“The People are Eating their Bread in Tears” – Kwabena (Okyeman) Frimpong Decries Life in the Mines in Ghana

He earned the nickname ‘Okyeman,’ (meaning the agitator/advocate) in recognition of his resolve to defend the land rights of his Okyem tribe from the stranglehold of a powerful gold mining company – Newmont Golden Ridge Ltd, from Denver, USA. His actual name is Kwabena Frimpong, 69 years old.

Involved in surface gold mining, Newmont’s operations spread over thousands of acres of arable (farm) land and crops of the Akyem people, expropriated without proper compensation. Frimpong’s advocacy for the peasant community (that relied on cassava, cocoa yam, plantain and vegetable farming, including cash crops like cocoa and oil palm for their sustenance), coincided with the operations of the mining company in 2005. He sensed his people were being robbed not just of their inheritance, but their livelihoods.

While championing the cause of his tribesmen, ‘Okyeman’ was attracted to a local NGO known as Wacam, where he serves as the chief advocate, coordinating some 11 communities including: Hweakwae, Adausina, Yayaso, New Abirem, Kwasi Kporvor, EK Marfo, Yaw Tano, Ayesu Ziga, Ntronang, Afosu and Manmanso. Wacam campaigns basically for “responsible mining” and defends the rights of communities to their farmland.

Frimpong acknowledges the ownership of the government to minerals whether deposited on private or public land. However, for private lands designated for concession, the landowners are entitled to adequate compensation, according to Section 74 of the Minerals and Mining Act, 2006 (Act 703). But adequate compensation for the land and crops of affected communities has been nothing, but a ‘pipe dream.’ The government appears noncommittal as it has yet to ensure a negotiated compensation with the concessionaire.

This is the battle Frimpong has been fearlessly fighting yet to no avail, at least for now. But he seems resolved to keep flagging the struggles of the small farming communities with each having a population of fewer than two thousand residents.

As these affected communities are having their wilderness experience, scrambling for survival, leaders of the country appear to be contented. In 2021, Newmont Golden Ridge Ltd. (Akyem Mine) reportedly paid a dividend of over GHc 110M to the Ghanaian government. With such a bonus being dished out to the government, it is hard for one not to be in sympathy with the affected communities – a situation aptly described as the government ‘licking hands while the people are swallowing their saliva.’

The investor takes the hit when things are not done properly. So, Newmont has had to do some explaining to defuse the tension. At a workshop for journalists back in 2013, the External Relations Manager of the Company, Mr. Oduro-Kwarteng Marfo is said to have appealed to the communities and stakeholders to, as he put it, “give maximum support to the Company as they conduct blasting in an environmentally and socially responsible manner consistent with global and best practices and Ghanian Mining Regulations.” Mr. Marfo promised that the Company will continue to demonstrate its social responsibility and add value to the development of the communities.

Newmont Ghana is a subsidiary of Newmont Corporation, the world’s leading gold business. It has two gold mining operations in Ghana: The Ahafo Mine located in the Ahafo Region and the Akyem Mine located in the Eastern Region. Commercial production started at Akyem in 2013.

The promises of the Company should be music in the ears of the affected residents since the operations started, there are still lingering issues that should also be placed at the feet of the Government. However, Frimpong is convinced that President Nana Akufo Addo is not happy with the operations of the mining company that has among others blocked the flow of eleven rivers from the mountain source where the mining is taking place. This has triggered the relocation of communities to new settlements where the people have had to depend on boreholes to cope with the harsh reality.

“But there are other functionaries in government and the security services who are being influenced by the company to get away with what they are doing to us,” Frimpong lamented.

The American company, like many others in West Africa, has succeeded in the conquer-and-rule policy – working with a pliant group that is fronting for the cause of the people. According to Frimpong, “The Mining Company works remotely through its surrogates, to stand up against legitimate grievances – under the guise that they are community members… but it is the machination of the Mining Company,” he claims.

Kwabena’s ordeal has been noted in unlawful arrest, detention and prosecution on a trump-up charge of making a death threat against the disputed chief of Akyem Adausina, whom he accuses of being a surrogate of the Company.

“I questioned the disputed chief in the street about why he has forcibly intended to take the farmland that my late father bequeathed to us.… I was inviting him to accompany me to the Mining Company to take his name from the register that he’s not the owner of it.”

The community rights advocate would now have to face police charges – accused of threatening the “disputed chief” with death. Kwabena was subsequently detained and later tried at the Mpraeso Circuit court. A member organization of the Mano River Union Civil Society Natural Recourse Rights and Government Platform, The Centre for Public Interest Law (CEPIL) quickly dispatched a lawyer by the name of Kumi Larbi to defend him. A no-case submission was then filed on his behalf and the judge transferred the matter to alternative dispute resolution, where Frimpong was discharged.

Police actions have been used to frighten people into submission. That is why ‘Okyeman’ sued the police for unlawful detention, claiming 50,000 GHc in damages. By taking on the police, Frimpong, who has also been a classroom teacher believes he did not only teach a lesson, but dispel some of the fears for the police and at the same time motivating the poor residents to stand up for their rights.  With plenty of optimism, he’s looking forward to a judgment soon.

Kwabena told the MRU-CSO Platform that these counter-actions have all been part of a bigger non-violent strategy adopted to expose the tricks of the authorities and the Company, and get some needed relief for the poor.

Renegotiation of the concession is the preoccupation of the affected communities because the Company did not give the people fair compensation for their properties. “We are saying they did not comply with the mining laws.” Adding, “the people are eating their bread in tears.”

Interestingly, as the compensation advocacy escalated, Frimpong and other property owners were requested to submit a bill for compensation. He responded by submitting a bill of over 96 million GHc in 2013 but has not heard from the government since. Kwabena argues that under the letter of the law, compensation for crops must be circulated based on the life expectancy of the crops, separate from payment for the land. The Company has been reluctant, but he and his people have been consistent with their advocacy.

Unfortunately, something sad happened. He mentioned the mysterious death of a lady they fondly called (Baby). Madam Waggene was part of a group of over a hundred persons who had a case pending in court against the Company. The lady was found dead on the eve of the case in her house. The incident further alarmed the community members. The authorities made a few arrests after her death, but nothing else has been heard.

‘Okyeman’ may be an oldman with some visual challenges, (suffering from Glaucoma), but he remains active and undaunted. His commitment to ensuring that his people get their just compensation is ever solid.

He called on the Ghanaian government to do due diligence to ensure mining companies have complied with the terms of the principles of compensation before granting mining licenses.

While accusing the police of repressing the people, Kwabena urged the government to restrain the police and military from getting emotionally charged with matters of the affected communities because, “more often than not, they invite the police to put the fear of God in the communities.”

Expectedly, the Company uses money as a weapon to fight the poor communities, according to the community defender. He believes the court system and law enforcement agencies should straightly comply with upholding the human rights of the communities.

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The Author

This article is written by the Secretariat of the Mano River Union Civil Society Natural Resources Rights and Governance Platform (MRU SCO Platform), to give visibility to the untold stories of frontline grassroots human rights defenders across West Africa. The MRU CSO Platform is a network of environmental and human rights defenders; indigenous communities affected by the operations of multinational corporations and poor informal entrepreneurs on the frontline of corporate investments in West Africa. Its membership is drawn from nine of the fifteen countries in West Africa. Namely: Liberia, Sierra Leone, La Cote D’Ivoire, Guinea, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria and Niger.

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About Joel Cholo Brooks 13591 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.
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