Thursday, 6 August 2015

Should Forests In Ghana Not Be Handed Over To Fringe Forest Communities To Protect?

It never ceases to amaze me that members of our political class have not yet realised the security implications of the impunity with which the wealthy criminal syndicates  behind illegal logging in our forests, and illegal gold mining in sites across the country, continue to operate.

Have Ghanaian politicians forgotten so soon that the civil wars in DR Congo,  Liberia and Sierra Leone, were a perfect cover to enable greedy warlords loot diamonds, gold and timber in those three nations, with impunity?

The same thing could easily happen here too - given the power and influence of the super-ruthless criminal syndicates behind illegal logging and illegal gold mining in Ghana.

Perhaps the question we ought to ask is: Has the time not now come to hand over forests in Ghana to fringe forest communities - if the long-term survival of Ghana's remaining forest cover is to be guaranteed?

The Forestry Commission could partner such communities - by putting its expertise at their disposal.

Speaking as someone whose family owns 14 square miles of upland evergreen rainforest, on a freehold basis, in the Atewa upland evergreen  rainforest, I can see the effect of the powerlessness of the poorly-resourced Forestry Commission to halt illegal logging in our country.

(Incidentally, we have owned land at Akyem Juaso since 1921. 99.6 acres of our land actually lies inside the Atewa Forest Reserve.  We see ourselves as mere stewards of some of the most beautiful forestland in the world - and want an area designated a Globally Significant Biodiversity Area (GSBA) preserved for humankind.  For decades now, some of us have risked our lives fighting the wealthy criminals engaged in illegal logging and illegal gold mining, in the area. At age 62, we now want to make sure the authorities deal effectively with the illegal loggers and illegal gold miners destroying the Atewa forest, before we die. But I digress.)

One  can also see clearly, how the wealthy criminals who sponsor the production of illegal chainsaw lumber, are corrupting  some of the poorly-paid Forestry Commission officials sent to arrest chainsaw operators felling trees illegally - who apparently alert chainsaw operators of planned raids before they are carried out.

Naturally, those Forestry Commission officials, are keenly aware that they could easily be murdered by those they are sent to arrest - so think it prudent to accept such inducements to avoid raising their ire.

In light of that debilitating institutional paralysis, should the job of halting the rape of our remaining forests,  therefore not be given to the Ghana Armed Foreces' Army and Air Force Special Forces units?

If the two armed services' special forces regularly patrol the Atewa upland evergreen rainforest by helicopter - accompanied by the relevant Forestry Commission officials - during daylight hours, for example, they could then take on the illegal chainsaw gangs that operate at night, using night-vision and thermal-imaging equipment. They could do same for other forest reserves in Ghana, too.

If that is too expensive to be done on a regular basis, the government could approach the satellite video streaming company, Urthecast, to provide streaming video of forests in Ghana - so that those who engage in illegal logging and illegally mine gold in forests in Ghana can be identified, arrested, prosecuted and jailed.

The question the minister of lands and natural resources, and the top brass of the Forestry Commission, should ponder, is: How is it possible for illegal chainsaw lumber to be transported from Akyem Juaso, and other areas in the forest belt, to Accra and other urban centres, on a regular basis?

Yet, if the protection of the Atewa upland evergreen rainforest - and other forests in Ghana - is put into the hands of fringe forest communities, such as Akyem Juaso, and a deal is struck with the government of Norway, to pay them the same millions of dollars it has paid to the government of Guyana over the years, to protect Guyana's forests, why would fringe forest communities in Ghana also not ensure the protection of the Atewa forest and other forests in our country?

The time has come to hand over forests in Ghana to fringe forest communities to protect those forests - and strike low carbon development deals with nations like Norway to pay money directly to such communities for protecting the forests they border.

And the job of halting the activities of illegal loggers and illegal gold miners, should be handed over to the Ghana Armed Forces' Army and Air Force special forces - if the criminal syndicates that sponsor illegal logging and illegal gold mining are not to evolve into terrorist organisations fueling rebellions across Ghana.

Finally, as  punishment for their crimes against humanity, which organising the egregious  gang-rape of the Atewa forest amounts to,  the military authorities can start their work protecting forests in Ghana, by getting the Military Police to monitor, arrest, and hand over to the Ghana Police Service - for their prosecution and jailing - Obaa Yaa (Tel: 0231743659) and Kwesi/Kweku (Tel: 0272267763 & 0244802763), the leader of her chainsaw gang (whose name I am not too sure of).

They operate with unprecedented ruthlessness, in the area within the Atewa forest's forestry boundary pillars 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97 and 98, at Akyem Juaso,  known locally as "Thompson" and "Fran├žois".

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