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18.06.2009 Business

Empowering communities to propel local development

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GHANA's DEVELOPMENTAL needs are many, and often many citizens look up to government to meet their individual needs, and as well address major issues that would promote growth and development of the entire country and its peoples.

Too many times also, the argument has been made that government cannot shoulder all the needs of the country, hence the need for people, that is communities, districts, regions and the private sector in particular, to help address specific problems.

This is to assist government in efforts aimed at ensuring the country's development, and towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) by 2015.

However, Ghana's slow pace of development can also be due to the fact that often communities at the local level are not empowered or equipped with requisite knowledge, to enable them take initiatives that would help achieve their development needs, as a way of complementing government's efforts.

The result is over-reliance on government to provide the basic needs of every community. This compounds the already slow pace of development in the country.

In recent years, Ghana has seen the involvement of many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which have been working in various fields, ranging from health to agriculture, geared towards assisting government in the development effort, and particularly poverty alleviation at the local level.

One such organisation is the Center for Indigenous Knowledge and Developmental Organisation (CIKOD), which has been working vigorously at the local level to develop methodologies for strengthening traditional authorities and civil society organisations, to facilitate sustainable grassroots organisational development that gives a voice to the poor and vulnerable rural families.

In this regard, CIKOD is working with a number of International Organisations, including CARE International, Konrad Adenaeur Stiftung, COMPAS International, and the Forestry Commission among others on specific projects.

Tanchara is a community in the Upper West Region of Ghana made up of ten smaller communities scattered in the dry savannah landscape. The people's system of governance centers on the chief, also known as, Tanchara Na, who is supported by ten sub-divisional chiefs.

Purpose and project strategy
CIKOD started its work in Tanchara in 2003. The project was aimed at supporting the community to revitalise and use their indigenous institutions and knowledge base to better manage their natural resources, and use them for their livelihood development.

The Executive Director of CIKOD, Mr. Bernard Gury, said to achieve this purpose, the organisation developed and used an innovative process called Community and Organisational Development (COD). This is a process that enables communities to marshal both indigenous and external resources, using traditional leadership and organisational systems for their own development initiatives.

In the process, community resources and all existing indigenous organisations and natural resources were identified, while different forums were organised for the community to prioritise and agree on livelihood options that would best address the management of their natural resources for implementation. To further ensure success of the project, CIKOD organised workshops to strengthen leadership and decision making structures, based on their peculiar traditional norms, values and practices, in addition to providing skills for natural resources management and entrepreneurial development.

The COD process is an innovation that was developed from the principles of endogenous development, hence “learning, sharing and assessing activities involved mutual exchanges between Tanchara and other communities for the purpose of learning and sharing experiences,” says Mr. Gury. Prior to

CIKOD intervention
Initially, possibilities of employment were limited, illiteracy was widespread, the hot and dry weather made farming, which is the common income-generating activity, a complicated affair, increasing poverty levels.

This situation was further worsened by disunity among members of the various communities, especially between the chief and sub-chiefs, land disputes, inequality between men and women, disparity between boys and girls in accessing education, and a general lack of awareness about ways to take initiatives to eliminate these problems, for development to take place. These required a decisive and strategic planning, as well as self-help initiatives that would empower the people to identify channels for solving the problems in a manner that would best address their needs. This is what CIKOD offered the community, with the aim of boosting development of the area, and this agenda was accepted by the chiefs and people.

Positive effects
The dividends of this engagement, between CIKOD and Tanchara, have been profound in many aspects in the lives of the people. This can be seen from testimonies of the people themselves, and the Tanchara Na, Niber Jaayin was joyous in saying, “initially, there used to be quarrels over land disputes and boundaries, but with the intervention of CIKOD, we got to know that we have to solve these problems amicably, without quarrels or misunderstanding.” This to him, was a significant change in their lives, because “we used to have so many problems with other people; this is my land, that is our land, which often sparked quarrels, but now all these have changed, and I am very happy about this.”

He said this was achieved because they were taught to demarcate their lands with symbols such as trees or concrete blocks along boundaries to indicate ownership.

Also, the Chairman of the Tanchara Youth and Development Committee, George Pireh, had this to say, “The most significant change over the past years, compared to today, is our attitude towards developmental issues.”

According to him, previously, only the old men and women attended meetings, with the exception of other community members, saying, “The young men did not pay attention, because they felt even if they attended such meetings, it is only the older folks who would do all the talking.”

This situation however changed with CIKOD's intervention, such that each group now believes they have to make contributions towards community development through dialogue. As pointed out by Mr. Pireh, who is also a retired educationist, “the disunity that used to prevail in the entire village has changed, and everybody now focuses on what he or she can do towards making Tanchara what it should be for the generations yet unborn.

“For every community, if you don't come together to discuss and to raise issues of concern, then I don't think you can make a meaningful change in the community. I think with the coming of CIKOD, they have created some kind of awareness in every member of the community, and now if there is anything concerning Tanchara, everyone comes out to listen. This is a great change,” adds Linus Kob, a teacher at the Kunyukuo Junior High School (JHS).

Women participation
Decision-making used to be the preserve of men, and particularly chiefs, to the total exclusion of women before CIKOD embarked on its project in the area. But, with intensive education, women became accepted in deciding issues of critical importance.

“Issues regarding the community used to be something just for the chiefs. When the chiefs were gathering, no member of the community had the right to be there, but CIKOD tried to let us understand that the chiefs and the community members are all one,” says Mary Kunga, mother of five, pito brewer and trader.

She said presently, whenever there is the need for a meeting, “we all come together to discuss issues of concern, and also contribute some amount of money to buy refreshment for ourselves. This is a great change, and now I have observed some kind of unity among men and women.”

Dibb Kundesea, a woman leader and trader, added her voice to this topic, saying, “I am very happy that through CIKOD's work men have been sensitised.” She said traditionally, men have always thought women to be inferior, but now, “they know very well that a woman can do what a man does and vice versa. So if it is cooking, fetching water, the man can also do it. Whatever the woman wants to do, she can do it because men and women are all equal.”

According Mr. Gury, the “pognaa” institution (equivalent of queenmothers in the south), which had always existed as a women leadership institution, but has been marginalised over the years, have now been revived and “consequently, women have now become very visible in the village, and are actually the focus of economic and livelihood development activities.”

In this area, the impact was on learning to take initiatives to achieve desired results. “When CIKOD came in, they did not give us money to build this or that, but assisted us to source for funds from donors for development, and also gave us a small donation, which we used to organise meetings and invite certain personalities and stakeholders who came and talked to the people,” reports the Assembly Member in the Lawra District Assembly from Tanchara, Gordon Zobazie.

Through this effort, they were able to lobby for the building of a JHS block. Commenting on this, Zobazie noted: “usually the people we invite would come and say 'okay, these are your needs, and this is what I can do for you.' Like the JHS block, it was through the initiative of CIKOD that we brought in the District Chief Executive, and when we put our problems before him, he saw the need to build the JHS block for us.”

Linus Kob believes that the work of CIKOD has accelerated the pace at which they have implemented plans for their community, noting: “They have come to help us and sensitised us on development, and how to work together, and the process has been fast.”

He said though the community tried to put up a library during his school days, it was later abandoned due to ineffective leadership, but now with the awareness created under the CIKOD project, they were able to advocate for the completion of the library.

Furthermore, the community is striving to level the disparity between boy and girl-child education, since initially, there was a wide gap between males and females.

A sub-divisional chief, Konie Kunkpeng, indicated that “with the education the community had from CIKOD, I realised in my position as headman that education used to be something for boys, but now we have realised that girls too are important, so boys and girls alike, go to school.”

A great awareness was created here, which led to a revival of traditional practices that were being abandoned, while in partnership with LACRED, nineteen endangered traditional crops were identified including…, out of which six were already extinct. These crops were then distributed to ten farmers, who multiplied the seeds, for sale to other interested farmers.

Additionally, considering the dry weather condition that prevails there, indigenous crop varieties such as sheanuts and dawadawa have been promoted and adapted to avert any future drought.

According to an opinion leader, B. B. Saseri, “CIKOD hammered on the preservation of traditional seeds, so we had a forum where people brought all the crops that were produced in the village. We got to know about hidden crops, and people realised the need to stick to traditional crops and methods. Some of them were medicinal, but not everybody knew, and so were throwing them away.”

As a result, “we decided to map out plans for the revival of traditional medicines, and make them known to traditional healers, while all those things that had been forgotten were brought back.”

Such has been the impact of CIKOD's commitment to its project in this community, and its activities went to the extent of ensuring leadership and community empowerment, which led to the community winning the District Award for bushfire management in 2007.

Although the people's self-help initiative was started by the chiefs and youth, since the early 1980s, to address their developmental needs, CIKOD's contribution to the project, through consistent organisational support, facilitated and accelerated the process.

This led to the systematic identification and use of existing traditional institutions and natural resources in the community, and in the words of Mr. Gury, “strengthening of the existing structures and the creation of awareness of the importance of their natural resource assets, will engender both social and environmental sustainability of the project.”

On the way forward, he said, CIKOD would focus on introducing innovative technologies and entrepreneurial skills for developing the natural resource potentials in the village into viable economic activities that would enhance natural resource conservation.

One expects that the many NGOs in the country would work efficiently with a strong commitment to their various fields of engagement, to supplement the efforts of government to improve development throughout the country. Long live Ghana!

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