· Kwame Nkrumah turns in his grave
In February 1965, when President Kwame Nkrumah appointed E. Nee Ocansey as the minister for Parks and Gardens, the announcement came as a mocking shock to many people. They asked, What exactly is the need or significance of parks and gardens? Not only that, Ocansey himself was ridiculed as having been dumped into a ministry where he could not amass wealth like his colleagues in the ministries of finance, industry, interior, etc.
In that very same decade, the visionary Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore had introduced a “clean and green movement” to create an oasis in Southeast Asia. He had surmised that the new nation “needed a department dedicated to the care of trees after they had been planted”, and established one in the ministry of national development.
He said, “We planted millions of trees, palms, and shrubs. Greening raised the morale of people and gave them pride in their surroundings. We taught them to care for and not vandalize the trees. We did not differentiate between the middle-class and working-class areas.”
To overcome the initial indifference of the unruly public, he said, “we educated their children in schools by getting them to plant trees, care for them, and grow gardens. They brought the message home to their parents.” As he put it, in no time the Asean leaders decided to compete in greening their cities too. He specifically named Malaysia’s Dr. Mahathir, President Suharto of Indonesia, President Marcos of the Philippines, and Prime Minister Thanin of Thailand. All smart people who recognised a good thing when they saw it! Leadership matters!
Last year, noticing and alarmed by a gaping sore on the wrist of a taxi driver I had hired from Kumasi airport to Krofrom, I queried him, “Ei braa, that’s a bad sore; what happened?” Without hesitation, he voluntarily pulled his long sleeve shirt up from the wrist to show me some hideous gangrenous sores that migrated all the way into his shoulders.
Apparently, after having developed the sores from the contaminated water in his village, he had escaped from a cocoa farm and relocated to Kumasi to drive a taxi.
During the length of the trip, he lamented about the family he had left behind in the village, and the daily torments from the illicit mining trade. He said, a good portion of the previously lush cocoa farms had been sold off to gold prospectors who continue to vandalize the land.
I asked in frustration, “Aren’t the chiefs and elders – “ahenfo” and “mpaninfuo” – concerned about such wanton destruction their lands?” He replied, “They are the chief culprits; the ones selling off the lands to the prospectors.” Such uncomfortable truths need urgent attention.
Growing up in Kumasi in the 1950s and 1960s, the city was hailed as the “Garden City” and as school boys we walked the length and breadth of the city joyfully. Try that today!
The Daily Graphic report, “Kumasi battling with sanitation issues” (April 26, 2021) cited the drainage at Atonsu where the Sesan River takes its course, and the large drainage at Aboabo close to the Kumasi International Airport, all besieged with pollution.
These days, the destruction of the landscape is spread into the various cities and towns all over the country including water bodies, landscapes etc. People throw trash all over as if each town was a garbage dump. But people dressed nicely to church and the mosques oblivious to the destruction of the landscape. It’s serious! It’s as if some benevolent spirit would emerge from the heavenly clouds to clean after us in response to the songs and prayers and praises. Who are we fooling!
Mauritius by example
Was in Mauritius for a speaking engagement at the African Leadership University a few years back. From the airport in the south to the university in the north, it’s hard to trace a single litter. In Ghana, it takes a second for someone coming in from outside to see it. It starts with just walking out of Kotoka airport into the parking lot. And it is not just the filth: what is most striking is that nobody seems to notice or care. Take a walk down the street and the open gutters are choked with debris, bottles, plastic, weeds, and green standing water. It appears as if our interest in personal hygiene, our interest in keeping our surroundings tidy is nonexistent.
In my line of work and travels, I’ve seen such polluted water in places within the country all the way into the north. Occasionally from driving and crossing the rivers you wonder why we allow our water bodies to be so desecrated. From the air, the destruction of our precious water bodies from the galamsey is clearly visible.
The tragedy of the commons
With Ghana’s adolescence today trapped on the streets, competing with vehicular traffic for speed and space to push imported catapults, toothpicks, matches, superstition and pornography, where’s the hope of this once proud nation? With the exquisite God-given landscapes – which in places Kwame Nkrumah enhanced with Parks and Gardens – now ravaged into slums and wastelands; with indiscriminate galamsey mining and toxins now poisoning the rivers, and ruining the lush farming hinterland, where’s the hope?
The tragedy of the commons as a metaphor has been used to explain the wastage of common resources and destruction of the common good. In other words, the things that cause misery have to identified, understood, and eliminated for the common good.