James Sarpong is a 63-year-old oil palm farmer in Ghana’s Western Region. He used to have 284 oil palm trees on his eight-acre farm near the village of Teberebie, where he lived with his wife and six children since 1984. I visited his farm two years ago and asked him what it used to be like there when he was younger, raising his family and working his farm. “It used to be lively here,” he said. “We lived as a family, and we had everything; goats, sheep, fowl, everything.” Sarpong had nine rooms amongst three little buildings. He got water from a stream running next to his home, which was surrounded by a deep green forest.
Now Sarpong is living in the office of WACAM, a human rights and environmental organization defending the rights of people affected by mines in Ghana. Last month his home was destroyed by the AngloGold Ashanti mine company after it got a court order evicting him. The company needs his land to store waste rocks from its Iduapriem mine.
There was not much left to destroy at Sarpong’s farm: Huge, grey piles of waste rocks from the open-pit mine had already surrounded it, burying his oil palms and diverting the stream. With no drinking water, he sent his family away to live with relatives while he sought fair compensation for his farm. The mine company, which recently reported quarterly earnings of $167 million, offered him a deal, but like about a dozen other farmers in the area, he rejected it as inadequate and began writing letters to his representatives in the District Assembly in the Western Region, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency. For eight years he has fought for his rights under Ghana’s constitution and its Minerals and Mining Act, which requires companies to provide fair and prompt compensation to those who have their property taken over by mines.
This is just the latest in a series of horrible incidents near Teberebie that have included cyanide spills in nearby streams, and the shooting of one farmer who was walking away from a confrontation between armed guards and farmers trying to pass through part of the mine property to get to their fields.
Daniel Owusu-Koranteng of WACAM says his organization is urging the judiciary to look at training for judges facing similar cases so that they can avoid these types of injustices.
Meanwhile, James Sarpong is homeless but he is part of a legal action against Anglo-Gold. He and other members of the Concerned Farmers’ Association of Teberebie are still fighting for their rights to fair compensation.
AngloGold’s business principles include commitments to “uphold and promote fundamental human rights,” and “productive, respectful and mutually beneficial partnerships in the communities in which we operate.” The company’s recent actions raise serious questions about its commitments to these principles in its relationship with James Sarpong. The Business and Human Rights Resource Center is asking AngloGold for a statement on the matter of James Sarpong’s property.