Environmental protection, global warming and climate change are concepts that occupy a special place in today’s global geopolitics. The survival of humanity is directly linked to the state of the environment as it has always been, and that umbilical cord linking human existence to the ecosystem has attracted special attention and concern of late. International conferences are held to sensitize citizens of all walks of like, political leaders as well as industrialists to the rate at which the environment is being violated. Forest reserves are decimated at a vertiginous speed by merchants of wood or goldmining multinationals. The Amazon Forest in Brazil used to be cited as the locale where this tragedy was unfolding, especially with the ultra-capitalist policy of President Jair Bolsonaro. But, today, it is obvious that no space on the face of the earth is safe from environmental destruction and its catastrophic aftermath of extreme temperatures, drastic change in weather and rain patterns, floodings, pollution of waterbodies, and so on. So, what was perceived as the problem of the developed nations or some few developing ones like Brazil is now global. Summits are held and, supposedly, sacrosanct agreements and decisions were taken or adopted – Rio, Paris, Kyoto and many more. World leaders, except a few like Trump and Bolsonaro, pledged to adhere to such lifeline treaties.
Today in Ghana, a special area, and national property that impacts the lives of Ghanaians is being jettisoned because of petty politics. Unfathomably, the Achimota Forest Reserve in Accra is being ravaged in broad daylight. The reserve is being portioned out to individuals. How could Ghanaians let this happen to them and what do they gain from it? Who are the main people and agents behind this abominable act?
The splendid Achimota Forest Reserve: A jewel and pride of Ghana
It is impossible not to marvel at the features of that part of Accra where the forest reserve covers a strategic location in a popular urban area. The Achimota Forest Reserve is located in the region of Greater Accra. The distance from Achimota Forest Reserve to Ghana’s capital Accra (Accra) is approximately 7.6 km / 4.7 miles. The trees and plants that cover the area provide a breathtaking bird’s-eye view of green foliage, a veritable treasure in environmentalism. Aside that flamboyant beauty which harbours a life sustaining entity, the reserve has other invaluable traits and functions. It is said to contribute immensely to the continuity of the City of Accra’s biodiversity which is necessary for the local economic development, among other assets.
The strategic location of the Achimota Forest Reserve provides many environmental benefits that cannot be overemphasized. Being close to a major urban road that is used by numerous vehicles per day, it mitigates most of the environmental pollutants from emissions emanating from vehicles which can cause significant respiratory problems and other health complications. Other benefits include: purification of air, stabilization of the climate (trees and plants regulate atmospheric temperatures), economic wealth (timber, tourism, rare animals, food and vegetable); regulation of the cycle of water (checks evaporation and precipitations), medicinal value (trees with pharmaceutical components); enrichment of the soil (organic fertilizer through shedding of leaves), and much more. It is the only existing greenbelt in Accra and can be used for training purposes with courses in biology, forestry, and so on.
The danger currently lurking around Achimota Forest Reserve
One more time we experience the semi-insane and totally gluttonous role that politics plays in African societies. This forest reserve, whose qualities cannot be enumerated or measured, is about to disappear in the nebulous context of Ghanaian politics. Ghanaians were shocked when national media conveyed that the Achimota Forest belongs to a family, the Owoo family that are residents in Accra, and whose property must be returned to them. President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo had just signed an executive instrument declassifying parts of the Achimota Forest as a forest reserve. This is one of the versions that is cited as the beginning of what some term a “loot and share saga”, a practice not new in Ghanaian politics. That family is said to be “faceless” since nobody knows who they are and that led many to speculate that the party in power simply intends to develop the forest as the private property of sycophants. The move, itself, betrayed the poor environmental policy of the government that pays lip service to the protection of the environment since a Ministry of Environment exists, and a contingent of more than 200 people were sent to a climate-related conference. The question that pops up then is, “what prevented the government from buying the forest reserve if it belongs to a family?” Above all, Achimota Forest is an eco park boasting a combination of numerous benefits of tremendous value to the nation.
Another name at the centre of the controversy: Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie aka Sir John
Until his death in 2020, Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie was the chief executive officer (CEO) of the Forestry Commission and his office was situated at the same forest reserve. He was the secretary-general of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) currently in power. The surprise peaked when a will was found and confirmed as that of Sir John. In it, he bequeaths to relatives four parcels of specified and unspecified acres of land in the Achimota Forest and that gave a new dimension to the inexplicable phenomenon.
The will contains the following statements, “I give my land situate(d) at the Achimota Forest in the name of Jakaypro Limited and measuring 5.541 acres to the following persons forever: Yaw Amoateng Afriyie, 1 acre, Eva Akua Afriyie, 1 acre. I give my portion of land that I jointly own at the Achimota Forest in the name of DML Limited to Elizabeth Asare Boateng who at the time of making this will is domiciled in the USA forever”. The politician went further to disclose that he possesses part of the Ramsar area at Sakumono in the Greater Accra Region, which is a precious wetland that is pivotal in the life of Ghanaians and those in Accra, specifically. Part of this precious national asset is bequeathed to Sir John’s relatives: “I give my land situate(d) at the Ramsar area at Sakumono in the Greater Accra Region and measuring 5.07 acres to my sisters Abena Saah and her children, Comfort Amoateng and her children, Abena Konadu and Juliet Akua Arko and her children on equal share basis forever,” the will states. The government says there are no records at the Lands Commission to support claims that the late former CEO of the Forestry Commission, Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie, acquired portions of the Achimota Forest Reserve land.
This situation has infuriated many Ghanaians who took to social media, asking for explanations from the government that has been under serious criticism for some time now. I find it difficult to imagine how such important national assets like the Achimota Forest Reserve and the Sakumo wetland can be degraded, destroyed, and trivialized in a story of politics and corruption.
Moussa Traoré is Associate Professor at the Department of English, University of Cape Coast, Ghana.