For a long time now, I have concentrated on writing articles that focus on Ghana’s development as a whole, without looking too critically at the various factors and elements that contribute to Ghana’s inability to accelerate development. Following my independent study research this past year on Ghana and Malaysia’s economic development, I realized that specifics are just as important as generalities, and in the case of Ghana, the lack of development in Northern Ghana is one particular factor that greatly hinders Ghana’s development efforts. I am Dagomba, hence from Northern Ghana, so I might be a bit biased when it comes to this topic. However, I’ll attempt as much as I can to be objective in this article, and although I will talk about how the disregard for Northerners feeds under development, I’ll also take it from a case-study point of view, looking at Malaysia, in order to explain why it is imperative that the Ghanaian government quit paying homage to words, and put actual action into motion.
One resists what one cannot understand. I believe that statement to be true, especially when it comes to interactions between Northerners and Southerners in Ghana. Like any minority-majority relationship, the minority tends to know more about the majority, than the majority ever does about the minority, generally-speaking. The ironic thing here is the fact population-wise, the North and the South in Ghana are pretty balanced. So what kind of minority-majority relationship am I talking about? Access to resources and development. Some people might say that Northerners are not entrepreneurial enough, or that the Southern communities of Ghana were able to develop on their own, so Northerners should be able to do so too IF they really want to. I seriously beg to differ. Any Ghanaian who knows anything about Ghana’s history knows that Ghana’s development was fed largely due to its experience with colonisation. Due to the fact that Ghana’s southern states are located close to the Atlantic, the colonists had easier access to these communities and for a great length of time, did not even venture to the Northern parts of Ghana…hence the initial development base of Southern Ghana took place ages before the ‘white man’ finally set foot in Northern Ghana. Does this mean that Northern Ghana couldn’t develop without the intervention of the West? No. Back in the day, Northern Ghana had strong kingdoms and systems of governance just like the strong Southern kingdoms did. The thing however (which many people seem to miss), is that once these kingdoms were given secondary importance in favor of a NATION comprising both the South AND North, then the development of both is the concern of the ENTIRE NATION aka Ghana.
There seems to be many misconceptions concerning who Northern Ghanaians are, what they are about etc. And honestly, I don’t blame anyone. What I do not endorse however, is the fact that Ghanaians continually feed into these misconceptions. In many ways than one, Northerners are regarded as second citizens in Ghana. And I’m not just saying this for the sake of saying it. It’s the truth, and I have experienced it personally since primary school. Many people would find it surprising that my English was actually good, or that I excelled in school, or that I was even a Northerner and Muslim….because I “don’t look like a Northerner.” Pray tell me what a Northerner looks like! Trust me, until we take a stand to get to know one another in Ghana, we’re gonna remain in the canker of ignorance that feeds underdevelopment. The disregard for Northerners is however not something recent. Although the ancient Ghana tribes had their scuffles here and there, the level of contempt for one another that exists now (although it is less “in your face”) did not exist. How did it come about? Colonization. The colonial masters fueled disagreements between the various ethnic groups in order to advance their objectives. The “divide and conquer” methods used all those years ago, are STILL serving their purpose.
If you live in the South of Ghana like I do, its pretty easy to forget about Northern Ghana. Heck, even a bus trip to Tamale takes approximately 10 hours, add the messed up roads and it might take eons. Why should EVERYONE be bothered about Northern Ghana’s development? Because at the end of the day, when the World Bank, UN, IMF etc draw up those statistical tables and rank development in various countries, they won’t be listing Northern and Southern Ghana separately. They’ll be listing Ghana. This is also another reason why its important for the Northern regions to receive their share of the national cake. Our government receives aid and what-not taking into consideration the underdevelopment in these areas, yet they don’t even so much as ensure that basic systems are in place?
Let’s look at Malaysia. A lot of Ghanaians know that Malaysia and Ghana have similar economic and historic backgrounds, but the actual comparative study on the subject of why their development levels diverged so much is yet to be done (Hence my interest in conducting the study). Ghana gained independence from the British on March 6, 1957 while Malaysia gained independence from the same colonists in August of the same year. Ghana’s per capita GDP (total income) was slightly higher than Malaysia’s and most people expected Ghana to advance beyond Malaysia, mainly because Malaysia had racial tensions which were lacking in Ghana at the time. Now, well, Malaysia’s total income is 13 times that of Ghana, Malaysia is a leading producer of palm oil (which it got from Ghana and other W/A countries in the 1960s), and living standards in Malaysia are generally higher than that of Ghana. One might wonder how this is so, and there are many reasons. The most interesting one to me (and the most relevant to this article) is the fact that right from the get-go, Malaysia worked at resolving its INTERNAL TENSIONS. Malaysia’s population consisted mainly of its native Malays and expatriate nationals like the Indians and the Chinese. The first attempt of ensuring that there was racial harmony was the “Bargain of 1957” which created a dual system of leadership with the Malays handling government affairs and the expatriate nationals dealing with the economy. Soon enough however, it was necessary to re-examine this structure since the native Malays felt like they were not getting their share of the national cake (hence, they were generally poorer) There were riots in 1969 due to this discontent and subsequently, Malaysia came up with it’s very first development policy, the New Economic Policy (NEP), which aimed at redistributing the national cake and reducing internal tensions.
By all means, it would seem like Malaysia’s internal tensions were on a larger scale than Ghana’s especially since theirs was across racial lines and not merely ethnic lines. What did Ghana do once it gained independence? Well for one, little or no attention was paid to ensuring that all Ghanaian citizens were on board for the new era. Additionally, Ghana went ahead to “sack” all its expatriate/foreign nationals, for fear that they would take over the economy (and from the news these days, it seems the government is leaning towards the same mistake it made 50-something years ago!).
You might say that these accounts are all good and dandy, but will probably not have any disastrous effect. Please, for heavens sake, don’t be blind to whats going on in our own backyard! For one thing, the NPP and NDC use the Northern regions as their pawns whenever its election time, because they need the votes. Yet after they are in power, virtually no attention is paid to the very people who made it possible for them to win the election! The whole issue with the late Ya-Naa is another time-bomb that is waiting to set off. The old king was murdered in 2002 — 7 years ago! And the culprits have not yet been found? And of course, this is another platform for campaigning when it comes to political parties. As much as it saddens me to say this, if ever Ghana was to have intense civil unrest, it would probably come this issue. And trust me, if war ever breaks out in Ghana, we will be set back many years development-wise. So why not cut our losses, deal with the issues at hand, develop BOTH the north and south of Ghana, and advance the development that we’ve all been waiting for for ages?! I honestly cannot comprehend Ghanaian politicians, and what is even more surprising is the fact that the citizenry lets them get away with most of their nonsense. Any Northerner can campaign for development in Northern Ghana, but until our Southern counterparts join that campaign, we are going to be labeled as empty barrels who are just dissatisfied.
How many of you have actually been to any of the Northern regions? And I don’t mean going to Paga, or Mole park or any of that. Aside from Tamale and most of the Northern regional capitals, the state of living that our fellow Ghanaians have to go through is simply saddening. And please, don’t tell me that Northerners themselves are not prepared for development. Do you think so many Northern porter girls (Kayayo) would head all the way to Accra to go through the stress, disregard, sexual and physical abuse that they go through if they weren’t trying to feed their families? If you think Northern Ghana has nothing to offer to Ghana, then you seriously know nothing about Ghana. Shea butter is one of Ghana’s key exports. Where do you think it comes from? The beef kebabs you love munching on come from Northern herdsmen, and so much more! Sure, political parties might not think a Northerner fit enough for the Presidency, but in whatever capacities many Northerners find themselves, they work hard. Whether its as the Vice-president, a Minister (as in the case of the late Hawa Yakubu), or your watchman (Where would you be without the security he provides so you and your family might sleep at night?) . It’s time we Ghanaians quit playing blind mice and deal with the issues in front of us. If we really and truly do want to advance development, this is something that needs to be addressed head on. Please feel free to leave comments etc, and for what its worth, try to get to know someone from Northern Ghana and re-examine your perceptions. Peace.
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.