Military's Special Forces Must Be Deployed To Halt Illegal Logging

Mon, 15 Jun 2015 Source: Thompson, Kofi

Ghana's Military's Special Forces Must Be Deployed To Halt Illegal Logging In The Atewa Range Upland Evergreen Rainforest

By Kofi Thompson

If, as a people, we adopt the same only-going-through-the-motions approach to preserving the Atewa Range upland evergreen rainforest, which we have adopted, in supposedly instituting effective flood-control measures to save life and property in urban Ghana during the rainy season, then a very bleak future awaits coming generations.

If illegal logging syndicates are allowed to denude the Atewa Range upland evergreen rainforest to produce chainsaw lumber, future generations will not have sufficient water from the three river systems that southern urban Ghana relies on for its drinking-water supply - as the headwaters for the Densu, Ayensu and Birim lie in that part of our country.

Sadly, even as Ghana celebrated its fourth Forestry Week - between May 23-29, 2015 - a ruthless illegal logging syndicate fronted by a businesswoman, one Obaa Yaa, was busy at work cutting trees in the area in the Atewa Range in which the Atewa Forest Reserve lies.

The said syndicate operates in the area covering forest reserve boundary pillars (FRBP) 92, 93, 94 and 95, which local people in Akyem Saamang and Akyem Juaso refer to as "Thompson" and "Fran├žois".

That a criminal syndicate can cut trees from dusk to dawn on a regular basis in the Atewa Range with impunity, and succeed in carting chainsaw lumber from there to Ofankor Muss, Taifa junction, on the Accra-Kumasi highway, to sell without any hindrance, is astonishing. What exactly do our nation's secret services do, one wonders?

It shows just how daunting the task faced by Ghana's Forestry Commission is - as it tries, against great odds, to preserve the remainder of our nation's forests.

Incidentally, I called the Ghana Police headquarters telephone line (0302773900 on 4/6/2015 at 22:02 GMT) when I was tipped off by an informant, on the evening of June 4, 2015, that chainsaw operators were illegally felling trees in the Thompson and Fran├žois properties.

I had hoped to get the police headquarters switchboard operators to alert the Anyinam District Police Command to intercept the chainsaw lumber - as it was being evacuated from the forest at Akyem Juaso that night. Alas, it was an exercise in futility - as no one answered my phone call.

In the end, I called the Weija District Police Command (0302850023 on 4/6/2015 at 22:05 GMT) - and spoke to a policeman who said his name was Corporal Awuku. Unfortunately, there has been no feedback since then. Hmm, Ghana - enti omanyi ebeyeyie anaa?

I subsequently emailed the headquarters of the Forestry Commission (info.hq@fcghana.org on 5/6/2015) - but as is usual with officialdom in Ghana in such matters, it has not been acknowledged to date: and probably never will either. Pity.

I also went as far as giving out the telephone numbers of Obaa Yaa, her chainsaw gang leader, Kwesi, and her local Mr-Fix-It, Yaw Obeng, to info@peacefmonline.com - which did not even have the courtesy to acknowledge receipt of my message. Hmm, Ghana - eyeasem o.

From my personal knowledge of the scale of the illegal logging now going on in the Atewa Range upland evergreen rainforest at Akyem Juaso, I can boldly predict that if it is not halted in time, 20 years hence, there will be a significant reduction in the quantity of water from the Densu, Ayensu and Birim river systems, which will negatively impact the quality of life of Accra's residents then.

That 20-year time-frame might seem like an eternity to some - but it will come in the twinkling of an eye: if you are a 6 or 10-year old primary schoolchild attending school in Accra, today.

Clearly, an under-resourced Forestry Commission, cannot possibly be expected to deal effectively with the illegal logging syndicates, which are destroying the Atewa Range upland evergreen rainforest, all on its own.

That is unfair and unrealistic - if we are actually serious about halting illegal logging in Ghana.

The criminal syndicates engaged in illegal logging, illegal gold mining and illegal sand-winning, operate with the same degree of ruthlessness, with which the rebel groups that destroyed Liberia and Sierra Leone, used to carry out their military operations - to enable them to plunder gold, diamonds and timber during the civil wars in those two nations.

Many Forestry Service guards have been murdered by illegal chainsaw gangs across the forest-belt in Ghana.

The task of halting the gang-rape of the Atewa Range upland evergreen rainforest at the Akyem Juaso section, must be handed over to a combined task force made up of Forestry Service guards, men from the Ghana Army's Special Forces Unit and the Special Forces Unit of the Ghana Air Force.

Daytime surveillance of the area using aerial drones with high resolution cameras, as well as by helicopter, and by analysing satellite images of the area from the Urthecast satellite video streaming service, will provide the intelligence needed to pinpoint the areas where the illegal chainsaw gangs operate in, and arrest them.

About 20 years ago, some of us used to regularly risk our lives confronting the illegal chainsaw gangs which then operated in the area. At the time, we warned in our writing, that if urgent steps were not taken to halt their activities, Ghana would have to import timber from elsewhere in the not too distant future. That has now come to pass, unfortunately.

Sadly, now that we are in our sixties, and no longer as physically strong as we once were, alas, we can no longer physically confront the illegal loggers who operate in the area.

However, we can, and will, predict through our writing, that if drastic measures are not taken immediately to deal with the criminal syndicates engaged in illegal logging, illegal gold mining and illegal sand-winning across the country, we will wake up to find one day that they have all been transformed into powerful rebel groups.

That could happen as early as next year - should law and order break down after the 2016 elections. Judging by the intensity of the rivalry between Ghana's two major political parties, we cannot rule out the possibility that there could, for example, be post-election violence in areas where the results are disputed.

And post-election fighting could also break out between members of the small groups of violence-prone and amoral hardliners in the National Democratic Congress and New Patriotic Party - the corrupt duopoly that has ruled Ghana since 1992 - if the presidential election's results are disputed. But I digress.

Parliament needs to pass tough new laws that will make it mandatory for illegal loggers to be tried and imprisoned for at least 10 years with hard labour if found guilty of felling trees unlawfully by the law courts.

Those new laws must also stipulate that all vehicles, chainsaws and other accoutrements used by illegal loggers should be seized and forfeited to the state - which should auction them to the highest bidders: in transparent auctions that are widely publicised.

As an emergency measure, the present government must get the Special Forces units of our military's three armed services, to tackle the menace of illegal logging in the Atewa Range upland evergreen rainforest - and it must do so now. Not tomorrow - when it will be way too late to save an important ecosystem services provider, and globally significant biodiversity area, from total destruction by nation-wrecking criminal syndicates.

Columnist: Thompson, Kofi