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Opinions Sat, 19 Sep 2009

Re-Branding The North

MY STAKE

For starters, I am not comfortable with the caption that I have given to this topic. The main reason being that, unfortunately here in Ghana, a long term negative reputation has come to be associated with the three northern regions. There exists a paradigm which regrettably seems to suggest that nothing good comes from the north.

Geographically, the northern part of Ghana consists of the Savanna inclination of Upper West, Upper East and Northern regions. Over the years however, the entire gamut of this has conventionally come to be known as the ‘north’. Some ethnic tribes in this area include the Dagaabas, Sisalas from the upper West region, kasena, Mamprusi,Frafras, Kusasi from the Upper East region and the Gonjas and Dagombas from the Northern region.

Economically, the three northern regions are among the least developed in the country. In my opinion, a lot still needs to be done to entirely ameliorate the plight of the area. We are informed that nine out of every ten people in the Upper West region are poor. Eight in the upper East and seven in the Northern region are poor out of every ten people. Anyone from any of the three northern regions is easily and collectively referred to as a northerner. This should not be.

In furtherance, many people especially ‘non-northerners’ only know the three northern regions to be a war torn area. It is an incontrovertible fact though, that there are feuding factions in some parts of the ‘north’. The Bawku conflict is one such example. We also have the Abudu and Andani gates in Yendi. Historically, our colonial masters did very little if any at all, to help in the development of the three northern regions. The idea, whoever might have brought it, that the ‘north’ serves as a labour pool was seriously misplaced. It did not help and has not helped in any way to the present predicament of the ‘north’. These factors, coupled with the natural geographic inclination and vagaries of the weather have contributed to the rather unenthusiastic situation in the three northern regions.

The result of the aforementioned factors is what we see today. There is a general lack of education and information about the ‘north’ among ‘non-northerners’. After fifty two years of independence, we still have national broadcast houses committing unpardonable errors with issues that concern the ‘north’. It is not uncommon to hear statements like ‘Wa in the Upper East region’ on national radios and televisions. There are so many arm-chair journalists in this country that for most of them, Kumasi is their limit. Yet these are the people who report stories about the ‘north’ that they themselves have very little knowledge about if any at all. It is common knowledge that the media in Ghana over the years have developed an unparallel interest in making headlines of issues about tribal and chieftaincy conflicts in the ‘north’. Yet no one ever borders to talk about the hippo sanctuary at Wechau and the wulling mushroom rocks in the Upper West region. No one makes mention of the Mole Park and no journalist ever sells the mysterious larabanga rock and Paga crocodile pond to the rest of the world. The correspondents who report for the various media houses from the three northern regions have done very little at positively branding the ‘north’. The little misunderstanding that erupts among people is hastily generalized as war in the ‘north’. Yes, it is true that tensions are high in Bawku. The Abudus and Andanis are at loggerheads. However, these are only two isolated issues. Over the past two to three years, one cannot count more than one issue apart from the above mentioned. So why the hasty generalization and conventional misinformation that the ‘north’ is a war torn area? In any case chieftaincy uprisings are not only found in Yendi. The Anlo case is still unresolved. We still have two gates claiming legitimacy as the Gbese mantse. It is not any different in the Ashanti region. The list is long. Let us re-brand the ‘north’. For those who say that people are always fighting in the ‘north’, Upper West is the most peaceful region in Ghana. This is a piece of information. Upper East has always been peaceful but for tiny Bawku. Yendi is only a little portion of the Northern region. Please let us get educated. There is an ephemeral uneasiness in Bawku. The Yendi case is incompletely resolved. However, these are only two issues and not the entire ‘north’. Borrowing the words of Most Rev. Palmer-Buckle, media practitioners should be reminded that the world needed good news and not the old acrimony, be it tribal, political or religious. We are simply tired of having to hear about Bawku every day for the wrong reasons.

Suffice it to say, there are many policy makers and politicians who were born, bred and schooled in Accra, yet these people take decisions for the whole country. They may not be entirely wrong though, however, he who feels it knows it better.

The politicians from the three northern regions have also done very little if any at all at re-branding the ‘north’. The lack of a common interest and sheer personal greed on the part of some of our politicians has grossly contributed to the rather sad situation. There are sons and daughters across the political divide who have held positions of repute in this country before and even presently. What substantive thing has any of these people done to enhance human development in the ‘north’? Apart from their immediate family members and friends, most politicians have not lifted a finger to help any other person. Northern politicians, please do something to help others. The argument that the northern politician is not always at the forefront is tenuous and highly unsubstantial. Our politicians need to come together for a common purpose. The current status of the University for Development Studies leaves much to be desired. And in the mainstream, only one university in the entire northern Ghana is woefully inadequate. Just one more question; is there any package for the girl-child and graduate student in the Savanna Accelerated Development Authority (SADA)? I believe that you can do something about it. Politicians must also come together to stop the carnage in Bawku. The Member of Parliament for Bawku Central for example must with immediate effect collaborate with the Interior minister to solve the upheavals in Bawku and stop the blame game. At the end of the day, it is not NDC or NPP supporters who are killed but the people of Bawku.

I cannot end this episode without talking about the ordinary citizen from the ‘north’. Many of us simply and easily play a second fiddle to others. Please don’t appear disparaged. We must fervidly compete with others and where the opportunity presents itself, educate them. If someone for example asks you how many days it takes to travel say from Accra to the ‘north’, you must be able to educate them, that any of the three northern regions is not that far as they erroneously know it to be. And in any case no location is far but has got to do with relative distance.

Further still, the pageantry and conviviality with which we welcome the politicians must be carefully looked at. We should exhibit the same form of alacrity while telling them what we need and what we do not need. More importantly, my brothers in Dagbon should not create an impression that every one of them is a royal. For heavens sake, I come from Jirapa, and I fervently respect and recognize Naa Ansoleh Ganaa II and his royal family.

However, I will never condone or as one Yaw Boadi-Ayeboafoh will put it, applaud any death that would be a concomitant of asserting the legitimacy of Naa Ganaa II or any other. The Kusasi and Mumprusi in Bawku should also unconditionally stop the killings now. The ill-fated intuition that our party is in power has to be carefully looked at. It is lucid that there is lack of political will to solve the Bawku situation and we must therefore hold the bull by the horn ourselves. Let us learn from the Dagaabas and Frafras. People of Bawku and Dagbon should stop painting the ‘north’ dark and war torn. You are not the only people who have misunderstandings.

There is a lot we can do to individually develop and collectively re-brand the ‘north’. This is my part, education. A conference was recently held in Tamale aimed at re-branding the ‘north.’ The call may be late as others see it; however, late cooking does not mean going to bed hungry. Re- brand the ‘north’ now.

Eugene Bawelle, Former President, Legon Economics students society. bawelleeugene@yahoo.com Acccra.
Columnist: Bawelle, Eugene