The current climate crisis ravaging Ghana and other parts of the world is actually the manifestation of a conflict between humanity and nature which can only be resolved when people stop destroying the environment and return the earth back to its lost place, founder/convener of the Green Republic Project Nana Yaw Osei-Darkwa tells MARTIN-LUTHER C. KING in this April 29, 2022 interview in Accra. He says the number one legacy parents can leave their children is a preserved earth, arguing that if the earth is destroyed all other legacies become meaningless.
Q: The rains are here again, and already wreaking havoc in Accra and other parts of the country. Ironically, however, it is still unbearably hot when it is not raining. What is the solution to the unpredictable weather patterns currently ravaging Ghana and other parts of the world?
A: Personally, and as the convener and vision-bearer of Green Republic, which is based in Accra and with a vision to affect the whole of Africa, I think that it is a form of conflict. Climate change is a form of conflict between humanity and nature that needs to be over-come. This conflict can only be won when humans return the earth back to its lost place. Because the things that God surrounded us with, including the river bodies, the biodiversities, human beings in our destructive element have really violently destroyed most of these things. We cut down trees indiscriminately because of people's selfish interests; forgetting that as a people that our very lives are dependent on the trees. Because these trees produce the oxygen that we need to survive. Yet, we go out there to destroy these trees without considering that we are destroying our own lives by cutting down the trees. And this is very elementary. I mean, back in elementary school, we were taught the act of trees producing oxygen which we humans need to survive. The amazing thing about it all is that God in His infinite wisdom, and science proves this, has made it so that carbons are not good for our consumption as humans. Therefore these trees have been dispersed across the earth so that they can absorb the carbons from the atmosphere, because of their harmful effects. But the trees use the carbons as their raw materials. It's amazing; it's like a factory: The trees take the carbons, trap them from the atmosphere because of their harmful effects; and, then use the same carbons as the raw material to produce the oxygen that we need to survive. And that is why there is little or no life in deserts and places where there are deserts. No water-bodies there. SO, if you take places like Dubai which are yrying to thrive in the desert, you can imagine the kind of budgets that they need to survive.
Q: How can Ghana and Africa change the narrative then?
A: We can only change the narrative by reconciling humanity with nature through restoration. I repeat, We need to reconcile humanity with nature through restoration. That is the mantra. So for instance, in Ghana, we have people, humans, with insatiable needs going into the forests to mine illegally, and very irresponsibly; people who engage in what we refer in our local parlance as 'galamsey'.People go into the forests and cut down trees, rip the belly of the earth just to get gold and other minerals. Obviously this can only come back to trouble us. Because as they do this, they pollute the water-bodies. And now we have a lot of water-bodies in our country that have no life for the simple reason that people are using chemicals and other poisonous substances to mine gold in an unsustainable manner; and which practice government has been doing all it can to stop. So at the end of the day, our greed is driving us into extinction. And if we are not careful, we are going to get there faster than we think. As it is, we are already seeing the effects in the changes in climatic conditions and all that caused by the emission of green house gases and carbons into the atmosphere; and also because we are now building concrete jungles. But we do not ask ourselves where, amidst our new concrete jungles, are the trees that will absorb these carbons so that they do not affect the ozone layer?
Q: Do you think this is also the panacea to the problem of constant flooding in Accra after every rain?
A: It's become fashionable these days to construct residential and office buildings and cover the surrounding space with tile or concrete. Whereas we rather ought to leave the immediate earth around our buildings bare. At worse, we only need to cover such spaces with grass so that when it rains, the rain water can sip back into the earth where the earth will hold it and, in turn, make it available to us through bore-holes when we need to dig bore-holes. That is not the case now, unfortunately. Infact, people who are in the bore-hole digging business complain that they now have to dig deeper than before to be able to get water. Because of the new trend of covering surroundings with tikes and concrete, there are ni bare spaces for rain water to sip into. Therefore when it raibs, the water cannot sink into the earth; and so within ten or fifteen minutes of a slight rain there is flooding everywhere. These are things that are caused by us human beings. It reminds me of when we were growing up here in Accra, when we could have torrential rains for days; but, still, you could hardlyet Accra flooding. As a people we are quick sonetimes to point fingers at government and quick to say that the authorities have to do something. But, we are cause of some of these challenges. I once wrote a letter to the relevant ministry, the ministries of works and housing, as well as roads and highways, trying to get government to be innovative in finding solutiobs to sone of these problems. I will repeat that same clarion call here on government to consider levying a tax on the owners of structures whose surrounding spaces are tiled or covered with concrete without consideration of how water can sip into the earth, as such practice cobtributes to the incessant flooding that we have been experiencing in our country these days. Yes, you can have your way; if tiling your compound is what you want to do, you have a right to do that; but you do not have the right to disturb the architecture of the entire community and thereby cause flooding to become the rule around the area. So people who have tiled their compounds must be charged a certain rate. Such fines or taxes could then be channeled into a dedicated account to be used to fix and manage our drainage systems. If the country is able to put in place such a system, complete with a taskforce that would move around to monitor compliance, that would be a smart solution to our drainage challenges without going for loans or anything like that.
Q: How do you assess the continental response by the African Union to the challenge of climate change in Africa?
A: We have paid a lot of lipservice to the problem, as a people. At various fora,including the 2018 and 2019 editions of the Global Landscape Forum in Bonn and Accra, respectively, I have had to call on African governments to take the climate crisis more seriously; and, to ensure that as a people that we put in place measures to safeguard our environment. We talk too much about these things, but do nothing. For instance, it's proven that trees can be planted to serve as a natural remedy to the climate crisis. Because these trees would absorb the number one cause of the problem which is the emission of greenhouse gases, and, also, moderate the weather and temperature extremities that we currently experience. African governments also need to embrace the renewable energy option more. We have the sun blazing almost 24/7 in Africa. Can we take advantage of that to deal with climate challenge which, somehow, we have brought upon ourselves? We are not doing much. So I reiterate the call on African governments to urgently institute national tree planting days in their various countries. It wouldn't take anything away from us. We all have forestry commissions in our respective countries. Governments need to make them be more effective by investing in seedlings. And, on a particular day, for instance the AU Day, we all as Africans, in our various countries, can take advantage of that day as a day, sanctioned by the AU, to plant trees all around our respective countries, rather than use such an auspicious day to just make speeches or sit at home doing nothing. Already Ghana has taken the lead through the national tree planting and the Green Ghana day, for which some of us were in the forefront of the advocacy. Indeed, my organisation was the lead advocate. At the time, nobody in Ghana was talking about a national tree planting day. But we pushed it as high as to the presidency. And by the grace of God, President Nana Akufo-Addo saw a lot of wisdom in what we were saying, and showed leadership by adopting our proposal and made it happen. That gives us a lot of joy that even as small organisations we can also, through advocacy, through lobbying, get our leaders to tow certain paths. We often think that the politicians should know it all. But iit's a collective thing. So, our leaders should be able to listen to the young people to get some of these things done. Because young people have a measure if creativity and ideas that make them unique. So I really want to thank the President for heeding to the call for a national tree planting day, which is in it second year this year. So on June 20 this year, Ghana will again be observing the national tree planting day. In the first edition Ghanaians, led by President Akufo-Addo and the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources planted some seven million trees. Other African countries also did the same. I think Ethiopia planted over one hundred million trees in a day. Nigeria and Uganda also did the same. More African countries can do it also. And before you know it, our continent would become the greenest part of this world. And we are supposed to be any way, since we are in the tropics. And yet we are losing all our trees. I foresee a time in the near future when people would travel from all corners of the earth to places where they can breathe quality air so they can have healthy lungs. This could become a form of tourism in the next 20 to 30 years. And Africa stands a chance of flooding its ecosystem with trees so that we can be in a position to take in all those monies in the years to come. Tourism is not just about natural resources. We need to create them. Because I know a day will come when people would be travelling to Ghana to have a feel of quality, clean air because Ghana had flooded its system with trees. The entirety of Africa need to prepare for such a prospect now. And the AU needs to be proactive in driving this vision.
Q: How did your vision fare in the thick of the covid-19 pandemic and what does the future look like going forward?
A: As part of its mandate, the Green Republic project has a goal to plant 20 million trees in 10 years, from 2018. We have done 36,000 trees already. But just as we were gaining steam covid-19 struck and halted progress. We should be in the fourth year now, but because of covid, two years passed without any work going on apart from advocacy and a few discussions here and there. We have emerged out of covid; and, in line with our theme for the post-pandemic era which is, 'Emerging Out of Covid-19 Pandemic to accelerated climate action', we are going to redouble all our efforts to be able to catch up and deal with the issues that we could not deal with in the past two years with regards to planting of trees. Unfortunately, financing and funding have always posed a challenge. So, one of the creative ways we think we could deal with the challenge given the fact that there is also donor fatigue in the system is to create platform that we call the Climate Annual Benefit Ball series which is a fundraiser where we invite corporate bodies, diplomats, traditional authorities to come for us to talk climate change in a relaxed ambience and also make a contribution to the fight against climate change. We will be having the second edition at the Labadi Beach Hotel in Accra on June 4. This is what we are doing as a creative means of raising some funds so that by the time we begin our planting season which starts every June because of the rainy season, at least we can have some base money to be able to plant whilst we continue to engage with other people to support this cause. So that is what we plan to do this June 4.
Q: Ghana plans to turn Accra, the capital city, into the cleanest city in Africa in the next couple of years. Other cities across Africa have similar plans to transform into garden cities. How feasible are such goals?
A: They can easily do that. One thing that has eluded us as Africans is our lack of deliberacy. I think we need to be deliberate in all we do; we need to be intentional. Until we become intentional, we cannot get anything to happen. For instance, when I saw a certain challenge with this climate change of a thing I decided as a young Aftican to put myself out there, together with a group of other dedicated young people to try and find a solution to the challenge and contribute to global efforts to deal with challenge. We have been very deliberate. And that deliveracy defines the way we go about our work. So, if African countries want to make this continent green, that can be done easily through policy. For instance, if there is a policy that says that every building must have a minimum of four trees, that is the policy. The effect of this is that it can even reduce our electricity consumption and tarrifs. Because with the ensuing ambience of trees and greens, more people would find it more desirable to take theur seats outside the house and relax under tree shades when the sun is blazing instead of staying indoors with air-conditioned that consume so much electric power and tarrif. That should be an advantage, both on our pockets and on our health. Moreso now that many Africans frequently complain of lung and respiratory diseases, apparently traceable to our increasingly over-polluted environment that are choked by smoke from industry, electricity generators, motor vehicles, and motorcycles, among others. That leads me to a humble advice I have for parents and would-be parents in Africa: the number one legacy we can bequeath our children is the earth; you can get all the money and put up all the structures; but once the earth cannot hold, all those things will not hold. It will get to a time when you cannot travel even with all your money, because everybody will be protecting their space, and you have destroyed yours. So as part of our legacy to our children, we need to make sure that the very earth that is our collective home is always kept in good shape.
Q: Ghana is the current chair of ECOWAS. Therefore at the pan-West African level, are you thinking of a possible collaborating with the ECOWAS Commission to more effectively sensitize the entire subregion on tackling the ingoing climate crisis?
A: That's a good question. Just as we talked earlier about involving the African Union, we think it will be a welcome development to partner with the ECOWAS Commission to expand our work on climate change to other parts of West Africa. The problem is the frustrating processes, the red-tape one has to go through to do some of these things that if you are not really committed to the cause, you will give up. In fact, if I chronicle the stress I had to go through to be able to do some of the things that we have done, my brother, it takes only the grace of God and determination to do things in this part of the world, the continent of Africa.
Q: Briefly tell us about yourself?
A: My name is Nana Yaw Osei-Darkwa .
A communications professional by training and a social entrepreneur by choice, I am the founder/convener of the Green Republic Project and a multiple awards winner. A certified Kingian Nonviolent Conflict Reconciliation Expert from the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies of the University of Rhodes Island USA. I have over a decade of experience in active nonviolence social change and participated in several campaigns both within my country and outside. Named a Peace Ambassador by the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) Ghana Chapter, Giraffe Hero by the Giraffe Heroes International USA, maiden recipient of the Bruce W. Tancrel Memorial Scholarship award by the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies of the University of Rhodes Island USA. Led several iconic peace campaigns like the 1Ghana Peace Project 2008, Ghana Peace Campaign 2012 which re-enacted the million March for peace in Ghana and the 2016 Ghana Peace Invasion Campaign. Had the singular honor of being a special guest panelist at the 51st anniversary of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in Washington DC in August 2013 and actively participated in the re-enactment of the 50th anniversary of the historic march on Washington.
Q: Your final word, briefly?
A: My final word is to reiterate our mantra, That we need to reconcile man with nature through restoration. We can do this through policy. And so our governments on the continent of Africa must begin to engage young people. We need to get young people involved in decision- and policy-making, drafting and implementation. That will open the door for young people to bring on board their creativity to bear in dealing with the myriad challenges besetting our respective countries and the African continent. Africa must change. Africa cannot continue on the old part. Africa must begin to believe in its own, and support its youths to cone up with those creative ideas that will turn the fortunes of this continent. I have said elsewhere that it is not yhe gold, the timber, the diamond, the crude oil, the cocoa, etc, that will take us to the promised land. Rather it is creativity that drives all the major economies of the world. If you have creative ideas that can be put money to, they are the things that can make us billions. Just recently, Elon Musk bought Twitter for US$45 billion. African countries go on the bonds market to raise just US$3 billion. But here we just saw one individual buy a set-up for US$45 billion. And if someone bought a set-up for US$45 billion, you can imagine how much he has in his coffers. Contrast that, for instance, with Ghana, a country of 30 million which needs just US$3 billion, and everybody is getting stressed up on how to raise that amount. Does that tell us anything at all? The wealth is not in the gold; the wealth is in the brain. The earlier we take our young people serious on this continent, the better. Because we have the capacity to turn things around and make Africa great. Thank you.
Q: You are welcome!