Negotiation and mediation techniques in action: the diversion of Bosoko river in the Amansuri wetland, Ghana

The Amansuri wetland lies on the western coastline of Ghana, within the eastern and western Nzema traditional areas and the East Nzema and Jomoro districts of Ghana’s western region. It is about 360 km west of Accra, and its closest large urban centres are Axim and Half-Assini. It has an equatorial monsoon climate, and lies within the wet evergreen forest zone. The wetland and its catchments cover more than 1 000 km² and consist of ten sub-catchments ranging from 18 to more than 140 km² each. The region forms the watershed for Amansuri lake and includes the drainage areas for several rivers and the coastal floodplain north of Beyin. The wetland itself covers more than 100 km², including small areas of open water (Amansuri lake). The region’s coastal lagoon is a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance.

The original inhabitants of the conflict area are Nzema, but Fante and Ewe fishers have settled in some coastal communities. In the western Nzema traditional area, family heads own the lands under several different landholding systems, but the paramount chief has final authority on land issues. The 18 communities bordering the wetland depend heavily on its resources for their livelihoods (fishing, palm wine, farming, agroprocessing and general trading).

The Ghana Wildlife Society (GWS), a non-governmental organization (NGO), is implementing the Amansuri Conservation Integrated Development (ACID) Project, in partnership with the Western Nzema Traditional Council, in the western Nzema traditional area’s portion of the Amansuri wetland. The project’s ultimate aim is to conserve the wetland system so that ecological functions and scenery are maintained alongside low-impact resource use based on the principles of sustainable management.

Two major and three minor rivers drain into Amansuri lake. The Bosoko is the largest of these and serves as the shortest access route from Old Nzulezo village to communities within the wetland such as Gyamozo and New Nzulezo. The people of Old Nzulezo use the river as a route to their farms and palm wine tapping and local gin distilling areas. Between late 2001 and early 2002, the people of Gyamozo diverted part of the Bosoko river through a natural channel so as to avoid having to wade through the swamps. This drastically reduced the volume of water flowing into Amansuri lake.

In March 2002, the people of Old Nzulezo, who were the most affected by the river diversion, informed the people of Gyamozo of its effects and asked them to restore the river to its original course. Nothing was done, so the elders of Old Nzulezo reported the case to the ACID Project Management Committee (PMC), which did not take action either. The people of Old Nzulezo then issued threats and ultimatums to the people of Gyamozo, insisting that they redivert the Bosoko. In August 2002, the PMC reported the case to Jomoro District Assembly (JDA), in whose administration the conflict area falls. Existing by-laws prevent the diversion of natural watercourses without authorization, but even after several attempts, JDA could not resolve the issue. In January 2003, quarrels and violence between people from the two villages started to break out over the most minor issues. Some people from Old Nzulezo said that “if the assembly cannot solve the problem, we will solve it in our own way” (meaning by force).

It was at this point that an ACID staff member suggested using a collaborative approach to resolve the conflict. ACID staff members assumed the role of mediators in an internal meeting to assess the situation. They determined who the stakeholders were and planned a strategy for entering the conflict setting, including whom to contact first.

Stakeholders involved in the conflict

Primary stakeholders

Secondary stakeholders

Interested parties

Old Nzulezo

New Nzulezo

Gyamozo

Beyin

GWS

JDA

 

Miegyinla

Ngelekazo

Ekebaku

Ebonloa

 

Subsequently, the mediators invited people to conduct a root cause analysis in Old Nzulezo. Two opinions emerged as potential reasons for people in Gyamozo to divert the river: (1) to secure access in times of flooding; and (2) to destroy the palm wine that people from Old Nzulezo obtained from nearby forests. To make sense of these views, the mediators conducted an analysis of the effects of diversion on stakeholder livelihoods and interests.

Effects of the river diversion on stakeholders

Stakeholder

Effects

Old Nzulezo

Reduced freshwater fish catches for fishers.

Low levels of water in the waterway, affecting transport by boat to farms, palm wine tapping and local gin distilling areas during the dry season.

Changed composition of plant species downstream, leading to fears that the raffia palm for palm wine tapping and building will be displaced.

New Nzulezo

Destruction of some farms.

Effects on boat travel from New Nzulezo to Old Nzulezo.

Gyamozo

Creation of water channel to provide easy access to farms, palm wine tapping and local gin distilling areas, and to make it easier to transport produce to the main local markets.

Beyin

Reduced freshwater fish catches in the floodplain.

GWS

Difficult tour guiding within the wetland during the dry season because of low water levels in the Beyin-Amansuri lake waterway.

JDA

Reduced income from tourism during the dry season.

Interested parties

Reduced fish supply and reduced income from tourism during the dry season.



The mediators presented their preliminary findings at a public meeting in Old Nzulezo. The initial response from villagers was that Gyamozo should redivert the river and should be penalized for having diverted it in the first place. After the analysis, the villagers realized that sticking to this position would not help them. At the end of the meeting, the people of Old Nzulezo softened their position and suggested that the only way of moving forward to resolve the conflict was to ask the elders of New Nzulezo (who had good relations with Gyamozo) to convince Gyamozo villagers to attend a negotiation meeting.

The people of Gyamozo had already refused several times to become involved with the mediators, however. The family head of New Nzulezo sent a linguist to the community to invite its members to meet on common ground. Traditionally such an invitation has very strong implications, and three men from Gyamozo attended the meeting. They explained that they wanted access to the road. They presented their case in a moderate way, arguing that access to their village was extremely difficult during the rainy season.

The mediators asked them whether they were aware of the effects that the river diversion had had on the other communities, and showed them the effects analysis. The people from Gyamozo had not been aware of the severity of these effects. At the following negotiation meeting, the mediators allowed each party to make its statement. Different and sometimes diverging views were expressed, and the mediators invited the parties to consider a solution that was acceptable to both.

People from New Nzulezo argued that the river should be rediverted. One person from Gyamozo said: “We have done more harm than good. We did not understand the seriousness of the effects, and we should redivert the water. If there is a funeral in Old Nzulezo, we cannot go because of this issue”. This was a turning point in the negotiation process, and other people from Gyamozo agreed. Once general agreement had been reached that rediversion was essential, the family head suggested that the three communities should work together to restore their relationships.

At a subsequent meeting in New Nzulezo, the parties agreed on the procedure to follow – first a footbridge would be constructed so that Gyamozo would remain accessible during the rainy season, and then the water would be redirected. The negotiators acknowledged that the agreement involved costs for materials, a chainsaw operator, fuel and labour, and asked JDA and the ACID project to provide funds for the bridge construction. The agreement is now being drafted, but no development funds have yet been raised, so the parties cannot implement it. In the meantime, the negative effects continue.

Adapted from J. Parker Mckeown and E. Ntiri. 2005. “Conflict in the diversion of the Bosoko river in the Amansuri Lake”. In A. Engel and B. Korf. Negotiation and mediation techniques for natural resource management. DFID/FAO Livelihood Support Programme. Rome, FAO.

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last updated:  Thursday, April 26, 2007