Policy Analyst, Bright Simons, says for government to be able to fairly and justly return some parts of the Achimota Forest lands to its pre-acquisition owners, it would have to first set up a reparation committee.

According to him, the pre-acquisition owners, identified as the Owoo family, are not a monolith, since over the 100 years that the land was acquired, the original family involved in the transaction has expanded with branches from the family tree breaking off.

He stated that following a genealogical research conducted by IMANI Africa, about 2,000 members of the Owoo family were discovered; some permanently based in the United Kingdom and the United States who all have claim to the said land.

“Who are we giving the land back to is not as simple as who we took the land from, and that is such a critical philosophical point that has been lost in the debate,” he said on JoyNews’ Newsfile on Saturday.

Explaining further he said, “In 1921, the Owoo family was already fragmented, so it was quite a big family. And then you take a 100 years and you say ‘what is the Owoo family today?’ It is several branches. And some of those branches are in conflict with each other.

“At the very least, I’ll say that there are about 2000 ‘Owoos’ who have some claim to that land. If you’re dealing with some ‘Owoos’, there must be a process that establishes that they’re truly representative of the interest of the descendants at least, the trunk and stem descendants.”

Bright Simons explained that the return of the land to the Owoo family was an act of restitution and thus the process had to be more thorough and transparent rather than the current seemingly haphazard and opaque process being carried out.

“What we are doing is reparation or restitution, an assumption that the colonial authorities somehow didn’t treat some people fairly, and because of that we have a duty of fairness to make them own again. When you’re doing that, you have to ask yourself who is the right and legible beneficiary of this programme.

“That is what is happening in California now, where they have agreed to do reparations for people that were slaves or whose ancestors were slaves. They had to set up a commission, they had to agree on who will qualify, there has to be a mechanism for who to register as members of the Owoo family and duly resolve it,” he said.

He further noted that there are disputes within the Owoo family about who and what constitutes the Owoo family, thus any attempt to dish out lands without care could lead to dire consequences.

“We have major disputes within what constitutes or what people will say is the Owoo family about who really is the Owoo family. There are members and their branches who don’t agree with the standards, so who is the government dealing with?” he asked.

“Because what happened in 1921 is not what is happening today given the fact that there are now branches and fragmentations and multiple claimants, including some that insist that if you take the Oku We family, the other family that signed …the Gbese Mantse in that regard ought to be in this proceedings because the Oku We family that was in 1921 are part of this.

“And then what about the Dowuona-Owoo who as I have mentioned have a claim because they have documents that prove that when Nii Owoo I died without children it was actually the Dowuona-Owoo family that carried on with his legacy. All of these conflicts cannot be resolved by simply making assumptions,” he explained.

Bright Simons also noted that throughout the processes of returning land to the Owoo family, there has been no mention of the women in the Owoo family and neither has there been any indication that the land is being returned to destitute members of the family who may truly benefit from such a gesture.

According to him, this clear failure on the part of government undermines the act of restitution it is allegedly embarking on.

“Who are the poor people in the Owoo family who we are blessing with this return of the lands? From what we’ve seen so far, it appears it is well to do members of the Owoo family, not even the Oku We family and other branches of the Owoo family itself, but it’s always been a few people in the Owoo family that we hear about. The question is ‘who benefits?’

“How are we making sure that even if we are actively doing reparations it is going to the Owoo family who have actually suffered from that decision taken in 1921. There’s no basis. There’s been very little attempt to be transparent about the matter,” he said.

He noted that even though the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources may have received lots of praise for his candidness about the matter, he believes the Minister has been just as opaque as those who had been previously handling the land issue.

“I beg to differ. I don’t think there was any transparency in that document at all. If you look at it very carefully, it doesn’t still tell you who in the Owoo family is getting this and eventually will get all of these lands. When you look at the amount of land that has been given out, about 400 million dollars. Who is going to benefit from this 400 million dollars in asset?” he said.

“”What is the basis of the fairness, what is the basis of the property, what is the basis of the patriotism and the nationalism that undergird any of the activities that have been going on? So really we need to stop this pretense that what is happening is justifiable with how many acres were changed.

“All of that stuff is completely immoral and unacceptable until we set up a proper reparations committee for anybody that feels that their family interests were offended or harmed by colonial powers to make proper claims. We have a transparent website where you can go and check those claims and see who is making those allegations and the likes and people can also present documents,” he added.