Why Ghana’s Attorney-General Is Urging A High Court to Dismiss China-Backed Bauxite Case

Street sign showing bauxite in atewa ghana
Credit: My Joy Online

Recently, Zimbabwe’s government heeded to incessant environmental civil society organization concerns by quickly banning mining in the Hwang and other public parks. Some Africans, therefore, held high hopes that this single decisive act on the part of President Mnangagwa’s government can inspire other African countries to act in similar vain to protect Africa’s environment and natural resources. But Ghana’s recent move in the Atewa Forest debate gives us a vivid and different perspective on how African governments respond to environmental concerns surrounding Chinese natural resource extraction activities on the continent. 

According to Myjoyonline News, Ghana’s Attorney-General has prayed an Accra High Court to dismiss the petition of seven Ghanaian Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and four persons who sued the government over alleged mining of bauxite in the Atewa Forest Range. Describing the actions of the CSOs as “merely crying wolf,” Mrs. Dorothy Afriyie Ansah, Chief State Attorney on behalf of the AG, denied that “the government had started searching or prospecting for minerals on or over land within the Atewa Forest Range without a mineral right and in flagrant abuse of the Mineral and Mining Act,” Joy News reported. 

The defense statement held that the government engaged communities and environmentalists who maintained that mining was not sustainable. The statement also revealed that government would only utilize a portion of the Atewa Forest and therefore licensed an area constituting 1.95 percent of the Atewa Forest to be mined. “Indeed, the actual mining in such a minute fraction of the area will not be hazardous to the forest and any species that live within… not the entire Atewa Forest is a Globally Significant Biodiversity Area (GSBA),” the AG said. 

Assuring of the government’s responsible and environmentally friendly techniques in the Atewa Forest, the AG went on to  state that “indeed, various institutions, including the Environmental Protection Agency and GIADEC, would ensure the protection of the environment through sustainable mining practices.”

The Attorney-General defendant in the lawsuit is also reported by Joy News to have indicated  that “government in ensuring the protection of the environment and spices, had set up a Standing Committee, which comprised various mining and environmental regulatory agencies and commissions to ensure optimum adherence to responsible and sustainable practices, to protect water bodies and spices within the mining area.” 

Arguing further, the AG Cited Brazil and Australia as countries that have “successfully conducted mining activities in forest reserves such as the Amazon Rain Forest and Jarah Forest under well-supervised sustainable mining practices.”

The Lawsuit

Early this year, seven Civil society organizations and four citizens sued the Ghanaian government over the exploration and drilling of deep wells in the Atewa Forest Reserve. The CSOs include A Rocha Ghana, Flower Ghana, Concern Citizens of Atewa Landscape, Ghana Youth Environmental Movement, Ecocare Ghana, Kasa Initiative Ghana, and Save the Frogs Ghana. Awula Serwah, Oteng Adjei, Boakye Twumasi- Ankrah, and Nana Asante were the private citizens involved. 

These CSOs and private citizens were urging the court to declare that the government’s 2017 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) allowed the Republic of China to use the Atewa Range forest as one of the sources of bauxite as unconstitutional.  

“The plaintiffs, in their writ, are seeking an order compelling the Government and its agents to declare the Atewa Range Forest (ARF) as a “Protected Zone” and take steps to protect the forest in accordance with its constitutional obligation, as contained under Article 36 (9) of the 1992 Constitution,” JoyNews reported. 

The group emphasized that “the government has a greater responsibility to protect and safeguard the environment and address Climate Change, and secure biodiversity as obligated under two international conventions that it is a signatory to.”

The Controversial China-Ghana Atewa Bauxite Deal

In 2018, Ghana signed a very controversial memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Beijing. Per tenants of the agreement in the deal, Beijing will finance $2 billion worth of railroad and bridge networks, and, in exchange, China will be granted access to 5% of Ghana’s bauxite reserves. The Atewa Range Forest was part of the proposed mining area. 

Like the Hwange case in Zimbabwe, the Atewa forest license drew criticism from environmental activists, political opposition, and international government investment partners. 

Elizabeth Stephens, managing director at Geopolitical Risk Advisory, told CNBC that “there are concerns that this bauxite mine, in the mountainous forestland of Atewa, could pollute three major rivers that originate there — the Densu, Birim, and Ayensu — which provide drinking water to three regions of Ghana, including one million people in Accra. The fact that detailed environmental impact studies are not publicly available is a concern.”

Over 260 environmental organizations from across the world petitioned the Chinese Ministry of Commerce not to include the Atewa Forest mining project and other similar projects that directly impact local environments, communities, and livelihoods when disbursing funds under its Covid-19 financial support.

Another petition by American Bird Conversancy, GUYRA Paraguay, Synchronicity Earth, WWF, and SRK Consulting, all international conservationist groups, stated that “despite the government’s assertions, bauxite mining would forever destroy the Atewa forest, leaving extinct species and dried up water sources in it.”

In that petition in 2019, the group declared that “it is still not too late for the government to stop this disastrous mine in its tracks and instead champion Ghana’s incredibly rich natural heritage and the interests of the five million Ghanaians who depend on Atewa Forest for their water.”

Some Interesting Dynamics

Zimbabwe’s government succumbed to environmental activist concerns including court actions and has since halted mining concessions granted to China in its Hwang park. 

On the other hand, Ghana’s government remained adamant to similar concerns and went ahead to give out mining concessions in the Atewa Forest to China, openly calling for the dismissal of a Court case. 

Guinea is Africa’s leading bauxite producer, holding some of the world’s richest bauxite and iron ore deposits. In 2017, Beijing signed an MOU with Guinea for $20 billion over almost 20 years in exchange for concessions on bauxite, an ore of aluminum that the West African country has in abundance.  

Lamenting how Bauxite mining is threatening wildlife and livelihood in Guinea, Lamarana Camara said “the chimpanzees have disappeared in tandem with the declining living conditions for villagers in Kintao Kawil…the water is not drinkable…we had easy access to water, but since they started production the streams are all full of mud and gravel, ” Mongabay reported. In short, suffice to say that, Chinese Bauxite mining activities in Guinea seem to have been accepted by the government. 

And the list goes on…

 What are the factors shaping African governments’ responses towards similar environmental and biodiversity concerns surrounding Chinese mining activities?

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