This Zongo Development Project raises eyebrows

Fri, 13 Jun 2014 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The problems confronting the Mahama-led administration are enormous but it remains undaunted, confident that it can tackle them to position itself favourably for Election 2016. Its critics and skeptics alike smirk at such assurances while concerned citizens cringe at President Mahama’s continued making of promises! To them, the most worrisome issue detracting from President Mahama’s political fortunes is his inability to fulfill the electioneering campaign promises that won Election 2012 for him. The daily barrage of complaints and criticisms verge on that failure, which is why some people are unhappy to hear him make more promises.

Even in the face of intractable problems that have made his handling of national affairs the butt of ridicule and provoked public anger, President Mahama is unrelenting in making promises and giving assurances of readying himself to shift to second gear! He has been running affairs in first gear for far too long. The time to move faster and more resolutely to solve problems is elapsing really fast!

But the promise-making sticks out. Here is the latest instance. In interacting with Muslim and Zongo chiefs (led by the Chief Imam Sheikh Osmanu Nuhu Sharubutu) at the Flagstaff House today, President Mahama announced that a major national project to change “the face of development in the Zongo communities” will take off soon. The project, targeted at improving the living conditions of the people in the Zongo communities, is to be undertaken.

It forms part of the Urban Renewal Project, and it will see massive development in roads, drains, housing, among others, in the Zongo communities. The project will be done in collaboration with the Brazilian government (mostly by way of a loan facility). The President said that the Council of Muslim and Zongo Chiefs will be briefed on the details of the project.

To him, the briefing is necessary because the project will “involve moving people for a little while.” Temporary accommodation will be provided for affected persons while the houses in the Zongo communities will be realigned while roads and allay ways within the houses will also be constructed. Open spaces for playgrounds will also be built and other social amenities will be provided. (See: https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=312270)

This is one huge promise that I won’t overlook, especially at this time that pressure is mounting on President Mahama to act more resolutely in solving the country’s economic problems. There is much public discontent at his government’s handling of affairs, and he must be reminded to rein himself in regarding promise-making. Somebody should step on President Mahama’s toes.

I remember very well that in the run-up to the 2012 elections, the NPP’s Akufo-Addo made a similar promise that an NPP government under him would establish a “Zongo Development Fund” for the sole purpose of uplifting the Zongo communities in Ghana. I took him on and haven’t regretted doing so, more especially when I considered his electioneering campaign promises to be too “huhudious”. Thank God, he flopped, taking along with him into the political wilderness all those promises, especially the one on building hostels for “Kayayei” (female load carriers operating in the urban areas).

But his promise on the “Zongo Development Fund” is now being revived by President Mahama (just as he did with the free senior high school education only to be scorned by the NPP followers as “stealing” their topmost policy); and I want to take him on too. I must first express strong reservations against such a move, not because I don’t want the Zongo communities to be developed but because I think that there is much already to worry about as far as such promises are concerned. Too many for concern!

As far as this Zongo facelift is concerned, I cringe because it is more of an attention-grabbing effort than a reality to expect before Election 2016. The modalities for the project are not yet known, which calls for restraint in criticizing the move; but we can take a sneak peek into the issue to see whatever there is to see for comment. After all, enough precedent regarding such ventures exists to teach us lessons.

All over the country, there are many Zongo communities, mostly occupied by our compatriots from Northern Ghana not indigenous to the localities accommodating the “Zongo” hue. The demographics have changed over the years but the Zongo community has retained its identity and shade for what it has been all these years. A “Zongo” is easily identifiable on contact.

I want to know from President Mahama if this “massive facelift” envisaged will affect all the Zongo communities wherever they may be in Ghana or only those in the over-populated urban areas will be developed. How will the choice be made? A massive housing project envisaged? And how will the new structures to house the residents be managed after completion? Who owns them, anyway?

Granted that the Zongo communities are not the only “eyesores” wherever they may be located, is there any intention to develop other areas of each locality that is chosen for the facelift? And in cities (such as Accra, Kumasi, and Sekondi-Takoradi) where there is a dense population of those who would traditionally have been residing in the Zongo communities but are scattered all over the city, how will the facelift be done?

I have in mind Nima, Maamobi, Pig Farm, Accra New Town, and Sabon Zongo in Accra, among others. Which of these areas will qualify as a “Zongo” to be facelifted? And will the facelifting be done without any due consideration for other places like Sukura, Sodom and Gomorrah, and many other slum areas in Accra that are not traditionally regarded as “Zongos” but are also an eyesore?

What was the criterion for choosing the Zongo communities for this uplift? Why focus on them alone? Will focusing on them be to the detriment of other needy areas and people? With what implications?

From how the President made the announcement, I suppose that it came as a “pleasant surprise” (“shock” instead?) to the Muslim and Zongo chiefs. I can hazard the guess here that they were not consulted prior to whatever agreement the government might have reached with its Brazilian counterpart to develop the Zongo communities. Otherwise, why should they wait to be briefed on the entailments of the project?

If, indeed, the Muslim and Zongo chiefs were kept in the dark only to be told today by the President what would soon be implemented to drastically affect lifestyles in the Zongo communities, I will not hesitate to blame the President and his team for sidelining those whose input could help the government know exactly what to do. If no prior consultation was done and a team put in place to identify the felt and real needs of the prospective beneficiaries of this facelift before work on the project begins, the President deserves blame.

Such a project will seriously destabilize individual and collective lives and those to be affected should have been involved in decision-making to ensure their maximum cooperation so the project doesn’t end in smoke just like many others dotting the skyline of many cities and towns in the country.

Ghanaians know the sad fate of politically motivated “development projects” and will immediately regard this Zongo facelift as one of them, especially given the dynamics of the partisan politics going on in the country. Almost all the political parties have sought to exploit the sentiments (or even plight) of our Northern Ghana compatriots and their religious inclinations. We know how they rush to woo prominent Muslim leaders in the mistaken belief that they could use them to draw support from that segment of the electorate.

Looking at the numerous abandoned development projects all over the country, it is easy to conclude that any move to initiate a development project of this magnitude for political currency won’t end well. What will become of this Zongo facelift if the NDC loses power at Election 2016? Will the new government be willing to continue with it to completion? Where is the guarantee?

Over the years, many other projects have either been conceived or initiated only to be added to the batch of white elephants that remind Ghanaians of the recklessness of their governments. Can President Mahama swear that by making this announcement he is really levelling with the Muslim and Zongo chiefs and their followers, on the one hand, and Ghanaians, on the other hand? That he is honest in the pursuit of this goal to ensure better living conditions for residents of the Zongo communities? For all he may care to know, this particular promise will make or break him in the Zongo communities, depending on what happens, especially if he contests Election 2016 without anything being done to fulfill this promise.

For the NDC (as a political party) and its administration, particularly, there is much to learn from such developments. Ghanaians haven’t yet forgotten the failed STX Housing Project and many others that continue to remind them of the duplicity with which Ghanaian politicians do politics. Even before the implications of this announcement on the Zongo facelift manifest, President Mahama needs to be told that he has added yet another hot potato to what is already in his purview. How he handles matters will reflect on his political fortunes sooner than later.

Is this Zongo facelift project for real? Indeed, President Mahama has set himself up for much heckling and must not run away when that moment dawns. He stands to lose a lot if this promise is not fulfilled. Knowing very well how difficult it is for him to fulfill other promises already made, what is his motivation for adding more to the list, even as the economy refuses to pick up? He must have a thick skin.

Truth be told, I am not a fan of grandiose designs of this sort, designed to hoodwink or massage the feelings of the people. I wish that anybody wishing Ghana’s development, growth and progress (and fighting for the good of the citizens) will go on a tour of the country to take a good look at the numerous abandoned projects and consider ways and means to rejuvenate them, build them to serve their original purposes, and prove to Ghanaians that he knows how to put the country in order. I am waiting for someone to do so. Not until then, those thinking of beginning new “wild” projects only come across to me as jokers to be laughed at!!

I shall return…

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Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.