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Opinions Wed, 8 Aug 2018

Railways in Upper West Region; a development communication model for Ghana

Ghana lacks a railway network and this will not change for many decades unless the problem is attacked in a novel manner.

It is important to heed the lessons of history in order to appreciate railway development.

Every great economy that transformed from agriculture to industrialisation used railways as a cheap form of transport to connect towns, and transport goods and persons.

If I became the minister for railway development, a position that I think should be scrapped anyways, I’d work tirelessly with very powerful regional ministers at my side.

‘We need to improve upon the 945 kilometres left us by the colonial masters and with modern technology, it is possible,’ Joe Ghartey, minister for railway development told railway workers in Ketan, near Sekondi, reported ghanabusinessnews.com on 12 June, 2017 [which also sourced Ghana News Agency].

He added that the NPP administration will spend US$7 billion on railways over their four year tenure.

Godwin Ntamah, General Secretary of the Workers Union, responded to Ghartey’s promise of a railway line from Sekondi to Paga, saying, ‘We only pray it does not follow the usual promise and fail attitude of past governments.’

When regional ministers have cabinet status, they won’t suffer such South-South-West to North East rattle prattle.

As railways minister, I will lobby them (regional ministers) to develop internal railway lines within their regions in order to connect huge market centres and big populations.

These will involve such relatively small financial outlays that they will not attract the ire of the finance minister and my colleague cabinet ministers.

Meanwhile I will be proud to admit such covert and overt operations.

When these railway lines develop locally, my ministry will now spend monies within its budget and raise bonds with the support of the finance ministry to connect inter-regional railway networks.

Presently, Upper West Region, our case study, can never dream of a railway line because the railway development ministry will have to develop a national plan based on national priorities.

However, within their own budget, Upper West Region with a powerful Regional Minister who is a cabinet member can build railway lines from Wa to Wechiau.

Also Jirapa to Lawra to Lambussie. Then Lambusie to Tumu, which will run along our north western boundary.

Finally Wa to Tumu leading eastwards to Navrongo in the Upper East Region will also be developed separately.

Before long, Upper West Region has been fully connected internally.

The proposed Northern Ghana Railway, showing Sekondi to Paga. Source; researchgate.net. No direct connection from Wechiau to Wa! Other proposed railway lines show connections to Jirapa, Nandom, Kaleo and Nadowli.

When one looks at the railway map of Europe, the lines did not necessarily develop with Germany factoring Italy into its plans.

But today, most of Europe is connected. Think of Ghana as Europe with each region, an independent nation in Europe.

I toured the whole of the Upper West Region some eight years ago. I know the terrain. It’s tough.

I was lucky to go in a Mitsubishi Pajero and slept in budget hotels.

I always wonder how George Ekem Fergusson did it- a Gold Coast nationalist travelling to define the boundaries of the now independent Ghana and dying in Wa, where he was buried, in 1897.

My friend Naeem Ahmed Abdul Ghafaar who hails from Upper West Region understands the issues from an Islamic perspective.

‘Islam is not relevant if it doesn’t teach human centred development,’ says Ghafaar.

He works as an emergency medical technician within the Ghana Ambulance Service and is writing a book on one’s mind for personal and community development.

But, he’s forced to think within this over-centralized political system and to channel his views through his superiors at the office.

Meanwhile, outside of his work environment, he’s a respected Islamic scholar within the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, delivering orations on occasions and all.

Aren’t many of us forced into multiple roles – just like Gulliver all the time; today we’re in command of a fleet in Lilliput, tomorrow we’re checked into a travel box in Brobdingnag.

In fact if you hear Ahmed speak, you will pause and listen; he is learned and deep.

But hey, within our current national development communication model, he doesn’t count in the scheme of things.

No matter the skills of logic and rhetoric Ahmed possesses, there’s no way he can convince his people back home in Wa that he works for a functional national ambulance service in Accra, and that in time they’ll receive their ‘fair share of the national cake’, as the cliché goes.

Ahmed will always be a rebel within our current national development communication construct, because he submits his views to no one- except to Ahmadi theology and to Allah- a divergence our political and corporate leaders struggle to appreciate.

I’m sure within the development aspirations of the people of Upper West Region, railway lines remain a cherished dream.

When the regional minister becomes a cabinet position and can gather ideas from unit committees through zonal councils to the district assembly level, then the people, together with their regional minister, can fashion out their regional development plan.

Who needs six regions?

Go and live with the people for a week and listen to them!

The amount of money needed to create a World War Two era railway system for six towns in Upper West Region pales into insignificance when compared with the US$900 million dollars needed to conduct a referendum for six new regions.

When placed squarely within The Eisenhower [Decision Making] Matrix, THE PROPOSED SIX NEW REGIONS ARE NOT URGENT AND NOT IMPORTANT!

Currently, Upper West Region has to subjugate its aspirations for a railway line to the development of the Accra, Kumasi, Takoradi railway system which is against the directive principles of state policy (1992 Constitution, chapter 6).

It is as if they are cursed to remain under the Governor Gordon Guggisberg railway model of 1919 to 1927!

Guggisberg’s development model is the most acclaimed and respected in Ghana today, standing shoulder to shoulder with that of Kwame Nkrumah’s.

Beyond these two, there is no record of a national development plan which was implemented.

What lessons do we learn from Guggisgberg?

He engaged the people and communicated with them. He modified the teaching methods and got his development projects underway, above and beyond what the Colonial Office in London had expected him to do.

This development communication model from Writers and Shakespeares Ghana Limited is a sequel to our earlier article titled BOAKYE AGYARKO AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE; a political communication model for Ghana.

Writers and Shakespeares Ghana Limited is a public relations and integrated Communications firm located in South La Estates, Accra.

Our services include development communication and political communication solutions to assembly men, district assemblies, political parties, non-governmental organisations and state institutions.

We are available as resource persons for your advocacy programmes and seminars.

You may also commission research to be done for your organization.

Website: www.writersghana.com Email: enquiries@writersghana.com

Columnist: Isaac Ato Mensah