A PEOPLE'S STRUGGLE AROUND THE ADA SONGOR LAGOON



INTRODUCTION:
Atsiakpo, a major threat to the lagoon
A handful of people are wrecking unimaginable havoc on the Ada Songor Lagoon with associated devastating environmental consequences.
The Lagoon produces a greater part of salt consumed in Ghana and in many Western African states including Togo.
Small scale salt winners have long been engaged in a struggle to conserve and protect the lagoon as a collective ownership.

A monument for Margaret
On 17th May 1985 armed policemen acting in concert with a private company raided Bonikope, a community along the Songor Lagoon killing Margaret Kowornu, a pregnant woman in the process.
Vacuum Salt Products Limited had alleged at the time that the inhabitants of the area had encroached on their portion of the lagoon allocated to them by the government.
A monument has been erected in memory of Margaret. The locals explain that that monument serves as an embodiment of their collective aspirations and imbibes in them a zeal to fight in defense of their heritage and the Songor lagoon.
duketagoe.blogspot.com has interviewed small scale salt winners and some of the indigenes around the Ada Songor Lagoon. Please read below what the people had to say!

Albert Apertorgbor
Albert Apertorgbor
“ Sometime in the year 2011 representatives from the Minerals Commission, Attorney General’s Department, the office of the Chief Justice and the Private Enterprises Foundation attempted to relocate communities and indigenous people along the Songor Lagoon because the government was bringing in some strategic investors to take over the lagoon. They promised to give us alternative livelihood in farming and animal rearing and those who were interested in fish farming would be moved to settle along the Volta River. We resisted the move and told them that if animal rearing and crop farming were that lucrative, why would the strategic investor not apply his strategy in those areas, but would seek to relocate a whole community in their thousands from a place they have lived since time immemorial? They then decided to to apply divide and rule tactics by meeting the (Adeibiame, Lomobiaw, Tekper Biawe and the Dangbebiawe) clans one after the other hoping that if one of them agreed to their proposals, it would be used as a reason to forcefully move out the other clans. We then asked for their project proposal document so we could make an input, but they said it was being prepared. To their surprise we showed them a copy of the document and they were greatly embarrassed. Never before in my life have I seen a government so willing to create the conditions that will impoverish its people and create such pain and bitterness. This move must be stopped immediately because it is a shame”

Dr Yao Graham
Dr Yao Graham
“The ecological problem here is that the salt level in the Songor Lagoon is dropping because there is a sand bar which is preventing the brine of the sea from flowing into the lagoon. The political and economic part of the problem is that the government believes in large scale foreign investment as the strategy for the mining sector so even in places where an economic activity like salt wining can thrive, they still find a way of bringing in some private investors to take over these activities. Only yesterday police attacked a community along the Keta Lagoon precisely because of an area given to large scale salt winning without any appropriate social and environmental impact assessment. TWN has been working in the area of mining for some time and the evidence does not support the claim that large scale foreign investment is a panacea for under-development. When the Ghanaian farmers started developing cocoa in the 19th century, the common believe was that cocoa cannot be produced on a small scale because the existing pattern at the time was large scale but these farmers transformed how cocoa was produced. If the salt industry is backed by proper public policy there could be a place for large and small scale miners to exist and  public policy should facilitate that. Unfortunately the policy now assumes that small scale is bad and must be expelled and that is the predicament of the small scale salt industry in the today”


David Glie Amartey
David Glie Amartey
 “The Songor is an amazing natural resource in this country. When it rains and the Songor is full, we have a lot of fish in there and the fish die naturally by themselves when the salt level rises. You can see the salt, beautifully forming under the water.  The local people then form guards who prevent salt wining for about two or three months in order to allow the salt to mature before they are collected. The guards are not paid but are allowed to win salt as compensation. There is a shrine called Libi Wornor who would pray before a date is set for salt wining. After this ceremony, people come from the Northern Regions, Cote d’I voire, Togo and Accra to win salt for domestic consumption and in some instances for leisure. A natural tourism was created around here. The introduction of Atisiakpo about ten years ago has destroyed all that and we feel bitter that this crime is being committed sometimes with the collaboration of some government functionaries and traditional rulers. We have not had any piece of mind since this system of “Atsiakpo” was introduced and we pray that something is done about it before long.”

Jane Ocansey
Jane Ocansey
“The Songor was a resource collectively owned by everyone  in this area, but a few people are trying to claim ownership through the system of “Atsiakpo”. We used to make a livelihood out of salt winning and it was by that we took care of our children but all of that has changed. We are protesting vehemently against this marginalisation and the impoverishment of the women in this area."

Theophilus Agbakla
Theophilus Agbakla
“Songor used to be the main source of fishing until businessmen came in and started drawing water out of the Songor into man made dykes or dams to produce salt. Agricultural lands were taken over in this process and this affected tomato and other crop farmers. As a result of this pull of water from the Songor and the dumping of harvested salt onto the mainland, our soils have become salty and cannot produce any more food. When you till the land you must create aerobic conditions for living organisms to thrive, but they have all been killed. We are calling for the abolition of the dykes or “Atsiakpo” as we refer to them here. As of now the dykes are fast spreading to other coastal communities like Lolonya, part of Goi, Kportekope and Kablevo. One other challenge is that because the chiefs collude and connive in this business they are also protesting against calls for the destruction of the dykes. As of now the quest for survival has compelled us to work for the owners of the dykes or dams for fifty pesewas (50p) for every bowl of salt wined.

Aaron Larweh Hushie
Aaron Larweh Hushie
“I have worked with the local people of this area to prevent the privatization of the Ada Songor Lagoon for more than twenty years and our plea is for the government to put in  place a better policy that works in the interest of all the people. All we need is for the sandbar that divides the sea and the lagoon to be broken in order that the lagoon can be replenished with the sea water it needs to produce salt. If this is not done, what will happen is that some so-called strategic investor  will create a reserve of cheap labour of the inhabitants of this area.  As time goes by, the quantity of salt water that is needed in the lagoon to produce salt has diminished, but the people have to survive and there is no way for them to break the sand bar. The people have come to learn the technology of salt crystallization and that has contributed to the phenomenon of “Atsiakpor”. The removal of the sandbar is a major work that the government can do and that is why we are elated that the National Coalition on Mining has brought all of you from around the country to add your voices to the call on the government to help remove the sandbar.”

Doris Mensah
Doris Mensah
"The damage done by the few people who've dug dams around Songoor Lagoon is most frightening and it is necessary that the district authorities outlaw that phenomenon. There used to be a lot of fish in the Songoor Lagoon but because of the “Atsiakpo” system of Salt wining the water has run out of the lagoon. The other problem is that there is a piece of land that has formed a sand bar between the Sea and the Lagoon and this sand bar is preventing sea water from moving into the lagoon and as a result the water levels in the lagoon are dropping very fast and is affecting the economic life of the people."

Mary Okuteye
Mary Akuteye
“Many years ago, the administration of Jerry Rawling under the PNDC brought in some Cuban experts who developed a Master Plan to facilitate how the Songor as a resource must be managed to serve the needs of everyone in this community but the Cubans left and the Master Plan they developed was never implemented. Rather, what they are seeking to do is to relocate the communities around the lagoon for private investors to take over. This will never happen because we also know how to do business. It is the failure of the successive governments to implement the Master Plan of the Cubans that has led to this system of “Atsiakpo” where a few people are making money and are destroying our lands in the process.

Isaac Narh
Isaac Narh
“About thirty years ago, a strategic investor was brought here and quickly took some concession of land to produce salt. He was given just a portion, but soon decided to grab the whole stretch of the lagoon and restricted access to it by the local people. This was disgusting and it became a huge conflict between the indigenous people and the company. The company then called in the police who raided the community in a most barbarous manner and shot Margaret, a pregnant woman in the process. In a show of solidarity with the local people, Jerry Rawlings flew in with a helicopter and took the dead corpse to Accra and later brought it back for burial. Rawlings brought in some Cubans in 1993 and drew up a Master Plan for the development of the lagoon and the creation of bigger dykes so that both private business people and the indigenous could win salt without any disturbances but that plan was never implemented. We believe that if the government can step in and remove the sand bar that has been created between the sea and the lagoon water will flow into the lagoon and into the artificial dykes which the private people have dug out here and there will be peace. In fact, this will remove the threat of the expropriation of the Songor Lagoon by a few people”

Francis Sosu
Francis Sosu
“We are fishermen, but also salt winers from Ketu-Keta invited to this forum by the National Coalition on Mining here at Ada and our experiences and daily struggles are not so different from that of our brothers we met here today. We are fishermen, but salt winers too. The months of October, November and December is the season when salt is formed in the lagoon and we desperately rely on this as a source of income. Only recently, some white men have come to Aduana in the Ketu South and have formed a company by name Kensington Industries Limited and have unlawfully acquired lands which belong to the local people in what we consider as an encroachment of our liberties and an unjustifiable aggression on the livelihoods of the people. The company has virtually taken over the whole township and they terrorize the people by pouring sand on the salt they have harvested. When the people resist, they bring in the soldiers who beat up the people. As a result of the clashes that occurred yesterday, five people have been shot and one is reported dead.”

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