The Paramount Chief of Nakong, Pe Joseph Banapeh Afagachie II, said he had been stabbed in the back. He was talking to his council of elders and representatives of some state and nonstate institutions in the Upper East Region at his palace.
There is a forest in his community. The forest is part of a restricted zone called Community Resource Management Area (CREMA). Pe Afagachie II was worried because a landowner in his chiefdom, Bukari Kobajei, had leased an estimated 100 acres of that forest to one of the leading beverage distributors in Ghana― Lesken Ghana Company Limited― to cultivate sorghum for commercial beer production.
The educationist-turned-chief, aware of the consequences, expressed shock at how parts of the restricted forestland were released without his notice.
The chief told the gathering he felt more disappointed because he had also found out that the agreement between the landowner and the company was facilitated by a member of his household.
Of great concern to him also was an official report that some economic trees had been knocked down in the process of preparing the land for the beer business.
“A shea tree will take so many years to grow and to bear fruits. And you came and destroyed them in one day,” he said, choosing his words without hurry. “Do you destroy a baby to bring forth another baby?”
The Little-known No-Go Area called CREMA
The Forestry Commission of Ghana defines a CREMA as a “geographically defined area that includes a number of communities that have agreed to collectively manage their natural resources in a sustainable manner for their mutual benefits”.
The CREMA initiative was established in 2000 by the government under the Ghana Forest Investment Programme (GFIP). The initiative is being sustained with funding from the World Bank to address Climate Change.
There are six such areas within the Western Wildlife Corridor in Ghana’s north at present. The corridor starts from Burkina Faso and ends in Ghana, covering Ghana’s Upper East, Upper West, North East and Savannah regions. It is called the “Western Wildlife Corridor” in Ghana because it is a route used regularly by wild animals (including elephants) moving between Ghana and Burkina Faso and it lies on the left (western) side of Ghana. It is the opposite of the Eastern Wildlife Corridor that lies on the right (eastern) side of Ghana.
Each of the CREMAs has a specific name as well as a number of communities under it and a CREMA Executive Committee (CEC) that protects it. The six CREMAs are named Builsa Yenning, Bulkawe, Chakali Sungmaaluu, Moagduri Wuntanluri Kuwomsaasi, Sanyiga Kasena Gavara Kara (SKGK) and Sissala Kasena Fraah. The Nakong Traditional Area falls under SKGK. The worried Paramount Chief is the patron of that CREMA.
Environmental Activist causes arrests of five men inside SKGK CREMA
Julius Atudeko Awaregya, an environmental activist, known to a number of nature conservation organisations in the world for his relentless campaign against misuse of the natural environmental, shares in the chief’s grief.
He is in the front line of protests against the lease and the occupation of the restricted acres. On June 28, 2022, he and some officials of the Organisation for Indigenous Initiatives and Sustainability Ghana (ORGIIS-Ghana), a civil society agency he formed some years ago, led state security personnel into the forest.
Five men, found clearing the land with two excavators for the company, were arrested and granted bail hours later at the Navrongo Divisional Police Headquarters. The culprits are Bismarck Agyei, John Awuni, Sebastian Afagachie, Kwabena Agyei and Cletus Akana. The activist told journalists about 15 acres had been cleared before the arrests cut the “illegal” operation short.
“This is one of the six CREMAs within the Western Wildlife Corridor. The World Bank, through the Government of Ghana, spends $23 million each year for the creation of these CREMAs. And they have a second phase, which is now over 100 million dollars,” he told journalists.
“All these monies I mentioned [are] not free, [are] not grants. They are loans the state takes to invest in the management of our natural resources. So, you’ll go and take [a] loan, invest in an area and, then, people will come and clear it in this manner― with impunity.”
208 Economic Trees felled― Forest Services Division
A report initially circulated that the acres the company acquired and cleared were within the Wildlife Protected Area. It turned out to be false when the Wildlife Regional Manager in charge of Ghana’s Northern Zone, Joseph Binlinla, confirmed it was rather within the Western Wildlife Corridor.
Binlinla, who was part of the meeting at the palace, explained that the Wildlife Protected Area was a state property gazetted and protected by law. The Western Wildlife Corridor, according to him, is the opposite. He said it was owned by communities and was neither gazetted nor protected by law. He, however, added that government was interested in its protection and management.
“If [the company] had gone to the Wildlife Protected Area, it would have been serious prosecution. The machines would have been set ablaze because it is against the wildlife laws of this country to get to a protected area with any machinery,” he told The Fourth Estate.
Bulkawe and SKGK share boundaries as CREMAs. Some members of the 10 communities that are under SKGK say parts of the area acquired by the company are within the adjoining Bulkawe and the nearby Sissili Central Forest Reserve. None of the 15 communities that make up Builkawe has spoken to the issue yet. Meanwhile, the Executive Secretary of the SKGK’s CEC, Edward Allou Bagetewone, says the company will be sanctioned according to the CREMA Constitution.
“Even if you are given whatever permits from EPA, from Forestry, from Wildlife, you still need to meet the CREMA for permission. Section 4 of our byelaws says no person shall at any time indiscriminately fell trees and uproot trees within the CREMA. For the categories of the trees that were felled, dawadawa (African locust bean) trees were there. We have also shea trees,” Bagetewone said in an interview with The Fourth Estate.
He added: “Sanctions could be payment of fines, or we go to the law court. The farm falls within two areas― the on-reserve and the off-reserve. When you look at the map, the on-reserve is the forestry side and the off-reserve is our (CREMA) side. We are yet to meet as CEC. But we will come up with a report soon.”
Meanwhile, a letter written to the company by the Forest Services Division (FSD) says 208 economic trees including rosewood, papao, shea and senya trees were destroyed. The FSD Manager in charge of the Kassena-Nankana Municipality, the Kassena-Nankana West District, the Builsa North Municipality and the Builsa South District, Emmanuel Owusu, told journalists the destruction was done outside the nearby Sissili Central Forest Reserve. He said the FSD had ordered the company― although it felled the trees outside a forest reserve― to pay a Gh¢44,161.70 fine for felling the trees without the FSD’s authorisation.
“Before you start the clearance,” an assistant programme officer at the Upper East regional office of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Roger Yelsong Pondorh, told the company’s representatives in the meeting, “you have to get our permit.”
“Because we have to come and inspect [to be certain] that where you want to [work] is not inside a forest reserve or close to a sensitive area,” he explained.
“We didn’t know there was CREMA” ― Company
The Manager of the company’s sorghum plantation project, Cletus Akana, told the gathering at the palace that the step the company took into the restricted land was a regrettable error.
He said the company’s representatives had not come to the meeting to challenge anything said against the company by any stakeholders but to make amends wherever any wrongs had been committed by the company and to assist the community in charting a mutual way forward.
Fielding questions from reporters at the palace, Akana explained that the company’s representatives followed due process in acquiring the land. He said the representatives’ first port of entry was the palace. The chief, according to Akana, said he did not own any land but suggested they look for those who owned land in the community. He said after a successful search for a landowner, they visited the land and expressed interest in it.
He also stated that the contingent presented two goats, two sheep, two fowls, millet, tobacco and some other items the landowner reportedly demanded for the gods of the land. The gods, he explained, needed to be pacified with the items in accordance with the local tradition before any work could start on the land. He said the company was not CREMA-conscious as of the time it searched for the land, acquired it and cleared portions of it.
“I believed that by seeing the landowner and giving the landowner animals to sacrifice to appease his gods meant he had given [us] the land. We didn’t know there was CREMA. We didn’t know there were a lot of stakeholders involved until this thing happened,” Akana said.
“After our arrest and bail, we engaged the community and got to know that there was a society called CREMA. There were people in the community here who should know better and who should lead us. I think they didn’t play their part well― because they are from the community [and] they know that there is a society called CREMA. They should have directed us to see CREMA even before the landowner would give us the land.”
Although Akana admitted the company hacked down some trees, he said the trees it felled did not have economic value. The landowner, an elderly man with a walking disability, told journalists at the palace he released the land because of chronic hunger. Leaning on a stick, he said he became too weak to farm on his own after he got injured in the waist while he was trying to pasture a cow in the community some years ago.
“I gave the land to the company free of charge because of hunger. We agreed that they (the company) would always give me some of the produce they harvest from the farm from time to time to sustain my family,” Kobajei said.
“The Mat is a Soothsayer” ― CREMA Chiefs
Some four other paramount chiefs whose traditional territories are within the SKGK CREMA zone, from Upper East and Upper West regions, joined the host Pe Afagachie for the meeting.
Three of the chiefs― the Paramount Chief of Kayoro, Pe Oscar Batabi Tiyiamu II; the Paramount Chief of Katiu, Pe Ayikode Zangwio Atoge IV; and the only paramount chief from the Upper West Region involved, Pio Sumaila Yakubu Batiadan II of the Banu Traditional Area― were at Nakong themselves.
The other traditional leader―the Paramount Chief of the Builsa Traditional Area, Nab Azagsuk Azantilow II― was represented in the meeting by a retired National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) regional director, Pontius Pilate Apaabey Baba.
The words spoken by the visiting chiefs during the meeting were few. The Paramount Chief of Katiu observed that time was of the essence to the company because the rainy season― the most suitable period for the farm project to begin― would soon pass. He said it would do every party good if the executive committee could come up with a rapid report on its findings so the CREMA authorities could decide in time whether the company should remain or relocate.
The Paramount Chief of Kayoro said the CREMA authorities needed more time on their individual “mats” for further deliberations before they could draw any conclusion on the matter.
“The Lesken people realised that they have erred. We can’t just use today to finish the whole matter. A team will go to the area and come back and feed us with information. Then, we will draw our conclusion.
“There is a saying that the mat is a soothsayer. We will all go to our mats or wherever we are going to lie and think about it. We will get another day and meet over the matter,” he remarked.
The Navrongo Divisional Police Commander, Chief Supt. Yahaya Muchiraru, told The Fourth Estate a police team had inspected the cleared acres and returned with a report that the acres were not in any forest reserve.
The Divisional Crime Officer, ASP Kingsley Dan Addah, said the police had asked the chiefs to deal with the matter at the community level since it was a CREMA issue. He, however, stated that “the case is not yet closed”.
Pe Afagachie II still looked bothered as he, after the meeting, made his way slowly out of the palace in the company of his elders. And by the time the curious members of the community were leaving the palace, they could tell that their paramount chief had enough to worry about.