Opinions Fri, 6 Feb 2009

NDC Gov't & Prospect Of Development in Northern Ghana



Closing the development gap between southern and northern Ghana has dominated the political rhetoric for 50 years. The initial surge in infrastructural (roads and basic services) and human capital development (via the free education policy) of the CPP administration, stagnated from the late 1960s. The stagnation, an inevitable outcome of bad policy, lack of political will and a weak economy manifested in limited improvement in, and deterioration of essential infrastructure until the Rawlings administration’s significant capital investment that also saw the extension of electricity to Northern Ghana in 1989.

Although the extension of electricity marked another major milestone and stimulus for the north to grow, the stagnation persists. In the last 20 years, no serious external investment to develop the natural resources and generate jobs outside of primary occupations such as farming has been realised. At the same time agricultural production has declined owing to the collapse of subsidies and increased levels of soil acidity precipitated by the heavy use of chemical fertilizers promoted by the Acheampong regime in the 1970s. This situation has culminated in severe socio-economic problems; triggering the desire of our young girls to join the band wagon of Kayaayo activities in the south and the tendency of our idle youth to escalate trivial issues into major conflicts. The Kayayo and idle youth issues are visible manifestations of a human capital disaster for northern Ghana. In a 21st century world where women have started to overtake men in higher (university) education participation in countries such as Norway, Sweden and more recently in Australia, our northern girls have not even started to attend and/or complete basic education. The long term effect of such a gender gap in quality of human resource development speaks volumes and the north/Ghana will continue to pay a heavy price for a long time.


Recent policy initiatives nonetheless, appear to provide a golden opportunity for propelling development in northern Ghana. The setting up of the Northern Development Fund (NDF) by the NPP administration and the Vice-President John Mahama’s announcement (28 Jan, 2009) of Government intention to establish the Savanna Accelerated Development Authority (SADA) are significant milestones. These two initiatives, if successfully implemented would not only alter the development asymmetry and historical policy myopia, but also set the entire country on a full flight towards sustainable development.

Historically, our governments have made the mistake of pursing an unequal development agenda, driven by narrow motivations, and oblivious of the fact that such an approach will not bring Ghana the extensive and lasting outcomes that have made Europe better than Africa. An agenda to equalize development requires a spirit of total nationalism, in which we envision a happy prosperous country where each individual is proud to say I am a Ghanaian. And I am of the opinion that equity driven policies such as those that informed the setting up of the Northern Development Fund (NDF) and Savanna Accelerated Development Authority (SADA) are critical for building commitment in the citizenry and maximizing national potential.

I feel strongly that the inevitable outcome of these initiatives is a near certainty of some positive change in northern Ghana. I am aware though that many have expressed such optimism in the past and some readers may ask what is so new about this sense of hope I am trying to articulate or propagate. However, this time around I dare to say that the sense of optimism is real, because there is a constellation of positive factors beyond the potentials of any single one of the initiatives themselves.

The first positive and most important factor is President Atta-Mills’ expressed determination (contained in a press statement some days ago) to continue with good policies of the previous NPP Government. This is a concrete and manifest departure from past practice, which hints that Atta-Mills is onto something new. The second positive factor is that the objectives of the Northern Development Fund (NDF), feed into that of the Savanna Accelerated Development Authority (SADA). The third factor is that The Northern Development Fund (NDF) has stalwarts of policy, governance and development ideas such Dr. Sulley Garba (Director of Centre for Policy Alternatives), and Mr. Ismail Lansah Peewan (Director of Northern Ghana Network for Development) among others, whom I call northern development enthusiasts. Finally, these northern development enthusiasts were instrumental inculcating in young Northern Students a vision and enthusiasm for uplifting the north via organising community work, including starting a community Sheanut plantation near Savelugu as far back as 1980. Today, those of us they initiated into the vision of improving the living standards in Northern Ghana are in positions of responsibility across the country/ the world and keen to contribute to realizing this vision.

In spite of these conditions, cognizance needs to be taken of the possibility that a wrong approach to concretizing the NDF/SADA vision could eat way at this constellation of positive and harmonizing factors and shutter the current sense of optimism. The government and northern Ghanaians need to be vigilant and open our minds to considering all of the explicit and unconscious variables (cultural, political, economic), which have contributed to our failure in the past. The mere physical establishment of a Savanna Accelerated Development Authority (SADA) guarantees nothing about outcomes for our communities and this we can recall from the achievements of past agencies such as the Northern Regional Development Corporation (NRDC) and Upper Regional Development Corporation (URDC). These development agencies of the 1970s had bankrupt and misplaced development ideas. They lacked the foresight to pursue a long-term development agenda and to lay meaningful foundations for further growth in northern Ghana. We are all aware that these two corporations were set up to facilitate Northern Ghana’s development, but they ended up as distributors of essential consumables including (pitifully) just white-bread. We the ignorant northern people were happy to buy nicely baked white-bread and other foods (alien to our chemistry) and we are now not only paying the price by way of the increased prevalence of diabetes in our communities, but zero foundation for further growth. Their failure has caught up with us in amazingly crippling ways, with appalling health and educational facilities and bad roads. No single hospital is up to national standard and the Tamale Teaching hospital, which serves UDS is on its own dying bed.


What Northern Ghana needs now is a coherent and pragmatic development agenda, worked out in an atmosphere devoid of politics. This agenda should be one that seeks to enhance our local agricultural productive capacity, creates linkages with secondary industry and simultaneously incorporates a human capital development strategy, through improved health and community-employment educational curriculum.

I am believer in the notion that Northern Ghana’s development hinges on the evolution of a comprehensive, yet pragmatic policy / plan that revolves around the development of agriculture based on traditional crops with linkages to related secondary industries for the benefit of our northern neighbours such as Burkina Faso and Niger. In such a policy/plan, human resource development is critical, as a way of enhancing quality and fostering sustainability. In this regard, I am anticipating a comprehensive action plan to emerge from the NDF/SADA, which will be supported by Government in a way that links the strategic plan to our broad national development agenda. For example in line with the national goal of improved road infrastructure, the NDF/SADA should prioritize the Tamale-Damongo-Wa and the Bimbila-Yendi-Gambaga-Bawku roads because of the crucial roles they are destined to play in agriculture and in diversifying the northern and national economy.

I also envisage that Vice president John Mahama, the Northern MPs and Ghanaians with pragmatic ideas should endeavour to play a catalytic role in supporting the SADA to work out and execute the action plan. Such a process should be:

Non-partisan (involve people of all political persuasions) and Devoid of our usual reverence for personalities.

These two conditions are so important if we are going to succeed in rationally elucidating and providing pragmatic ideas /strategies, which such an accelerated development agenda requires. By meeting these two conditions, we will equip the participants hold in sight the factors that contributed to the failure of agencies such as Northern Regional Development Corporation (NRDC ) and Upper Regional Development Corporation. This ideal of a pragmatic action plan for NDF/SADA is achievable if we also ensure that the plan is not yet again another isolated development agenda like those that underpinned the work of NRDC, URDC or NORRIP. These entities especially NORRIP had great ideas but these were isolated and run at the periphery of our broad national development agenda. Thus the action plan should be linked directly to the broad development vision of the Government in the key domains, which are the central areas of focus of the NDF/ SADA. In fact avoiding a repeat of isolated agendas helps obviates costs duplication and allows for inter-sector linkages, which to my mind is indispensable for any sustained development in northern Ghana.

Northern Ghana possesses huge agricultural resources and in this era of global climate change, our northern neighbours are going to rely on us for producing some traditional crops which are staple foods our populations. In my reaction to the NPP Government’s announcement in 2005/2006 that 30 irrigation dams were to be built in northern Ghana, I made a case of the potential of this approach for the north’s economic take off. Unfortunately, my excitement turned out to be again another empty publicity or political rhetoric without substance. The GTZ announced recently that it had successfully rehabilitated more 20 dams in the north. These dams can provide a basis for small scale irrigation initiatives in these communities. The NDF/SADA should tap into this GTZ initiative and steer it towards its own ideas around irrigation/ agriculture production as envisioned in NDF/SADA action plan. In this way we create the synergies and avoid re-inventing the wheel. We can then tailor vocational and technical education to irrigation and agriculture related industries and thereby curtail youth unemployment and the Kayayo phenomenon. My views on the subject of northern development are nothing new, as many people have expressed similar and even better ideas. All I am doing is to stimulate discussion and hope that all Ghanaians (not only northerners) will show interest in this discussion and contribute zealously to realizing an improvement in the lives of people of northern Ghana.

I hope Vice President John Mahama (my former teacher, who gave me useful ideas/coaching to be a good debater for Ghanasco, Tamale), to bring his great ideas to developing a pragmatic agenda for the NDF/SADA. Fortunately, there are lots of northern brains/ development enthusiasts with a range of expertise and I mention, Alhaji Mustapha Iddris (Ex- Northern Regional Minister), Sylvester Adongo of MOFA, Tamale, Dr. Abdulai Salifu (Savanna Agric Research Centre, Nyankpala), and Hon. Moses Asaga who should join the party to support this process.

Let us now resolve to do something about moving that part of Ghana forward. Dr. Ahmed Bawa Kuyini (for CEVS, Tamale)

Columnist: Kuyini, Ahmed Bawa