Raising her voice- the case of Ms. Joana Manu

Through the gender leadership development and the rights empowerment efforts of the then Wassa Association of Community Affected by Mining, now Wacam, Ms Joanna Manu an indigenous community person with only basic education, emerged as a strong community activist who led the Dumase community and its environs to struggle against the social, environmental and human rights violations that were associated with the surface mining operations of Golden Star Resources. Dumase is a farming community in the Prestea Huni Valley District of Western region of Ghana with many of the peasant farmers living mostly in wattle and daub houses to undertake farming activities on indigenous lands which had been passed on to current land users who felt obliged to protect the legacy of their ancestors. The Dumase community is located between two mining companies – Golden Star Resources, the Prestea Mine and the Bogoso Mine.
Joana showed a lot of potentials in the Dumase area and was more inclined towards organisational work. Thus she planned to contest for the District Assembly Elections. She won on two occasions in the keenly contested elections. As a known activist of Wacam, the mining lobby was against her winning the elections because she had been involved in the campaign against the environmental and social effects of the mining companies. Beyond the regular Wacam training, she was trained to improve her communication and writing skills after which she used the knowledge to support her community struggles. She was key in mobilising women in Dumase to demonstrate against the pollution of their water sources by mining operations on December 12, 2011, where about 200 women in Dumase led by her, embarked on a three-hour peaceful demonstration against Golden Star Resources, to protest against the unreliability of the alternative water supply system provided by the company.
Joana collecting water from the polluted River Aprepre
The Dumase community used to have six streams namely Worawora, Benyaa, Akyesua, Pram, Abodwesi, Nana Nyaboa and Nsuabena which served as their source of drinking water and for
other uses. When Dumase became an active mining area, the sources of all the community drinking streams became active sites for mining. The people of Dumase and its surrounding villages have had to contend with a cyanide spillage from the tailings dam of Bogoso Gold Limited (BGL), a subsidiary of Golden Star Resources, a Canadian/US mining company. The cyanide spillage, which was realised by some community people of Dumase in the early hours of Saturday, 17th of June 2006, affected river Aprepre which flows into River Ankobra, thus making it the second cyanide spillage by BGL into the same river in less than two years. Earlier on there was a cyanide spillage in October 2004 and a second spillage which occurred in 2006. The second cyanide spillage infuriated the Dumase community who have been facing serious water problems resulting from the operations of Bogoso Gold Limited. The operations of BGL have destroyed streams such as Abodwese, Benyaa, Wurawura, Nyaboa and Nana Akyesua. The Dumase community with a population of over three thousand people met its water needs from water supplied by BGL in tankers. Water from Boreholes provided for the community turns blackish when it comes into contact with plantain and cassava. Livelihoods of the community people especially women were badly affected by the operations of BGL. Joana, who understudied her father the late Mr Dei Nkrumah who was an activist of Wacam emerged as a leader of the community women’s group and led the women in their struggle against water pollution in the area.
Joana displaying plantains from her farm
Joana Manu activated her knowledge of the Minerals and Mining Act 2006, (Act 703), which she had become conversant with through Wacam’s training programmes and defended her right to livelihood and to prompt payment of fair and adequate compensation in the event of compulsory acquisition of land for mining as enshrined in the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana. This was when the company arrested her unlawfully for working on her ancestral land when the company had not acquired the land from her lawfully and had not negotiated compensation with her as prescribed in the Minerals and Mining Act. The company entered her farm and destroyed her properties. Ms Joana Manu defended herself in court based on her knowledge of relevant Constitutional provisions and the Minerals and Mining Act and indicated the wrongful entry and occupation of her property by Golden Star Resource Bogoso Prestea Mine. She requested the court to grant her permission to continue her farming activities on her ancestral land. She had judgement in her favour including payment of adequate compensation for the destruction of her crops and an order that restrained the company from entering her property. This landmark legal victory empowered other people in the community to protect their properties and this reduced the impunity of the company. Ms Joana Manu continues to farm on her indigenous land to date. She chose to represent herself in Court and she won her case with BGL. Her arrest, representation and subsequent acquittal and discharge stripped the company of its impunity in the minds of the community people that mining companies were so powerful and above the law.
Not only did the training of Wacam helped Joana in the struggle to protect her land and rights against the big multinational company but the training also prepared her to unearth her
organising and leadership potentials and qualities. Ms Joana Manu demonstrated leadership qualities during her many representations of Wacam at various levels in the country, the regional level up to the Vatican. Her good work had been profiled and recognised at the local and international levels. In recognition of her good work, Oxfam America in 2015 conferred on her the “Right the Wrong” award for exemplary leadership in communities affected by mining.
Joana has this to say “Wacam taught me some important lessons about leadership that helped me to be an effective Organiser. As a leader of the community, I learnt to listen more, to be humble and to understand that as a representative, you must work in the interest of your people.” As a representative, she helped in raising funds for her community towards building a steel bridge across a nearby river. She also assisted in financing a modest community centre by using the funds raised for the concrete works and to purchase lumber and aluminium roofing sheets.
Her election as a representative of the people helped Joana to work hard to justify the confidence that the communities reposed in her. Wacam's training did not only help Ms Joana Manu to defend her own rights and farmland, but also supported her to gain skills in community mobilisation, building campaigns and organising. Her organisational skills became evident when she won the District Assembly elections. She was respected in her communities as one of the key organisers and her lobbying skills at the district assembly gave her the opportunity to make many social interventions for her communities. In her eight years as the representative of her communities, Ms Joana Manu was able to attract the following projects in her catchment areas:
Akokobedieburo: A 6-unit classroom at the District Assembly School which is one of the best schools in the district. Hitherto the school was in a rented apartment. Through her intervention the community had a 12-seater Water Closet and a Borehole.
Kumso: Re-roofing of their school building and the provision of a community centre.
Brakwa Line: Construction of an access route, a clinic and a self-help project nurses quarters in the same community.
Juaben: Construction of a Social centre for the community, construction of a new borehole for the community with polytank, provision of electricity, a self-help Junior High School (JHS) classroom block and a teacher's quarters.
Dumase: Self-help project for Kindergarten and construction of an ongoing portable water system.
Although the story of Ms Joana Manu was not all rosy, Joana emerged as a leader not only in mining communities in Ghana but at the national level. In general, Wacam women participating
Joana Manu at the Vatican
in civil society workshops in Ghana are recognised as very knowledgeable in mining issues and the women are able to engage actively in discussions on technical issues in mineral extraction. Her organisational skills led her to emerge as a member of the Executive Council of Wacam which is the governing body of Wacam to represent community women affected by mining. She organised women’s groups of Wacam with support from Mrs Mary Margaret Owusu (Nee Eshun) and by the year 2019, the team had organised twenty five of such groups.
People like Joana Manu are working in communities affected by mining in Ghana and could be found all over the world fighting for justice and working to overcome poverty. They are committed to their course and work hard against all odds on issues of women, development environment and mining among others. In West Africa, the Ford Foundation has supported women leading organisations at community, national and global levels to undertake research, trainings and sharing experiences in panel conversations on this issue.
Joana contributing in a meeting organised by Ford Foundation