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07.06.2019 Feature Article

Can We Be Sure That The Promises Made To Protect Atewa Forest Will Be Kept?

Can We Be Sure That The Promises Made To Protect Atewa Forest Will Be Kept?

WHEN the President of a country gives assurances that something will be done, especially when it touches on the welfare of his fellow citizens, it would be discourteous to doubt that his assurances are well-founded.

But this is a country in which both patriotism and honesty have been diminished to such an extent that no public institution’s word – even to a revered President – can be taken without a pinch of salt.

As an example, the President was assured, by the institutions that drew it up, that when the “road-map” of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Illegal Mining [IMCIM] became operational, galamsey would come to a natural end. Galamsey activities would become “legitimized”, as small-scale miners were registered, trained and monitored – by drone, among other techniques.

Yet, on 1 June 2019 – almost one year after the launching of the roadmap on 18 August 2018 --there appeared this report:

An operation conducted from Operation Vanguard’s Forward Operating Base in the Eastern Region, [has resulted in the arrest] of 31 illegal miners. The arrests [were] made within the Akyem Abomosu [area] in the Tewa West District…Three gold detecting machines were seized….

“Three other locals suspected of illegal mining were apprehended around Buabinso/Kyekyewere, in the Upper Denkyira East District, and have been handed over to Kyekyewere Police for further action… An excavator that was seized by personnel from the Forward Operating Base in the Western Region has …been handed over to the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Illegal Mining [IMCIM].

“Similar operations have resulted in the immobilization of a total of 94 “Changfans" used by the illegal miners.”

How could this happen in the wake of the immense publicity that attended the launching of the IMCIM roadmap and the deployment of so many personnel – and resources – towards ending galamsey?

The answer is that most of the institutions charged with ending galamsey are patently dishonest and hypocritical. The Forestry Commission and the Lands Commission, in particular, have been consistently accused of playing the role of a “fifth-column” in the struggle against galamsey. This means that in public, they extol the merits of the roadmap 100 percent. Yet, as soon as IMCIM arrests galamseyers, top people in the institutions join other party high-ups in using their influence to turn the cases against the arrested galamseyers into the usual Ghanaian practice of “kill-the-case-by-silence”. The Ghanaian public (they know) have short memories!

By the time the galamseyers appear in court, nobody can recall what they did -- in any detail. So magistrates feel free to hand the offenders mild punishments without fearing there would be any repercussions. If there are Chinese nationals involved, they are either quietly deported or are helped to “disappear” by their Ghanaian collaborators, whom no-one ever names in court!

How did the changfangs, bulldozers and excavators manage to reach the rivers and streams, even though our roads have constant police checkpoints? Who are the Ghanaians who bail the arrested Chinese? These are questions we have asked scores of times. But they are never answered.

In fact, it appears that neither the BNI, the CID nor EOCO are interested in mounting undercover operations to detect the capos in charge of a crime which the President has condemned again and again and sees as a challenge to his presidency. Nor are any MPs interested in enacting legislation making it mandatory for galamseyers to be given heavy prison sentences, so that other galamseyers might be deterred.

We wring our hands when we hear that Cape Coast is the latest urban centre to be hit by a water shortage, caused by the inability of the machines of the water company to treat the turgid water pumped into its plants from the Ankobra or Pra that supplies the plants. Some weeks earlier, there had been reports that it was Sekondi-Takoradi that had been similarly hit by a water shortage. Kyebi and other towns had also been affected much earlier

It is in this light that the assurances given by the President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo that the Government’s plan to allow the mining of bauxite in “the country’s largest surviving natural rainforest, the Atewa forest, will not in any way destroy the environment”, are to be viewed.

The President believes “the technology to be adopted by the miners would reduce the impact of the mining activity on the quality of life of persons whose livelihoods depend on the forest’s resources.

The President declared: “I am satisfied by what I have been told and what has been demonstrated to me that, it is possible for us to get that red matter [bauxite] out without disturbing the wildlife that there is in the Atewa mountains….Those who are responsible for making [the] assessment [that the environment will be taken care of] are accurate, they are true, they are honest. They don’t give passes corruptly.”

Now, President Akufo-Addo is a UN Sustainable Development Goals champion. So what he says cannot be easily dismissed. He is really convinced by the assurances given to him. The question that has to be asked, though, is this: upon what is his confidence in the would-be miners based? How often have miners elsewhere broken their pledges to the people whose lands have been given to them as mining or timber concessions?

It is because of the well-known unconcern of these profit-motivated, usually multi-national companies for the welfare of the peoples whose lands they exploit, that organizations such as the Christian Council of Ghana and the US Forest Service, are reported to have urged our government to be cautious about the Atewa mining project. They point out that the project might “affect the water sources of some five million Ghanaians”.

But already, heavy-duty equipment is reported to have been seen clearing land for a road at the Sagyimase entry-point to the Atewa forest. As far as is known, no effort had been made beforehand to transplant several medicinal plants from the area, and the trees have been permanently destroyed. Destruction of trees and herbs also affects the habitats of rare animals and insects.

In fact, if the bauxite mining operation was really being carried out in good faith, we would have seen the publication of information regarding attempts being made to save the flora and fauna that is at risk. I remember that when the Volta Lake was being formed in the 1960s as part of the Akosombo Dam plan, a great effort was made – “in the style of Noah” – to save many animals from drowning. Special rescue boats were used by trained people, in the exercise.

Indeed, in places like Jamaica (a country which, like Ghana, has bauxite deposits) the mining companies were obliged to restore vegetation to the areas excavated to extract bauxite.

The President would do well, in my humble opinion, not to rely on the “honesty” of anyone – or institution -- but enact water-tight, justiciable provisions into the Atewa agreement, that will calm the hearts of the people of the area.

Truly, I would be very saddened to hear that a stream like Sarwobeng (at Sagyimase) or Asiakwa’s Supong, Pusupusu and Akoosi, have been lost forever. Those streams—as well as the Birem, which also flows from the Atewa hills -- ensured the survival of the warrior people who dwelt in the area, so that they could protect both Asiakwa and Kyebi from marauding foreign armies.

[Sagyimase is actually a corruption of “Sadwumase”, which means “the place where war (osa) is the main occupation (adwuma) of the people.]”

Cameron Duodu
Cameron Duodu, © 2019

Martin Cameron Duodu is a United Kingdom-based Ghanaian novelist, journalist, editor and broadcaster. After publishing a novel, The Gab Boys, in 1967, Duodu went on to a career as a journalist and editorialist. Author column: CameronDuodu

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