I have chosen to recount in detail, the brutal impact that illegal mining is having on ancient Kyebi and the destruction of its ‘history and heritage’. The ancient woodlands, wildlife and historical assets which constitute the principal surviving evidence of Akyem Abuakwa’s historical past is a microcosm of the country as a whole. We are a nation of ‘heritage and history’. The mining of our towns must respect our heritage and historical past. The evidence is one of an escalation of illegal activities and uncontrolled destruction. Gold is now derived out of suffering and death, as well as out of the destruction of our natural environment. This is termed as ‘Conflict Gold’.
This article is inspired by the dubious notion of injustice and cruelty meted out to rural communities. The Town Planning movement started as a movement for social reform. It was principally set up to eradicate the hardships of the underclass and to protect the poor from the rich. It was also about improving the living conditions of all citizens and not only those who reside in urban communities. Rural communities such as ancient Kyebi tend to suffer more because of their subjection to economic inequality, which tends to ensure that they are less powerful and less organised to fight illegal mining within their communities.
The criteria for assessing the suitability of mining sites in any ‘heritage and historic’ town must be based on proportionality – a matter of balance. ‘Heritage and History’ defines us and protecting these precious assets secures our future. ‘Heritage and history’ once lost can never be regained. The benefits of a mining site must be weighed against the substantial benefits to the community. The key test is whether the benefits that will accrue from the mining activity outweigh our ‘heritage and history’.
The fundamental aim of protecting the natural heritage and historic towns of Okyeman is a duty and a matter of public interest. The principal legacy of Kyebi is one inherited from past generations. Generations of men and women who fought against oppression and died for a noble cause. The forest of Kwaebiribirim holds the secrets to Okyeman. Our soul as a people is imbedded in the river valleys of the Birim. The preservation and protection of our heritage is therefore a sacred duty. It remains a legitimate objective against which the demands of illegal mining for ‘Conflict Gold’ must be balanced and fully assessed.
Ancient Kyebi is where the mortal remains of JB Danquah and other national leaders such as Nana Sir Ofori Atta, Kwame Kissi Adu, and William Ofori Atta (Paa Willie) – just to mention a few- are buried. As one of the ‘big six’ JB Danquah died in detention without trial, utterly humiliated, but still an undaunted fighter for “freedom” for his nation, for human rights and civil liberties for his countrymen. His remains are in a simple grave at the Presbyterian Church cemetery in Kyebi. He and his compatriots represent our nation’s willingness to fight oppression and dictatorship. They symbolise a nation’s fight for freedom. The cemetery where he is buried in ancient Kyebi represents a heritage asset for the nation and for Okyeman. Its preservation and enhancement is a legitimate action.
My re-visit to ancient Kyebi
I revisited Kyebi in April 2012. What I witnessed during my site visit shocked me more so than the first visit In April 2010. There was talk of ‘Galamsay’ during my first visit. However during my second visit, they were being referred to as ‘insurgents’. There is an escalation by these insurgents and their warlords in illegal mining activities in the historic town. The River Birim which flows through the town is the main source of drinking water and also provides energy for the rural agricultural economy. The river appeared poisoned and the evidence of river pollution was beyond doubt. The pollution appeared to come from a mixture of mercury and dangerous chemicals such as arsenic oxide used for extracting the gold.
The landscape looked like a battleground. Ancient woodland trees which are a valuable resource for wildlife had been wilfully topped, felled and destroyed; the unique biodiversity and wildlife such as the rare butterfly colonies which adds to the rich fauna and flora of the Kwaebiribirim forest have been exterminated. The blanket destruction of ancient woodland trees have now led to tree diseases on the existing stock, encroachment and damage of livestock and their grazing grounds, large-scale dumping of refuse, vandalism, and arson. Schools in the township have now stopped children from carrying out any form of outdoor activities to avoid death or injury around open cast mines created by these mining activities. Death has occurred in open pits at the historical educational institution known as ‘Abuakwa State College’. Others point to cracks on their buildings and attribute them to the open cast mines near their homes.
The huge open cast mines were like craters formed by alien UFO’s. They were huge and wide with sand banks surrounding the crater. Some had been filled with rain water and looked like poisoned death traps. The signs of aridity and soil erosion were very pronounced. This explains why there is an increasing amount of flooding in the township. There was evidence of sedimentation in parts of River Birim. The discoloration of the river water will suggest that the river was moving more sediments than was considered acceptable. Overall, what I saw will suggest an environmental catastrophe in the near future if this illegal activity is not contained and dealt with. Looking at ancient Kyebi now, it is obvious that the profits from the sale of the ‘conflict gold’ have not been reinvested in the historic town and its environs. My evidence was that this illegal activity had physically worn out the town.
Town Planning Strategies for the future
In order to strengthen our resilience to illegal mining in Ancient Kyebi, one approach is that Town Planners must be given the opportunity to develop strategies to deal with the effects of illegal mining. Town planning is necessary because the region is developing at a speed and manner that overtakes the capacity of our institutions particularly in our rural communities to control growth. We must not forget that the true object of democracy is the creation of a genuinely free society in which the primary duty of the state is the protection and extension of individual liberty. Unless the state acts to protect the poor and the weak, the rich and powerful simply exploit the former in the name of freedom.
Ghana is a signatory to the Rio Earth Summit and therefore has international commitments to its rural communities. The Rio Summit introduced the concept of sustainable development and brought it into prominence. Sustainable development is defined as “development that meets the need of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”.
Ghana signed and ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992 and is therefore under obligation to develop a national strategy for the sustainable use of the country’s biological resources. The entire country falls within three main bio geographical zones, namely: the south western portion within the Guineo-Congolian zone, the middle belt within the Guineo-Congolian/Sudanian Transition zone, while the northern-tip of the country falls within the Sudanian zone.
Despite the lack of information on the full coverage of the biological resources of the country in such areas as the marine and other aquatic ecosystems, so far, about 2,974 indigenous plant species, 504 fishes, 728 birds, 225 mammals, 221 species of amphibians and reptiles have been recorded. Three species of frogs, lizard, and 23 species of butterflies have been reported to be endemic.
Providing protection to the ancient woodland forest of Kwaebiribirim, the magic forest of Atewa- Atwirebi, and Bunso Arboretum to mention a few is of strategic importance and will contribute in creating a buffer against which the habitats of globally threatened species such as Mahogany, Emire, Odum and Wawa trees, butterfly sanctuaries and wildlife are protected and allowed to flourish.
Strategies such as Conservation Area Status, Tree Preservation Orders (TPO’s), and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) can be used to protect ancient woodlands, species habitats, wildlife habitats and the township of Kyebi. The criteria for protection will depend on the potential threat, archaeological significance, ancient monuments, origins of the area, buildings of historic interest, and areas of high environmental quality.
Conservation Areas have been used successfully to protect Jamestown in Accra (Capital of Ghana) for its historical and architectural importance. The Conservation Area status has generated foreign investment in Jamestown to protect its ancient buildings and historical assets which are vestiges of the colonial era. Kakum National Park in the Central Region of Ghana has benefited from its designation as an SSSI and TPO’s have been used to protect its trees from felling.
As in the case of, or similar to Jamestown, a network of Green Corridors can be used to restore ancient Kyebi’s woodlands, open cast sites and the Birim river valleys destroyed by the miners. Providing them a designation status will protect the designated sites and creating stepping stones for the movement of wildlife from one habitat to another and thus help to ensure the maintenance of the current range and diversity of the fauna and flora and the survival of species. If the soils in the Green Corridors are still intact and the site was left untouched the original ground flora would likely regenerate and in time the site would succeed in getting back to its ancient woodland reality, potentially providing valuable habitats in the process. However, this strategy requires the right level of commitment to its future management and maintenance.
The benefit of preserving ancient Kyebi’s cultural heritage and rich natural environment far outweighs those sites being mined for ‘conflict Gold’. Preserving heritage is in the Public interest. Mining for Conflict Gold in Ancient Kyebi serves only the private interest. Restoration of the damaged ancient woodlands would help secure a better long-term future for the damaged land.
Okyeman must have a growth strategy as an integral part of its Town Planning efforts. At the heart of this planning strategy must be the desire to protect and enhance the special character of ancient Kyebi regardless of the wealth beneath the ground. Natural resources, ‘history and heritage’ must be developed, protected and preserved for the benefit of the many and not merely for the profit of a few.
Ernest Addae-Bosompra is a Town Planner in the UK.
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