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Women in Ghana Battle a U.S.-Owned Gold Mine for Land and Livelihood

YAA KONADU wasn’t at the farm when the men came to take it away from her.

“Come,” said one of her workers, who called the 74-year-old grandmother at her home in town with the bad news. “Newmont has destroyed the farm.”

By the time Konadu arrived, she says, many of the cocoa trees were ruined. There, waiting for her, was a red notice with a case number—Newmont’s calling card, indicating that the world’s second-largest gold-mining company had come to survey her land and evaluate how much compensation to offer before taking it.

The Colorado-based mining giant had been seizing by fiat most of the farms in the village of Dormaa-Kantinka and surrounding communities to expand the Ahafo gold mine. According to Konadu, an illiterate, outspoken matriarch, Newmont offered her 1,500 Ghanaian cedis, or $343, for her eight acres of farmland that had supported her family for generations—land she’d inherited as a younger woman from her grandmother—and roughly $50 for the small farmhouse. There was no direct negotiation, no due process, she says. Later, at the Newmont Information Center, she accepted the $343 because she felt she had no choice but refused the payment for the house, intent on demanding more adequate compensation.

Six years later, she’s one of dozens of women in the central Brong-Ahafo region of Ghana still fighting to defend themselves, and their rights to the land here, against Newmont and its destructive gold-mining operation.

The burnt-orange hills of Brong-Ahafo are rich with gold. Major U.S. and international companies, along with countless small-scale illegal miners, have plundered the region to fuel a multibillion-dollar global industry. Ghanaians were optimistic when Newmont came in 2004. They hoped Africa’s second-largest gold producer would deliver lucrative jobs. It did for some, but at enormous cost for many: Thousands of residents—some of them locals who have lived here for generations, others who came more recently to farm—have been displaced by Newmont and its open-pit, cyanide-processing mine.

“I had independence. I wanted to build rooms for my grandchildren,” Konadu says, sitting in front of her friend’s blue-tiled shop just a five-minute drive from her land. She is now farming in a different community, on land that someone offered for free to help support her family.

Before Newmont laid claim to her farmland, Konadu could use it as collateral to get loans. “I was proud of what I could do with that,” she says. The crops provided a steady source of income in a region plagued by crippling poverty, where running water and indoor plumbing are seen as luxuries and job security is scarce.

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