For the first time, an aspiring presidential candidate of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) has raised the issue of the development imbalance between the Northern and Southern sectors of the country.
Mr. Boakye Agyarko, 50, until a month ago the Vice President of the oldest bank in America has explained in an interview last week that the most threatening phenomenon facing the country today which appears to have eluded everyone, was the big gap in development that exists between the North and the South, warning that if steps were not taken to address the problem, the nation was bound to collapse in the distant future.
The banker, who said he had played significant roles in the development agenda of several countries, pointed out that a nation, having wealth in one half and poverty in the other can never develop. Such a nation, he argued, would be bedeviled with security problems and problems of constant instability.
“The people of the north should not be entirely blamed for the instability in the area. The problem is mainly attributable to the mass poverty in the area that has forced most of the youth of the area to trip to the south and those left back there, mostly unemployed,” he said.
He was of the view that if the youth in the area were provided with jobs, they would not resort to the things they do which normally result in instability or violence in the area. “Why would someone allow himself to be used as an 'Azoka' boy if he has work to do,” he buttressed his point, adding that, “through no fault of theirs, the youth in the North are used just for anything.”
He said he had toured all the 230 constituencies in the country and had observed the level of deprivation and poverty faced in the north emphasizing that there was the need to embark upon more pragmatic policies that would ensure the gradual bridging of the development gap between the two geographical divisions of the country.
Mr. Agyarko, currently on the first phase of his real campaign tour in the North after his initial test run, told The Chronicle that conditions that exist in the North today were similar to those that had resulted in major security problems in several African countries and cited the Fulani raids that currently prevail in the North and other farming communities as being some of the consequences of leaving fallow lands unoccupied.
The aspirant, who had been the President of the North American Branch of the NPP for years, outlined major economic potentials in the Northern part of the country and lamented that all those potentials had not been utilized leaving the area in perpetual poverty.
“The Northern region for example, is the only region where three rivers converge. There is plenty of arable lands which are low lying and from all indications, major agricultural activities can be carried out there,” he observed.
Mentioning every major town in the north as though he had been working on projects or a native of the area rather than someone from Kroboland, he agonized that though the Northern part of the country right from Bawku to Techiman, formed about 60% of the total land area of Ghana, there were only two good roads in the whole of that sector of the country.
According him, the potential of the North was briefly demonstrated during the period, 1973-75 when all the quantity of rice needed to feed the entire nation was produced in that part of the country.
Have we failed them?
In the light of the arguments of the aspirant as regards the inadequate development of the Northern sector of the country, The Chronicle asked whether, by implication, President J. A. Kufuor had failed, at least, as far as the development of the North was concerned.
Mr. Agyarko responded in the negative and explained that the conditions under which the current president took over the affairs of the country were such that, he ought to be commended for what he had been able to do so far.
He observed that President Kufuor took over the presidency when the economy of the country was not stable and stressed that for any meaningful development to take place, there was the need to work hard for a stable economy.
“President Kufuor has done well to stabilize the economy of the country. With what the current president has done, the next president would not be having a mandate to stabilize the nation but a mandate to pursue a development oriented mandate and that is what I seek to do,” the youthful presidential hopeful disclosed.
How Agyarko proposes to bridge the North/South gap
Asked how he would deal with the situation if he became president, the eloquent aspirant said the first step would be the creation of economic opportunities in the North by empowering the people to first of all, utilize the mass arable lands in the area. “Land has to be physically occupied,” he emphasized.
The aspirant said there would also be a conscious effort on his part to retain the youth of the area to prevent the devastating consequences of depopulation, which he said was fast catching up with the North. This he said would be done through the creation of other major economic activities there.
He was again asked how those economic activities would be created and he explained that, steps would be taken to revitalize all the collapsed and underperforming factories in the area such as the meat and tomato factories in the Upper East region, the Tono irrigation project and many others.
The banker/politician emphasized that for the projects to be viable, there would be the need to have good infrastructure in place and identified the need to have good transport system in the area stressing in particular, the need to have an effective rail transport system linking the North to the South to facilitate trading and other economic activities.
He described the location of the Boankra Inland Port as being economically improper and said the best place for creating such a port would have been in the North, mentioning Buipe, specifically as the best place for citing such a facility.
He explained that the purpose of creating an inland port is to ease congestion at the main ports which are all located in the South observing that one would have thought that to create jobs in the Northern sector and to properly ease congestion at the ports which are caused by long vehicles from land-locked countries like Burkina Faso and Mali, the creation of an inland port should be in the North so that such a facility can properly take care of people from the land-locked countries.
“Why should we have an inland port to serve the Sahelian countries not located in the North but rather in the middle part of the country?”
If the port is created at Yapei for instance, we will avoid the numerous accidents caused by long Vehicles from the land-locked countries and again, provide a lot of employment for the people of the area. So for me, it makes no economic sense to have the inland port at Boankra,” he reiterated.
Mr. Agyarko told the paper that he was convinced that with the creation of such a port facility in the North, well connected with a proper rail transportation network which he said was far cheaper to construct than roads, the north would gradually be turned into an industrial hub serving countries like Burkina, Mali, Niger among others, and would thus gradually provide the necessary impetus for development in the Northern sector of the country.
Agyarko's comments and vision for the North come at a time when there had been a demonstrable manifestation of concern by the people of the North about the way they feel neglected in the national development discourse.
A few months ago, a group of people from the North formed a group called, 'The Concerned Youth of Upper Regions' and set for itself, the mandate to voice out the frustration of the people of the North as far as the development of the area was concerned.
The group noted that there were a number of President Special Initiatives but none was meant for the North. It went on to indicate that, with respect to the $546million Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) money that was given to Ghana by the US government to embark upon projects aimed at poverty alleviation, no district in the Upper East and West Regions which are the poorest in the country, benefited from the projects that are to be executed with the MCA.
Recently, when the President granted a live interview to the BBC, a questioner raised the issue and wanted to know from the President what measures were being put in place to address the imbalance between the two sectors of the country. The President gave the assurance that a lot had been done and that his government was still committed to doing more in the area.