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Correspondent Friday, 2 November, 2001, 18:29 GMT
Profits of doom
Mary Agyekum's child
A child breaks stones

Click here for transcripts

Ghana was once hailed by the World Bank as a showcase for its policies. Today, after two decades of financial "discipline" the majority of Ghanaians are worse off than before. John Kampfner has been to Ghana tracing the roots of the growing protest movement.

My life is full of shame

Mary Agyekum

Mary Agyekum breaks stones for a living. Small flint hammer in hand, she sits on the parched ground under the sun, chipping away at boulders.

Usually some of her six young children help her out. They take it in turns to go to school, because each day's tuition costs money.

If she is lucky, Mary takes home 20,000 cedis a week - that's 2.

A fundamentalist economy

To coin a phrase from Tony Blair, the state of Ghana is a scar on the conscience of the world. The first sub-Saharan country to gain independence, this should not be a case study in poverty.

When the experiment in neo-liberal economic theory began, Ghana was hailed as a "model pupil". But after two decades of IMF and World Bank "structural adjustment", the poor are poorer and the government is more dependent than ever on outside help.

Villagers queue to pay for toilet

Ghana is a "cash and carry" society. Nothing comes free. You pay for health care, you pay for education; you pay for clean drinking water and sanitation.

Over the past few years, the international institutions and donor governments like Britain have begun to talk of change, but in the villages the same fundamentalist rules are being applied with the same vigour.

A family pays

The Agyekum family are forced to make trade-offs every day.

Each morning begins with a trip to the town's public toilet, a concrete edifice recognisable from far away by the smell. Outside a woman sits in a booth, ready to take 100 cedis from each person. If Mary has run out of money, she begs the woman to allow her to take her children in for free.

The Agyekum family
The Agyekum family

They then walk to the nearest borehole where they pay 250 cedis for a bucket of water. They can afford perhaps four buckets a day, for washing, cooking and drinking. That leaves perhaps 1 a week for food and a trip a week to school. It is no surprise that illiteracy and drop out rates are increasing.

"My life is full of shame," Mary Agyekum says. "My heavy load of stones gives me a headache, a pain in my neck and back, cuts on my fingers. I have difficulty breathing. The two children I still try to send to school are often chased home by the teachers if I haven't paid the fee on time."

Resentfulness grows

Even the practitioners admit things have gone wrong, and that trouble is brewing.

Peter Harrold
Representative of the World Bank, Peter Harrold

I met Peter Harrold, the World Bank's representative in Ghana shortly after the attacks in New York and Washington. He identified a link between poverty, frustration and terrorism.

"There's a serious danger. The North is getting richer and the South getting poorer, or at least making minute progress," he says. "The disparities cannot continue going on in this way."

There is genuine regard in Ghana for Britain, the former colonial power, and for the United States. Union jack and stars and stripes bumper stickers are ubiquitous. But there is a strong sense of injustice that is now being marshalled into political opposition against western financial institutions.

Yao Graham
Yao Graham

"Anybody who has seen the images of those terrible events would have condemned them as senseless," says Yao Graham, coordinator of Third World Network, an NGO based in Ghana. "But we're living in a world where so many people are feeling taken for granted that unless the big powers become more sensitive to the demands of weaker countries, all of us are endangered."

Even water is a commodity

Meanwhile, there is a new plan to sell off water in Ghana, a plan which local campaigners say is disastrous. As in Britain, officials in Ghana have become wary of using the word privatisation. They prefer to call it "private-public partnerships".

The World Bank is supporting the sell-off to the tune of $100m. Why, people wonder, must water be self-financing in poor countries, while in the US for example billions of dollars of state money support the industry?

Azara Issah
Azara Issah can not afford to pay for water

The unprofitable rural water supply will stay in state hands, but local communities now have to make a five to ten per cent down-payment for the "privilege" of installing clean pumps and raise the cash for their maintenance.

In villages where people earn less than $1 a day the system quickly collapses. Still, the experiment is seen by the IMF and World Bank as a template for utility sell-offs across the developing world.

And there is a growing sense that what wealth there is in Ghana, is not benefiting its people.

Gold is of no value

Gold is Ghana's biggest export earner. For decades the mining firms have had a free rein. The government, urged on by the international institutions, gives them tax "holidays" of up to ten years and keeps environmental and other regulation to a minimum.

Today gold spells trouble and poverty

Yao Graham

Two thirds of all Ghanaian land is under concessions. Everywhere you go, you see huge cavities in the ground, discarded pits where thriving villages once stood and where nothing now grows.

In the village of Dumasi, a Canadian-owned and British-managed mining company has been blasting in an open cast pit less than 100 metres away. Flying rocks have damaged huts.

People have been forced off their farming land, losing their only source of income. Compensation is derisory. They fear their homes are next.

The community holds public meetings and sends petitions. "To be sitting on gold, people might before have envied you," Graham told villagers at one such rally. "But today gold spells trouble and poverty."

Healthcare is unaffordable

At the hospital in the regional centre of Tarkwa, I discussed money with Dr Ebenezer Acquah, the Principal Medical Officer, as we walked through a ward with cholera and post-natal patients lying close to each other on the floor.

Betty Krampa
Betty Krampa is not allowed to leave hospital until she pays

Patients have to pay for each visit and for the costs of any surgery - gloves, drugs, blood, anaesthetics, gauze, cotton wool. They're not released if they don't pay. If they die, their bodies aren't released until relatives find the cash - all this in an area where multi-national mining companies are making billions.

"Sometimes you lose patients not because you lack skill to save them, but because the equipment doesn't exist," says Dr Acquah. "Sometimes the frustration is overwhelming, but you do what you can."

Change is needed

At the IMF and World Bank, the language has become Blairite. The talk is of "ownership", "listening" and "holistic approaches".

The Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative (HIPC) is supposed to relieve countries like Ghana of much of its external debt. But it comes with strings attached. All loans and write-offs are based on "conditionality" - and privatisation of utilities is one of those conditions.

Structural adjustment has been replaced by poverty reduction strategies. But the recipe remains the same.

There is much more work to be done.

If you would like to help.

Wassa Association of Communities Affected By Mining (WACAM)

WACAM is a Ghanaian grassroots organisation which campaigns on behalf of communities which have been adversely affected by the gold mining activities in the region. They tackle the problems created when communities are moved off their land by mining companies, as well as the problems of those forced to live in close proximity of a mine. These issues range from loss of land and livelihood, pollution of water sources, increased poverty and lack of access to schooling and health care.

The WACAM activists are among the most inspiring people we met in Ghana. They do very solid social and campaign work, something most of them have devoted their entire lives to with incredible passion. They expect and receive no payment for their extraordinary efforts, which they juggle with full-time jobs to sustain themselves. The organisation has little access to funding; their only assets are a telephone and a typewriter. Any donations would make a great difference to the amount of help they can give to people whose lives have been destroyed by mining.

You can contact WACAM at:

P. O. BOX 558
Tarkwa - GHANA

Tel:+ 233 362 20137 or + 233 22 200585


Bank details for WACAM are:

Account name:Wassa Association of Communities Affected By Mining
Bank: Standard Bank in Tarkwa
Account No: 01001 531094-00

Profits of Doom: Sunday 4th November 2001 at 1915 on BBC Two

Reporter: John Kampfner
Producer/Director: Stuart Tanner
Editor: Fiona Murch

John Kampfner
Profits of doom
Azara Issah
People in Ghana can not afford basic commodities such as water
Peter Harrold
World Bank's representative in Ghana
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13 Aug 01|Country profiles
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