Once upon a time, in the first decade of this millennium, a certain chief executive officer (CEO) of Korle Bu Teaching Hospital decided to evict encroachers who had occupied and entrenched themselves on the hospital’s land.
To show this CEO where power lay, the encroachers, including coffin makers, many of whom were politically well muscled, marched to the Castle in red armbands to ask government to get rid of him.
By the time they returned, the Korle Bu CEO was himself in red armbands, waiting to address them. The rest is history. Today, thanks to this man, Korle Bu has got its 30 acres back and walled its entire land. The encroachers and coffin makers have since relocated.
That CEO is Professor Kwabena Frimpong Boateng, designated by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to head the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation. On his plate, when he finally sits down, will be tonnes of documentation, some dating from the early years of Ghana’s independence when Kwame Nkrumah established a Science Village and carved out large tracts of land for what is now the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
These documents will be marked URGENT because on the urgent attention given to them will depend the future of science and technology and by extension, agricultural development (food self-sufficiency) in Ghana. At the Airport area in Accra where CSIR is headquartered, at Frafraha and at Pokuase (both also in Accra), and in Kumasi, CSIR lands are in danger. Encroachers are carving up portions for themselves and using armed land guards and political connection to protect their interest.
The last time someone from one of the institutes of the CSIR attempted to use the law to protect CSIR lands, a macho man appeared in his office one fine afternoon, grabbed him by the neck, almost lifted him off his feet (the way African police do to criminals) and told him that that was his last warning.
A few weeks before this encounter, a number of machomen had waylaid him at the main gate of the institute of which this man is a director. They looked out for him in every vehicle that went out. Using a route unknown to the machomen, the director escaped.
Yours Truly advised him: Why not bring in the police?
“Where have we not gone, my brother?” the director quizzed in reply. “We’ve seen powers-that-be in very high places... we’ve been with the police command, the armed forces, sat with our sector minister, sought the intervention of Flagstaff House. The court has given us judgement in our favour, but the judgement cannot be enforced.”
Why? Because there is always a telephone call “from above” that freezes all action.
An over-zealous officer from one of the law enforcement agencies sent armed guards to protect the CSIR land. He found himself on transfer to another region.
Yours Truly has chanced upon documentation that lists powerful and influential personalities in the land who have been beneficiaries of the encroachment. At the council’s Animal Research Institute, encroachers have taken over more than 85 per cent of the land, to the point where the institute can, as I write, not find six acres of land to grow pasture for improved sheep breed!
“We can’t get it!” lamented its director. “It’s a hopeless case.”
Powerful forces are at work acting on their own behalf, and in the interest of their relations, political and business associates. It is hurting science and technology in Ghana.
Nothing can reverse this trend of greed and selfishness until Ghanaians are lucky to have a leader in the mould and make of Paul Kegame of Rwanda where it takes six hours (I repeat SIX HOURS) to register land, where the applicant and the Lands official never meet. Everything is online.
I listened to the speech of the incoming minister of Agriculture at the New Year School. Did he notice the loud and prolonged applause that greeted his announcement that the Akufo-Addo Government was bringing back ‘Operation Feed Yourself’? I can assure him that that ambitious plan will only be a joke unless the issue of land – not only for scientific purpose, but also for farming et al – is settled.
When Ghana was Ghana and we had a leader who knew the essence of science and technology, the Malaysian President sent his scientists to study our model. Out of this model, Malaysia has turned oil palm into “red gold”. Our leaders are still talking and taking away ex-gratia.
Some time during his term, President Kufuor came back from an official visit to that country and right from the Kotoka International Airport, began the campaign to get Ghanaian scientists to go and study the “Malaysian magic”.
Knowing what I know now, I can assure President Akufo-Addo that it takes no magic at all. What worked for Malaysia was scientific research. A greater component of that scientific effort was soil research, which the Malaysians picked from Ghana’s Soil Research Institute in Kumasi.
If President Akufo-Addo is looking for zeal among Ghanaians to go back to the land, he will find plenty of it. However, feeding the people and the factories in any country goes beyond zeal. Farming is science; science is research.
Fortunately, the land encroachment issue may not be new to Prof. Frimpong Boateng who, I am told, has, for some years now, been attending the annual meetings of CSIR scientists.
Can CSIR look up to him for salvation?