To begin with, it is essential to attempt to give a brief background explanation regarding Zango communities in Ghana to perhaps enable readers appreciate the context of this piece.
Zango which is wrongly spelt as “Zongo” is derived from the Hausa language which could literally mean “a settlement of Hausa speaking people or traders”. In other words, the predominant language spoken in Zango communities is Hausa language.
Even though our brothers and sisters in the Zango communities in Ghana are generally trade or business minded people, the reality however is that, many people in Zango communities earn lower incomes as a result of non-availability of decent jobs opportunities due to varied reasons. Our Zango communities are characterized by inadequate basic social amenities such as modern school facilities, improved health facilities, decent shelter or housing, high unemployment rate among others. These numerous challenges in our Zangos expose many of our Zango folks (brothers and sisters) especially the youth to many avoidable vulnerabilities, exploitations and abuses. This trend must not and cannot continue to exist because the existence of such conditions poses great threats to national security or stability. It is therefore, important for people in authority particularly the local and central governments to take appropriate steps to address these challenges for the betterment of our brothers and sisters in the Zangos as well as other deprived communities across the country.
It is important to also mention that, Zango communities are not just peculiar to Ghana as a country but it cuts across many West African countries in subregion. For example, in Benin, one could find large Zango settlements in areas such as Parakou, Ganou and Cotonou the port city of Benin.
In Ghana, Zango communities are spread across the entire country, however, according to literature reviewed, one of the largest and oldest coastal Zango communities in Ghana is Nima which dates back to 1836. Other Zangos communities can be located in Tamale, Salaga, Walewale, Ejisu, Kumasi among others. Zangos are occupied by people of varied ethnic and religious backgrounds, but majority of people living in Ghanaian Zangos subscribe to the Islamic faith (Islam). This clarifies a misconception by some people who suggest that everyone from Zango communities are Muslims.
Now, to the subject matter, thus NDC’s well-thought-out policies for the Zango and Muslim communities in Ghana. The essence of this epistle is to highlight the significance of training female Muslim students to become medical doctors drawn from our Zangos and Muslim communities. I wish to start this conversation by first of all pointing to a similar crucial intervention 33 years ago. The PNDC and subsequently NDC governments over the years from former President Rawlings, late President Mills and President Mahama’s administrations have instituted a number of policy initiatives and measures aimed at improving the quality of lives and dignity of our compatriots (brothers and sisters) living in the Zangos as well as Muslim communities in the country.
For instance, one important thing worthy of mention is the continuous support Zangos/Muslim communities continue to enjoy from the generosity of Islamic Development Bank (IDB), Saudi Arabia since 1986. As a result of the good bilateral relationship that existed between Ghana and Saudi Arabia and many other Islamic countries during the 1980s, a delegation from the IDB came to Ghana. As a result of this visit, the then PNDC administration struck scholarship opportunities for deserving Muslim students to study abroad (Turkey) and in Ghana in disciplines such as medical sciences, agriculture, and architecture. The idea was that these fields of study provide employable skills for trained graduates thus enable them contribute to both community and national development. Between 1986 to 2006, it is believed that an amount of over $3.762 million was spent in training about 221 Ghanaians. Again, through this long-standing arrangement in the past, so many development interventions or projects have been undertaken in both northern and southern Ghana in areas of educational infrastructure, water and health, skill training etc.
Some of the aforementioned projects in Ghana which were initiated by the previous NDC governments with financial support or assistance from the Islamic Development Bank are construction of Institute of Islamic Studies in Nima, Accra (1991-1994), construction of Al-Rayan International School in Accra (2010-2018), construction of Kindergarten/Primary Level School (Club Hijra), Accra (1995-2015), construction of Construction of Dungu Technical Institute (1998-2015), construction of Tamale Islamic Science SHS, Tamale (1996). In fact, presently, there are numerous ongoing projects funded by the IDB dotted across Ghana which time will not permit me to list. The most refreshing part of the IDB funded projects in Ghana is that even though the projects may be located in Zangos or Muslim dominated communities but the beneficiaries or those who patronize these facilities are not necessarily Muslims alone, the final beneficiaries cut across all religious faiths.
Another significant initiative which started in 2012 under President Mills-Mahama administration is my next issue to talk about. This is in reference to a decision by the NDC government then identify Ghanaian students especially from deprived communities and districts across the country to train them as medical doctors. This well-thought-out initiative materialized through a bilateral arrangement between Government of Ghana and the Cuban government. HE John Dramani Mahama as the then Vice President led this special arrangement between the two countries in 2012. As a result, 250 Ghanaian students were therefore selected across the country and among them were female Muslim students from Zangos and Muslim communities in Ghana and sent to Cuba in 2012 for training. By the grace of Almighty Allah, the first batch of 221 newly trained Ghanaian medical doctors have arrived in Ghana last week. Just like the arrangement the PNDC administration made with Saudi Arabian based Islamic Development Bank in 1986 which continue to provide infrastructure and educational support to Ghanaians till date, the Cuban medical training programme was supposed to be a continuous programme under the NDC.
Ironically, the NPP government is desperately attempting to associate itself with the great success story of the 250 Cuban trained Ghanaian doctors most of whom have returned from Cuba already. I recalled all the wicked allegations of corruption, alleged inflated cost and all the nasty things the NPP in opposition said about this arrangement. Many of the NPP leaders including the current President Nana Akufo Addo and many NPP communicators on daily basis chastised HE John Dramani Mahama and the NDC government over this Cuban arrangement.
Below is an extract from a speech delivered by NPP 2012 Presidential Candidate (Nana Akufo Addo) when he addressed students of Sunyani Nurses Training College, Sunyani on 17th October 2012. “At a time when Ghanaian students on government scholarships across the world are crying for their fees and allowances to be paid, and at a time when students at our nursing training colleges are crying against the sudden 100% hikes in fees, the NDC government, under an opaque scheme, operated by then Vice President Mahama, found GH¢160 million to send people to Cuba to be trained as doctors. The Cubans still insist it was a scholarship scheme. If so, then it is most expensive”. https://nppyouthuk.wordpress.com/2012/10/18/saving-our-health-service-keeping-our-people-healthy/ .
Another extract from PRESS STATEMENT BY NPP CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE ON HEALTH
under the caption “Mahama Must Explain Inflated Cost of Training Our Students In Cuba”, Monday, 5 November 2012
“The President, John Dramani Mahama, at last Tuesday’s presidential debate in Tamale showed why he cannot be trusted to protect the public purse or promote the interest of the good people of Ghana. In addressing his controversially costly decision of sending Ghanaians to Cuba for medical training, President Mahama has, once again, reaffirmed the kind of chronic recklessness he has employed in negotiating deals for and on behalf of Ghana”
The Director-General of Ghana Health Service Dr Anthony Nsiah-Asare must spare our ears with his naked hypocrisy and ugly noise. Are issues concerning female healthcare needs restricted to be addressed by only Gynecologists (specialist) in Ghana/ When you hear professionals, who are supposed to know better and expected to educate the public speak like recalcitrant drunkards, then it is obvious that we have a problem as a country. He should put his partisan stethoscope down and pick that of his Hippocratic Oath stethoscope. And if he wants to do partisan politics he should resign and pick npp parliamentary nomination forms to contest.
It was a very wise and excellent decision by the then NDC government to include female Muslim students among the 250 Ghanaians trained in Cuba majority of whom are back home already as qualified medical doctors to serve mother Ghana. The lack of qualified female Muslim doctors in many Zango and Muslim communities across the country affects smooth delivery of reproductive health needs to Muslim who by nature of the Islamic religion require certain levels of privacy. Muslim women feel comfortable and “secured” discussing their reproductive health problems with their female colleagues rather men who are not their spouses. This is not peculiar to Muslim women in Ghana alone. Let me share some research findings I ever came across to buttress this.
In 2001, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence published the 5th report of the Confidential Enquiries into Maternal Deaths in the United Kingdom entitled “Why Mothers Die”. The report, which looked at maternal deaths between 1997 and 1999, found that women from ethnic minority groups were twice as likely to die during pregnancy or just after birth than white women”.
In 2003 the Maternity Alliance in UK conducted a small-scale qualitative research study into Muslim parents’ experiences of maternity services in England. The study found that whilst some Muslim women receive good quality maternity care, many do not. Some of the following reasons were identified in the research: 1). acute discomfort and embarrassment amongst Muslim parents due to the lack of privacy in hospitals and too few female staff. 2). poor communication between health professionals and Muslim parents. 3). insufficient involvement of Muslim parents in maternity services, and little choice for Muslim women about the treatment and care they receive among others. One of the key recommendations in the report was Employing more female and Muslim health professionals to improve the sensitivity of maternity services and to ensure NHS staff reflect the communities they serve.
According to the same 2003 Maternity Alliance research findings “many women, regardless of their ethnicity or religious beliefs, prefer to be seen by a female doctor, especially for gynaecological treatment. However, Muslim women may be particularly keen to be seen by female doctors for physical medical examinations and discussions about female health issues, for reasons concerned with purda (seclusion) and hiya (concept of modesty and concealment).
Even though Islam permits Muslim women to be ‘seen’ by a male doctor when no female doctor is available but it not without great discomfort and embarrassment to many Muslim women. These observations made in the UK over a decade ago are not anything different from the situation in Ghana in our Zangos or Muslim communities. I wish to therefore appeal to HE President Mahama and the future NDC government to consider training more female Muslim students from our Zango and Muslim communities to help improve maternity health care and general health delivery in these communities across the country.
It is also worth noting that since 2016, Muslim pilgrims from northern Ghana and from neighbouring Burkina Faso who hitherto had to travel very long distances for 12 to 15 hours to Accra and sleep at El-Wak park or the temporal hajj village under the mercy of the weather now stay in their homes and only move to the Tamale International Airport on the day of their departure straight to Jeddah Airport in Saudi Arabia. This has been made possible by the expansion of the Tamale Airport under the NDC government of President Mahama which formed part of the first phase. It is however, worrying that, almost three years into Akufo Addo’s government, work is yet to start on the second phase of the Tamale International Airport project.
In all these conversations, it is important to situate the whole discourse into a proper context. Zango or Muslim communities in Ghana are NOT asking for too much. Neither are we demanding preferential treatment from governments. All that we are asking and advocating for are just, fair and equitable distribution of National Cake as well as development projects and facilities in the country so that whatever is due Zango or Muslim communities, are delivered in right amounts and quantities. What the previous PNDC and NDC governments have done over the years are very commendable and well appreciated but like Oliver………
I am a Citizen.
God bless Ghana
A Practicing Muslim
Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."
Reproduction is authorised provided the author's permission is granted.