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Opinions of Sunday, 2 June 2024

Columnist: Nene Dadebom Anim II

The controversial development of Ada Songor Lagoon: Investment or invasion?

Nene Dadebom Anim II Nene Dadebom Anim II

The Songor Lagoon, an important natural resource and source of livelihood for the people of Ada, has been leased to Electrochem Ghana Limited (EGL) for large-scale commercial salt mining.

The news that the Parliament of Ghana ratified three mining lease agreements for the Ada Songor Salt Project surprised many. There had been no public engagement or awareness about this development; even the Members of Parliament (MPs) from Ada only learned of the leasehold on the day it was ratified.

This situation posed a significant challenge for the MPs, who felt it was essential to be the first to know about such a major undertaking in their constituencies. They argued that they should have informed their constituents and gathered their views for a more equitable leasehold.

The terms and conditions of the leasehold threatened the livelihoods of the Ada people, especially those living in areas where salt mining activities are conducted. The private company was granted absolute control over the Songor Lagoon and its adjoining lands, ignoring the interests of the residents whose livelihoods depend on salt mining. There was no clearly documented statement about compensation for the people during the years that the private firm would operate, forcing the people to resist.

At the heart of this conflict is the Ada Traditional Council, whose primary duty is to protect, preserve, and lead their people. Unfortunately, the traditional council endorsed the leasehold even before the community was aware of it. There was no public engagement to gather the views and opinions of the people, and even the community chiefs around the Songor Lagoon were kept in the dark. Ideally, the council should have acted in the best interest of its people, but this was not the case. Before endorsing the questionable leasehold, the council installed the private “investor” as a “development” chief, an action many saw as the start of a troubling period.

The people of Ada faced a similar situation in the 1980s. To resist the monopolization of the Songor Lagoon, a young pregnant woman, Margaret Kuwornu, was tragically killed by a stray bullet during a police raid. This incident prompted Flt. JJ Rawlings, the then Head of State, to introduce PNDC Law 287, which placed the Songor Lagoon in trust for the Ada people. He also commissioned experts from Cuba to explore the privatization of the Songor Lagoon. Among the key recommendations from the “master plan” was that the Songor Lagoon has both economic and ancestral significance to the Ada people, and under no circumstances should the entire lagoon be privatized to a single company to prevent a monopoly.

The contentious takeover of the Songor Lagoon led to violent clashes between the people of Ada and the private “investor” along with his company. Lives were lost, homes were raided, and people were brutalized and detained.

It’s disheartening to realize that while the people were calling for a revision of the leasehold that restricts their ability to mine salt, the Paramount Chief of Ada, Nene Abram Kabu Akuaku III (Nene Ada) and his council members seemed to be serving the interests of the oppressor.

After numerous demonstrations, the people of Ada organized themselves to travel to Accra to submit a petition to the government, calling for revision of the leasehold due to the monopoly established and the relentless brutalities they are enduring at the hands of the “investor” and his associates. This demonstration saw significant attendance and sent a clear message to the government of Ghana.

Surprisingly, Nene Ada and his council members made a courtesy call some days later to the presidency to “thank” the president for granting the Songor Lagoon to the “investor” and asked for state security to protect the business of the “investor”.

This action by the traditional council appeared to undermine the impact of the demonstration, presenting it as inconsequential, even though people were injured, lives were lost, and the brutalization and detention of the Ada people continued.

The Ada Paramountcy’s request and endorsement to President Akufo-Addo to facilitate the takeover of the Songor Lagoon for redevelopment without engaging stakeholders and community members residing around the Songhor Lagoon Basin raises questions about the transparency and accountability of the decision-making process. The silence of the Libi Wornor, the spiritual Head of the Songor Lagoon, and the lack of consultation with local salt miners have fueled suspicions of an invasion rather than an investment.

The takeover has resulted in violence, brutality, and human rights violations, with reports of land guards, police and military personnel using force against communities. The arrest, detention and persecution of protestors, including minors, the killing of Korletey Agormenda, shooting of Bertha Agbovi, a 15-year-old girl and Sampson Agbove who currently has bullet pellets in his body and others have heightened tensions. The police’s response to protests has been met with brutality, leading to recorded deaths and injuries.

The conduct of Electrochem Ghana Limited and the traditional authorities has raised serious concerns about the protection of the rights of the Ada people. The company’s approach has been criticized for not aligning with the Master Plan initiated by the government, and the loopholes and illegalities in the lease agreement have sparked outrage.

The government must ensure that the rights of the Ada people are protected, and their livelihoods are not compromised. The people are calling for a revision of the leasehold to include extensive community engagements and ensure that the project benefits all stakeholders. The traditional authorities must prioritize the rights and interests of their people and ensure that their livelihoods are protected.

The recommendations from the Master Plan for the Songor Lagoon, developed by Cuban experts, should be highly considered. These recommendations include recognizing the lagoon’s economic and cultural significance, preventing its monopolization by a single entity, involving local stakeholders in decision-making, adopting sustainable salt mining practices, establishing a robust legal and regulatory framework, ensuring equitable economic benefit distribution, managing the lagoon in trust for the Ada people, preserving their cultural heritage, and promoting educational programs to raise awareness about its importance.

The international community must pay attention to the developments in the Songor Lagoon and ensure that the rights of the Ada people are protected. The United Nations and other international organizations must hold the government and the company accountable for any human rights violations.

The project must be done in a sustainable and responsible manner, and the environment must be protected. The local population must be involved in the decision-making process, and their concerns must be addressed. They must also play a role in monitoring and ensuring that human rights are upheld throughout this process.

The government, the company, and traditional authorities must work together to address the concerns of the indigenous Ada people and ensure that the development of the Songor Lagoon benefits all stakeholders in a fair and sustainable manner.

By Nene Dadebom Anim II,
Chief of Salom in Ada.