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Jerry John Rawlings the Revolutionary: His passion for green revolution and the environment

Rawlings Boss?fit=470%2C313&ssl=1 The late Former President Jerry John Rawlings

Wed, 20 Jan 2021 Source: Dr. Donald Cog Senanu Agumenu

Long before the world woke up to the universal call on Climate Change and Global Warming, J.J Rawlings was already leading the way on environmental protection and sanitation in Ghana. While in office, he invested greatly in public health and encouraged good habits as part of the efforts necessary to develop the Nation. Footages of videos are living testimonies of how involved he was on the field; a practical servant leader who connected to his subjects and the environment in a very profound and natural manner. He had great love for mother earth to say the least.

Eight of the seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals are directly or indirectly connected to the environment. Be it goal number 2 that aims at bringing hunger to a permanent end in all nations of the globe, or goal number 3 that targets Good Health and Well-Being for all, they all depend on a healthy environment in one way or the other. Other goals such as, Goal number 6 that focuses on Clean Water and Sanitation; Goal number7 that talks of Affordable and Clean Energies; Goal 9 that advocates Industrial Innovations and Good Infrastructural Development; Goal number 12 that prescribes Responsible Consumption and Production in the manufacturing and creation, and the use of goods and services; or the number 13th goal, that focuses on Climate Action; or goal number 14 that stress on Life Below Water and even goal 15 that appreciates Life on land; these goals are geared towards making the earth or the environment and its inhabitants, healthier and happier.

In Summary, SDGs are intertwined and are mostly directed on the environment. We need therefore a holistic and realistic approach to solve the myriad global problems that are listed that have to be addressed through the application of these laudable goals; action that will bring about sustainable development; the environment has got everything to do with it. As a matter of emphasis, whether we are talking of humanity's food and water insecurity, health complexity, industrial limitations, damaging energies, pollution of the land and water, we are looking only at one crisis. It is about the earth’s destruction by actions stemming from human greed, existential corruption and immorality, and their negative impacts on the ecosystem and humanity. The encompassing nature of the climate crisis probably accounts for why the Pope mentioned in his book; Laudato Si that,

“It is essential to seek comprehensive solutions which consider the interactions within natural systems themselves and with social systems. We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded and at the same time protecting nature”. (Pope Francis – Laudato Si 139[1])

The United Nations estimates that there are about 821 million people who are acutely undernourished as of 2017, so often as a direct consequence of environmental degradation, drought and biodiversity loss. The UN underscores that: 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods, 6 billion people depend directly on agriculture for a living and forests are home to more than 80% of all terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects. Nature-based climate solutions can contribute about a third of CO2 reductions by 2030 according to the United Nations. It is documented that the value of ecosystems to human livelihoods and well-being is $US125 trillion per year and that, mountain regions provide 60-80 percent of the Earth's fresh water but that, 844 million people lack even basic drinking water while about 2.3 billion others have got no basic sanitation, and about 892 million practice open defecation. Some sources point to the fact that 80 percent of wastewater goes into waterways without adequate treatment and Water Stress affects more than 2 billion people; with this figure projected to increase in the coming years. The UN says the world has lost 70 percent of its natural wetlands over the last century.

The growth and quest for Projects and Programs implementation in both developed and developing economies increased exponentially in the 21st century, especially with the emergence of complex architectural buildings, skyscrapers, hyper-malls, high speed bridges and trade platforms such as economic blocs like ECOWAS, SADEC, CEMAC, EU, the African Continental Free Trade Area etc.; have brought in a new dimension in how to draft, initiate, manage and direct policies geared towards improving the socioeconomic wellbeing of the our connected societies. Infrastructural projects across every spectrum of our socioeconomic value chain trigger critical thinking and debates on value for money, sustainability, project continuity, and more importantly, our fundamental human rights. These components remain high on public and private sectors’ budgets. The issue of sustainability above all, could be likened to a catalyst for achieving the other variables. It should be established that no project is worth investing on/in, if it would have a huge negative impact on the environment after learning of the data that we have. Rawlings was of the opinion that the dream of greatness from those who have no regard for the environment and or sanitation is not worth realizing because it would only hurt humanity. No sustainable development can possibly be brought about by such individuals. He once cautioned Ghanaians that,

“If we do not improve our sanitation habits, we will never develop.” He said, “There will be new street lights, roads and drains but we will dump refuse in the new drains and slow down our development” [2].

It will interest you to know that, during his tenure as president, and under difficult economic times, a certain country contacted President Rawlings, asking for a huge amount of Charcoal in exchange for financial support to Ghana. Mr. Rawlings personally told me that he rejected the offer indicating to the dealers that he wouldn’t deplete Ghana’s forest in exchange for foreign aid.

In a recent campaign before he passed on, he pointed out that, Poor sanitation was a reflection of a corrupt mind; an indication of the impunity and irresponsibility that corruption breeds. He expounded that, just as the good farmer jealously takes care of his or her farm, so too every Ghanaian should take care of his or her environment. Comparing his youthful days to the modern times, one could see him holding an air of nostalgia, indicative of the fact that, there is a great disconnect between the past and the present in matters of sanitation even in government milieu. During his tenure, he encouraged the spirit of green revolution and practically guided farmers to cultivate diverse crops in a sustainable manner.

The Third Agricultural Revolution, popularly known as the Green Revolution, was initiated in 1950. The revolution gradually gained considerable momentum in 1960 and by the 1990’s it had left an indelible impact on human civilization. The trend was due to the increase of agricultural production in the globe, compounded by newly selected high yielding crop varieties, especially in the rice and wheat sectors. There was the explosion of the use of agro-chemical fertilizers and irrigation or water schemes and other farming innovations that were considered to be more advantageous than the past methods. There was also the introduction of more technological gadgets and new farming equipment never used before in the agricultural domain.

The waves of the Green Revolution saw some African governments encouraging citizens to grow food even in their backyards. Rawlings became an icon that literally promoted and propagated the Green revolution ideals by going down to practically farm with the common man. This greatly impacted the citizens who together with him, picked up the economy from its shambles and with wisdom, faith and resilience, jerked out Ghana from the quagmire of the “food rationing era” to becoming a nation that owned a considerable degree of pride in food security. The impact chalked a great amount of admiration for Ghana from other countries. Nonetheless, during this period also came, a shift on global climatic trajectory: no sooner had the green revolution taken roots in many parts of the world, than climate change became a global threat.

Before 1990, scientists had not seen the reason to make an alarm on global climatic conditions. This was due to the fact that there were not enough scientific gadgets to figure out if the human emissions of greenhouse gasses could change the climate significantly. Forces from volcanism or solar variation were considered the only real threats by then. Nevertheless, in the 1960s, the warming effect of human induced carbon dioxide called for concerns and several scientists, NGOs and government bodies began paying considerable attention on the topic. Research on climate change therefore has been intensifying since the 1990, thanks to the development in technology, especially the ICT that took a new tone during this period. In our present era, no one is insensitive to the impact of climate change anymore. Scientists would describe Climate Change as “a significant and lasting change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over periods ranging from decades to millions of years.”[3]

They also say it is caused by oceanic circulation, biotic processes in plants and variations in solar radiation received by Earth, plate tectonics, volcanic eruptions, and human-induced alterations of the natural world. The human-induced alterations of the natural world, researchers admit is the primary cause of global warming, and climate change [4].

Today, some may want to differ with the perspective of “long periods of time” as per the theoretical definition of Climate Change because in our present circumstances, it doesn’t take longer period for our activities to have effect on our environment and eventually on the globe; we are bruised by the impact of our own daily irresponsible actions and we can’t but take responsibility to right our wrongs together.

A famous Korean sage [5] teaches that, “Ones love for animals must be understood in the way he or she treats the environment; that, our love for humans should be appreciated in the manner that we treat animals, while our claims to love God, must be clearly perceived in the approach that we take to relate and treat our fellow human beings.”

During his tenure as the head of state and president of Ghana, J.J Rawlings’ passion for the environment was buttressed even in the various initiatives that he undertook personally, and those he carried out as a representative of the state; to develop the agricultural sector and other fields that are directly or indirectly linked to the environment. Even after his tenure as head of the government, he remained consistent with these principles; he continued to be a strong advocate on: sanitation, the protection of water bodies, the planting of trees, the love for pets, and the protection of wildlife.

In 2017, during his 70th birthday, a Symposium on environment was organized under his distinguished patronage while a rich panel that included personalities such as: Dr. Anthony Dzegede and Dr. Peter C. Acquah, a former Executive Director of Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency, and some others from the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Ghana Institution of Geoscientists (GIGS) delivered didactic presentations. During the occasion, panelists deliberated intensely on the desiccation of water bodies which is basically caused by global warming and other human factors.

The Paris Agreement of 2016 remains a symbol of good faith from the governments of the world, towards the efforts to mitigate the emission of greenhouse gasses, and bring about a sustainable solution, in line with Climate Action, goal 13 of the UN’s sustainable development goals. The Agreement “aims at strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping global temperature this century, well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Additionally, the agreement aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change.[6]” The US under Trump’s leadership and China’s Xi Ping have been cagey on this subject matter. Stakeholders of the accord are not obliged to keep their pledge together until set objectives are attained. With such a limitation, the US could easily threaten to withdraw her allegiance from the deal in 2017 and effectively resigned during subsequent years. Hope was rekindled only when Biden made mention that returning to the agreement is one of his priorities when he takes office on January 20, 2021.

According to the group; Sciencing of Santa Monica in California, and World Wild fund - Australia [7], burning Fossil fuel, Agriculture, and Deforestation top the list of the causes of global warming. The international definition of Climate Change identifies that; human’s activities are the main reason for the misfortune. Out of the top ten causes of climate change, natural causes are usually at the bottom of the list. Nobel Laureates like Prof. Wangari Maathai, the first Nobel female Laureate from Africa; left behind a sturdy legacy because she was animated by the love for nature, self-betterment, gratitude, respect, and a commitment to service. Through her brain child – the Green Belt Movement - GBM, she would mobilize the grassroots, mostly women to plant millions of trees across Kenya. Her activities spread to other countries and was recorded to have planted over thirty million trees; a move many experts considered to have a direct positive impact on global climatic trends.

Joel Carboni, President of IPMA-USA and Founder Green Project Management indicated in his presentation entitled, Projects for a Better World, that, “Global Footprint Network’s calculations, our (global) demand for renewable ecological resources and the services they provide is now equivalent to that of more than 1.6 Earths.” We can break it down easily if we understand that, our earth will need a twin earth to sustain it, if we don’t make a turnabout and change our habits, character and attitudes towards mother earth, any time soon.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change underscores the significance of the forest sector in climate change mitigation and points out three aspects that need serious consideration: emission reduction, sequestration and substitution; hard decisions that we must enforce in unity or perish together. Tom Crowther, a Climate Change Ecologist at Swiss university, ETH Zurich, when interviewed on CNN on the importance of tree planting to mitigate climate change confirmed that,

"The amount of carbon that we can restore if we plant 1.2 trillion trees, or at least allow those trees to grow, would be way higher than the next best climate change solution[8]."

In the year of our lord, 25-05-2019, President Rawlings embarked on a tree planting exercise along the island separating the road between the Ghana Standards Board traffic lights and the Legon traffic light, supported by the Department of Parks and Gardens, the Forestry Commission and Zoomlion Limited.[9] The tree planting exercise was attended by various other dignitaries and media houses. The event was aimed at celebrating the environmental credentials of Jerry John Rawlings, and encouraging many, especially the youth to actively be involved in the efforts of earth’s restoration.

“As we commemorate this historic event, with a tree planting exercise,” Rawlings said, I sincerely pray that the theme for this event will also be planted in our hearts[10],”

Mr. Rawlings appreciated the significance of a clean environment in a nation’s character toward growth, development, unity, peace, prosperity and spirituality. As one who had held national authority at its helm, he could easily tell how such a national character can impact development and future generations. There is no way a filthy body can accommodate a sane and progressive spirit, just as it is undeniably true that a corrupt spirit can’t possibly sustain a clean environment sustainably. With the filth witnessed nowadays in many places in Accra and other areas in the nation, one is tempted to believe that this could be a reflection of the system itself.

If the body is the nation, then the leadership is the spirit that runs it. In line with these concepts, President Rawlings called on Ghanaians in May 2019, to “Develop a National Character for Sustainable Good Governance.” In a conference at the University of Ghana, Legon, Rawlings called on all and sundry to take heed of what the various lecturers outlined as Ghana’s present limitations and develop a national character that can open up for a peaceful and sustained development in Ghana.

Reminiscing the old days of his youth when littering was rare and easily shunned at, he would share the stories of the Green Belt of Accra especially the Achimota Forest, the Freshness of river Pra, lake Bosomtwe, the water levels of river Volta; those old good days when aquatic life and the entire ecosystem were truly alive. Hardly would one witness the greedy activities of small scale-mining popularly referred to as galamsey in Ghana. These activities have a tremendous adverse impact on the entire ecosystem and communities: Land Use Disputes Between Large-and Small-scale Miners, pollution of water bodies, degradation of forest cover and farmlands, and the creation of dangerous pits and trenches which eventually cost many fatalities. In terms of socio-economic effects, the activities provoke high cost of living, high rate of school dropout, absenteeism and drug abuse. In trying to live above the adverse effects of this ill and retrogressive development in our society, people are left with no other option for livelihood except adopting alternative means such as migration, application of high potent fertilizer on crops, to have high yields, which would eventually pose both human and environmental hazards; water harvesting, buying of expensive water from water tanks for domestic use and other mechanized means of water filtrations.[11] The unnoticed public health challenges posed by these unhealthy practices on the environment cannot be over emphasized. In my opinion, this immorality towards the environment is what president Rawlings described as being intrinsically linked to our corrupt behaviours in political leadership.

Global Forest Watch reported that Ghana's rainforest is being lost at an alarming rate; the report states that, an estimated 60% increase in Ghana’s primary rainforest was lost in 2018, the highest in the world. The second highest was neighboring Côte d’Ivoire with a 28% increase. Together, these two countries produce nearly 60% of the world’s cocoa[12].

Ghana Business News reported that, as part of the global commitment to meet up with the Paris Agreement, the World Bank, in February 2015, approved an amount of $29.5 million to support Ghana’s fight on the galamsey trends. GBN said, this amount is a last round of financial support that brings the total grant to $49 million given to mitigate and fight the adverse effects of small-scale mining. “Community members engaged in Artisanal Small-Scale Mining, including women, will gain access to new skills and economic opportunities through rehabilitation activities at inactive mining sites, including opportunities created by tree planting and plantation establishment [13]” as explained by the World Bank task team leader of the Forest Investment Programme, Asferachew Abate Abebe on the Ghana Business News.

The same source indicated that, “Ghana Forest Investment Programme is already implementing activities focusing on agricultural drivers of deforestation by working with cocoa farmers and communities to rehabilitate and protect forest reserves.”

Cleanliness index for the top 10 African nations that was posted by “Ligit of Nigeria,” outlined the criteria of a clean city to include: “Sustainable development, clean air, and prosperous farming.” They also included, bike lanes on roads, thriving farmers, markets filled with green food, clean looking environment.[14] Kumasi of Ghana was listed as tenth cleanest city in Africa. Dar es Salaam of Tanzania was Ninth, Libreville in Gabon was eighth, Cape Town and Johannesburg of South Africa were number seventh and sixth respectively, Nairobi in Kenya was fifth, Gaborone of Botswana number four, Tunis of Tunisia was the number three, Windhoek of Namibia the second and Mauritius as a whole, from Port Louis was ranked the first. According to a world health organization report, Mauritius has the cleanest air in the world after Estonia.

The United States emits about 17.89% greenhouses gasses into the air and China; 20.09%. These two countries are the most industrialized nations of our time. That may explain why both have had a tough time to see as others. Critics posit that attitudinal adjustment to redress climate change around the globe will depend greatly on the stances of China and the US. It is a known fact that the most vocal group on the crisis has been activists and not government bodies. It could be easily understood since governments are mostly made up of politicians. One evident challenge to the progress of the green revolution is the complexity of global geopolitics, business interest and leadership commitment.

Yet, there are several actions taken by nearly all nations in the globe even now to make a palpable difference from 2020 to 2035. France has remained committed to the Paris Agreement by being the number one developed nation noted for sacrificing towards change. Sweden and the United kingdom follow in 2nd and 3rd position respectively, according to Conde Nast Traveler, an international traveling agency with offices in the US and UK. However, the UN’s goals are not temporary but sustainable goals. In his sustainable project management principles, Joel Carboni outlines 6 main principles to help the UN achieve the Climate Action goal and these below include and not limited to:

1. Commitment and Accountability; this entails that the stakeholders recognize the essential rights of all to healthy, clean and safe environments, equal opportunity, fair remuneration, ethical procurement, and adherence to rule of law.

2. Principal and Values Based; he elaborates that it will involve conserving and enhancing our natural resource-base, by improving the ways which we develop and use technology and our resources.

3. Social and Ecological Equity; Carboni outlines that this means, assessing human vulnerability in ecologically sensitive areas and centers of population through demographic dynamics

4. Economic Prosperity; he points out that, this principle helps to establish fiscal strategies, objectives, and targets that balance the needs of stakeholders, including immediate needs and those of future generations[15].

Ghana’s industrial schemes of the future would have to be conceived now and with serious consideration on land, the people, air, water and the environment. Even before his passing to eternity, Jerry John Rawlings remained passionate and kept warning on the measures Africa must take as a continent, to secure the climate and the environment. During his tenure as the leader of Ghana, the infrastructural and socioeconomic interventions, to some good extent, were designed to be environmentally friendly; which implies having the environment and sanitation policies as a top priority. Soldiers and civilians with support from J.J Rawlings were engaged in planting trees across the country; in department offices, in schools, in hospitals etc. His dedication to protecting the environment and keeping it green could be epitomized by the look and the physical evidence of the green architecture of the University of Ghana. One can observe traces of a culture of sustainability that was nurtured in the university by Rawlings although he only inherited the institution as president. Conscious efforts were put in place to sustain the green environment with forest reserves such as the Achimota forest, the Etiwa forest, the Aburi Botanical Gardens, the Kalakpa reserves, to name just these few. It is unfortunate that the arrays of trees on the Tema motorway and the Tema Akosombo road were depleted after he left office.

To conclude, Mr. Rawlings believed that the culture of environmental sustainability reflects good leadership of a nation and these are intrinsically linked to the socio-economic development of the people and its entire ecosystem.

The author is a Strategic Leadersh TFip Consultant, Project Management Expert, a Peace Ambassador of Universal Peace Federation; an NGO with a General Consultative Status with the UN, a member of the International Advisory council of the International Cities of Peace, an Advocate for Water Security, a Philanthropist, Certified Manager, a Fellow to Chartered Management Institute – UK, Global Adviser to the America Academy of Project Management and former Aide to His Excellency, Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings; former President of the Republic of Ghana

Columnist: Dr. Donald Cog Senanu Agumenu