In one of my usual perusal of the archives for information, I recently went into the archives of our all-important website Ghanaweb. In the Features column, my eyes immediately caught a petition posted by the Gonjaland Association of North America and Europe (GANA) on the on the 29th of January, 2002. Without taking the wind out of the sails of this noble Association, permit me to address some fundamental issues I consider relevant to this proposal.
The constitution of Ghana states in unambiguous terms in 35(5) that “the state shall actively promote the integration of the people's of Ghana and prohibit discrimination and prejudice on the grounds of place of origin, circumstances of birth, ethnic origin, gender or religion, creed or other beliefs.” (Emphasis mine). To realise this noble objective, the constitution further provides in 35(6) paragraph (d) that the state shall “make democracy a reality by decentralising the administrative and financial machinery of government to regions and districts and by affording all possible opportunities to the people to participate in decision making at every level in national life and in government”
Perhaps the above provision in the constitution is the brainchild of the Rural Manifesto which was introduced in April 1984 to assess the causes of rural underdevelopment. Under the Rural Manifesto, development strategies were evaluated and some were implemented to make rural residency more attractive. As a result of this, the bank of Ghana established about 120 rural banks to support rural entrepreneurs and the rural electrification programme was intensified. In short, it can be said that the brainchild of the Rural Manifesto is the decentralisation programme we now have.
There is no denying the fact that the policy of decentralisation has brought with it tremendous benefits. It has afforded the rural folks the opportunity to actively participate in the decision making process of issues that have a direct bearing on their livelihood. Perhaps the reason we have been able to conduct four incident-free successive elections is because of the awareness that has been inculcated in the rural folks through the decentralisation programme. This is in keeping with the letter and spirit of the Directive Principles of State Policy as enshrined in the 1992 constitution.
Thus far, it is abundantly obvious that given the benefits derived from the decentralisation programme, it is prudent to give it the needed momentum. But no building has ever stood high and straight unless it is based on concrete foundations and supported by strong pillars. Infact the foundations of decentralisation lie in the strength or otherwise of the administrative regions. For it is only when the regions have been securely created that the component units can be fully integrated and harmonised. That is why I find the request by the GANA as not only a timely intervention, but a proposal in tune with the exegesis of our times and circumstances.
Without subjecting ourselves to the rather intricate concepts of cartography, we can (with a layman's eye), infer from the regional map of Ghana that the Northern Region is by far the largest in Ghana. It is about five times the size of the Upper East Region; about two times the size of the Ashanti and god knows how many regions of the size of the Greater Accra region can be carved out of the northern region. It is one of the most heterogeneous regions in Ghana with well over 15 different ethnic groups. The sheer size of this region comes with a number of problems in its governance. Infact many a Regional Minister will attest to the apparent difficulties in the administration of this region. And many a regional minister will further attest to the allegations of neglect and incompetence levelled against them by residents of this region. It is the consensus that one way a leader shows his care for the governed is to make regular contacts. However due to the size of the region, many Chief Executives of this region have fatally failed in that respect.
Even more serious about the size of the region comes the peripherilisation of certain parts of the region. For example places like Bole which are very far from the regional capital tend to be peripherised either wittingly or unwittingly. This phenomenon is characteristic of several parts of the region. But in the particular case of Bole for example, the situation reached its crescendo some years back leading to calls by sections of the youth for a secession of the district from the northern region to become part of the upper west region.
As heterogeneous as the region is, there is the tendency for some people to clandestinely read tribal sentiments into the whole issue of marginalisation of certain areas. For example, depending on the tribal affiliations of the sitting chief executive, some people tend to want to hold to the erroneous perception that the lack of development in their area is due to the lack of affinity to their area by the minister. As inflammatory as tribal passions can be, it is absolutely important for the government to look deep into this proposal and do something about it.
By carving out another region out of the current one, it will significantly help to reduce the mass exodus of our youth to cities like Accra and Kumasi in search of the so-called greener pastures. A close look at the phenomenon of “kayayos” in Accra and Kumasi will make a disturbing revelation. It will be realised that about 85% of these kayayos are specifically from the Northern Region. Even though this situation can be blamed on the northern conflict and the rather volatile situation in the region, the bulk of it emanate from the neglect most areas have suffered due to the sheer size of the area. This phenomenon taints the image of the country given the deplorable situation these youngsters live in. It doesn't auger well for our efforts at attracting tourists into our country. This is especially true given that these people live and sleep under verandas and at the entrances of shops and other public places in our cities.
Going by the dictates of the Local Government Act i.e. Act 462, the conditions for the creation of another region out of the current one have been fully met. For instance if we look at the demographics of the region, it can conveniently be classed as the fourth highest in Ghana. With a population of well over 1.8million people, it is home to about 10.1% of the Ghanaian population next only to the Ashanti, greater Accra and the Eastern region. Infact holding all parameters constant, the northern region has more than qualified to be divided into two. Take the upper regions for example. The population figures for both regions do not sum up to the population of the northern region and yet they are separate autonomous regions.
I am aware that some of the traditional rulers in the region have added their voices to this clarion call. A case in point is when the King of the Gonja traditional Area (Yagbonwura Bawa Doshi) paid a courtesy call on his Excellency the President a couple of years ago. He made the appeal for the carving out of another region from the northern. If this is anything to go by (and it certainly is), then all efforts must be made to transform this into actuality. And the call for the capital of this region to be at Buipe is (as far as I am concerned), very appropriate. This is in view of the volume of economic activities taking place in this town. The strategic position of the town adds to its advantages.
From the dictates of the constitution, it is crystal clear that the president has the carte blanche to create a region (in consultation with the appropriate bodies). That is the reason why the king of Gonjaland in his wisdom appealed to the conscience of the president. Four years have elapsed and we still haven't heard a word. I hope that it is not one of the proposals that have been left on the desk to gather dust. For the people of this region, one thing that will go deep into the annals of their history is the day when this long held dream will be transformed into actuality! LONG LIVE MOTHER GHANA!!!! Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.