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Utah’s Gift to Ghana: Killin’ Trees and Poisonin’ Rivers

Every once in a while, someone will randomly add me to group on Facebook or throw a link on my wall expecting me to read/watch its contents. 97% of the time I do not. There’s just too much “stuff” competing for my attention in the social media realm However when Amma Bonsu raises the alarm for a cause, I know it’s worth investigating.

Amma is the curator for the blog Though we attended the same school, we could not be more dissimilar. She has an affinity for weaves, while I have an aversion for them. She adores and dotes on Barack Obama, while I am skeptical about every word that falls off his lips. We are both ‘Black’ and female, but the way we perceive the world is as different as East is from West – except for one thing: we are resolute in our love for Africa. In light of that, all of our dissimilarities become trivial.

Amma added me to a group that she started called Racist Utahns poison Ghanaians & Discovery Channel Watches. Ouch. It’s unlike her to throw out the “r” word so carelessly, so I figured this warranted some looking into. I mean, the Discovery Channel is supposed to be the arbiter for good global stewardship. Surely they wouldn’t sit by and watch three white men pollute any part of the earth for profit, let alone film, market and broadcast it for profit, would they? I clicked on the link she included on the group’s page:

I was immediately crestfallen. Alas, these were Africans, not polar bears and therefore did not meet the requirements for sympathy. Add the screeching monkey and drumbeat sound effects that precede each segment and its even easier to dismiss the atrocities altogether.

The three alleged racists are from Utah. After going bankrupt following the real estate crash in 2008, they turn their sights on Africa, Ghana specifically, for a solution for their financial woes. There is an unregulated gold rush in Ghana that has been going on for years now, locally known as ‘galamsey’. Hoards of people – local Ghanaians, Chinese and even a few Black Americans – have torn through the countryside decimating forests and farmland, polluting waterways and Ghana’s fertile soil. These unscrupulous men are amongst that hoard. In one part of the video, the White and Chinese miners exchange gunfire in order to intimidate each other.

The cynic in me was saddened, but unmoved to do anything in an activist’s capacity. After all, the government is well aware of these goings-on and is idly twiddling its thumbs, waiting for the next election or check to pocket. Ghana’s government has the resources to stop galamsey in its tracks…it just refuses to do so. So I did what all sophisticated Africans do when they are “outraged” about something: I sent a tweet of the offending video, made a comment, and left it at that. To my utter surprise, George Wright tweeted me back.

Their company was 100% legal, he claimed. They pay farmers for each tree they fell. 5 times the value of crops for a year even! They even reclaim [the forest].

Somehow, I doubted that. I took a bite from my butter pecan ice-cream. The tweets kept coming. “We are similar to their Ghanaian friends whom they have helped to come to America for work. Two great countries with many opportunities.”

Heh. Was he asserting that helping Kofi Baboni come to America to do janitorial work was appropriate recompense for destroying my native land? I slurped my ice-cream a little louder.

He went on to say that he loves the people of Ghana.

“There is a saying, you may know it, Gye Nyame. A wonderful sentiment that has unified both @JungleGoldScott and I w/ Ghananian ppl.”

This is the part where I lost it. This foolish man! Does he think that I am one of those village girls who is easily impressed because a White man has picked up a phrase in local vernacular? And to add insult to previous insult, “Gye Nyame” is neither a saying nor a sentiment. It means “Only God”. This fool was confusing it “Ubuntu” (which by the way is a sentiment borne from South Africa). I wanted to find him and break his legs for insulting me, my community, our intelligence and our land.

But why should I be angry with him? A White man is going to do what comes naturally to him, as what came naturally to his ancestors. He will exploit everyone else for his benefit. End of story.

No. The blame for this whole fiasco falls on our elected leaders and elders. They are too scared to protect the country from all enemies, both foreign and domestic. They have refused to look at the long term effects of their short-sighted decisions, selling off many of our assets to draconian companies like Monsanto and anyone in a button down shirt and blond hair.

There is an old tree next to the highway on the way to Larteh and Akropong. Its trunk is riddled with lesions and oddly shaped globes. You can’t miss it. I asked my dad about that tree just a few years ago, after passing it without question for many decades. He told me about the slave raids and Samori, a notorious local slave raider who captured his neighbors and sold them to the invading Whites. He told me about how the mountain people fought back against their would-be colonial masters.

“There was a battle in this area and the Guans won,” he said. “They took the guns of the White men and fired all the bullets into that particular tree. Over time, the tree healed itself but you can still see the scars from where the bullets entered the trunk.”

I was amazed. I had always assumed that Ghanaians were docile cowards who up until Kwame Nkrumah were happy in their servility to the colonialist. History until that point had been taught in a very Eurocentric view, so I had no reason to believe otherwise. My thoughts were broken by my father’s grunt of disgust.

“Do you know where the word “abrochi” came from?” he asked me.

Of course I didn’t. I barely speak any Twi at all…how then could I tell anyone of root words and origins in the language?

“It came from the word “aburafuor”. Destroyers. That’s what they called the British when they came here. Wherever they set their foot, they destroyed the land,” he said darkly. “It’s just over time they changed the name to abrochi to mean “abroad”. They changed it into a positive.”

As I sit here in my comfortable home, knowing full well that Jungle George or Tarzan or whatever they call themselves are preparing to rape and raid my native land again as they shoot their second season, I have to wonder: will there be a tree to bear the scars of defiance in the face of environmental rape? Who will take up the mantle to make sure that illegal mining in Ghana stops? When will we compel our leaders to stop their ignorant, harmful ways? What, if anything, is to be done?