The first time I met Emelia Amoateng she introduced me to the members of the Teberebie Concerned Farmers’ Association. The farmers had recently been moved off their land by the Iduapriem gold mine, and were contesting the compensation they were offered by the company. “According to our law, no one should take anything away from you by force, but that is what happened here in Teberebie,” she said to me.
Teberebie’s fields are now buried under massive piles of grey waste rock. The farmers live in modest concrete homes the company built, and have to walk long distances (15 kilometers round trip) to their new fields where they grow oil palms, cocoa, pineapples, and other crops in the rich tropical soil. They live close enough to the mining operation that their homes crack from the blasting in the mine pit, but few of the people have been able to secure employment there.
When I first went to Teberebie in 2007, Amoateng and the others in the Association were in the early stages of what has become a 10-year legal battle. With help from Oxfam’s partners the Center for Public Interest Law and the human rights and environmental group Wacam, the farmers maintained their struggle, despite having little income as the case dragged slowly through the courts.
The case is now on the verge of being settled in court-ordered arbitration, so it is particularly tragic that Amoateng, 38, passed away earlier this month. Despite chronic asthma, she was an inspiring and dedicated leader, tirelessly defending the rights of her neighbors when innocent community members were shot by police, and documenting chemical spills so the community could get appropriate compensation for damages. When the proper authorities failed to do their duty to protect the lives, livelihoods, and property of her community, Amoateng reached out to the media and led demonstrations to call attention to the injustices being perpetrated against Teberebie. She did all this while taking classes to finish her secondary education, and raising two children.
“Our constitution says that if someone comes for your farm, they should negotiate and compensate you before they carry out a project,” she told me, showing me her copy of Ghana’s 2006 Minerals and Mining Act. Her training helped her hold the government and AngoGold Ashanti Mining company accountable for their actions.
I found out that Emelia passed away last week when I was in Senegal, driving from the eastern region Tambacounda back to Dakar. We stopped for lunch and I took advantage of a wi-fi connection to get my email, and I read a statement from Daniel Owusu-Koranteng, one of the founders of Wacam: “Emelia Amoateng, the great warrior of Teberebie and an icon of Wacam, has gone the way of all mortals. She died carrying high the resolve of Wacam to fight against irresponsible mining.”