow to the country that is seeking to put an end to all forms of clashes and wars. If this situation go unchecked, it wouldn’t be surprising when one day security agencies (police and military) in the country rise against each other. It is, therefore, imperative for top rankings of the various security agencies especially the police and the military to set high and respectable standards to ensure competency.

Ghana needs to rise up and prove the credibility and strength of its so-called unwavering democracy. It is crucial for top administrations of both the police and the military to act in tandem to deal with this delicate issue. They cannot afford to just knock their heads together. Militarization is an old long-standing controversy that should be resolved for the sake of peace being yearned for.

Nonetheless, the contributions of multinational mining companies to the progress of the economy can never be underestimated. It is therefore a charge on these companies to exhibit the best practical corporate social responsibilities and environmental practices. The local people in the mining areas deserve the best of infrastructure and improved livelihoods than we see today.

I would urge the government to make matters concerning attacks on local people by mining companies clear and easy to deal with in relation to the applicability of the Minerals and Mining Act 2006, Act 703. This means that this act needs to be looked at again to add and fill all loopholes. Multinational mining companies that are found culpable to such practices should be charged and be made to pay considerably amount to compensate victims.


It is important that Ghana halts these acts of militarization to at least sustain the kind of peace we are experiencing today. The State and its institutions, non-governmental organizations and civil society groups are charged in this respect to compel these mining companies to act within the limits of the law. Because there can never be meaningful development and livelihood improvements when there are disorders between the local people and companies and lack of coordination between the various security agencies. Let us make mining a profitable sector by extirpating all form of abuses of fundamental human rights.

The author Stephen Yeboah is at the Department of Planning, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi-Ghana. []