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The case of the Tanchara Community and Gold Mining

The following case study is an extract from Protecting Community Lands and Resources in Africaa book of case studies that highlights land rights advocates’ innovative community land protection efforts.

By Bern Guri and Dan Banuoku, Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Organisational Development (CIKOD) and Stephanie Booker (Natural Justice)

The Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Organisational Development (CIKOD) is a Ghanaian NGO working with communities across Ghana to support traditional authorities and civil society organizations to facilitate sustainable grassroots organizational development. CIKOD’s vision is of a society where the rural poor, the marginalised, and women have a voice and contribute proactively to equitable and sustainable community development. Its mission is to strengthen the capacity of traditional authorities and local community institutions to use their local resources – and appropriate external resources – for their own development and for the development of future generations.

The Community Organizational Development approach and techniques developed by CIKOD and its associates support communities to mobilize and use their cultural assets more effectively, and to manage and direct their own affairs without relying upon external agencies or organizations. CIKOD’s Community Organizational Development approach includes the following set of tools:

  • Mapping of community institutions and resources
  • Community visioning and action planning
  • Community organizational self-assessment
  • Community institutional strengthening
  • Learning, sharing and assessment
  • Using festival and traditional forums for community dialogue with power bearers.

Diverse and meaningful participation is a pre-condition for effective community development work. To this end, CIKOD has developed tools ensure that traditional authorities and a broad cross-section of the community actively participate, irrespective of age or gender. CIKOD used a number of tools to support the Tanchara community’s local endogenous development: Community Institutional Resource Mapping, Community Visioning, Community Vision Action Planning, and a Community-driven Health Impact Assessment Tool. The difference between these tools and their conventional counterparts is that they require facilitators to work with a community’s cultural resources – material, social and spiritual – in a way appropriate to their worldviews. The approach is premised on working with and through traditional authorities and indigenous institutions (and their organizational practices and resources), to enhance ownership and inclusion of the whole community in the development process.

CIKOD believes that poverty reduction remains a difficult endeavour due to the failure to build community development interventions that respect and include local cultures and worldviews. The core of CIKOD’s work is promoting Endogenous Development – a community development approach that empowers and builds on communities’ existing indigenous institutions and natural, social and spiritual resources. In this approach, communities use their existing skills and knowledge to secure appropriate external resources for their own development initiatives

14 taich chief

Chief Yaayin Niber Naa of Tanchara, & his traditional council, Lawra. © Peter Lowe / CIKOD

The National and Regional Context

Despite the modern political system in Ghana, the majority of the population, especially in the rural areas, still organize around indigenous institutions to carry out activities important to their development and wellbeing. In rural communities, civil society takes the form of the indigenous organizations such as Nnoboa groups, Asafo groups, Susu groups, clan networks, and hometown associations through which poor rural families organize their social, economic and political lives. The resilience of rural people may be largely attributed to these institutions and forms of organization. However, opportunities to engage these institutions for sustainable community mobilization and development have been largely ignored or even undermined by development practitioners.

The Community in Tanchara

The Tanchara community is a small local community located in Lawra, in the Upper West Region of Ghana, along the border with Burkina Faso. The Tanchara community consists of approximately 3,800 people governed by intricate traditional governance structures consisting of the Divisional Chief, the Pognaa (the female equivalent), and the Tingandem (spiritual leadership). [1] The landscape in Tanchara contains fruit and nut trees (including shea), small farms, and sacred groves that are preserved by the community because of cultural and spiritual significance and their abundance of medicinal plants.[2] The entire region is ecologically fragile, with low rainfall and low soil fertility. Communities are heavily dependent on their land for their livelihoods.

When CIKOD began working with the Tanchara community in 2003, the goal of the community and its traditional leaders was to strengthen their capacity to respond to the challenges created by mining activity in the region, and to do so using the community’s own internal resources. As in many countries around the world, engagements between mining companies and communities in Ghana are often unequal. Oftentimes mining companies will only engage with government officials, excluding communities and their indigenous institutions. Over the last 11 years, the government of Ghana has continued to allocate foreign mining companies licences to prospect for gold in the Upper West Region of the country without the knowledge of, consultation with, or consent by local communities who have traditionally owned, occupied, and used these lands. The situation in Tanchara was no different: In 2004, the Ghanaian government granted the Australian mining company Azumah Resources Limited (Azumah) rights to prospect for gold in Tanchara, in the Upper West Region of Ghana, without consultation with – or consent by – the communities in the area. The grant of prospecting rights caused an influx of illegal miners into the area, whose activities then resulted in water pollution, partial destruction of some of the community’s sacred groves, and the creation of large, uncovered pits that caused deaths in the community.

CIKOD’s work and engagement with Tanchara and Azumah Resources Limited

CIKOD began working with the Tanchara community in 2003, piloting a number of endogenous development tools aimed at strengthening the capacity of the community to organise and make decisions about its own future development.

Communities are dynamic and diverse, which means that building community capacity takes an extended period of time. In the context of the prospective mining project in Tanchara, CIKOD realised that its role was to support the community to identify and use its own internal resources to protect and conserve its lands and environment. Over several years CIKOD worked with the Tanchara community, using a number of participatory methodologies, to build internal capacity to deal with the mining threat.

CIKOD’s Community Organisational Development approach requires staff to undertake an internal, reflective, learning process so as to better understand their and the community’s worldviews. Before beginning work in the community, CIKOD staff began by discussing their own views of endogenous development and how to work within the worldviews of each community. After ensuring staff alignment with authentic community-driven action, CIKOD then engaged in a series of meetings with traditional chiefs and elders in Tanchara in order to discuss the impending challenges, the endogenous development approach and, after sharing information, gaining the consent of the chiefs and elders to work in the community.

With the chiefs and elders’ consent, CIKOD began training a community-selected team of representatives. This team conducted an initial mapping of formal and informal institutions, assets, and resources within the community as a way to identify the entry points within the community to propel community development. CIKOD trained the team to use a number of participatory endogenous tools, including focus groups and individual interviews, participant observation, and resource mapping. CIKOD helped team members practice using these tools via role play with cross-sections of the community.

Once trained, the team then engaged in a process of gathering information on the community’s institutions and resources, through the Community Institutional Resource Mapping (CIRM) process with members of the larger community, enabling community members to collect the research data for themselves. The CIRM recorded a variety of different but equally important community resources – natural resources as well as cultural, social and spiritual resources. The information was depicted through hand-drawn maps, notes taken during interviews, and video. Once compiled, this information was verified at community meetings. This process gave community members the opportunity to identify their own resources, encouraging a greater appreciation of what they already had (as opposed to a focus on what they lacked) and motivating community members to protect and conserve the assets that make their community unique and strong.

It was during these initial meetings that members of the Tanchara community first raised the issue of foreigners coming into their community and marking trees with red ribbons, searching for gold. This revelation was a surprise to both CIKOD and the rest of the community, and whilst gold mining was not the initial focus of this endogenous development work, the issue of gold mining as an opportunity and a threat was soon propelled to the forefront of community discussions.

With their community resources in mind, the community then engaged in a process of visioning. This process reflected on: where the community was 10 years ago and what resources it used; the community in the present; and a vision for the community in 10 years time. CIKOD facilitators recorded responses and prepared a vision statement based on the discussion. The community then engaged in developing community vision action plans. The planning process included: discussions on the resources needed; identification of key catalysts; and setting out key responsibilities, time frames, and priorities. The process supported the community to direct its efforts towards its own development, using the resources that the community had identified during the CIRM process. The community then drafted a community contract to commit to and remind the community of their plan.[3] Community by-laws were also developed to further some of the community’s goals.

Despite Azumah having a license to prospect in Tanchara from 2004, it was not until 2006 that the Tanchara community formally became aware of Azumah’s intentions to prospect (through a newsletter sent to the District Assembly in Wa). When Tanchara learned of Azumah’s plans, spiritual leaders in the community – equipped with a greater understanding of the community’s own skills, resources, and vision for endogenous development and greater information about the influx of illegal miners in the area – articulated their concerns about environmental destruction by mining by releasing a statement that demanded that government “safeguard their sacred groves and sites from both legal and illegal mining.”[4] This first public step from Tanchara’s spiritual leaders created momentum within the traditional leadership structures in the community, who then continued to articulate the community’s position opposing mining, using the skills and information supported by their work with CIKOD.

In particular, CIKOD and the Tanchara community found it helpful that there were regional and international human and environmental rights obligations with which they could arm themselves to support their position. In particular, the ECOWAS Mining Directive C/DIR.3/05/09 articulates a commitment to the free, prior and informed consent of communities.[5] The community’s bargaining power was also strengthened by their strong, united vision, an awareness of how mining had affected, or was likely to affect, their community, and knowledge of the law that supported their right to say “no”.

From 2007 onward, CIKOD supported Tanchara to assess the likely impacts of gold mining on their community health and well-being by using a Community-Driven Health Impact Assessment Tool (CHIAT). The CHIAT process began with community evaluations of the current and likely impacts of mining on all aspects of what the community identified as ‘well-being’. Positive and negative tangible impacts on land and infrastructure were assessed, as well as positive and negative intangible impacts on well-being, including spiritual impacts. CIKOD and the Tanchara community later used the findings of their CHIAT to respond to external actors and an environmental impact assessment of mining projects.

Community representatives first directly engaged Azumah at a regional forum on gold mining in 2010. At this forum, community leaders shared their community’s concerns about the impact of mining on the community’s short, medium and long-term objectives and well-being, based on the outcomes of the CHIAT.[6] Whilst Azumah heard community concerns, they did not respond.

On another occasion, the results of the community’s CHIAT were used to dispute findings in the scoping report of an environmental impact statement (EIS) lodged by Azumah with the Ghanaian Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The process of disputing the scoping report drew the EPA’s attention to the small number of stakeholders that Azumah had proposed to consult with. The Tanchara community’s protests resulted in Azumah expanding stakeholder consultations on gold mining to include both CIKOD and the Tanchara community. During these stakeholder consultations with Azumah, the community voiced their opposition to gold mining in the region but again concerns were inadequately addressed.

Given the lack of meaningful dialogue between the community and Tanchara, the community took many opportunities to voice their concern about mining in the region, regardless of whether Azumah representatives were present. On several occasions, CIKOD and the community used the outcomes of the CHIAT tool to inform discussions at community workshops and meetings, attended by local government officials.[7]

In 2011, the information collated from the endogenous development tools used by Tanchara informed the development of the Tanchara biocultural community protocol (BCP).[8] The Tanchara BCP was developed as a tool to aid dialogue with external actors. It became a document that articulated the community’s governance structures and decision-making procedures, the concerns it had with mining, its relationship with natural resources such as its sacred groves, and the national, regional and international laws that supported the protection of the community and its land. It was during this process of putting together the BCP that CIKOD, with an external researcher, supported the community to engage in a number of multi-stakeholder processes. These multi-stakeholder processes sought to examine the usefulness of the BCP as a tool for engagement with external actors such as government officials and Azumah. During this time, the community had meetings with a number of different external actors, including government departments, and various stakeholders within the community. Despite being invited to a number of meetings with community representatives, Azumah failed to attend. Nevertheless, the multi-stakeholder meetings demonstrated that the BCP is a powerful tool for the Tanchara community to present a unified position during negotiations regarding mining projects in their territory.

In 2013, Azumah finally met with the community and Tanchara presented the company with the BCP. The Tanchara BCP set out the community’s traditional terms of engagement, decision making structures, concerns about mining and the national, regional and international laws that supported the respect of their traditional institutions, customs and their right to say “no”. Tanchara community representatives asked the company to respect the terms of engagement provided in the BCP document. Since this time, Azumah has not approached the Tanchara community.

Over time, CIKOD’s work with Tanchara bore fruit. As a result of the community’s strong mobilization and advocacy against mining there have been continual postponements of mining activities by Azumah. Indeed, Azumah has not approached the community since those initial stakeholder consultations associated with the Environmental Impact Statement. As of June 2015, Azumah has not started prospecting in the Tanchara community. They are still awaiting licenses for mining and the processes have been significantly delayed for a number of years. The traditional leadership of Tanchara, together with the community, instituted yearly meetings to reflect on their actions plans and to map their progress. The community has continued to present their vision and plans to external agencies, including government officials and development agencies. Members of the community are now far more organized and empowered to respond to the threats imposed by both legal and illegal mining. They are also much more aware of their community’s strengths, assets, and resources and have strengthened their commitment to conserve their cultural heritage, sacred groves and community way of life. Other positive outcomes of CIKOD’s work with the Tanchara community include:

  • The Tanchara community’s Biocultural Community Protocol process allowed the community an opportunity to articulate their governance structures and decision-making procedures to external actors, and to adapt them in the light of emerging threats. This has increased the legitimacy of these traditional structures to represent the community and has also ensured that customary laws regarding engagement are adhered to.
  • The CHIAT process increased community awareness as to the potential positive and negative impacts of mining on the community. It also assisted the community to challenge the findings of an external environmental impact assessment because the process prepared the community to raise issues that were not included in the original impact assessment.
  • The development of a community vision and corresponding action plan strengthened the community’s sense of agency in shaping their own future. Sometimes when mining projects are introduced in to communities, community members are given very little choice to stop such activities and so often become passive recipients of such activities. However, having engaged in these participatory development tools beforehand, the Tanchara community strengthened their belief in their own choice to say “no” to projects like mining – or “yes” if they determine that the project will improve their community’s well-being and will progress on their own terms.

Why did this strategy work?

Investor and community interactions are usually characterised by a highly-resourced investor on the one side and a poorly-resourced, sometimes divided community on the other. To strengthen a community’s position in negotiations with investors, it is important for the community to mobilize itself, decide on a united stance, and develop a strong and clear vision for the future. From this unified and informed foundation, a community can more meaningfully evaluate whether a proposed project fits into their vision for their community’s future.

CIKOD’s work in Tanchara created spaces for the community to come together and discuss issues impacting them – essential when supporting a community to unify around an opportunity or threat. It also created opportunities for engagement between community stakeholders, traditional authorities and external authorities. Most essential though, CIKOD’s work supported the community to prepare themselves for engagements with external actors such as Azumah. The combination of endogenous development tools and the BCP process helped the community to solidify a united vision for the future and empowered them to articulate that vision and the way that they wished to engage with external stakeholders. CIKOD’s work with the Tanchara community was critical to the community’s ability to mobilise and to articulate and defend their rights.[9]

Given the successful delay of mining activities in Tanchara and the growing threat of prospecting in neighbouring communities in the Upper West region of Ghana, CIKOD has used the momentum gathered through its work to mobilise other communities likely to be affected by mining across the entire region. The establishment of the Upper West Coalition on Mining with other Ghanaian partners has substantially increased the supports available to rural communities advocating against mining projects. The objectives of the Coalition are four-fold: to strengthen local collaboration between local, national and regional civil society networks in Africa engaged in promoting and supporting human and indigenous rights and good governance; to raise public and policy awareness about the rapid expansion of extractive industry activity and the linkage with global development issues; to develop multi-country strategies to protect areas of cultural, spiritual and ecological importance of local communities; and to link African CSO networks with global alliances working on extractive industries. The Coalition plans to work with communities in the Upper West Region to train them on endogenous development tools, community protocols, and share how they have been used successfully by the Tanchara community to advocate their anti-mining position. The building of this regional, grassroots coalition has amplified community concerns on mining and has increased the legitimacy of community complaints. Now, traditional leaders from across the Upper West Region are demanding greater transparency and accountability in the issuance of prospecting and mining licences in the region. This is particularly important at the moment, as 28 licenses for prospecting have been issued across the Upper West Region in the last few years.

Lessons for Organisations

CIKOD has learned a number of lessons from supporting community mobilisation around gold mining and engaging with companies:

  • Supporting an endogenous community development process as someone external to the community requires humility and deep reflection into one’s worldviews. CIKOD staff found it helpful to prepare by discussing their views of endogenous development, their own worldviews and values, and any potential issues or challenges that might arise when working within the worldviews of the community. It is important that practitioners engage in a similarly reflective process, and doing so as a group before, during, and after working with a community can be an effective way to support this.
  • Building on Tanchara’s existing internal skills, knowledge, structures, institutions, and resources was an important first step in CIKOD’s work with the community around mining. Such efforts helped to create unity – which is necessary to address the diverse views within a community that can cause conflict when natural resources are at stake.
  • Communities are dynamic and ever-changing – so facilitation and support needs to be responsive to the community. Particularly before a project has commenced, views within communities towards mining can differ greatly and are often fluid. A community may not have always had a united stance with regards to gold mining. In Tanchara, conflicts occasionally erupted between sections of the community that required mediation. CIKOD has used ongoing facilitation and mediation of discussions between the community and the traditional leadership to deal with such conflicts. This work has not always been planned. Organisations such as CIKOD must be flexible in how and when they are available to communities so they can respond as needed and need to be equipped to deal with the fluidity and diversity of views and conflicts that may arise as a result.
  • Companies often use ‘divide and rule’ tactics to weaken communities around mining issues. CIKOD’s endogenous development and BCP approach helped to build a critical mass around a common vision towards the issues. This approach then made it difficult for companies to weaken community ties, because the community was united. The approach was also crucial to Tanchara’s success at delaying gold mining projects.
  • Communities must be prepared for ongoing engagement with companies. In the Tanchara community, the nature of “engagement” with Azumah has fluctuated. At times the community chose not to engage with the company, for example when invitations to company-initiated meetings were given with very short notice. On these occasions, community representatives have asserted their terms of engagement (as set out in their BCP) instead of scrambling to engage with little preparation. They have also set out the company’s obligations under local, regional and international law, including the requirement to engage in genuine and meaningful consultations with communities and to ask for community consent before a project takes place. At other times, the community tried to initiate engagement with the company only to be rejected. Throughout this relationship, the community, with CIKOD’s support, has stood firm on their general demands and the terms upon which they wish to engage. Standing firm has been very important to the success of the Tanchara community in delaying mining activities. Currently, engagements between Azumah and the Tanchara community have reached a deadlock.
  • Supporting the Tanchara community to strengthen its internal representative structures and customs has been crucial to the engagements with external parties. This has also made it easier to effectively mobilise community members to discuss and address issues that arise. Part of CIKOD’s work, as a result of its experiences with the Tanchara community and Azumah, has been to expand its work in strengthening community self-representation to build a network of solidarity and support through a community coalition across the Upper West region.
  • CIKOD has learnt, through its experiences, that community visioning, action plans, CHIAT, the BCP and dialogues are best used in conjunction with the media (including social media) and appropriate press engagement. The use of media readily available to those impacted, such as local community radio, has helped to disseminate information. In turn, access to information has resulted in building wider resistance across the region. In addition, widespread resistance to mining has piqued the interest of international agencies such as the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism to investigate and support the community’s struggles.
  • CIKOD has used a number of innovative ways to obtain information to help strategize. For example, CIKOD was able to get access to information only accessible to Azumah shareholders through a shareholder contact. This additional information supported CIKOD to strategize. In addition, it is important to be mindful of contacts within government agencies and institutions that can help provide information and support the aims and goals of the Tanchara community and the coalition.
  • Working with communities endogenously is a long-term commitment. At the same time, it is important to be conscious of and avoid creating community dependency on NGOs or external agencies. There is a fine, but important, balance to strike between commitment and dependency. CIKOD’s endogenous development work seeks to ensure this balance is reached by empowering community catalysts to lead the work, with CIKOD offering responsive and tailored support as needed.

[1] Tanchara Community Institutional Resource Mapping and Economic Baseline Survey, June, 2007

[2] Guri Yangmaadome, Bernard, Banuoko Faabelangne, Daniel, Kanchebe Derbile, Emmanuel, Hiemstra, Wim and Verschuuren, Bas (2012), “Sacred groves versus gold mines: biocultural community protocols in Ghana” in Biodiversity and culture: exploring community protocols, rights and consent (PLA 65).

[3] This summary is an excerpt of a more detailed summary of the steps undertaken as part of the Tanchara community’s endogenous development process as set out in Guri et al (2012) pp. 121-130.

[4] Stephanie Booker, Jael E. Makagon, Johanna von Braun, with Daniel Banuoku and Hadija Ernst, “Community Protocols: A Bottom Up Approach to Community Participation” Prepared for the 3rd UNITAR-Yale Conference on Environmental Governance and Democracy, 5-7 September 2014, New Haven, USA, 6.;Guri Yangmaadome, Bernard, Banuoko Faabelangne, Daniel, Kanchebe Derbile, Emmanuel, Hiemstra, Wim and Verschuuren, Bas (2012), “Sacred groves versus gold mines: biocultural community protocols in Ghana” in Biodiversity and culture: exploring community protocols, rights and consent (PLA 65), 124.

[5] See Article 16(3); Booker et al, p.6.

[6] Guri et al. 2012, 126.

[7] Guri et al. 2012, 126.

[8] More information on BCPs can be found in the case study by Save Lamu in Chapter 4.

[9] Booker et al, p.8.

February 11, 2016 | Namati Author