The 2020 Goldman Environmental Prize for Africa: Setting the Record Straight – Facts about Ghana’s Coal Campaign (2013-2016) & Problems Arising from the Current Narrative
For Immediate Release
Background and Aim of Press Release
History is written by stories and we have a responsibility to ourselves and the next generations to pass on the truth. In light of this Ghana Youth Environmental Movement (GYEM) believes it is vital to correct the misleading narrative of the coal campaign, published by Goldman.
GYEM, became aware of this misleading narrative in late November 2020, when the Goldman Environmental Prize for Africa was awarded to Ghanaian environmentalist Mr. Ezekiel Chibeze, crediting his “four-year grassroots campaign” for the abolishment of the 700MW coal-fired power plant in Ghana. Upon reading Goldman’s website, their YouTube channel, as well as a video story shared by BBC News, we realised that the narrative about the coal campaign had been misrepresented and information about it falsified.
Out of mutual respect, we quickly alerted Mr Chibeze of the false information in the storyline published, and the implications on GYEM as the pioneer and lead proponent of the coal campaign within the three-year period it occurred (2013-2016). He responded, by claiming that Goldman and the media (BBC) were responsible for creating and controlling the false narrative. However, our checks pointed to an award nomination, narrative and documentary pieced together with the knowledge of the recipient and his nominating organizations G-ROC (350 Ghana) and/or 350Africa. Further, the award documentary had footages of the recipient speaking, indicating that he was not oblivious of the framing of the campaign account. After pointing this out to Mr Chibeze, a story was put out on Sierra Club’s website, contradicting the previous narrative published by Goldman and the BBC.
In an attempt to support Goldman in correcting the misleading narrative, on the 1st of December 2020 GYEM wrote them an email, raising serious concerns about the false narrative behind the award and bringing to their attention the detrimental impact such a narrative has on GYEM, as well as the other hard-working activists who played an instrumental role in supporting the campaign. We provided Goldman with an opportunity to respond to our concerns and to further investigate their own claims to rectify this injurious mistake. Unfortunately, Goldman did not respond. In the absence of both parties (recipient and awarding organization) taking the steps to correct this, it leaves us with no option but to publicly do so.
Fact Checking the Narrative on Goldman Website, YouTube Channel and BBC News
- Goldman website story: bit.ly/GoldmanPrizeChibeze
- Goldman Youtube documentary: bit.ly/Documentary_Goldman
- BBC News story: bit.ly/Documentary_BBC
- Sierra Club publication: bit.ly/SierraClub_Chibeze
- Goldman writes on their website that the recipient directly championed a 4-year coal activism.
This is not true. First, the campaign commenced in early July 2013, and by the middle of 2016, a decision to postpone the coal project to 2017 had been announced by the Volta River Authority (VRA), government’s lead implementing institution for the project. Second, with a change in government after the 2016 national elections, the new administration (NPP) did not pursue the plan in 2017. Last, G-ROC and Mr. Chibeze’s visible and verifiable campaign contributions took place between August and November 2016 as evidenced by their social media footprint.
Sources of evidence:
2. The narrative claims that Ghana’s Minister of Environment held a press conference on October 10, 2016 to cancel the coal project.
This is clearly misinformation. For energy policy and infrastructure implementation does not fall within the purview of the Ministry of Environment. The Ministry of Energy (MoE) was responsible for the policy and coordination of the project, while the VRA, a power sector agency of the Ministry was the lead implementing institution.
The purported press conference that took place involving the Environment Minister was actually a press briefing with the Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, at the US Embassy in Accra. The then Minister Mahama Ayariga, was only responding to a question posed by a journalist about why Ghana is choosing to invest in coal. In the presence of America’s top environmental health and air quality expert, Ayariga’s response was merely out of political expedience, as his political party’s (NDC) manifesto (2016-2021, p.53) contradicted his position at the press event.
With the NDC loss of the December 2016 national elections in Ghana, the coal agenda was dealt a death blow, as the elected NPP government did not pursue it.
Sources of evidence:
3. Goldman indicates that the recipient launched a coal campaign in 2013 upon learning about the proposed coal plant.
This is false. The coal campaign in Ghana was launched on July 8, 2013 by GYEM. The activity was in a direct response to the announcement of the coal project by MoE on July 5. The first non-violent direction action (NDVA) campaign to publicly resist government and oppose the project was a protest held by GYEM at the compound of Ministry of Energy in Accra. This event is extensively documented. For instance, a Facebook post written by Mr. Chibeze himself on October 15, 2013 on the page of Strategic Youth Network for Development Ghana (SYND), an organization he also founded, credits GYEM for spearheading the coal campaign.
Sources of evidence:
4. The recipient in the award documentary refers to starting a “massive” social media campaign with the hashtag #CoalKills.
This is deceptive. Facebook trail and history reveals a very scanty usage of that hashtag by Mr. Chibeze and his organization G-ROC from August 2016 onwards. The recipient’s Twitter account has no record of the use of the hashtag. Meanwhile G-ROC only opened a Twitter account in June 2020. It is therefore shocking to read the recipient and Goldman allude to a mammoth social media campaign which triggered public interest in the coal issue.
There is enough evidence to demonstrate that a social media campaign by GYEM and other leading activists using hashtags #NoCoal2Gh and #RejectCoal2Gh was the largest and most extensive in the history of the coal campaign in Ghana. This is easily verifiable on both Facebook and Twitter by posts and tweets from individual activists and the organization.
Questions about video footages used in award documentary
The narrative indicates that Mr. Chibeze and G-ROC embarked on a community outreach programme to Ekumfi Aboano, the proposed site of the coal project in the Central Region. However, visuals in the award documentary of this visit are from completely different activities unrelated to the coal campaign (2013-2016). Why does the documentary use footage of events that had nothing to do with the campaign?
If indeed the education and sensitization of the Chiefs and people of Ekumfi, was the most important activity by the recipient and his group, and decisive to government’s cancellation of the coal plant, where is the documented evidence of this engagement and proof of campaigning and coordinated resistance by the local community to government and the project?
Documented evidence of the coal campaign (2013-2016) by GYEM and partners—Dynamic Clean Ghana Foundation, Green Africa Youth Organization (GAYO), Ghana Youth Climate Coalition (GYCC), Hipsters of Nature, Mother of All Nations Foundation (MOAN) and other activists in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.
There is significant documented evidence of the coal campaign. A simple online search with hashtags #NoCoal2Gh and #RejectCoal2Gh will reveal the elaborate campaign strategies with extensive tactics employed by GYEM and partners, spread across the three-year campaign period. Notable tactics among other activities include:
- Protest (activists’ occupation) in the building of Ministry of Energy: 15 July 2013
- Facebook chat/interviews on coal power plants: 2014
- Street action against coal on Osu Oxford Street: 14 December 2015
- Composition of anti-coal protest song by Seyram GH: 2015
- Online petition signing on Avaaz platform: from January 2016
- Mass phone calls to offices of VRA, EPA and Shenzhen Energy Group: from January 2016
- Stakeholder meeting with VRA to discuss proposed coal project: 9 March 2016
- Collection of offline petition signatures: from January 2016
- Street Press Conference at Osu Oxford Street: Earth Day-22 April 2016
- Power Shift environment summit on coal vs green energy: 14 May 2016
- Protest and presentation of offline (physical) signatures as petition to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at their head office: World Environment Day – 6 June 2016
Mr. Chibeze, G-ROC and their international backers 350Africa and 350.org, have the right to nominate any of their members for an award for their contribution to the coal campaign. Goldman, also, may choose to award any individual for the role they played in the campaign. We, GYEM, are eager to celebrate with every environmental activist their contributions and achievements in making this world a better place for all. However, we believe that such achievements need to be portrayed truthfully and that due diligence and thorough checks must be carried out by awarding bodies, such as Goldman, in order to ensure the integrity of the work that is celebrated.
Gideon Commey/Joshua Amposem/Zico Abubakar Newton/Perk Pomeyie
(Lead organisers of #NoCoal2GH/#RejectCoal2GH campaign from 2013-2016)
Goldman Environmental Prize
Ghana News Agency
Ghana Business News
Business and Financial Times (BFT)
All Media Houses
Ghana Youth Environmental Movement (GYEM)