Achimota forest in Accra's only surviving greenbelt, leaving many Ghanaians concerned about its planned rezoning.

Accra’s only surviving greenbelt is under threat. Ghanaians are fighting to protect it. 

Leaked government documents suggest a portion of the Achimota Forest Reserve could be rezoned for development, sparking a major outcry among residents and conservationists. 

The World

Achimota forest is Accra's only surviving greenbelt, leaving many Ghanaians concerned about its planned rezoning. 

Ridwan Karim Dini-Osman/The World

The lush greenery of Ghana’s Achimota Forest Reserve beckons nature lovers from across Accra with its colorful, chirping birds, fresh air and abundant wildlife. 

Ekow Boakye, 29, said the forest’s unique biodiversity soothes and comforts him on the weekend after a hectic week. 

“I love the way nature is blending with the animals,” he said. 

This vibrant 1.4-square-mile reserve serves as the only greenbelt in Ghana’s capital. The forest, created nearly 100 years ago for research, recreation and conservation, hosts a wide variety of animals, including lions, monkeys and parrots.

“Having these animals here, it feels so good. Like having lions so close to you and hearing them breathe for the first time, it was marvelous."

Ekow Boakye, 29, visitor to Achimota Forest Reserve, Accra, Ghana

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“Having these animals here, it feels so good. Like having lions so close to you and hearing them breathe for the first time; it was marvelous,” Boakye said.

But a leaked report out earlier this month suggests the Ghanaian government has sold a portion of the protected Achimota forest, sparking a public outcry. 

A lion looks at visitors at Achimota forest.

A lion looks at visitors at Achimota forest. 

Credit:

Ridwan Karim Dini-Osman/The World 

Effective May 1, the land on which the forest now exists “shall cease to be a forest reserve,” according to the leaked report.

Ghana’s president reportedly approved the declassification of Achimota Forest and the lands minister signed the executive order. 

Many Ghanaians have been livid over this move and are sounding the alarm. 

“The government told us to trust them to green this country. But at the moment, we see an active role also by this government, always focusing on the quick extractive benefits and not thinking about the general interest of Ghanaians in general. And that for me, is unfortunate."

Daryl Bosu, deputy national director, A Rocha Ghana

“The government told us to trust them to green this country. But at the moment, we see an active role also by this government, always focusing on the quick, extractive benefits and not thinking about the general interest of Ghanaians in general. And that, for me, is unfortunate,” said Daryl Bosu, deputy national director of A Rocha Ghana, a conservation nongovernmental organization. 

Bosu said the decision to declassify the forest as a reserve casts doubt on Ghana’s commitments to climate action — especially in the area of adaptation. For example, the forest plays a crucial role in mitigating chronic flooding in Accra. 

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When the Achimota Forest was gazetted in 1930 by Ghana’s colonial authorities as a reserve, it totaled nearly 5.5 square feet. 

As of 2013, the forest reserve had shrunken to about 3.9 square feet, with 27% depleted by human activities.

Many Christian worshippers in Accra visit the age-old forest to pray and sing together. Apostle Kojo Asiedu said he visits the forest reserve with his congregants to feel close to God. 

“We believe the hand of God is in this forest...We believe God exists here and this is where our prayers will be heard."

Apostle Kojo Asiedu

“We believe the hand of God is in this forest ... We believe God exists here and this is where our prayers will be heard,” he said. 

There is concern among environmentalists and worshippers alike that this decision could threaten to undo nearly 100 years of conservation and protection efforts. 

Daryl Bosu is deputy national director of A Rocha Ghana, a nongovernmental conservation group.

Daryl Bosu is deputy national director of A Rocha Ghana, a nongovernmental conservation group. 

Credit:

Ridwan Karim Dini-Osman/The World

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Bosu said that the government needs to initiate a transparent dialogue with stakeholders throughout the country on the matter. He also vowed to drag the government to court if any move to declassify or sell portions of the forest is carried through.

 “And what we are going to do as civil society is to push for the government to rescind this [executive order] and if we fail by just talking to him and sending petitions and all of that, we might have to take recourse to the courts,” he said. 

The government, however, has refuted claims that it intends to sell portions of the Achimota Forest Reserve.

Lands and Natural Resources Minister Abu Jinapor said that the government is only returning peripheral portions of the Forest Reserve to its custodial owners, identified as the Owoo Family.

“On the contrary, we intend to enrich the Achimota Forest, revamp it, and hopefully in the not-too-distant future, transform it into the likes of high parks of London and Central Park of New York,” he said.

Jinapor also said the government may commission an independent audit of the specific portions of lands within Achimota Forest reserve that were declassified recently for the Owoo family.

He said the rationale for declassifying and ceding .6 square miles of lands to the Owoo family will be brought to light in the independent audit. 

Achimota forest was established 100 years ago as a research, recreation and conservation space.

Achimota forest was established 100 years ago as a research, recreation and conservation space. 

Credit:

Ridwan Karim Dini-Osman/The World

Meanwhile, minority leaders in Parliament are demanding a public inquiry into the alleged sale of portions of the Achimota Forest. 

Minority leader Haruna Iddrisu told Parliament last Tuesday that “this must be treated as an urgent matter,” and asked the president and other leaders to “go and look at the Land Use and Spatial Planning Act 926,” which focuses on rezoning and reclassification. 

The inquiry will establish exactly which members of the Owoo family acquired the lands under the guise of declassifying the forest.

“The mandate was not given to the president,” he said, adding that reliance on an executive order and the Forest Act of 1927 is “an outdated law.” 

Some 14 civil society organizations have already petitioned Ghana’s Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) to look into reversing the executive order and purported sale of portions of the Achimota forest.

The groups also want the commission to establish potential conflicts of interest and reveal any procedural flaws in the alleged allocation of lands in the forest.

“Ghana’s forest reserves should be protected in perpetuity for the purposes for which they were gazetted. Loss of any amount of forest reserve or other protected area, no matter how small, should never be allowed..."

Petition of 14 civil society groups

“Ghana’s forest reserves should be protected in perpetuity for the purposes for which they were gazetted. Loss of any amount of forest reserve or other protected area, no matter how small, should never be allowed. The de-gazetting of some of the Achimota Forest sets a very bad precedent for Ghana’s other protected areas,” the civil society groups wrote in their petition.

A group of tigers explore at Achimota forest's zoo area.

A group of tigers explore at Achimota forest's zoo area. 

Credit:

Ridwan Karim Dini-Osman/The World 

Back at the Achimota, visitor Boakye said that he was skeptical about the government's intentions.

“Nature is wide, nature flows, and nature isn’t restricted. So, why do we want to cut off a bit of nature? Sometimes, things are best left as they are,” he said.