Demolished Ghanaian village wins court decision

By Jerry Mensah-Pah

Ghana's high court in the mining center of Tarkwa has ruled that a mining company must pay 45 villagers to replace their houses, a church, a mosque, and a school illegally destroyed to make way for a gold mine in 1997. The decision awards the villagers more than $900,000.

The villagers, led Nana (chief) Kofi Karikari, successfully claimed in their civil case that Ghana Australia Goldfields, Ltd. unlawfully forced them out of their village and destroyed their buildings. The company, which was later acquired by the AngloGold Ashanti Iduapriem mine, claimed that the village did not exist at the time the mine was established, and the structures were built later in a bid to extract compensation from the company.

"The Nkwantakrom community was able to prove that the village had been on the map of Ghana long before the establishment of Ghana Australia Goldfields in the early '90s," said Daniel Owusu-Koranteng, executive director of WACAM, the environmental and human rights organization that assisted Nkwantakrom in its case. "The community helped the first surveyor of the mine in locating important landmarks such as rivers when the company engaged in reconnaissance surveys. And Nana Kofi Karikari proved that he was made the chief of the community in 1968."

Nana Karikari and the villagers were represented in the high court by the legal aid organization Center for Public Interest Law (known as CEPIL), which with WACAM assists communities affected by mining. Both are partners of Oxfam America.

"Now through a court of competent jurisdiction, the guilty one has been found," Chief Karikari said after the court delivered the verdict. "Today, through WACAM and CEPIL, we have realized we have the right to live."

In addition to ordering the company to pay 4,000 Ghana cedis (US$3,800), the decision by Justice Francis K. Opoku also awarded:

  • 13,000 Ghana cedis (about $12,000 ) to each plaintiff as replacement cost for their demolished buildings;
  • 5,200 Ghana cedis ($5,000) to each plaintiff for lost/destroyed personal property;
  • 2,000 Ghana cedis ($1,900) each for the replacement of the mosque, the church and school;
  • 2,000 Ghana cedis to each of the villagers as relocation allowance.

Although AngloGold Ashanti has expressed its intention to appeal the decision of the high court, Owuso-Koranteng of WACAM said that the villagers of Nkwantakrom were pleased with the result of their 10-year legal case, and that the decision has built their confidence and the confidence of other communities engaged in legal cases against mining companies in Ghana.