Monday, September 11, 2017

Operation Vanguard  Saviours Of Our Environment- Our National Heroes

By Mawutodzi Kodzo Abissath

Ministers and Security Chiefs (seated) in group photo with 
Operation Vanguard Contingents 
The wisdom of our ancestors is reflected in this popular proverb: “When you kill a snake, you must cut off the head at once!”
How beautiful and wonderful is nature! Each dawn, when you stand with your back towards the West, you behold the golden sun rising from the geographical East.  As the sun emerges gently, its rays smile at you with Life, Light and Love (LLL). Like the Creator, the sun doesn’t discriminate against any creature or being. Oceans, rivers, forests, flowers, beasts, birds, butterflies, rocks, and all other minerals that dwell in the belly of our Mother Earth, are all placed at the disposal of mankind. Yet, man, out of sheer greed and avarice, takes nature for granted.
 In Ghana, our land is even endowed with more blessings than some other nations. However, because we think we are hungry, we take delight in vicious destruction of our environment. In the process, we are devastating our forests, ravaging our farmlands, polluting our rivers and contaminating our water bodies in the name of galamsey or illegal mining. If our choice as a people is to destroy our blessings of nature, then why don’t we invite Hurricane IRMA to come and do that job for us? Look at the catastrophic havoc of natural disasters in places like Sierra Leone, the US, Cuba and the Caribbean etc.     
The object of this article is to salute and express national appreciation to our compatriots who are assigned to undertake the Operation Vanguard ventures. I say ventures because theirs is a risky job indeed. Their very lives are at stake. Some achievements they are reported to have chalked up so far merit commendation, even though they still have a lot more to do.  
It was exactly on Monday, July 31, 2017 that Government commissioned a 400-member military cum police friendly contingents to combat illegal mining across the three most galamsey ravaged zones in the country. These are Ashanti, Eastern and Western Regions. Earlier, on April 4, 2017, thanks to the launch of the Media Coalition against galamsey, spearheaded by the Graphic Communications Group Limited (GCGL), the conscience of the nation was stirred to the environmental havoc galamsey was causing to rivers and water bodies in the country. President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo then vowed to eliminate galamsey menace to preserve our national heritage, even at the peril of his government.       
Success story of the Operation Vanguard so far
On Tuesday, September 5, 2017, a high-powered delegation led by Ghana’s Hon. Defence Minister, Dominic Nituwul, including the Hon. Interior Minister, Ambrose Dery, the Chief of Defence Staff, Lt Gen Obed Akwa and other security chiefs, paid a working visit to the Operation Vanguard officers to ascertain at firsthand, some of their achievements and challenges confronting them on the grounds. The working visit took them to Tarkwa in the Western, Obuasi in the Ashanti and Osino in the Eastern Regions respectively.
The Operation Vanguard Commander, Colonel William Agyapong, in his briefing, told the security authorities that the galamsey operators had diverted the course of many rivers that no longer flow normally for the people to get water to drink. In fact, the Commander made a cogent point to the effect that galamsey operations had led to virtual extermination of aquatic life. So much so that, some children of today in galamsey communities may not know that fish do live in rivers, (fresh fish). Is this situation not pathetic?
The Commander further reported that some of the illegal miners were still operating in deep waters. Such ‘amphibian’ illegal miners, he said, were using canoes for the galamsey operations. As a result, they were able to ‘out-smart’ some members of the task force who could not swim to escape arrest. Col Agyapong, therefore, appealed to Government to quickly deploy on board personnel from the Marine Police and the Ghana Navy to protect water bodies and consolidate the gains so far achieved by Operation Vanguard patriotic compatriots.
Generally, Nituwul delegation was not only satisfied but also highly impressed by the performance of the Operation Vanguard officers so far. Apart from the operational commander’s briefing, it was observed that gradually but steadily, most chiefs and residents of galamsey-devastated communities are warming up towards the Vanguard environmental protectors. People are gaining trust and confidence that the soldiers and police officers are not there to brutalise them but to protect them and safeguard their own future environmentally and economically.  
Media reports had it that some opinion leaders including Members of Parliament, chiefs, assembly members and religious leaders in the galamsey communities were full of praise to the Operation Vanguard officers. For example, in Obuasi, a Member of Parliament, Hon. Dr Boakye Yiadom, (MP) is reported to have expressed satisfaction about the performance of the vanguards in his constituency. “Our town is stable now. Not only because they are helping in curbing the galamsey menace, but have also ensured that security in Obuasi is tightened,” he noted.
According to Dr Yiadom, his own assessment indicates that, the deployment of the military cum police to the illegal mining zones has sent a strong signal to those destroying the environment and polluting water bodies that government is committed to ending galamsey once and for all. The MP pointed out that the Operation Vanguard is killing two birds with one stone. All other criminals, who hitherto, have been terrorizing residents of Obuasi, have evaporated into thin air, the MP opined.    
Within a relatively short span of seven weeks, since the Operation Vanguard action took off, some of their achievements cannot be quantified in real terms. The very first achievement this writer observed was that within the first two weeks of their operations, some of the muddy rivers have been transformed and the Ghana Water Company announced publicly that they were now able to treat water at minimised cost as compare to previously.
Again, when the President embarked on regional tours to Western and Central Regions in August, 2017, some chiefs and communities leaders including women, especially in the Central Region, where the task force was not originally deployed, appealed to the Present to dispatch Operation Vanguard saviours to their region too. The people reported to the President that some illegal miners were operating deep in forest reserves and still polluting rivers in their region, despite the ban imposed by the Lands and Natural Resources Minister, Mr. Peter Amewu, some months back. The popular request made to the President was an indication that the Operation Vanguard venture was achieving its stated objectives.
Special Galamsey Lands and Rivers Restoration Fund
It is commendable to learn that the Defence Minister and his delegation donated an amount of GHc 34,000 on behalf of Government to serve as incentive to boost the morale of the Operation Vanguard contingents in the field. This is fantastic!
 However, since Government’s intention is to maintain the Operation Vanguard on the grounds   for only God knows how long; for sustainability sake, and in view of the fact that the work of   the military and police officers is in the interest of our national heritage, it is suggested that Government, through the Inter-Ministerial Anti-Galamsey Task Force, chaired by the Minister for Environment, Science and Technology, Professor Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, should set up a special Fund.
The Fund could be known as Galamsey Lands and Rivers Restoration Fund (GLRRF). Individuals and corporate bodies including the mighty mining companies, some of whom are equally guilty in one way or another of environmental pollution, can contribute to this Fund. The Fund should not only be used for the motivation of Operation Vanguard compatriots, but also for the land reclamation and tree planting project for environmental sustainability of the country.  
Further, I wish to humbly suggest that, with the constitutional powers vested in the President of the Republic as the Commander-in-chief of the Ghana Armed Forces, the President must consider the creation of one highest national award like the Star of the Volta. This award could be designated as the National Environment Heritage Heroes Award (NEHHA) to be conferred on each of the 400 contingents of the Operation Vanguard at the end of their mission. This should be done in recognition of their sacrifices for the sake of posterity!

The author works with Information Services Department (ISD) abissath@gmail.com

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

 Galamsey fire dragons must not dare cool ocean octopuses

By Mawutodzi Kodzo Abissath

How illegal miners take risks to endanger their lives
Our ancestors used their native wisdom to caution: “Never put your finger tip into the fangs or mouth of a snake that does not bite.”
On Monday, July 31, 2017 the youthful Ghana’s Defence Minister, Hon. Dominic Nitiwul demonstrated the wisdom of King Solomon when he wisely advised residents of galamsey ravaged communities in the country not to provoke soldiers and police officers being assigned to their areas. He gave the warning in the lions’ den at the Burma Camp in Accra where over 400 dreadful looking combined contingents of armed soldiers and police officers had gathered for the official launch of was dubbed as “Operation Vanguard”.
The world-acclaimed heart surgeon and Ghana’s Environment Minister, Professor Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng who is also the Head of President Akufo-Addo’s Cabinet body of responsible eminent Ghanaians presented government’s strategy of tackling the galamsey challenges. Earlier on July 10, 2017 the President addressed a galamsey forum of traditional authorities in Accra and announced that plans were afoot to ‘arrest the galamsey menace and preserve our heritage’, as he put it.  
In this article, I shall pretend to be seen as one of the Environmental ‘Watch Dogs’ of Ghana, and add my  insignificant voice to that of the Defence Minister to humbly appeal to our brothers and sisters in galamsey devastated communities to respect the authority of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Ghana Armed Forces, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo. They should be mindful of the fact that the President has put a rope around the neck of his presidency, and vowed to stop illegal mining in Ghana once and for all.  All law-abiding galamsey engineers should heed the Defence Minister’s call and do nothing to provoke the already disturbed peace loving Ghanaian soldiers. Please do not dare them! They not there to brutalize you, but to protect you and the future of your children yet unborn.  
 “The entire country is behind the 400 soldiers and police officers to be stationed across three regions, namely Ashanti, Eastern and Western,” the Defence Minister reiterated. Then he cautioned repeatedly that no seven-headed-fire-spilling galamsey dragon should provoke the sleeping octopus in the person of the calm, cool and self-disciplined peaceful Ghanaian soldier. Ghanaian soldiers don’t like ‘gidigidi’or ‘basabasa koraaa oooo’! I beg you oooo! But if you attempt to put your finger into their nose, they will not smile at you at all. I know them very well!
 Other authorities who spoke for the Commander-in-Chief on that occasion included the Interior Minister, Hon. Ambrose Dery, the Environment Minister as mentioned above, and the Minister for Information Mr. Mustapha Abdul-Hamid was there. Many people might not know the role Mr. Abdul-Hamid has been   playing behind the scene for the success story of the Media Coalition against galamsey so far.
Above all, the Chief of Dense Staff Major General Akwa and the Inspector General of Police, Mr. David Asante-Apeatu all spoke to the military cum police battalion against galamsey at the Burma Camp Operation Vanguard launch ceremony. They all gingered but urged the contingent to be fair but firm and carry out their duties a professionally as possible. “You are not there to brutalize the people”, they were reminded.  “But you reserve the right to defend yourselves with commensurate force if your lives are put at risk”. They were also cautioned not to allow their selfish interest to blind them in  collecting  mouth-watering gifts from powerful galamsey pay masters.   
The fate that befell the late Major Mahama at Denkyira Obuasi is still fresh in Ghanaians’ minds. This is why our brothers and sisters of galamsey kingdoms should not play any tricks with soldiers and police officers on duty in their communities. 
The truth is that Government is not saying that unemployed hungry youth should not engage in small-scale mining to feed themselves and their loved ones.  NO! No Government of Ghana has ever denied Ghanaian citizens the right to engage in small scale mining. What they have always said, and which Nana Akufo-Addo’s government is also stressing is that, if you are a Ghanaian and wants to engage in small-scale mining, please do so in accordance with the laws of the land. If care is not taken it is only lawlessness that may lead this peaceful country into a ditch one day. “Torfiakwa!” As for foreigners, whether you are from America, Australia, China, Burkina Faso or Nigeria, please keep your contaminated galamsey hands off Ghana’s small-scale extractive industry. Period! The lawd do not permit you to do so.
The law governing operations of small-scale gold miners
The Small-Scale Gold Mining Act, 1989, (PNDC Law, 218) among other things stipulates, …“A person licensed to mine gold under this Act may win, mine and produce gold by aneffective and efficient method and shall in the operations observe good mining practices, health and safety rules, and pay due regard to the protection of the environment.”
This Act was issued as far back as on19th day of April, 1989 and notified in the Gazette on 2nd June, 1989. It has been in operation for nearly 30 years now without “wahala.”  Why must it take Government to deploy 400 strong battalion of soldiers and police officers today to enforce this law as if Ghana was going to war against some terrible terrorists from unknown planet? Something must have gone wrong somewhere. And our elders say: “A child, who doesn’t want the mother to sleep, will also not sleep either.
Since April this year when the Media coalition against galamsey advocacy was launched under the leadership of the Graphic Communications Group Limited (GCGL), the entire media in Ghana have proved beyond doubt that, it is not for nothing that Edmund Burke, a member of the House of Commons of the then Great Britain, in parliamentary debate, described the press as ‘the Fourth Estate of the realm or governance in 1787.  Thus, any person or group of persons who joke with the media do so at their own peril. Have you heard the saying “the pen is mightier than the sword?”
Why should Ghana be like any war-torn country?
It appears because some people of modern Ghana have never seen war with their naked eyes before,  they seem to wish  Ghana could go to war against itself one day.  But Ghanaian soldiers who have been participating in UN Peace-keeping operations since 1960s the know the anatomy of wars. So, they have been praying that their country should never experience wars.
 It is alleged that a certain group calling itself Association of Small Scale Miners in the Ashanti Region had threatened that “Ghana will be like Ivory Coast if they prevent us from visiting our sites”. It was against that background that Ghana’s Defence Minister issued a stern warning that residents of ravaged galamsey communities should not provoke our brothers and sisters in uniforms when deployed.
In Ghanaian culture, it is believed that when an elderly person is in the house, children are not allowed to engage in deadly fighting that may lead to maiming or killing of one another. The Ga will rhetorically ask: “Onukpa be dzen loo”? The Akan would say: “Opany ni fieho aanaa”? And the Ewe would put it this way: “Tsoo – ametsitsiadeke mele afima oo haaa?”
I have laboured to quote these traditional idiomatic expressions in their respective local dialects, even though the spellings might not be perfect. But the philosophy behind them is for the attention of Ghanaian traditional authorities. I wish to politely refresh their memories that when the President addressed them at the galamsey forum on July 10, 2017, he appealed to them to support him to eliminate galamsey.
Nana opined that, because traditional authorities are the custodians of all lands in Ghana, they have a responsibility to help stop galamsey.  As the elders of the nation, traditional authorities cannot sit down unconcerned while the youths in their communities may attempt to confront or provoke soldiers and police officers stationed in the areas of galamsey operations. They should remember Denkyira Obuasi.
Suggestion for consideration
First, all paramount chiefs in galamsey-prone regions should quickly summon their sub-chiefs and inform them about the coming of the anti-galamsey friendly battalions. Then the sub-chiefs in turn, should hold durbars or town hall meetings for their people, especially the youths and counsel them accordingly. They should reason out with them that Ghana Government is not against them. Rather, Government’s actions are meant to protect them and the future of their own children to get good food to eat, potable water to drink and fresh air to breathe.
 Thus, when they see the soldiers and police officers coming, they should run away, rather go towards them and make them “aaatuuu” like the savior. They should help them to flush out all illegal miners be they local or foreigners. But for heaven sake, they should not provoke the soldiers and police officers who are their fellow Ghanaians.

The author works with Information Services Department ISD abissath@gmail.com

Friday, August 4, 2017

THOSE GALAMSEY DEMONS MUST OBEY THE ORDERS OF OUR COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF OR ELSE...

By Mawutodzi Kodzo Abissath

Some of the galamsey combatants charged for action
Do you remember what happened to Satan and his bunch of demonic angels in heaven when they disobeyed the orders of God? (See Ezekiel 28:12-19 and Isaiah 14:12-14).
And our elders say: “If you see evil and do nothing, or say nothing against it, it will destroy you.”  It is for this reason that, if for nothing at all, concrete measures taken by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, Commander-in-Chief of the Ghana Armed Forces within six months of his administration to combat the evils of galamsey or illegal mining in Ghana are commendable. 
On Monday, July 31, 2017 the youthful Ghana’s Defence Minister, Hon. Dominic Nitiwul demonstrated the wisdom of King Solomon when he wisely advised residents of galamsey ravaged communities in the country not to provoke soldiers and police officers being assigned to their areas. He gave the warning in the lions’ den at the Burma Camp in Accra where over 400 dreadful looking combined contingents of armed soldiers and police officers had gathered for the official launch of what was dubbed “Operation Vanguard”.
The world-acclaimed heart surgeon and Ghana’s Environment Minister, Professor Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng who is also the Head of President Akufo-Addo’s Cabinet body of responsible eminent Ghanaians presented government’s strategy of tackling the galamsey challenges. Earlier on July 10, 2017 the President addressed a galamsey forum of traditional authorities in Accra and announced that plans were afoot to ‘arrest the galamsey menace and preserve our heritage’, as he put it.
In this article, I shall pretend to be seen as one of the Environmental ‘Watch Dogs’ of Ghana, and add my  insignificant voice to that of the Defence Minister to humbly appeal to our brothers and sisters in galamsey devastated communities to respect the authority of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Ghana Armed Forces, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo. They should be mindful of the fact that the President has put a rope around the neck of his presidency, and vowed to stop illegal mining in Ghana once and for all.  All law-abiding galamsey engineers should heed the Defence Minister’s call and do nothing to provoke the already disturbed peace loving Ghanaian soldiers. Please do not dare them! They are not there to brutalize you, but to protect you and the future of your children yet unborn.
“The entire country is behind the 400 soldiers and police officers to be stationed across three regions, namely Ashanti, Eastern and Western,” the Defence Minister reiterated. Then he cautioned repeatedly that no seven-headed-fire-spilling galamsey dragon should provoke the sleeping octopus in the person of the calm, cool and self-disciplined peaceful Ghanaian soldier. Ghanaian soldiers don’t like ‘gidigidi’or ‘basabasa koraaa oooo’! I beg you oooo! But if you attempt to put your finger into their nose, they will not smile at you at all. I know them very well!
Other authorities who spoke for the Commander-in-Chief on that occasion included the Interior Minister, Hon. Ambrose Dery, the Environment Minister as mentioned above, and the Minister for Information Mr. Mustapha Abdul-Hamid was there. Many people might not know the role Mr. Abdul-Hamid has been   playing behind the scene for the success story of the Media Coalition against galamsey so far.
Above all, the Chief of Dense Staff Major General Akwa and the Inspector General of Police, Mr. David Asante-Apeatu all spoke to the military cum police battalion against galamsey at the Burma Camp Operation Vanguard launch ceremony. They all gingered but urged the contingent to be fair but firm and carry out their duties as professionally as possible. “You are not there to brutalize the people”, they were reminded.  “But you reserve the right to defend yourselves with commensurate force if your lives are put at risk”. They were also cautioned not to allow their selfish interest to blind them in collecting mouth-watering gifts from powerful galamsey pay masters. 
The fate that befell the late Major Mahama at Denkyira Obuasi is still fresh in Ghanaians’ minds. This is why our brothers and sisters of galamsey kingdoms should not play any tricks with soldiers and police officers on duty in their communities.
The truth is that Government is not saying that unemployed hungry youth should not engage in small-scale mining to feed themselves and their loved ones.  NO! No Government of Ghana has ever denied Ghanaian citizens the right to engage in small scale mining. What they have always said, and which Nana Akufo-Addo’s government is also stressing is that, if you are a Ghanaian and wants to engage in small-scale mining, please do so in accordance with the laws of the land. If care is not taken it is only lawlessness that may lead this peaceful country into a ditch one day. “Torfiakwa!” As for foreigners, whether you are from America, Australia, China, Burkina Faso or Nigeria, please keep your contaminated galamsey hands off Ghana’s small-scale extractive industry. Period! The laws do not permit you to do so.
The law governing operations of small-scale gold miners
The Small-Scale Gold Mining Act, 1989, (PNDC Law, 218) among other things stipulates, …“A person licensed to mine gold under this Act may win, mine and produce gold by an effective and efficient method and shall in the operations observe good mining practices, health and safety rules, and pay due regard to the protection of the environment.”
This Act was issued as far back as on 19th day of April, 1989 and notified in the Gazette on 2nd June, 1989. It has been in operation for nearly 30 years now without “wahala.”  Why must it take Government to deploy 400 strong battalion of soldiers and police officers today to enforce this law as if Ghana was going to war against some terrible terrorists from unknown planet? Something must have gone wrong somewhere. And our elders say: “A child, who doesn’t want the mother to sleep, will also not sleep either.
Since April this year when the Media coalition against galamsey advocacy was launched under the leadership of the Graphic Communications Group Limited (GCGL), the entire media in Ghana have proved beyond doubt that, it is not for nothing that Edmund Burke, a member of the House of Commons of the then Great Britain, in parliamentary debate, described the press as ‘the Fourth Estate of the realm or governance in 1787.  Thus, any person or group of persons who joke with the media do so at their own peril. Have you heard the saying “the pen is mightier than the sword?”
Why should Ghana be like any war-torn country?
It appears because some people of modern Ghana have never seen war with their naked eyes before,  they seem to wish  Ghana could go to war against itself one day.  But Ghanaian soldiers who have been participating in UN Peace-keeping operations since the 1960s, they know the anatomy of wars. So, they have been praying that their country should never experience wars.
It is alleged that a certain group calling itself Association of Small Scale Miners in the Ashanti Region had threatened that “Ghana will be like Ivory Coast if they prevent us from visiting our sites”. It was against that background that Ghana’s Defence Minister issued a stern warning that residents of ravaged galamsey communities should not provoke our brothers and sisters in uniforms when deployed.
In Ghanaian culture, it is believed that when an elderly person is in the house, children are not allowed to engage in deadly fighting that may lead to maiming or killing of one another. The Ga will rhetorically ask: “Onukpa be dzen loo”? The Akan would say: “Opany ni fieho aanaa”? And the Ewe would put it this way: “Tsoo – ametsitsiadeke mele afima oo haaa?”
I have laboured to quote these traditional idiomatic expressions in their respective local dialects, even though the spellings might not be perfect. But the philosophy behind them is for the attention of Ghanaian traditional authorities. I wish to politely refresh their memories that when the President addressed them at the galamsey forum on July 10, 2017, he appealed to them to support him to eliminate galamsey.
Nana opined that, because traditional authorities are the custodians of all lands in Ghana, they have a responsibility to help stop galamsey.  As the elders of the nation, traditional authorities cannot sit down unconcerned while the youths in their communities may attempt to confront or provoke soldiers and police officers stationed in the areas of galamsey operations. They should remember Denkyira Obuasi.
Suggestion for consideration

First, all paramount chiefs in galamsey-prone regions should quickly summon their sub-chiefs and inform them about the coming of the anti-galamsey friendly battalions. Then the sub-chiefs in turn, should hold durbars or town hall meetings for their people, especially the youths and counsel them accordingly. They should reason out with them that Ghana Government is not against them. Rather, Government’s actions are meant to protect them and the future of their own children to get good food to eat, potable water to drink and fresh air to breathe.
Thus, when they see the soldiers and police officers coming, they should not run away, but rather go towards and make them “aaatuuu” like the savior. They should help them to flush out all illegal miners be they local or foreigners. But for heaven sake, they should not provoke the soldiers and police officers assigned to combat galamsey. The orders of the Commander-in-Chief of the Republic must be obeyed in the interest of Ghana.  Period!
The author works with Information Services Department ISD abissath@gmail.com


Monday, July 17, 2017

Ghanaian traditional authorities and the funeral rites of galamsey

By Mawutodzi Kodzo Abissath

President Nana  Akufo-Addo interacting with traditional authorities 
Can some smart evangelist quickly crosscheck this passage in the Bible - Mark 8:36? I paraphrase: “For what inheritance shall a traditional ruler bestow his descendants if he accumulates all the ‘Chinese Dollars’ in the globe but desecrates the forests and rivers bequeathed him by his ancestors?”
On Monday, 10 July, 2017, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo elevated the spirit of the fight against galamsey to another level. It was on that day that the President proclaimed: “I WILL PUT MY PRESIDENCY ON LINE TO STOP GALAMSEY,” emphasis mine. I dare opine that this presidential declaration has supplied afresh oxygen to the initiative of the media coalition against galamsey launched on Tuesday, 4 April, 2017. May the gods of the environment bless the President.
In this article, I shall try  to play the role of an environmental Okyeame to interpret and amplify the voice of the President as an environmental Paramount King who sent two bottles of schnapps to announce the death of galamsey and  appealed to his colleague traditional authorities to support him to give a befitting burial to the departed spirit of galamsey.
Vision of media coalition against galamsey
Some observers are of the opinion that the vision and philosophy behind the  advocacy of media coalition against galamsey today may take some souls the next 2000 years to appreciate it  because  their action is not only meant for the present but the future generations as well.
Fortunately for Ghana, President Nana Akufo-Addo’s pronouncement indicates that he is in tune with the Ghanaian media as far as the galamsey menace is corned. And I can place my right  hand over my heart and  pledge  that if  this government succeeds in conquering galamsey once and for all, the President’s declaration quoted above  will become legendary like what Osagyfo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah said 60 years ago at independence. “Our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent.”
In December 2000, BBC World Servicelisteners in Africa voted Kwame Nkrumah, their "Man of the Millennium". Continental survey indicated that it was largely due to that singular statement Nkrumah made about Ghana’s independence that placed him over and above other great leaders of the continent like Nelson Mandela of South Africa.
When the environmental Paramount King Nana, was addressing his colleague traditional authorities at that galamsey forum here in Accra, he stated, (…) “But we have also to recognize that as difficult as things have been and we are looking for employment and stuff, there are things that we cannot allow to happen and one of them is the heritage, the inheritance that our fathers  and our grandfathers, our great grandfathers bequeath to us especially the space, the Ghanaian  space which we all occupy. We have a duty to preserve it for those who are coming after us.” If this statement is not environmentally profound then I don’t know what it is.
Then President Nana Akufo-Addo continued, “And if our river bodies are drying up, our landscape is being desecrated, we here, leaders of our society,leaders of our nation, political leaders, traditional rulers, religious leaders, we have a responsibility to say NO; we can’t allow this to go on for our own common survival and the survival of those who are to come. We can if we allow it we are jeopardising our own future.” This sounds like Pope Francis speaking in June 2015 somewhere in the  world.
Patriotism of Nana Akufo-Addo
For the President to look directly into the faces of the most powerful monarchs in Ghana and state unequivocally that he was prepared to sacrifice his presidency  on the altar of galamsey speaks volume of the depth of his statesmanship and patriotism.
But that was not the first time Nana Akufo-Addo demonstrated his patriotism to Ghanaians. It will be recalled that in August 2013 during his post-verdict speech at the Supreme Court, the then Presidential candidate of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) said: “The Supreme Court of our nation has spoken and the result of the December 2012 presidential election has been confirmed as having been won by the candidate of the NDC, President Mahama.”
Then he added, “Although I was saddened by the decision, I accept that what the Court says brings finality to the election dispute. We shall not be asking for a review of the verdict so we can all move on in the interest of our nation.”  That statement made Nana then an instant global angel of democracy in Africa.
Again, at the galamsey forum the President reminded the chiefs,  …when I took the oath that I am  sworn into office  to protect the integrity of the nation, Ghana, I swore to uphold its constitution, its sovereignty, that is, the care of the nation, its people, its resources and its nature have been put to my  care temporarily as a trustee like the Nananom are trustees of the lands of which they occupy for their people. So you are at the national level a trustee of the lands and resources of our nation. So you ask yourselves, how best you can discharge this trust, do you sit back and say; “well all these young men don’t have anything to do so let it go on?”
A big challenge to traditional authorities
This was a big challenge the President had thrown to the traditional rulers if galamsey is to be stopped in Ghana. It is common knowledge that in Ghana, traditional rulers are not elected. They are leaders who were born with “divine rights” to rule over their subjects.Whenever they mount their thrones they wild monarchical powers and reserve the rights to rule until thy kingdom come. All lands in Ghana are held in trust by traditional rulers for the people of Ghana. They are highly revered in society. Therefore, they are the alpha and omega of the continuation or otherwise of galamsey in Ghana. That is what President Nana Akufo- Addo means when he said the traditional authorities have a responsibility to support the government to perform thefinal  funeral rites of galamsey one and for all.
The President cited a very embarrassing diplomatic incident suffered by the country to the amazement of some of the traditional authorities hearing it for the first time. The environmental Paramount King narrated the incident in a story telling format like this:
 Once upon a time, there lived a very prominent Ghanaian Professor Heart surgeon in Ogyakrom. The said famous heart operating engineer also became a Minister for Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation of his country.
Galamsey diplomatic embarrassment to Ghana
 One day the famous Professor who is also teaching at a medical school, went to Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire for a very important town hall durbar of chiefs and people in that country. After the durbar, the Professor was on his way to a certain junction to get a calabash of palm wine to quench his thirst.
Then just as the noble Professor was about to gulp the first throat full of the wine, without any protocol,some inquisitive ordinary mortals holding writing sticks, microphones, mobile phones and sorts of  modern communications gadgets, confronted him and started bombarding him with unnecessary environmental queries. “Why is your galamsey country polluting rivers in our land?” Why do you allow illegal mining taking place in Ghana affecting our water bodies, to the extent that we cannot treat water for our people to drink.?” Why, why, don’t you have control over the looting of precious minerals in your country?” Is it that is how you govern your nation?”
The President told the traditional authorities that the Ghanaian Professor felt very embarrassed, and very apologetic that the galamsey activities of Ghanaians was jeopardising the space of another fellow neigbour country in our sub-region.In fact, the Professor was so embarrassed that he could not even quaff the first calabash of palm wine in his hands.
Cabinet body to find solution to galamsey menace
So, when he came back to Ghana he reported the humiliation to the Commander-in-Chief of the Republic who sent him on that mission. Consequently, the President disclosed at the galamsey forum that the Government had composed a cabinet body of very responsible eminent Ghanaians headed by the same renowned Professor Kwabena Frimpong Boateng to try and arrest the galamsey menace to “preserve our heritage” once  and for all.

As a humble environmental “watch dog”, with particular sniffing for galamsey stench,this writer wishes to humbly suggest that Professor Frimpong Boateng Cabinet Committee must not allow the neck of President Akufo-Addo’s presidency to be led to the galamsey gallows to be truncated. Before they start their operations, they should endeavour to ascertain why ex-President Mahama’s inter-ministerial anti-galamsey taskforce disappointed Ghanaians in 2013.

The author works with Information Services Department (ISD)  abissath@gmail.com

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Ten Years of Oil Exploration: Has Ghana any Oil Spill Contingency Plan in Place?  

By Mawutodzi Kodzo Abissath

Training Workshop Participants at EPA Institute of Environmental Studies,
Amasaman, near Accra. 
A Ghanaian proverb advises: “A person who is sufficiently prepared for any eventuality is hardly overtaken by events.”
Gradually but steadily, Ghana is elbowing its way into a comity of nations where she could be described as an oil producing country. No matter how long it may take Ghana to actually join the cartel of those powerful nations on this planet of elegance known as Oil Producing Countries (OPEC), Ghanaians must be grateful and thankful to the Creator for the natural resources bestowed upon this land of their birth.
Out of 60 years of political independence so far, ten could be characterised as a decade of oil exploration.  It was in June 2007 that the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC) led the Kosmos Energy of the USA and the E.O. Group of Companies to present the first bottle of sample crude oil to former President J.A. Kufuor at the Castle Osu, Accra.
President Kufuor was full of broad smiles when the sample oil was poured like honey into a plate for him to see. The temperature of public expectations of economic prosperity shot up to 99.9 degree centigrade. It was thought that with oil discovery in commercial quantities, all the economic woes of the nation were gone forever and ever. “Kpaaoo”!
Since then, three other Ghanaian Heads of State, namely, Prof. J.E.A. Mills, President J. D. Mahama and President Nana A.D. Akufo-Addo, have all had the privilege to switch on valves in December 2010, August 2016 and July 2017 of Floating, Production, Storage and Offloading (FPSO), for oil and gas to flow onto our blessed land.  It is ten years now. Are we still in that child like jubilation over oil and gas production in Ghana? Life remains miserable for the majority of Ghanaians. So, people are asking where the oil money is. “Naa sika nu wohi”?
The object of this article is not about jubilation and singing of hosanna halleluiah because Ghana has been producing oil and gas for the past ten years. Rather, to find out whether the country has any contingency plan in place to respond to oil spillage whenever disaster strikes?
As a layman in disaster management in general and oil spill response in particular, my only business here is to share some basic knowledge acquired at a training workshop organised by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for environmental stakeholders including the media recently. The workshop was held under the joint-collaboration of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the Global Initiative for Western, Central and Southern Africa (GIWACAF) and the Global Oil and Gas Industry Association for Environmental and Social Issues (IPIECA), sponsored by some seven Oil Companies.

The event took place at the magnificent Institute of Environmental Studies – Ghana, located at Amasaman near Accra. It was themed: National Exercise to test the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan (NOSCP) from 27 – 30 June 2017.
Mercifully, it was gratifying to know that the Environmental Protection Agency, which is the statutory body established by the Environmental Protection Agency Act, 1994 (Act 490) was able to put in place a National Contingency Plan as far back as 1986 to combat pollution of the sea and the coastline by oil and other noxious and hazardous substances in the country.
Periodically, key stakeholders of the NOSCP have been embarking on some kinds of exercises with specific objectives. Records show that the last exercise on national oil spill contingency plan preparedness was conducted in March 2017 here in Accra.  The EPA in collaborated with Tullow Oil, the Ghana Armed Forces, especially the Navy and the Ghana Air Force Units and other stakeholders including the media participated in that exercise.
An Information Centre was created at the EPA Headquarters that handled the flow of information to the press and the public and feedback to the Navy Command Centre. The outcome of that exercise was fruitful and insightful indeed!
The Amasaman Training Workshop
The Amasaman Training workshop, as the theme indicates, was meant to do some practical exercise, dubbed “tabletop exercise” to test the NOSCP and to build on the previous work of improving and developing the country’s capacity to respond to oil spills. Two expatriate trainers from UK who served as resource persons included a veteran marine operation and emergency response expert of 40 years’ experience, Mr. Joe Small, who is also an IMPO/IPIECA Consultant. 
The other was Clément Chazot, GL WACAF Project Manager. The course content covered areas of Incident Management System (IMS), Incident Command Structure - involving advising, planning operations, logistics and finances, implementation response action plan, deployment of resources (people and equipment), and above all Incident Response Communications, which concerned the media.
Incident Response Communications
For the purpose of this article, I should like to dwell on the communications component of the training course for the benefit of media practitioners. We were told that during crisis, especially when oil spillage occurs at sea, information movement must take two dimensions, vertical - that is internally and horizontal – externally. But the flow of information to the media and the public must be carefully crafted in order not to create fear and panic.
Communications strategy ought to be planned in such a way that the incident response team should receive feedback or reactions from the media and the public while the rescue operations were on going at sea.  The best way to achieve this is to establish a Command Centre where various professionals including information and communication will be directing affairs. That is what is referred to in this context as Command Structure.
Information management during crisis situation demands that only one spokesperson must serve as a liaison between the emergency response team and the media and the public. Such a person must be knowledgeable and give accurate and concise information without doubling in technicalities to confuse media practitioners.
Experience has proved that most often, during emergency situations, people tend to engage in speculations, misinformation, distortions, manipulations and exaggerations. Everybody will report the incident from their own perceptions and understanding, especially on social media. This is why the communications professional at the command centre must be on top of issues and have facts and figures at his or her finger tips, but at the same time must give out only the appropriate information for public consumption.
Again, during oil spill incident, the communication plan must address priority issues. For example, when disaster occurs, the first thing to consider is human lives. While the rescue operations team must think of saving lives at sea, the communication response team too, must be sensitive to people’s emotions, and know their target audience. In Ghana, the way naked dead bodies are bundled and dangled around during disasters is not the best.  Body bags should be used for that purpose.
Table Top Exercise
Workshop participants broke into three groups with Group 1 made up of Command/Communications Centre under the leadership of the Ghana Navy; Group 2 Rescue Operations/Planning/Action Plan; and Group3 Administration/Finance /Logistic sections.  A case study was presented where imaginary Marine Vessels MV Onward Prince & MV Gulf Trader collided in Ghanaian waters off Tema. One of the vessels was badly damaged with casualties and thousands of tons of oil spills spreading very fast towards a fishing community at Ada on Ghana’s eastern coastline. That was the problem of the day.
Quickly, various environmental stakeholders were called for emergency response. A rescue operation was activated. On the part of the Incident Communications Response team a scenario was created where local canoe fishermen’s Association wrote to the Command Centre for information: “We hear reports of an oil spill off Tema. Can you advise us, urgently, of any dangers and the potential impacts on our livelihoods? We need reassurances that fishing can continue and that the revenue for our families is unaffected.”
This writer stood in for EPA’s Head of Public Relations who was responsible for information management between the media and the public. First a press release was issued giving relevant background information of the incident to both print and electronic media. Then it was advised that some EPA officials were quickly dispatched to the fishing community at Ada to have interpersonal communication with the chief fisherman and his people.
They were assured that indeed, the incident had occurred but rescue operations were activated to contain the situation.  They were assured that their fishing activities would not be affected in any way. Information Cinema Vans were also mobilised for street announcement and to educate the people about the incident in their own languages. But they were cautioned not to go near to the disaster zone for fishing.
While dealing with the local media and affected communities, Togolese authorities through the Gl WACAF Focal Point in that country also sent a dispatch to Ghana government:  “Understand you are dealing with an oil spill in your waters. Can you advise, urgently, the threat to Togolese waters and, if so, the timescales?”
In response, the Communications Response team drafted a Note Verbale for Ghana’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration for the Togolese Ambassador in Accra via Gl WACAF Focal Point to assure the country’s neighbours that everything was under control and that the spilled oil had been contained with booms; therefore, there was no cause for alarm.
Finally, Ghana’s Minister for Environment, Science and Technology and Innovation was invited to brief Parliament about the oil spill disaster and what was being done to address the situation. Here too, the Communications Response team was tasked to draft a statement for the Environmental Minister to report to Parliamentarians.
Indeed, the Amasaman training workshop was an eye opener. The rescue operations encountered some logistical challenges and lack of effective coordination among various stakeholders here and there. But some lessons were learnt.  And that was the essence of the Table Top Exercise to test the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan of Ghana.
The author works with Information Services Department. ISD abissath@gmail.com


Friday, June 30, 2017

Thinking of the environment @70 is a sign of ‘green wisdom’

By Mawutodzi Kodzo Abissath
Former President JJ Rawlings (middle) among the audience at the symposium
Photo Credit: Daily Graphic 
A Ghanaian proverb says: “Wisdom is not like gold which may be kept in a safe.” If you are a sage, it will reflect in your image.
Ghana is blessed not only with abundant natural resources but also with statesmen and women of wisdom. Some of the wise men and women of our land are not only those who possess grey hairs. For example, some of the young media gurus like Mr. Kenneth Ashigbey of the Graphic Communications Group (GCGP) and his leading collaborators of the Media Coalition against Galamsey Campaign have their heads impregnated with wisdom.
Verily, verily, I say unto you that the war being waged against illegal mining by the Ghanaian media today may not be appreciated by some egocentric elements of the extractive industry of the present generation. Rather, it will take some future generations about 300 years to clap for the media for saving their farmlands, forests, rivers and water bodies for posterity.  
In this article, I would like to touch briefly on the ingenuity of some past and present Ghanaian leaders with particular reference to former President Jerry John Rawlings who has just celebrated his 70th anniversary. I was fascinated when I heard that as part of activities marking his70th natal day, there was going to be a lecture on the environment. Indeed, there was a symposium, on a broad theme: Protecting and safeguarding the national environment for the future generations.
 I found this aspect of President Rawlings’s anniversary celebration very instructive and productive nationally. President Rawlings’s environmental consciousness has been elevated to that degree of consciousness where the nation must take note of. A Gambian proverb on the environment says, “A tree which is not taller than you cannot shade you.”
On Thursday, June 23, 2017, the Daily Graphic carried on its page 52, a story headlined, and “Lecture on environment held to celebrate JJ at 70 today.” That story reported by Dominic Moses Awiah & Timothy was illustrated with a photograph of audience made up of President Rawlings and his family members, Ambassador Victor Gbeho and Prof. Frimpong-Boateng, Minister for Environment Science, Technology and Innovation, who could be seen standing and addressing the audience.
The story placed emphasis on what Ghana’s Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, Mr. John Peter Amewu, who could be characterized as the general commanding the current fight against galamsey in the country. Mr. Amewu was reported to have outlined a number of interventions the government intended to put in place to protect the country’s environment for the future generations. As a student of Environmental studies, Minister Amewu’s words sound like music in my ears. The earlier those interventions including forests plantations, conservation of biodiversity and protection of water bodies among others are implemented the better for the sustainable development of our beloved nation.
Naturally, President Rawlings cannot be singled out to be the first Ghanaian leader to demonstrate genuine concern about environmental protection and preservation in Ghana.  However, if President Rawlings were like some other egocentric former or present African heads of state,(don’t get me wrong-  I am not saying he is incorruptible); he could have  decided to  embark upon some ‘huhudious’ vacation on some distant luxurious touristic island on this planet of vanity to enjoy his 70th birth day party.
The fact that he thought of the environment, and devoted this anniversary to the awareness creation of the environment alone qualifies him to be baptized as an environmental angel of Ghana. I would compare President Rawlings to Pope Francis and President Barak Obama as far as his environmental consciousness goes.
Some other Ghanaian leaders or personalities who demonstrated their sense of environmental concerns in the past included former UN Secretary-General Busumuru Kofi Annan, former President John Agyekum Kufuor, the immediate past President John Dramani Mahama and the current President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo. Here are some basic facts or evidences to illustrate my point:
In March 2016, Mr. Kofi Anna was the special guest of honour who opened a two-day international conference of African forests here in Ghana. The theme for that event was “Forest for the future of New Forest for Africa”. On that occasion, Mr. Kofi Annan lamented about illegal mining or ‘galamsey’ as well as illegal timber operations that were destroying Africa’s forest cover.  In fact, he disclosed that about 130 million hectares of Africa’s “forest cover has been lost since 1990.”
As for President Kufuor, his concerns about the environment and climate change caught so much   global attention that in December 2013, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed him as UN Special Envoy on Climate Change, together with a former Prime Minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg to mobilize worldwide political will and action in an anticipation of a Climate Summit that was held in New York in 2014.
In September 2015, immediate past President John Mahama, too, was appointed Co-Chair with current Prime Minister of Norway, Ms Erna Solberg, to head a group of sixteen (16) eminent Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Advocates to support the Secretary-General in his efforts to generate momentum and commitment to achieve the SDGs by 2030.
 Earlier in May 2013, President Mahama inaugurated a high-power inter-ministerial committee mandated to find lasting solutions to illegal mining or galamsey in this country. As to how and why that powerful anti-galamsey task force backed by the national security apparatus could not successfully accomplish their task only Jesus knows. And the consequence is what we are all witnessing today as a nation.
In April 2017, Ghana’s current President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo automatically took over the Co-Chairmanship of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Advocates from President Mahama.  This was announced by the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres on Tuesday, 11 April 2017 in New York as reported in the media. These United Nations appointments conferred on former or ruling Ghanaian heads of state should not be taken for granted at all. It is a great honour for a country’s leaders to be assigned such global responsibilities for the benefit of mankind. This explains why Ghanaians must accord uttermost respect to their leaders regardless of their political affiliations. Once a political party flag bearer is elected president of a country, all citizens are obliged to accord him or her necessary due courtesies due that office of authority. 
Since January 2017, when President Nana Akufo-Addo mounted that ‘horse’ as the leader of this peace loving country, illegal mining or galamsey has been one of the  issues that has been giving him sleepless nights. But his determination and commitment to combat the menace which he described as ‘a complex phenomenon’ is admirable. So far, under his command, his Lands and Natural Resources Minister, Mr. Peter Amewu has been making life unpalatable for recalcitrant galamseyers. The galamsey operators should be guided by this proverbs that, “Any child who says his mother will not sleep, he or she too, will not taste the fruit of sound sleep.”

All said and done, former President Rawlings’s commitment to environmental sanitation, especially in those days when he could snatch a shovel from any member of the public and to enter a gutter to clean the city of Accra has distinguished him from all the others. That act may be interpreted by various people to suit their own perception but it encouraged the spirit of communal labour among the citizenry. If today, at the age of 70, he could no longer physically do some of those exercises but would use the occasion of his natal day celebration to organise lectures or symposia on the importance of the environment, one can only proclaim him as a man of Green Wisdom.

The author works with Information Services Department ISD  abissath@gmail.com