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08.01.2020 Feature Article

Are We Taking Any Realistic Steps To Preserve Ghana's Bird Population?

Are We Taking Any Realistic Steps To Preserve Ghana's Bird Population?
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EVERY generation is held accountable for what it does, whether it sought to exonerate itself by rationalising its actions before it passed away, or not.

Thus today, rich people in North America and Europe, who inherited part of the properties and wealth that formed the capital upon which their current affluence was built, are constantly being reminded that their ancestors enslaved millions of kidnapped Africans, to work for them free of charge – as “slaves” [their word!] – to create most of the wealth that has lasted until today.

These “slaves” were beaten and tortured and sometimes killed, if they did not discharge the onerous tasks of labour assigned to them. Escaping met with instant death. Attempting to escape was equally suicidal.

Today's generation of African-Americans are eloquently demanding “reparations” from the descendants of the rich white people who made the African-Americans poor with their oppressive actions of yesteryears. Of course, the rich white people have a stock answer which they parrot out whenever the issue of reparations is raised: “We were not there when the enslavement took place. So you cannot blame us for its consequences,” they say.

Yet if you try to touch any property they have inherited and developed, even if it was demonstrably obtained by their ancestors through slave-exploiting businesses or activities, they will teach you a thing or two about “inheritance law”. The American Constitution grandly proclaims that “All men are created equal”. But it has been left to succeeding generation to interpret that, at the Supreme Court level. And, invariably, the interpretations favour the rich and powerful, as the US political system is not willing to “upset the apple-cart”. That system said every freed slave must be given “40 acres and a mule” to start them off and lift freed slaves out of penury. But how many African-Americans actually got “40 acres and a mule”? This is what Wikipedia has to say about that:

QUOTE: “Forty acres and a mule is part of ... a post-Civil War promise proclaimed by Union General William Sherman, on January 16, 1865, to allot family units, including freed people, [i.e. freed “slaves”]a plot of land no larger than 40 acres (16 ha). Sherman later ordered the army to lend mules for the agrarian reform effort...... Many freed people believed [General Sherman's promise], after being told by various political figures that they had a right to own the land they had long worked as slaves, and were eager to control their own property. Freed people widely expected to legally claim 40 acres of land and a mule after the end of the [civil] war. ...However, Lincoln's successor, President Andrew Johnson explicitly reversed and annulled [the Sherman] proclamations (such as Special Field Orders No. 15 and the Freedmen's Bureau Act.” UNQUOTE

In spite of these established facts white Americans are happy to keep the property they inherited that might well have gone to African-Americans, had the Sherman promises been kept, but the origins of the property is of no consequence to them. Yet, if you steal today and you are caught, you are not allowed, by law, to profit from the proceeds of the theft! So the inheritors whose property originated from an economic system that profited from free labour, are promoting an obnoxious and contradictory concept, that cannot endure for too long. Already, a few propertied, white individuals with a conscience, have begun taking steps to offer reparations, through institutions – especially academic establishments – that are meant to benefit African American communities. Some educational institutions and museums overseas are also returning stolen artefacts to African countries.

It will be a slow process, but once consciences begin to work, they tend to infect other consciences. And, in the long run, wrongs do get righted and restitution does begin to be made. This process is called “the snowball effect”. Long may it continue!

I am telling you all this to warn the current generation of Ghanaians that if they sleepwalk into the destruction of the environment Nature has so generously endowed to us, we shall be held responsible and condemned by succeeding generations of Ghanaians. We are already aware of the acrimony that the past can bring: for instance, we have been arguing grandiloquently about who the true “founders”of Ghana are. To whom shall we dedicate a tomb; or erect statue; or monument; or name an institution after? We all have passionate views on such questions, although they only affect dead people. Well, we ought to anticipate that our children and their children's children will also feel it necessary, eventually, to evaluate what we left behind for them to inherit.

We are, of course, already aware that the lust for gold of some of our fellow citizens are laying waste to our rivers, streams and water-bodies. If we are unwilling – or unable – to put a stop to such an utter piece of nonsense, future generations will justifiably spit on our graves. And their anger will be increased by something we are not considering, as we carry on destroying our environment: the unnecessary sacrificing of the flora and fauna that makes our land one of the most beautiful in the world.

Ghana's land beautiful? Yes – I dare you to step into a forest anywhere in Ghana, early one morning. And yes – there are some forests still left (although we are doing our very best to cut down our beautiful trees and use them as wood exports to less-endowed countries, or for use locally as charcoal.)

Such wanton profligacy notwithstanding, I assure you that if you are able to find an onyina tree, or an akonkordier tree, and you stand still underneath it at dawn, you will forget your worries about rent payments, huge electricity charges, huge water rates, enormous wifi/mobile phone usage charges, vehicle repair bills, transportation costs, etcetera etcetera, and enjoy such a rekindling of what used to be your youthful spirit as will surprise you – even if you are normally of a cynical bend. Ah, but maybe, galamsey and timber-vandalism have created so much guilt in you that you dare not look Mother Nature in the eye?

Well, let me tell you all the same – we do have some of the most beautiful birds in the world: please do not take my word for it but go – if you can – to Youtube or Google “stunning birding and wild birds”; or “birds singing in ghana”. I assure you that you will be astounded if you are able to stay at some of these websites for some time, looking at our birds and listening to them sing.

If you want to know more about the birds, there are some articles on the web that can help you. Of course, you will find that many of the birds are named in technical Latin terminology, such as is common in ornithology. But there are passages that give Akan names for particular birds, for example. It's through one of these articles, for instance, that I got to know that the onwam bird we see in our forests, and which emits a sonorous sound of unequalled eccentricity, is known as the “hornbill” in English.

I was delighted to find also that one of my favourite birds, the “akyem poliis”, is recognised in the scientific literature, as are some others who have captured my imagination: aserewa, apitie, osansa, osantrofie and kokokyinaka,


I am gratified that these researchers have pried open the question of Ghana's self-inflicted wounds, regarding the devastation of our environment. They write:

“Native and traditional wisdom has historically provided the basis of much of what scientists have documented. Moreover, there is a large body of knowledge about the environment contained in indigenous culture. Indigenous knowledge is based on people’s experience with the environment that are passed from generations to generations, usually by word of mouth and cultural ritual . The dynamic nature of indigenous knowledge has assisted communities to survive in their changing environments, but its application in biodiversity conservation, MONITORING [CAPS ADDED] and management has not been fully explored.

Anthropogenic environmental change has negatively affected many species including those that are globally threatened. Habitat loss and fragmentation, land-use intensification, such as agriculture and MINING [caps added], over-exploitation of resources, population expansion, CHEMICAL TOXINS AND POLLUTION [CAPS ADDED], as well as introduced diseases, [and] inter-specific interactions, pose major threats to many [bird] populations. Biodiversity conservation efforts require an integrated approach with the involvement of local inhabitants as major stakeholders. However, incorporating indigenous knowledge in conservation efforts has been largely neglected in most parts of the world, particularly in the developing world, where threats to many endemic or threatened biodiversity are most tenuous.” UNQUOTE

We in Ghana are fortunate to enjoy the fruits of the laborious research carried out by such hard-working, relatively unknown scholars as those who carried out this survey of our bird-life. They have given us the results of their scientific endeavours. But are we intelligent enough to make use of those results?

That's a question which those in charge of our forests, the environment and tourism, ought to answer. Our Parliament, for its part, must make sure that they do make sure that our institutions follow such expert, scientific advice.

It would be a great shame if we deny our succeeding generations the privilege of experiencing the beauty of Nature at its most awesome, such as some of us were privileged to absorb when we were young and our forests pristine.