Saturday, 13 September 2014

Prof Alex Kwapong - A Great Ghanaian

The passing away of Professor Alexander Adum Kwapong a little over a month ago signals the gradual phasing out of the first generation of Ghanaian scholars and intellectuals who laid the foundation of university education in Ghana. He dedicated his entire life to public service, most of them in academia. It is fitting and proper that his funeral this weekend reflects this fact.

There was a vigil last night, Friday 12th September at the Forecourt of the Great Hall which is named after him and called the Alexander Adum Kwapong Quadrangle and the burial today Saturday will also be at the same venue with the two-hour viewing starting at 7.30 am. Funeral rites following the burial will also be at the same venue today at the University of Ghana, Legon. The Thanksgiving service will however be at the Ridge Church in Accra tomorrow.

The details of Professor Kwapong’s distinguished life are well known and should serve as an inspiration for the nation. After studying at Achimota College in Ghana, he was awarded a scholarship to continue his studies in Classics at Cambridge University, graduating with first class honours in 1951. He went on to become a lecturer and then full professor at the University of Ghana where he taught Greek, Latin and ancient history. Over time he was appointed to a number of senior posts with the University of Ghana, before becoming that university’s first Ghanaian Vice-Chancellor in 1966.

After serving in that capacity for ten years, Professor Kwapong moved to the United Nations University in Tokyo and took up the post of Vice-Rector for Institutional Planning and Resource Development. According to a tribute by the U.N University, Professor Kwapong “worked closely with the first rector, James H. Hester, to lay the foundations necessary for UNU as both a university and a part of the United Nations system, and to attract funding for the University. Working with UNU’s second rector, Dr. Soedjatmoko, he was instrumental in the establishment of the first UNU institute — the UNU World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER) — and the first institute established in Africa — the UNU Institute for Natural Resources in Africa (UNU-INRA), based in Accra, Ghana”.

 After leaving UNU, he was a Professor of International Development at Dalhousie University in Canada and the Director of Africa Programmes for the Commonwealth of Learning. He was awarded the 1981 Simba Prize for Scholarly Essays (Rome) and is the author of many articles in scholarly journals. Professor Kwapong  served on numerous boards, including the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies and the International Council for Educational Development, the Association of African Universities, the Association of Commonwealth Universities (President, 1971), the International Association of Universities, and the International Council for Philosophy and Humanistic Studies (Vice-President) and was Chairman of the Education Review Committee of Ghana.

 Retiring from academic work did not mean the end of his public service. He became the chairman of the Council of State from 2001 to 2005 where he played his role as one of the government’s principal advisors. In an interview looking back on his achievements Dr. Kwapong remarked that, “the minimum qualification to be a good leader is not intellectual capacity but the capability to work with people, the modesty to understand one’s own limitations and to do one’s homework”.


The nation has lost a great Ghanaian.

Sunday, 24 August 2014


Yes, you read it right; there is nothing wrong with the headline. Let me repeat the question for emphasis: how REDDY are you? If the laudable and ambitious plans by the Forestry Commission go according to plan, REDD+ (REDD Plus) will soon be a familiar expression in Ghana, and for all our sakes, it is important to get everyone on the REDD bandwagon from the word go.

What is REDD+? REDD stands for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation; the “plus” is the additional “conservation, sustainable forest management and enhancement of carbon stock. It is a mechanism that has been under negotiation by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) since 2005, with the twin objectives of mitigating climate change through reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and removing greenhouse gases through enhanced forest management in developing countries.

Greenhouse gas is a natural part of the atmosphere. It absorbs solar radiation and keeps the earth warm enough to support life. Human activities including burning fossil fuels for energy, land clearing and agriculture have increased the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

Ghana has signed up to this mechanism and the Forestry Commission is coordinating the Ghana effort known as Gh-REDD+, which will be Ghana’s contribution to making the world a better place for present and coming generations. As we all know, of all the creatures that live on planet earth, we humans have the primary responsibility to make it a better place for all. So far we have not done well.  As we produce the things that make life comfortable such as electricity, and operate vehicles and machines we produce gases that are harmful to the earth.

There is a shield that covers the earth and protects it from excessive heat from the sun. This umbrella is known as the ozone layer but when we burn the fuels that power our “civilized” lifestyles the gases that are emitted puncture holes in the ozone layer thus creating an imbalance in the earth’s atmosphere. It is this imbalanced, which when prolonged causes what is known as “climate change”.

The natural way to replenish or preserve the ozone layer is through the production of oxygen by plants. Plants absorb the carbon dioxide which is produced by vehicles and industrial fuels while producing oxygen, which all living things need to survive.

Logically, the more plants we have the more carbon dioxide is absorbed and the more oxygen produced. This is why forests, which are the biggest collection of plants, are so important in the fight against climate change.

Various studies have shown that about one-quarter of all global greenhouse gas emissions are due to land use change, including deforestation and forest degradation. This is why there has to be a global focus on reducing emissions from changes in the forest cover in the countries of the forest zone, including Ghana.

According to Ghana Forestry Commission analysis, climate change is becoming an increasing threat to secure livelihoods and social and economic development within Ghana. This is why the government “is fully committed to mitigating these effects, as well as preparing measures to adapt to these changes. As a tropical country with considerable forest reserves we recognise the significant contribution that improved policies and actions to reduce deforestation and degradation can play within both mitigation and adaptation”.

As a developing country that depends on agriculture for our exports and sustenance climate change has a huge impact on our lives. The causes of deforestation and forest degradation are linked to the many socio-economic challenges that we face in our economy and society. These include high population growth, rapid urbanization, unplanned “developments” and above all, inability to ensure that policies and regulations are enforced.

In the Gh-REDD framework, the Forestry Commission is leading a Steering Committee that includes various ministries and government agencies as well as civil society, the media and the private sector to implement initiatives within the broader national and international strategy.  The strategy is ready to go on the road and in the next one month the Forestry Commission and the Steering Committee will mount a “roadshow” designed to enlist the support of the general public for the REDD+ Scheme.

What are the elements of the scheme and how can ordinary Kofi and Amma get involved? Firstly, there has to be considerable public education because these issues are rather technical and the people who explain them usually go to bed and dream in the jargon of their profession. They need to break it down for the rest of us, which is why they are organising the roadshow. We need to understand what activities are involved in the strategy and how individuals and communities gain by participating in the initiatives.

The question is, what can ordinary folk do to play their part in this laudable enterprise? The first is to embrace the idea, as I have done. It did not take me a long time to agree to be REDDY, although I must confess that information on it is often dense and packed with jargon and acronyms. Secondly, everyone can and should become a REDD+ communicator; in other words, spread the word and let more people know about it.

There are many practical steps that we can all take in order to help in reducing the rate of climate change. Some are very simple, everyday changes we can make immediately, such as planting, nurturing and protecting trees on farms and lands. For many years now we have heard the tree-planting message; and it has gone down well in some areas. Schools, churches, mosques and other communities have planted trees in places that had none previously. We need to do more tree-planting, especially in our urban environments.

This message should become a central to the plans of all central and local government schemes and activities. The logic of REDD+ is that we must create an underlay of climate change consciousness in everything we do and this must begin with how policy is formulated and implemented at every level of government and society.

We must also, actively support sustainable forest management strategies. This means that we must stop illegal harvesting of trees, stop charcoal production in forests and rather plant and nurture trees, among many possible initiatives. Of course many people are already doing some of these things with remarkable enthusiasm, but we need to increase the number of people engaged with this concept. This is why the proposal by the Forestry Commission makes so much interesting sense.

The recommend that everyone gets at least five more people to join hands with you on whatever initiative you choose to work on.  In the next weeks, months and years we will all hear a lot about the REDD+, which has nothing to do with Kotoko or Manchester United. This REDD is the lifeline to a future for the earth. It is REDD by way of green.

Remember the saying: ‘when the last tree dies, the last man dies’. Let not the last tree die on your patch.