and the Savannah belt of Brong Ahafo and Volta Regions.
On February 19th 2009, the President of Ghana, Professor John Evans Kofi Atta Mills delivered his maiden state of the nation address to the Ghanaian parliament. In his address the president highlighted the immense problems facing the country, especially the three Northern Regions and the savannah belt of the Brong Ahafo and Volta Regions.
Apart from the brief period from March 1957 to February 1966 when development was widely spread across the country by the Nkrumah’s CPP government, the northern half of the Ghana has largely been neglected by past governments. The north faces enormous challenges, yet compared to other deprived regions in the world, it presents Ghana with immense opportunities, as results of her oil find, to turn the Savannah belt into Ghana’s bread basket and power house.
The Northern development challenges go deeper than abject poverty. The region has been turned into the most hostile region in the country due to inter-tribal disputes (many commentators have cited social upheaval and the tribal wars are to blame for the high incidence of poverty in the north). The spread of the inter-tribal conflicts threatens economic and social progress of the region. Many citizens of the north lack capabilities, including health status (many curable diseases kill more people in the north than the rest of the country), and access to basic infrastructure needed to benefit from and contribute to the economic growth of the region. Health and life expectancy in the three northern regions are among the lowest in the country.
It is recognised by all stakeholders that massive investment is needed in the north to keep the number of absolute poor in the region from increasing.
In his state of nation address, the president broadly assured the nation that Ghana can reverse years of social and economic marginalisation of the region through private/public partnership development. Simply preventing an increase in the number of absolute poor will require a huge investment in the region. In this regards, the president see the private sector as an enabling partner to address most of the challenges the north face, including physical infrastructure (road transportation) which is vital to open up the north for rapid development. He stated that “revenues from oil and gas will be used to address challenges of poverty in Ghana through expenditures in priority areas of education, health, rural development, infrastructure, water and sanitation”.
This writer and others in the economic development field asserts that the goal of reducing poverty in the north is not impossible. They note that the north is not doomed by its poverty or its lack of development. Infact in the 1960s, many countries in East and South East Asia with limited resources have emerged as industrial powers – Vietnam, South Korea among others is a case in point.
By acknowledging that the level of poverty and deprivation in the three northern regions, the savannah belt of Brong Ahafo and Volta Regions plus other pockets in Central and Western Regions, the government in effect accepts that distribution of resources must be even and not skewed towards particular “region” as was the case in the past. The establishment of the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority is one such step which must be well funded to alleviate poverty in the region. By managing Ghana’s resources transparently and delivering services effectively and efficiently to the communities would require greater investment in human development as well as measures that encourage public/private investment in infrastructure and production/agriculture. The three northern regions and the Savannah belt of Brong Ahafo and Volta regions have a hidden growth reserves in its people, including the potential of its women, who provides more than half of the region’s labour but lack equal access to education and factors of production.
The region has great scope for more effective use of its resources (the region can be turned into Ghana’s bread basket, and its continuous sunshine can be tapped to power Ghana’s industrialisation through solar energy). Development processes are cumulative, thus success in one area will open up opportunities in others.
For the north to reverse her economic marginalisation and exclusion over the last two to three decades would require being given greater economic empowerment and greater responsibility to excluded groups, especially the power of decision making in managing resources, so that they can take more responsibility and be held accountable for their use.
From December 2008, there has been rethinking on the above issues. Ghana has been experiencing a renaissance of thought on governance (peaceful change of government from one party to another) and development policies, especially with the discovery of large volume of oil and gas off her shores, which were highlighted in the Mills state of nation address to parliament. Although despite her huge wealth in gold and cocoa, Ghana is one of over 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa that is aid-dependent. Aid, which has been delivered by “various” donor agencies/governments, quit often with fragmented projects and requirements has undermined accountability – the period from 1992 to 2008 is a case in point. Poor development policies have been major contributing factors and thus have compounded the problem the region faces.
As the Ghanaian government is very much aware, growth is not sufficient for poverty reduction (in the 1990s Ghana experience a growth rate of 5 per cent per for annum under Structural Adjustment policies, often referred to a “Africa’s success story”, yet poverty increased as results of the introduction of user fees in education and health) but it is essential if Ghana is to become a middle income country by 2020. With her vast resources in minerals, Ghana stand to benefit than her immediate neighbours, that is if the oil wealth is managed properly. Ghana joins oil producing countries in Africa in a midst of intense debate on transparency and accountability, including what could be a watershed change in her relationship with the Bretton Woods institutions – moving from aid dependent economy to “self sufficient” economy. The change will be in the right direction, but first Ghana must get her priorities right – i.e. she must reduce poverty across all her 10 regions.
Although Ghana was a signatory to the development goals that was adopted in at the turn of the last century – poverty reduction, education, health, gender equality and environmental sustainability, research by various bodies have shown that Ghana has not achieved a sustained improvement in the economic fortunes of her citizens. For Ghana to halve the incidence of abject poverty, not only in the north, but across the country, consumption per capita would need to rise by about 3 percent a year. With a constant saving rate Gross Domestic Product would need to grow by 5 to 6 percent a year. With deteriorating terms of trade and fall in foreign assistance, like many sub-Saharan African countries, Ghana faces a higher growth rate due to low incomes, high poverty rate plus many of her citizens are poor.
With her oil find, Ghana has a very unique opportunity to turn her northern half into an economic giant. Northern metropolis such as Tamale (Ghana’s third city) Bolgatanga and WA can be turned into great cosmopolitan and industrial cities. Lack of infrastructure (transport and power) has emerged as a critical barrier to growth, a very important issue that has been identified by the Mills administration as a top priority that needs to be addressed with urgency. With sunshine throughout the year the region has a great potential to become an energy powerhouse in the country. As is recognised by policy makers and economists, policies respond to social, political and structural factors, thus with efficient transport network and educated and healthy workforce can attract huge foreign direct investment. With large inflows from her nationals abroad, estimated to average £4 billion a year plus anticipated oil wealth from 2010, Ghana can and must reduce poverty countrywide and be on course of achieving middle income status by 2020.
Ghana’s economic and social indicators as regards to the northern half in the 1990s were not much different from South Korea in the 1960s, Malaysia in 1975 and Vietnam in the early 1990s. The experience of these three countries shows that Ghana can overcome her underdevelopment in her northern half through a concerted effort by all stakeholders.
Peter Jeffrey Accra.
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