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Re-Branding the North (Part II)

Sat, 25 Jun 2011 Source: Bawelle, Eugene

MY STAKE

The first part of this article drew a lot of comments from readers especially those who are not from the three northern regions. In this episode, i will seek to clarify some of my statements that didn’t go down well with some readers while still maintaining the need to re-brand the north.

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.

Economically, the three northern regions are among the least developed regions in the country. A World Bank report on poverty reduction indicated that as at 2006, 58% of the people in the three northern regions were poor. The report further goes on to say that twenty years of rapid economic development in Ghana has done very little, if anything to reduce the historical North –South divide in in terms of standards of living. While rural development and urbanization have led to significant poverty reduction in the South, similar dynamics have been largely absent from Northern Ghana(or equivalently the North, defined as the sum of the administrative regions of Upper West, Upper East and the Northern Region), which cover 40 percent of Ghana’s land area. Between 1992 and 2006, the number of poor declined by 2.5 million in the South and increased by 0.9 million in the North. In sharp contrast with the South, there was no significant decline in the proportion of poor in the population of the North. Ghana’s success story in poverty reduction is the success story of its South.

This is an unacceptable fact. 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.

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 four 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 (especially in the capital) that for most of them, Kumasi is their limit in terms of travel distance. Yet these are the people who report on 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 unparalleled interest in making headlines of issues about tribal and chieftaincy conflicts in the ‘north’. The World Bank also shares the same view. 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(even now, Bawku is relatively peaceful). 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. 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 until recently was unresolved. Here in Accra where I recide, these days everyone gets up and claims legitimacy over the Ga stool. 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 could be 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 the three northern regions every day for the wrong reasons.

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 have any of them 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 NDC government for example has most of its decision makers from the three northern regions. Yet, it has taken us more than two years and still counting to implement the Savannah Accelerated Development Initiative. 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. We have so many competent and qualified youth from the areas who are roaming the streets of Accra day in and day out looking for placements. The Politicians always tell us of how they cannot help (not all though), yet many of them sit in private discussions and complain of how people are not coming forward for help. Isn’t that interesting and why won’t others tell us that we burn too much charcoal? (I take serious exception to that statement though)

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 the ordinary citizen welcomes 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. Our interest does not necessarily lie in the commissioning of toilets and bath houses but that the human development is critical. More importantly, my brothers in Dagbon should not create an impression that every one of them is a royal. For heaven’s 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 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 and permanently smoke the peace pipe. The ill-fated intuition that our party is in power has to be carefully looked at. 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 to develop and collectively re-brand the ‘north’. This is my part, raise the concerns. My understanding, per the last but one Population and Housing Census, is that the Upper West Region for example, has the highest number of scholars. Since 1984 till date, what have we to show forth as a region except the rather pathetic poverty situation? Our elders say that late cooking does not mean going to bed hungry. Re- brand the ‘north’ now.

Eugene Bawelle, Zenith Bank Gh Ltd.

Bawelleeugene@gmail.com

Columnist: Bawelle, Eugene