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When Emilia Amoateng saw that her neighbor Anthony Baidoo, a 47-year-old farmer, had been shot, she knew she had to get the word out so he could get the help he needed.
She was also furious. "This should not happen to us," she said later, referring to the residents of her village of Teberebie, which had been relocated to accommodate a new mining operation in the area. "What did we do wrong?"
Mr. Baidoo had been walking away from a confrontation between farmers and a military force when he was wounded. The protest arose after the military began blocking a road the farmers used to travel to their fields where they grow cocoa and palm trees, yams, cassava, and other fruits and vegetables. Having recently been denied this route through the mine property, and tired of the alternative—a longer, 12-mile round trip on foot—the entire town turned out in February 2006 to demand access to the road. Baidoo and one other man were shot, and several people were beaten.
Amoateng immediately called WACAM, the environmental and human rights organization partly funded by Oxfam that had trained her and others in the community. "I reported that Anthony had been shot, and was lying in his own blood," she said. After WACAM's director Daniel Owusu-Koranteng called the head of the AngloGold Ashanti mine company, Baidoo got the medical care he needed to survive at the company's expense. After recovering for eight months in the hospital he is now disabled.
Teberebie is a farming community in the Wassa West District of Ghana's Western Region. The community was resettled in 1991 to make room for the AngloGold Ashanti, Iduapriem Mine, which is now producing over 300,000 ounces of gold per year. It is just one of many scenes of violence over the last several years, as Ghana has thrown open its doors to foreign companies and relaxed its rules on investment to encourage more mining. The shootings in Teberebie were just two of 15 reported by the BBC in 2005 and 2006.
Amoateng is now a leader of the Concerned Farmers' Association of Teberebie, which consists of 35 farmers who have worked with WACAM to learn about their human rights under Ghana's constitution and Minerals and Mining Act. She is leading this group in a legal case against AngloGold, alleging non-payment of compensation for their lost farms, which are now buried under piles of waste rock.
Amoateng, 30, said she is now more aware of how the government and mining companies in the area are violating the rights of people in her community—and what to do about it. "Because of WACAM, I now know where to go and who to contact in case of any problem in the community," she said. Her recent activities have included leading a march to the nearby town of Tarkwa, where radio, television, and newspaper journalists interviewed her about the situation facing farmers in Teberebie.
In Ghana, as in many other countries in Africa and other parts of the world, women do not usually lead political struggles. Speaking out publicly is simply out of the question for most women in communities affected by mining in Ghana. Men are normally perceived as the voices of the community. But with the right training and personal ambition, women like Amoateng are showing they are strong leaders.
To more effectively represent her community, Amoateng is presently studying to finish high school and prepare for university. She aspires to be a lawyer and an advocate for women and children.
Her concerns center on basic justice for Teberebie. "The 1992 constitution and the Minerals and Mining Act are my closest friends now," Amoateng said. "I don't want the mining company to cheat my community. And I know my rights as a citizen living in a mining community."
Amoateng's work is a good example of how WACAM uses education as a tool to empower mining communities in their struggle to improve their living conditions. Her training with WACAM has strengthened her community as well as her own ability to represent her neighbors. "This has made me very powerful in the sight of both the mining company, and the men in my community," she said. "I am proud of myself."
Jerry Mensah-Pah is a radio and newspaper journalist based in Tarkwa, Ghana, and has been covering human rights violations related to communities affected by mining for four years. He works for WACAM in the Western Region of Ghana as its assistant programs officer.