August 24, 2009

"Northern Ghana"


We have a new site www.g-lish.org where you can read all articles from This is Ghana in a much more organised fashion. Read "Northern Ghana" there.

I was inspired by an interesting blog, Ghana Rising, and its reference to FT Magazine's story, The Human Tsunami, focusing on climate change triggering human migration--in particular from the northern regions of Ghana.
Here's an excerpt:
The heart of Nandom is a fork in the road. It is here, in one of the northernmost towns in Ghana, that the buses come and go. You would call it a station if it was anything more than a triangle of reddish dust, surrounded by
fast-food stalls, general stores and the rural bank. Once a week, a market sets
up. The rest of the time, it’s the buses themselves, privately owned mini-vans
known as “tro tros”, daubed with prayers for the road – “Lord Have Mercy”, “My
Redeemer Liveth” – that provide the action: the logic-defying piling on of
people and goods, the waiting, in midday temperatures of 40°C, for enough
passengers to fill a van.

When you hear about “the north” of Ghana, while living in the south, it sounds like Timbuktu (it almost could be). In other words: mysterious and far.
In the south of Ghana, the north is spoken in the same tones as “Africa” is spoken of outside of Africa: as if it’s one big homogenous blob with no cultural diversity and no hope.

It’s a happy surprise to discover that the perceptions—of both Africa and “the north”—are gross and unfair generalizations. And was I ever guilty of both, myself.
“Up north”, linguistically, you’re dealing with at least five widely spoken languages (not including Twi). Food-wise, there’s all the food eaten in the south, plus a few more staples. In terms of religion, it’s roughly divided between Christianity and Islam and everyone gets along just fine.

The conflicts are ethnic-based, not religious, and fall more along political lines, than anything.

The landscape is all rolling pastures, red dirt, Baobab trees, termite mounds and small rocky hills more in common with far northern Australia than the south of Ghana.

It is, however, very poor. While Bolgatanga is thriving (relatively—there is a huge influx of “immigrants” from the conflict in Bawku pushing up rental prices), and local shops are doing a good trade, also helped by being on the route to Burkina and Togo, life is still tough and the future holds little prospect—especially if you’re female. At least in Accra or Kumasi women might have some control over their lives.

Even though Ghana is something like (emphasis on 'like', since I'm not the best geographer) one twenty-fifth the size of Australia (with almost the same population), when you’re traveling from north to south it feels as if you’ve traveled half-way down Australia because it takes the same time. The “tyranny of distance”, a phrase often bandied about my home country, seems very apt here, too.
Distance in Ghana is measured more accurately in time than space. There are so many obstacles between A and B that to relate distance to time is a big mistake—unless you have your own vehicle. No, it’s best to think in terms of time alone. It took eighteen hours to get from the capital, Accra, to Bolga on the state coach company: around 700-800 kilometres—this would normally take about 6 hours in Australia.

So, internal migration is a big deal: it’s expensive and it’s time consuming. When you’ve spent a bit of time observing the hand-to-mouth existence of most, at least in Bolga, without any decent prospects for work, and where the health facilities are abysmal and education is only slightly better than nothing at all, it’s no surprise.

Yet, outside the insanely hot “hot” season (it’s too hot to think of a more imaginative title), when rain begins falling and the fields burst with maize and millet and the landscape turns what appears to be fake fluorescent green, and wild mint scents the air, life seems ok and you can almost imagine the possibilities…

Open land spreads as far as the eye can see—even in this tiny country. So much so that if you want a few acres to grow your own food, all you have to do is go ask the local chief, give some small offering such as a bag of Kola Nuts, and it’s yours to farm. And that’s how most people survive. And selling the odd basket if you’re in Bolga. Or shea nut butter if you’re in Tamale. And buying and selling animals too.

If the government or private industry would invest and provide opportunities in these wide open spaces where potential seems great, but the present reality is grim, Dagombas, Frafras, Gurusis, Sesales, Walas, Dagabas, Bisas, Moshis, Bahausas, Kusasis, Mamprusis, Gonjas, Bimobas, Nanumbas, Bassiras, and Konkombas, might stay among these rainy-season green pastures and help “the north” realize its potential. Then, perhaps, Accra, Tema and Kumasi may be spared the pressure of internal migration overtaking its cities.

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