Broken Promises: Ghana's Bui Dam Resettlement

Clement Otu-Tei
Wednesday, March 19, 2014

When the Bui Dam was commissioned in December 2013, it became Ghana’s second largest hydropower project, after the gigantic Akosombo Dam. The $794 million dam was built by China’s SinoHydro, with funding from the government of Ghana and Exim Bank of China. 

This chapel was one of Akanyakrom's community buildings that has not been replaced by the Bui Dam authorities.
This chapel was one of Akanyakrom's community buildings that has not been replaced by the Bui Dam authorities.
Photo courtesy of Clement Otu-Tei

The dam’s reservoir flooded farmland, riverine forests, and about 20% of Bui National Park. About 1,216 people from eight communities were resettled for the project. I interviewed Chief Togbi Kpakpa E., of Bator Akanyakrom (the village with the largest population among the project-affected communities), to see how the resettlement has gone for them.

The people of Bator Akanyakrom are a non-indigenous fishing community that had lived along the Black Volta River for ages prior to the construction of Bui Dam. Their main economic activities include fishing by the men. The women buy the fish from the fishermen and sell them to the surrounding communities on market days.

The chief asked for his people to be resettled in an area close to the reservoir, hoping to maintain their fishing livelihoods. He successfully negotiated such a location with the paramount chief of the land. Their request was ignored by project authorities, and they were resettled in June 2011 quite a distance from the reservoir.

I first interviewed the chief in 2008, when resettlement was just beginning. I asked him what could be done to help them maintain their livelihoods if they were not resettled near the reservoir. He told me, “We are not against the dam. We want it because there are benefits for the whole nation. However, we don’t want to be victims of a development project. Most of my people are fishermen, so some form of vocational training, initial capital, and equipment would be a more reliable alternative livelihood. This will help reduce the negative effects of the dam on my people.” 

In this February 2014 interview, Chief Kpapka described the challenges his people have faced since resettlement. 

Livelihoods Lost

The community was resettled into a farming area, more than four miles from the reservoir. Most of the older fishermen cannot walk the 9-mile round-trip, and are currently unable to provide for their families because they have no other source of income. 

After refusing to resettle them near the reservoir, the dam authorities did not honor their promise to provide them with vocational training or alternative livelihood training (animal rearing, vegetable farming, carpentry, etc.) that could help them earn a sustainable living.

Most of the younger fishermen have migrated to other accessible areas of the reservoir where they compete with fishermen who migrated to the area after the reservoir was filled. They visit their families in the resettlement site weekly or bi-weekly. Their absence is negatively affecting their families, especially their children, who are missing school and having other behavior issues.

Being a fishing community, their resettlement with indigenous farming communities put them at a disadvantage. Moreover, the land space allocated to the three resettled communities is inadequate, because the type of farming system used (land rotation) requires that portions of the land used for farming be left fallow for some years to regain its fertility. As a result, there is not enough land space for all the resettlers after the second growing season.

Lost Community

Prior to resettlement, the community was promised compensation on a structure-for-structure basis. As a result they expected the chief’s house to be rebuilt in the new site. The house comprised 11 rooms with one large hall, where the chief and his elders met to discuss issues concerning their community, settle disputes, and host other chiefs and delegates from other communities. It housed three households related to the royal family. This house was handed down over generations, and served as a symbol of authority and respect. Being summoned to the chief’s house has its unique cultural connotations. The promise to replace the chief’s house in the new settlement was not fulfilled. Instead, the three households were put in three separate houses. Furthermore, they were not provided with the big hall, which served as the community’s courtroom. This has affected the traditional authority of the chief as the leader of his people. The respect and authority he used to command have been drastically reduced, and he is having difficulty in maintaining social control among his people. 

The people also had a Visitor Center comprised of a large summer hut, a guest-room, and a store where they hosted tourists who like to stay and enjoy the people and the hippo in the national park. They also had a chapel with a mission house, and a fishpond, which they built as a community. Apart from the school, none of these structures was compensated for during the resettlement. The Bui Power Authority (BPA) was reminded about their omission of compensation for these structures, and decided to give the community a cash lump sum for the structures.

As this writing, the Akanyakrom community had refused the cash compensation because they believe the structures were undervalued, and are requesting that BPA honor their promise to compensate structure-for-structure.

Akanyakrom was the only community with its own Catholic elementary school. In the resettlement site, there is conflict as to which of the communities should maintain authority and control over the new school that was built for the three communities to share. The people of Akanyakrom want the Catholic tradition to be maintained. Chief Kpakpa indicated his concern about how this conflict is affecting academic work, the Parent Teacher Association, and the school environment in general. 

The chief also described the loss of different uses of the visitor center. In addition to use by visitors, it also was used for communal meetings, and as a place to gather and relax after a hard day’s work, to play games such as oware, checkers and cards. I myself joined community discussions when I visited the area. They no longer have such a place. 

These lost structures served the invaluable purpose of holding the community together as a unit. They were common places of identity, places of authority, and places of hope for the future of the community. The community submitted a proposal to the BPA in August 2013 to provide them with a place where they can meet as a community to discuss issues and concerns, but they have received no response from the BPA.

The community was also promised a library and a health clinic. They did not get the library at all. For the clinic, they got a shell of structure, without equipment, electricity, furniture, or personnel. 

They were also promised electricity in the new settlement. Upon arrival, they found that the houses were built without wiring. They were told that they and two other communities resettled with them had to pay for the cost of the infrastructure to connect to the grid. They did not have money to pay for that upfront. With their consent, the Bui Power Authority used half of their “12 month income support” compensation, which was intended to cover their living expenses as they transition to their new lives, to provide electricity for the project-affected people. Currently, most of them remain without electricity because they have no income to pay monthly electric bills. 


When asked about the benefits of the Bui Dam project, Chief Kpakpa said the project has greatly improved accessibility in the area, especially to the district capital and to better healthcare facilities outside their community. Their new houses are nicer than most of the houses they had in Akanyakrom. They also have a bore hole for water supply.

The Akanyakrom community demonstrates how a well-knit community could be destabilized by a project like Bui Dam. Obviously, these people believe in development. They believe in making themselves better and improving their economic status, and that of their country. This is the reason they had all the structures prior to the building of the dam, including the chief’s house, a school, a chapel with a mission house, a community fish pond, and a visitor center to promote tourism in their own way and within their capabilities. These people have vision. If they were not moved, how long would this community have lived in this area as a well-functioning community “improving or developing” at their own pace and style? How long will they survive in the new settlement as a cohesive community, given their current circumstances? 

I hope these people do not lose their communal spirit and the hope with which they established their former community, now lost to the Bui Dam.