Persistence pays off

Holy Kofi Ahiabu
Article as analysis
In 2019, Alliance Sud reported in its magazine “global” on the Swiss agricultural firm GADCO in Ghana. Those in charge rejected the portrayal. Guest author Holy Kofi Ahiabu, the Ghanaian employee of Alliance Suds Kristina Lanz, faced intimidation.

Since 2014 I have worked on several studies conducted by Kristina Lanz into the impacts of land acquisition by GADCO on villages in the Volta region of southern Ghana. The findings of our work were discussed on several occasions with villagers, company representatives and representatives of local authorities at public meetings. People complained, among other things, that GADCO had tricked them out of their farmlands without proper compensation, fish ponds and drinking water springs had been destroyed, access to firewood cut off, access roads blocked and that rural dwellers who protested against the loss of their farmlands were experiencing harassment.

Our goal had always been to find solutions to the problems uncovered by our research. Even after concluding the research I visited the communities frequently to see and hear how things had changed – mostly for the worse, unfortunately. Together with a colleague from Bread for All, Kristina Lanz eventually contacted the Swiss owners of GADCO. Considering that many problems cannot be resolved in the short-to-medium term, we decided to ask the GADCO CEO for a bridge to be erected over the canal that the firm had built. Without such a bridge, the Kpevikpo village remained isolated from neighbouring communities. When there was water in the canal, children could no longer go to school, women could not get to the market, and people were cut off from social services or unable to attend meetings.

The GADCO CEO finally agreed to participate in a community meeting that I organised in Kpevikpo. On the appointed day he was supposed to fetch me in the nearby town of Sogakofe so that I could take him to the meeting. Instead of being taken to Kpevikpo however, I was driven to the GADCO office. To my surprise, waiting there were several representatives of the traditional village authorities who had made common cause with GADCO. I was berated as the manipulator behind Kristina Lanz’s “global” article and vilified for my role in the research work. Kristina for her part received a letter from the Chiefs discrediting our research and threatening us both with legal action.

After that encounter, we still proceeded to the community meeting along with the Chiefs. There, the GADCO CEO finally agreed to the erection of the bridge and promised to provide every household in Kpevikpo with solar panels. As an advocate of sustainable community development, I have since tried to make sure that the promises did not remain mere empty words. After many emails and some back-and-forth it finally happened – in July 2020 the bridge was built. The people are still awaiting the promised solar panels, however.

My top priority is still to militate for positive changes. I will continue to pursue that goal, even though it is not always easy. I am exposed to the risk of intimidation and, as a private individual not affiliated to any organisation, nor am I being paid – apart from temporary support received from Switzerland.

Holy Kofi Ahiabu is a research assistant and activist for sustainable community development in Sogakofe in Ghana’s Volta region.