The Letter-Writing Project: A(n unshameful) Plug for Ghana’s Holistic Development
Dear Fellow Ghanaian,
I’m blogging from the GH! You never quite remember what it feels like to have malaria, until you’re (re)experiencing the chills, fever and aches. Then it all comes back to you. If my memory serves me right, I have a little under a day or two before the parasite kicks into high gear. But before this bout of malaria does what it’s set upon doing, allow me to share my thoughts on a topic that has popped up in my posts numerous times: the importance of holistic development in Ghana.
A tweep of mine shared arecent blogon the news that Tamale’s domestic airport is to be upgraded to international standards with funds from the Brazilian government. The question at the heart of the piece: Is Tamale really going to get an international airport before Kumasi? Or, in the words of the author, was Kumasi “bypassed”? Now, I can understand where the writer is coming from. According to his blog, plans for a Kumasi airport have been in discussion since 2006 at least.The Ashanti region has a vibrant market with numerous industries including cocoa and gold. The history of the Ashanti Kingdom is rich, and it’s influence has gone as far as international runways in New York, Paris, Milan, and so on with the much adored kente cloth. Wouldn’t it make more sense to situate Ghana’s second international airport in Kumasi? Perhaps. As I responded to the author of the blog:
It’s time we stopped looking at the development of our various regions as a ‘race’ and instead realize that any development (or lack of) adds to (or takes away from) Ghana’s entire development.
The way I see it though, this is no rat race. The regions are not – or rather should not – be in competition with one another. That only serves to fuel ethnocentrism and nonsense comments of the Ken Agyapong kind. Instead, we should take a holistic approach to development, looking at the strengths and weaknesses of each region and targeting our investments to ensure that everyone has equal opportunity in accessing health,education, economic prosperity and so on. Accra has already stamp marked itself as the country’s administrative/business capital, with Cape Coast taking on the name of the educational center. I can easily
But maybe I’m biased. As a Ghanaian citizen whose roots are based in Tamale and Yendi, it goes without saying that I would (should?) have a vested interest in making sure that some of the national cake goes to the three Northern regions. The thing, however, is that my family – blood and otherwise – extends beyond Northern Ghana, and so, at the end of the day, all I would like is the holistic development of our nation Ghana and Africa by extension. I’ve said it many times, and I’ll keep saying it. At the end of the day, the international community will not break Ghana down to its regions when determining its economic status. The reports will simply say: Ghana. We need one another to make this thing work.
Nevertheless, the reality is this: over 60% of Ghana’s poor live in the three Northern regions. The educational and health structures are by no means sufficient in comparison to Southern Ghana, and with the rate at which climate change is going, what is a considerable portion of Ghana’s food basket stands the risk of being emptied into nothingness unless steps are take to improve agriculture. You’re probably thinking, ‘what has this got to do with me? I live in Accra, Tema, Kumasi, Takoradi.’ Yes, you do. So do I. And so will the current Northern Ghana residents if nothing is done to mitigate poverty and its attendant challenges. Yes, you heard right, people will migrate down south, or wherever they believe there are greener pastures. Do you think Accra’s kayayo are enduring the heat and heavy loads as a first option on the fast track to success? No. There are push and pull factors at work, and if nothing is done, ultimately we will be forced to deal with the situation. Wouldn’t you rather a well-planned, holistic approach than an ad-hoc, “I was forced”?
Anyway, that’s all besides the point of this article. We all know the statistics, or have some sense of it. Some of us even look down on our Northern brothers and sisters because of it. But the thing is, we all contribute to it. In our choice of governments, mediocrity, inaction, we contribute to the very poverty cycles we reside in. In allowing our so-called leaders to play as for pawns and exchange our dignity for some mere cedis, we contribute to it. And especially,in ignoring the other half of the Ghana development story in milking the other half of Ghana’s development story for what its worth and then abandoning it, we contribute to the status quo. Like everything else, however, it can change. We can decide to re-identify – not as Akans, or Dagombas, or Gas or what-have-you, but as Ghanaians, not just Black Stars supporters (a beg, only when they dey score o). Above all, we can acknowledge the fact that everybody has something to bring to the table, and take measures to regard one another as equal partners.
“We can choose to look beyond the challenges and instead, explore the potential.”
Maybe you’ve never been outside Accra. Maybe you’ve never cared what lies in the great beyond. Whether or not you acknowledge it, what goes on over there, affects what’s happening here. So, consider this a personal invite. From my home to yours. Take a trip up north at some point. It would be great to see you at the second BarCamp Tamale, but if not then, find time anyway and make the trip. I often say that Tamale and Northern Ghana are like an entirely new country right inside Ghana. In many ways its more like Senegal or Mali than it is Southern Ghana. There’s so much of the culture and life that is yet to be tapped and integrated with other parts of Ghana. Sure, you know of Hausa Koko, Shea Butter and Waakye (yes, it is from Northern Ghana), but there’s a ton more left unexplored. It might be scary or weird for you, but in that, also lies vast potential and possibility. I invite you on an adventure to look at Northern Ghana anew. In so doing, we essentially change the genetic makeup of the Ghana we have come to know. Simply, by broadening our perspective and looking at things anew.
I haven’t been up to Tamale since my grandfather passed away in 2002. Not because I so detest the place – far from it – but rather because, I realized that in order to be able to help change any of the conditions in Tamale and Northern Ghana, I would have to work, to engage with others and to learn. That’s what has found me away from home so often, and that’s what has comforted me many-a-time I wanted to drop anchor, head back home, and just live my life. I am still learning, and now more than ever, I am curious to know the realities on the ground north, beyond the World Bank reports of Ghana’s 4.5% growth rates. The opportunity to do so is a 6 days away and I’d like to invite you to join myself, members of the BarCamp Tamale group, development enthusiasts, entrepreneurs, innovators, and curious-minds to head up to Tamale Polytechnic on July 14 2012. We minght not solve this poverty conundrum in this day of discussion and brainstorming, but InshAllah, BarCamp Tamale 2012 will serve its purpose of helping us engage with one another on ways to address the key development challenges and priorities in Northern Ghana and the country as a whole. Hope to see you there! 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.