Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Bridging the Gap- A Diagnosis of Northern Ghana

The concept of development has generated much debate over the years and continues to do so even today. In fact, there are so many views on the meaning of development that it is often difficult to come up with one accepted definition. Perhaps in the case of most developing nations, Dudley Sears offers the most suitable measure of development. Sears suggests that in order to paint a real picture of development in any given nation, three basic questions must be asked; what is happening to unemployment? What is happening to poverty and what is happening to inequality? Where the answers to these questions are negative, then development cannot be said to have taken place.

Immediately after independence, the CPP Government , led by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, implemented an industrial policy aimed at propelling the country to newer heights. However, for a nation that held so much promise at independence in March 1957, Ghana has failed to live up to its full potential. Many of the industries have collapsed along the way and this has greatly hampered the nation’s development. Erstwhile governments seem to have concentrated their efforts on the southern sector to the detriment of the north. This has led to a less than desirable situation where the North is regarded as backward and sometimes, even undeserving of development. This is a grossly unfair assertion of Northern Ghana, which is made up of Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions and makes up for 40% of the entire country.

Reasons abound for the underdevelopment of the North. And if Dudley Sears’ questions are to be posed in relation to Northern Ghana, it will be very palpable that the North is in dire need of intervention when compared to what ensues in the south. Unemployment has forced many northerners to trek southwards often in search of elusive jobs. The lucky few make barely enough to cater for themselves not to mention their families. Inequality, in relation to distribution of resources is quite obvious with the south getting the lion’s share of resources as compared to the north. The least said about poverty the better. Policy makers have simply refused to pay attention to the many problems faced by Northern Ghana and the situation will only get worse with time if the status quo is maintained. Ironically however, the north possesses so much potential for development which when adequately harnessed, could lead to an economic boom.

Government’s role must however be of utmost importance. The era of election-campaign promises must be a thing of the past. I’m fed up with hearing pledges. I’m patiently waiting for the day when such pledges will be acted upon. Government needs to come to the realization that Ghana as a country is made up of ten regions and each region has its part to play in the nation’s development. Aside that, there is an urgent need to give the north its “fair” share of the national cake. I emphasize on the word fair because it is obvious that the north has been unfairly neglected in terms of resource allocation in the past and in order to correct this anomaly, government needs to ensure that it pays more attention to Northern Ghana when drawing up policies and budget statements.

One major discrepancy between the north and the south is the availability of opportunities. We are all witnesses to the benefits many businesses in Tamale amassed as a result of being one of the host cities for the Ghana 2008 football tournament. Can you imagine how much more they would have benefitted if infrastructure such as hotels and restaurants were in adequate supply? The nature of roads up north is also very appalling. A trip form Wa to Accra for instance which should not last more than 8 hours sometimes lasts up to 14 hours due to the poor nature of the roads. Just try embarking on a trip up north and you will understand what I’m driving at. And if you know your map of Ghana very well, you will realize that the Upper East and Upper West Regions are side by side. Yet the roads are so horrendous that it takes between 7 and 8 hours to get from one regional capital to the other. This one factor is bound to scare off any investor and must be considered to be of topmost priority.

The rural areas must be seen to be of paramount interest to stakeholders. Many rural folk up north have no access to basic amenities such as potable drinking water, electricity, clinics and schools. Many communities are still in the dark and sometimes attribute common diseases such as cholera and malaria to “the wrath of the gods” and hence do very little to cure ailing patients. I have had the opportunity to live in a rural setting and therefore have gained a first-hand experience of just how critical the situation is. And believe me, it’s no joke. Can you imagine yourself going a day without watching TV or checking your mail? What about not being to make or receive phone calls from your friends and family? What you and I may consider normal and take for granted is more-or-less a luxury to many rural dwellers. The government needs to do its part by ensuring the provision of basic amenities to improve upon the standard of living in these areas.

Northerners must also advocate for development. There is therefore the need to shun negative tendencies that draw the north back in its development efforts. The chief of all these negative tendencies is the issue of conflicts. The north has become synonymous with conflicts in the past and this has done its image significant damage. The loss of lives and property running into millions of Ghana Cedis as a result of these conflicts has scared away potential investors who are willing to help in alleviating poverty in the north. I doubt very much if any individual or group would be willing to live or operate a business in an environment where their security is not assured. That would be tantamount to committing suicide. The media down south are also guilty of hyping up tensions whenever such incidents occur. Media reports from the north are almost always portrayed in a negative light and this is largely responsible for the negative perceptions that most Ghanaians have of the north and its people. Such occurrences must be nipped in the bud if the north is to experience the development it is very much in need of.

Let us develop a holistic approach towards developing the north. It’s about time we unite as one people with a common destiny. If we come to accept this fact, Ghana will become the place we really want it to be. A paradigm shift by Government towards Northern Ghana is long overdue and should not be delayed any further. As Ghanaians, we must do our part by accepting the fact that Northern Ghana has been a rejected stone for far too long and hence requires the input of all and sundry to make it the cornerstone that it truly is. Ghana is already blessed but it requires the efforts of you and I to make it truly great and strong. The north wouldn’t be a bad place to start. A word to the wise is enough, isn’t it?


This article was written by Lifestylz GH Staff Writer Masahoud Codjoe


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