British Researcher Thrown Out of Ghana

Mike Anane
Tuesday, May 8, 2001

Controversy over proposed construction of Bui hydropower Dam deepens

After months of preparing to come to Ghana to continue with a research on hippopotamus and crocodile populations at the Bui National Park, where a 400 MW hydropower Dam is to be constructed, Mr. Daniel Bennett, a biologist from the University of Aberdeen in Great Britain is now vowing never to return to this country.

This follows a recent decision by Mr. Nick Ankudey, Director of the Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission in Ghana abrogating a long standing agreement between them and asking Mr. Bennett not to set foot into the Bui National Park and surrounding villages to continue with the research since the "Bui hydro power dam and related issues are very sensitive and political."

Speaking to this writer, an obviously shocked Mr. Bennett explained that since 1994, he has been conducting research with the Ghana Wildlife Division in the National Park. In 1996, he returned to Ghana to conduct some more research. Between May and August 1997, he also led a team of 41 people of eight nationalities to carry out surveys of the diverse communities of animal groups including hippos and crocodiles in the Bui National Park where the hydropower project is to be located.

Mr. Bennett disclosed that he conceived of the project because there hasn’t been any such survey of the animals in the Bui National Park after almost 30 years of its existence. "I am the only foreigner to have shown a non–commercial interest in the Bui Park in all 30 years of its existence. Our work there represents the only scientific report on the area published since the 1960s," he explained.

He stated that in 1998, the Wildlife Division gave him permission to return to the Bui National park to conduct further research, specifically to build tree houses in the park in order to survey the hippos, crocodiles and monitor lizards there. The department confirmed their approval in 1999 and again in February 2001.

Mr. Bennett said he arrived about two and half weeks ago in the country to continue the research only to be told that his permission to conduct further research in the Bui National Park had been withdrawn. "[T]he Director of the Wildlife Division told me that I was not even allowed to visit the National Park even as a tourist, he further wrote to their staff at Bui National Park instructing them not to corporate with me. They should also prevent me from entering the park."

According to Mr. Bennett, the Director told him that he did not like the comments he made on his (Bennett's) web site regarding the previous government's plan to start the construction of a hydroelectric dam in the Bui National Park in 2001 and the effect it will have on food availability for the endangered hippos that live there.

"The Director further told me that the Bui hydro power dam and related issues are very sensitive and political and that my research and presence in the National Park was no longer in the national interest", Bennett disclosed.

But Mr. Bennett explained that the website contains findings of his research which he posted there for the benefit of the Scientific Community, the Ghana Wildlife Division, Ghanaian and foreign biology students and all those interested in wildlife. "[T]here is nothing sinister about the content of my website which can be found at (and) I have maintained a neutral stance on the proposed construction of the dam in the national park in all my reports and I have always, emphasised that the area is the least understood natural wilderness in Ghana and a great deal more research in the area is required.," he disclosed.

When this writer contacted Mr. Nick Ankudey, Director of the Wildlife Division for his comments on the issue, he simply said "I find Mr. Bennett's comments on his website unacceptable, I would not allow him to continue with his research in the park. When he was pressed further for explanation he stated "I won't comment further, I have explained it to Mr. Bennett, go and see him."

But Mr. Bennett, disclosed that nothing had been explained to him. "All that Mr. Ankudey told me was that he doesn't like my website and I cannot go to the Bui National park as a researcher and I cannot even go there as a tourist. I have been coming to this country since 1994 to conduct research with the Wildlife Division I enjoy working with them, I have fallen in love with this country and have since been coming here to conduct more research. I haven’t had any problem with anyone, I have no evil intentions but suddenly no one at the department wants to talk to me let alone give me permission to go to the national park, this is very strange and I am very sad and greatly disturbed," he stated.

When the Chief Director of the Ministry of Lands, Forestry and Mines, Mr. Atiemo was contacted, he said he knew nothing about the Wildlife Division's decision and he will hold discussions on the issue with Mr. Ankudey and the Minister of Lands, Forestry and Mines.

Early this week, Mr. Bennett sent a petition to the Minister of Lands, Forestry and Mines, Dr. Kwaku Afriyie, appealing to him to look into the matter and grant him permission to carry out his research at Bui.

"All I want to do is to count the hippos, crocodiles and monitor lizards and build tree houses as part of my research, spend my money and go home. I am very proud of the work we have done at Bui. It represents the only independent research ever carried out in the park. It has also been undertaken at our own expense and in the spirit of scientific enquiry. I have no intention of denouncing plans for a hydroelectric dam at Bui," Mr. Bennett stated in the petition.

He explained that he has been very reluctant to petition against the Division's decision but considering his previous record of research in the country, the considerable effort he has made to learn about the biology of Bui National Park, and the very neutral stance he has adopted towards the proposed construction of the Hydropower Dam in the park, he feels the decision is unduly harsh.

Information reaching this writer at the time of going to press however indicated that the Minister of Lands, Forestry and Mines had received the petition and written to Mr. Bennett to comply with the decision of the Wildlife Division not to set foot into the Bui National Park.

When asked of his next line of action, a tearful Mr. Bennett said the "Minister has spoken, your government supports the Wildlife Division’s decision and does not want me to go into the national park to conduct the research, I can’t comment on the issue any more, I just have to leave the country."

Shocked and seething with discontent, some members of the local and international community of conservationists that I spoke to denounced the Wildlife Division’s decision, which they described variously as "arbitrary, capricious, excessive and unnecessary". For them, the "decision is utterly illogical and an insult to democracy and justice."

A fuming environmentalist who preferred anonymity said, it is ironic that the Wildlife Division in Ghana is preventing an independent researcher from conducting surveys on wildlife in the Bui National Park when the findings of the research will go to benefit the same Wildlife Division and the country. According to the environmentalist "What is mind boggling is that, in a letter dated 28th December 1998, the same Director of the Wildlife Division gave Mr. Bennett the approval to publish the report of his work, the contents of which are no different from what is on his website. In another letter dated 26th January 1999, this same Director was full of praises for Bennett’s work in the National Park which he described as excellent and useful to the Wildlife Division and he even added that Mr. Bennett and his group will continue to receive the division's unflinching support for future projects."

"So, why has the Director suddenly changed when he knew right from day one that the research Bennett was conducting in the park and he even gave him approval to publish his findings and also went ahead to grant him the permission to come to Ghana to continue the research. So, why did he suddenly turn around and ask him not to continue with the research in the park and why did the Director have to wait till Bennett arrived in Ghana, having spent so much money on equipment and airfare before telling him that he should not continue with his research in the National park when they knew well in advance that the man was coming to Ghana? This is very wicked and most unfair" said the environmentalist who asked not to be named since he believes "that there are very ruthless forces behind the whole Bui thing."

Describing the decision of the wildlife division as extremely dangerous and cynical, Mr. Joshua Awuku Apau of the Green Earth Organisation in Ghana said the decision could taint the image of the country, the government should therefore set up a committee to look into the matter immediately before Bennett leaves the country.

The decision of the Wildlife Division and the Minister of Lands, Forestry and Mines has however convinced a number of environmentalists that their worst fears were right "decision making processes involving the proposed Bui Hydropower dam is fundamentally flawed and lacks transparency. Intimidation and harassment shall also follow all nosey ones like Mr. Bennett who open their mouths too wide on the impact of the project".

A growing number of people now believe that the dam proponents have a lot to hide and Mr. Bennett is being harassed and intimidated for stating the truth on his website about the impact of the Bui Hydropower dam on the Hippos and other wildlife species in the park. "The decision by the Division is therefore only to prevent him from unearthing more truth which will obviously be different from what ACRES, a Canadian firm contracted by the dam developers will present to the country as an Environmental Impact Assessment."

Some dam critics have also been quick to say that the decision of the Director of the Wildlife Division is not surprising as, "it is a very familiar tune from dam developers and their local henchmen. The long legs of the shadowy forces behind the mischief are certainly not missing from the dance floor".

While some describe the Wildlife Division’s action as a case of "professional jealousy", others simply postulate that maybe the "stingy British guy did not give enough Kola to the boys."

As concerns mount over the Country’s Wildlife Division's decision, poor Mr. Daniel Bennett disclosed that he "cannot continue to hang around here and wait in vain, this is not what I came to do, I came to count hippos and Crocodiles but I was not allowed to do that. I am getting ready to pack my equipment, jerseys and footballs that I brought down as gifts to the kids at Bui and surrounding villages, I will then go round and say goodbye to my friends and get lost."

For some local and foreign conservationists, researchers and tourists who intend visiting or conducting research in the Bui National Park and surrounding villages, the storm is not over as the signals they are receiving from the treatment meted out to Bennett indicate that nosey researchers, Journalists and tourists are not welcome at the Bui National Park. For them, the Wildlife Division’s decision echoes Ghana's new government’s position on the Bui Hydropower dam project and the message is clear. Speculation is now rife that the Government is not tolerant of dissenting views on the impact of the proposed Bui hydropower project.

As the dam developers and their local allies gird their loins "to do everything possible to drown the ugly noise from these anti–development people calling themselves environmentalists", one thing that obviously cannot be wished away easily is that the disappointed and frustrated Daniel Bennett can never bottle up his feelings and keep his mouth shut. He will forever continue to tell the story of how the government of Ghana banned him from entering a place that he had been conducting research for over five years with the explanation that the related issues are too "sensitive and political and the comments on his website are unacceptable."

Undaunted by the looming threats from the dam proponents, critics however maintain that the proposed Bui hydropower dam symbolizes an outdated and internationally discredited approach to water management. The survival of the diverse rare plant and wildlife species in the National Park is also inextricably linked to human survival. The truth about the impact of the proposed Bui Hydropower project on plants, wildlife, health, human rights and the economic status of the local people will therefore continue to be drummed to the whole world loud and clear.

In mid 1999, the Vice President of the previous government, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) announced that his government will construct a 400 Mw hydropower dam in the Bui National Park. Opposition to the proposed construction of the Bui hydro power dam in the heart of the bio–diversity rich Bui National park began to make itself noticed following an article by this writer in the Tuesday, April 20, 1999 issue of the INDEPENDENT newspaper.

In the newspaper article, an array of problems that the construction of the Bui hydropower dam will churn out were cited, particularly the submergence of a greater part of the 1,800 Sq Km Bui National Park which is home to a stunning collection of many rare butterflies, birds, primates, lions, buffalo, pangolin, monitor lizards etc. The destruction of native fish species and their spawning grounds was also mentioned including the obliteration of many villages and fertile farm lands in the area and the outbreak of diseases associated with dams such as Bilharzia and Malaria. Some of the issues raised in the article also included human rights violations and the irreversible loss of critical wildlife habitat and the destruction of the largest of the only two populations of Hippopotamus Amphibius left in the country numbering between 140–150.

Mr. Nick Ankudey, the Director of the Wildlife Division of the Ministry of Lands, Forestry and Mining and the Information Bureau of the previous government and other dam proponents in the country then sent letters to the media arguing that the Bui hydro power dam will serve the long term interest of the nation and the wildlife will not be disturbed by the project. They further argued that most of the animals including the hippos will also be relocated to join a smaller group of Hippos at Wechau (about 90km from the Bui National Park). They also stated that the people at Bui will benefit from new roads, resettlement benefits and a range of new job opportunities and the mistakes of the Akosombo dam, the country's first hydropower dam will also not be repeated.

The NDC government then went ahead and signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with a development consortium led by Brown and Roots of the UK. The duration of the MOU is 20 months during which the required engineering studies including the environmental impact assessment studies for the project implementation would have been completed. If the studies are completed on time, construction is expected to start this 2001 and completed by 2006.

But mounting evidence however suggest that raising the 750 million Dollars needed to fund the project has not been easy as financiers including the World Bank are not prepared to accept the high risks associated with the project. They are also deeply troubled by the intensity of the campaign against the dam. In his electioneering campaign, the then Vice President of Ghana, Prof. John Atta Mills also said the World Bank had not withdrawn from the project as was being "speculated".

Reacting to the arguments advanced by the dam proponents, some concerned persons argued that the Kpong dam in Ghana for instance displaced 6,000 people between 1978–81 and despite assurances that the mistakes of Akosombo will not be repeated, the resettlement programme was fraught with problems worse than Akosombo. On the creation of jobs for the local people, critics believe that Job opportunities associated with dams have always been temporary construction positions that are often limited to unskilled labor force. Tourism for instance has also never been enhanced by dams in any part of the world since dams often increase waterborne diseases and are more likely to drive away tourists who often prefer to visit pristine and natural areas like the Bui National park rather than travel there just to see a dam. On the removal of the Hippos in the park to join a smaller group of Hippos at Wechau, a number of wildlife specialists believe that it will be impossible to capture and transfer the I50 hippos in the dense riverine habitat at Bui National Park and even if this is successful, it could sound the death knell of the largest of the two populations of Hippos in the country since Hippos are very territorial and their colleagues at Wechau will not tolerate any intrusion and competition for food from any "refugee" hippos.

Several individuals and organisations have also visited the Bui National park to catch a glimpse of the "Wildlife Haven" that will soon be history, come the hydropower dam. This include a delegation from FIAN– FoodFirst Information and Action Network, a human rights organisation based in Germany who visited the Bui National Park and surrounding villages on a Fact–Finding Mission to investigate the possible impact of the proposed Bui hydropower dam project on the economic and social rights of the people in the area.. After extensive surveys and interviews with the chiefs and people in the area and discussions with some stakeholders, FIAN instituted an international letter campaign on the proposed construction of the Bui dam in Ghana to call the attention of the government and the international community to the imminent problems that will be set off by the project.

International Concerns against dams
As the international and local campaign against the dam gather momentum, unfolding evidence from many quarters affirm that the much touted excuse by some politicians and dam proponents that "short–term sacrifice was acceptable if it put a country on a fast track to prosperity, since the resultant wealth would serve to correct the temporary imbalances" is fast loosing much of its credibility as it is increasingly becoming clear that dams aggravate social iniquities and encourage irreparable environmental destruction, leaving the rich better off and the poor more marginalised and resentful.

In a landmark final report titled "Dams And Development" and launched in Nov, 2000, the World Commission on Dams, an independent body set up in 1998 by the World Conservation Union and the World Bank (the worlds biggest funder of dams) to review the development effectiveness of large dams and make recommendations for future planning of water and energy projects disclosed that dams have made an important and significant contribution to human development, but in too many cases, the social and environmental costs have been unacceptable and often unnecessary with impacts including extreme economic hardship, community disintegration, and an increase in mental and physical health problems. In addition, these massive projects according to the report regularly suffer huge cost–overruns and time delays.

After detailed studies and surveys on the environmental, economic and social impacts of some of the world’s 45,000 large dams, the report produced by a blue chip assembly of scientist, dam owners, engineers and environmentalists that makeup the WCD explained that, dams have too often fallen short of what is desirable and acceptable in terms of economic efficiency, social equity and environmental sustainability, people living downstream of dams in particular have suffered from increased disease and the loss of natural resources upon which their livelihoods depend.

The report continues that over 40–80 million people have been physically displaced by dams worldwide, those who were resettled rarely had their livelihoods restored as resettlement programmes have focused largely on physical relocation rather than the economic and social development of the displaced. Gender gaps have also widened among affected communities, and women who have frequently borne a disproportionate share of the social costs are often discriminated against in the sharing of benefits.

This "lack of equity in the distribution of the promised benefits of dams has called into question the value of many dams in meeting water and energy development needs when compared with alternatives," the WCD report said.

Officially launched in London by Nelson Mandela, the former South African President, the WCD report calls on national governments, civil society groups, decision makers, bilateral aid agencies and multilateral development banks and the private sector to change the way they view energy and water resources development.

At 400 pages and two years in the making, activists believe that the WCD's final report is the first independent, global and systematic review of dams to date. And it provides ample evidence that large dams have failed to produce as much electricity, provide as much water, or control as much flood damage as their backers claim.

As dams continue to be criticised for wreaking havoc on the environment and communities, the World Bank which is the main financier of large dams has not been spared the Rod. In a briefing paper titled "When the Rivers Run Dry – The World Bank, Dams and the Quest for Reparations" the International Rivers, a California–based advocacy organisation takes a punch at the World Bank for being responsible for the submergence of tens of thousands of square kilometers of forests, the decimation of countless fisheries, the opening of remote areas for resource extraction, and the loss of flood plain, wetland and estuarine habitats.

The report said the World Bank has been the largest single source of funds for large dam construction worldwide. Under its stated aim of alleviating poverty, it has promoted and funded dams that have not only caused severe environmental damage and pushed borrowers further into debt but also displaced more than 10 million people from their homes and made them refugees in their own land. This includes the 80,000 farmers of the Volta River valley in Ghana, forced from their homes in 700 communities by the Akosombo Hydropower Dam which flooded more land than any other dam in the world– 8,500 square kilometers, (almost four percent of the area of Ghana) and set in motion waterborne diseases, especially bilharzia and malaria.

These legions of dam affected people have, in the great majority of cases, been economically, culturally and emotionally devastated. In many, cases once self–sufficient farming families have been reduced to eking out a living as slum dwellers.

This, was confirmed in interviews with a number of people affected by the Akosombo dam when they said that they considered themselves to be worse off than before the construction of the Akosombo dam. Despite a policy requiring that those displaced are enabled to at least regain their former living standards, legal tussles are still raging in some of the country’s courts over compensation and resettlement. After almost 40 years of the construction of the Akosombo dam, almost all the 52 resettlement communities that were created following the construction of the Akosombo dam are also yet to be supplied with electricity.

It is also increasingly becoming clear that hydro–power dams are not only socially and environmentally destructive but they are also not clean regarding climate change Mounting evidence from the World Commission on Dams further suggest that Dams contribute significantly to global warming, particularly in the tropics. Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane are bubbling up from many hydropower dams all over the world at an alarming rate because of the rotting vegetation they contain.

The Akosombo dam for instance which flooded a twentieth of the land area of Ghana and churned out massive environmental and health problems is believed to be emitting five times as much greenhouses, gases as all the country's fossil fuel burning.

Dams and Climate Change
At a meeting in Accra recently of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to finalize a major assessment of the technology and policy options for reducing green house gas emissions, Mr. Michael Zammit Cutajar, Executive Director of the UN Climate Change Convention told governments to "bite the bullet" and commit to reducing and limiting emissions of greenhouse gases.

At the same meeting, the Executive Director of Ghana's Environmental Protection Agency, Dr. Peter Acquah also disclosed that the country is very vulnerable to climate change and that the energy sector in Ghana has the highest green house gas emissions.

Business as usual
Dams maybe a nightmare for millions of affected persons and conservationists. For politicians however, its business as usual and hydropower dams shall continue to be the best thing that can ever happen to any country. For many, it is therefore not surprising that the new government in Ghana is contemplating revitalizing the Bui Hydropower dam nurtured by its predecessor, the NDC government. In its Manifesto for election 2000, the present government clearly indicated its intention "to put into operation a scientific energy policy which includes the construction of the Bui Dam."

Presenting the country’s annual budget to Parliament on March 9, 2001, the country’s new Finance Minister, Mr. Yaw Safo–Marfo also reiterated his government’s commitment to construct the Bui Hydropower Project when he stated that "to further augment power generation capacity in the country and in line with the pledge contained in the governments agenda for positive change, government will proceed with the Bui dam."

Ray of hope
As environmentalists in Ghana intensify their activities and continue to drum home the evils of dams and the proposed Bui Hydropower Dam in particular, a ray of hope appears to be emerging. Opening a four day co–ordinating meeting of energy experts in the Sub–region on Sustainable Energy Development in Sub–Saharan Africa on Monday, March 26, 2000, Ghana’s Energy Minister Mr. Kan Dapaah announced that his government is to "develop a comprehensive and sustainable national Energy policy in line with efforts to minimise the overdependence of the country on hydropower, a policy among other things is being designed to ensure the effective utilization of alternative energy sources such as gas, coal, thermal and nuclear energy to augment the present hydro and fossil installed capacities". He said the ministry is working seriously at the implementation of the policy within the shortest possible time and health and environmental issues would be considered in making decisions on Energy matters.

Whither the logic
Given the long periods of drought in the sub–region with barely enough water to turn the turbines of the Akosombo hydropower plant, the present high costs in maintaining hydropower dams, the social and environmental costs that the construction of the Bui dam will churn out and the persistent advice from the United Nations to governments to recognize the economic and competitive benefits of switching to climate friendly economies and the disclosure by Ghana’s EPA boss that the energy sector in Ghana already has the highest green house gas emissions, environmentalists in the country are wondering why the new government is dreaming of constructing the Bui hydropower dam.

The struggle continues
As Ghana's new government continue to search for a credible Energy policy and observers continue to juggle with which energy path their new government will pursue, environmentalists in the country say that they would not rest their case since politicians are unpredictable and they are very much aware of the intense lobbying by proponents of the dam to push the Bui Hydropower dam project on the government’s energy agenda. They will therefore continue to urge the government not to succumb to the "sweet words" of the dam people but rather pursue alternative sources of energy that will benefit the country’s rural poor, save water, prevent environmental damage and minimize displacement of local people.