Friends of the Bui Watershed
Thank you for signing up for the ‘Friends of the Bui Watershed’ newsletter. In this first newsletter I will cover the basics of what is happening in the area around Bui Hydroelectric Dam and tell you what ‘Friends of the Bui Watershed’ is all about.
I was originally sent to Ghana by UVIC’s Anthropology Department to provide video documentation of a number of communities being relocated by the Bui Hydroelectric Dam and provide support on some archaeological excavations in the area. It was the intention that the video would be used for local historical purposes as well as to enable the voices of the people to be heard by local and national governments in the country. Frankly, the news of the dam has had little reach in the major urban centers of Ghana, let alone the rest of the world. The people in the soon to be flooded area know even less. The general lack of transparency in all dealings surrounding the dam construction is frightening. After spending many months there it became clear that none of the villagers know anything about their relocation beyond some vague, but nonetheless scary details:
1) They won’t be located near the river, a major part of their economic and spiritual landscape for centuries.
2) The new village site will likely house a number of the relocated villages including those that do not speak the same first language and are of different ethnic groups.
3) The people will be forced to accept new models of property ownership (They will no longer have communal lands and will instead be given much smaller fee simple plots that will likely be divided generationally).
4) Along with new forms of property ownership they are being encouraged to cease rotational farming practices and instead begin using expensive and dangerous chemical fertilizers.
5) The appeal process was not implemented in a legal manner. The letter informing them of the appeal process arrived six months past the date for appeal and was written in a language they could not read.
6) Many younger generations will be left without property. There was a building ban in place for years. Many young people who had the resources to build their own home and start families were told they couldn’t build. When the relocation strategists came along (a third party firm from Britain) they only planned to compensate the houses standing there already. Houses equals access to property title at the new site. Without homes many of these young people will have no land to grow food.
The government’s relocation strategy is shaping up to be a disaster.
Other villages downstream from the dam are not being relocated and face their own unique problems. They confront increasing health risks due to environmental contamination. The Ewe village of Gblakame is the first village downstream from the dam. Its citizens have been suffering from chronic diarrhea, dysentry, and other illnesses since the construction began. This is likely due to the poisoning of the water with industrial contaminants as well as raw sewage waste from immigrant labor camps at the dam site. Not only is this hurting the people on a direct level, it is also killing their main supply of food and income: fish.
During my interviews, many in the village recalled an event in which the children of the village came back from playing in the river. They informed the adults in the community that hundreds of fish were floating on the surface of the river. A young man and father of six described the sensational events that followed:
“Because of the scarcity of the fish at the time the adults went down to the river with their boats. We went down to gather them. We hoped we’d at least find something we could use. When we were on the river picking up the fish from the surface the police arrived. They claimed that we were the people that poisoned the river as a way to illegally catch the fish. They said it was us and they took our canoes away. It was due to the poisoning that we no longer have our canoes. Yes, the river is not the same.”
The people of Gblakame are just scraping by. Half of the community’s canoes were confiscated and the cost of replacement for each canoe is nearly a year’s salary. They live without access to clean water and face increasing economic difficulties. One of the first goals of ‘Friends of the Bui Watershed’ is to raise enough funds to provide the town with a clean source of drinking water.
‘Friends of the Bui Watershed’ has taken a diverse approach to documentary. While in Ghana I tried to branch out and cover as much ground as possible though different media. I recorded many local songs, which with the permission of the musicians will be included on an album that is nearly mixed. The disc and digital release will be used to raise funds for a number of local causes like a drinking well for Gblakame. After finishing shooting for the video project I returned to complete a series of portraits of the people of Bui standing in the river that has been such an important feature of their lives for generations. The series is called ‘Sena’, which is the local Nafaanra word for ‘Where’. The next newsletter will focus more on the different media projects, so stay tuned.
The primary goal of ‘Friends of the Bui Watershed’ is to raise awareness through the distribution of its media products. It is not a forum to sensationalize the issues. It seeks to further engagement with partners in Ghana. We have come to terms with the Ghanaian government decision to build this dam. It is the way the relocation and compensation is being handled that we wish to change.
The Ghanaian government has constantly stated that the human costs of this dam are small. In comparison to other dam projects this is true. Ghana’s Akosombo Dam flooded out an area the size of the Lebanon. There are estimates that upwards of 80000 people were displaced. Bui will relocate approximately 2700. In light of all the devastation hydroelectic projects have caused around the world, the human costs of Bui are manageable. It is all the more reason for the Ghanaian government to provide a relocation process that will give the communities of the Bui Watershed a chance at participation, a chance to be part of the new economy they are being forced into.
The second goal of ‘Friends of the Bui Watershed’ is to raise funds when appropriate. Many of the media products we produce will be used to raise money for various local causes. Potential causes include the previously mentioned well for Gblakame. There has also been some discussion around educational programs. Many community members discussed the possibility of soap making workshops for women who will no longer have access to their shea trees, a wild plant resource that grew in the area that will be flooded. The options are open when it comes to fund raising, but ultimately all decisions will be decided upon by members of the affected communities.
The third and final goal of ‘Friends of the Bui Watershed’ is to provide an open forum for media artists, journalists, and researchers who are interested in the potential of social documentary as a catalyst of change. It is a place to share ideas and ask questions. In the months to come we will be seeking volunteers who are interested in helping out.
One of the original goals of the project was to create an environment for direct collaboration between ‘Friends of the Bui Watershed’ and the people of the Bui area. This hasn’t been forgotten. Ideally we will get to a point where this could be a possibility.
I’m sure that is more than enough for now. Please feel free to ask me any questions at FriendsOfBui@gmail.com. Also, check out the new blog when you get a chance. It can be found at http://friendsofbui.tumblr.com/ and will act as the main web presence for ‘Friend of the Bui Watershed’ until I can figure out how to program a website.
Thank you very much,