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Feature Article of Sunday, 30 September 2012

Columnist: Gyan-Apenteng, Kwasi

The Juaboso Woods are Lovely but…

For the first time in my life, I felt such affinity with Robert Frost that I wanted to call him and say to him, “Right on, Frostie! I know what you mean.” The difficulty in carrying out this wish is that the American Poet has been dead since 1963 and I am not particularly keen on necromancy. The reason for being nostalgic about Frost is that traveling on the road to Juaboso in the Western Region recalled for me the vivid imagery in Frost’s famous last stanza of his poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.

But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Users of Facebook, the social network, know that one of the options available to them when they describe their love life or marital arrangement is “complicated”; it is a useful word, one which Juaboso can deploy to perfection in describing its relationship with its regional capital and the rest of the country. Complicated! This is why: To most people outside the Western Region, and perhaps many who come from there, Western Region means Sekondi-Takoradi and the coastal belt that stretches to Half Asini and perhaps well-known inland towns like Tarkwa and Prestea.

Juaboso is in the Western corner of the region, closer to parts of the Brong-Ahafo Region than to its own capital. The result of this geographic confusion is graphically obvious. Remoteness from the capital is only one of these consequences; alienation from the rest of the country deepens as one travels even further west towards the Ivorian border. According to ghanadistricts.gov, with a population density of 54.5 persons per kilometer, the Juaboso District is sparsely populated as compared with the national average of 79.3 per kilometre.The modern traveler has several planning tools including the popular Google Maps but none of them tells you that it is easier to get to Juaboso through Kumasi, as we had to do, than to go straight from its regional capital.
I went to Juaboso as part of my on-going engagement with a number of civil society groups in the Western half of Ghana that are working on election 2012 issues with funding from STAR-Ghana. My hosts belong to Rural Water and Sanitation Provision Services, boasting a collection of extremely dedicated patriots – the kind of people of whom “dying for Ghana” is not just a tossed-around cliché but almost a literal reality. The group is an NGO which provides boreholes and other forms of potable water for some of the 915 communities in the Juaboso District and beyond into the adjoining Bia District. At the time of our visit, one of the organisation’s field staffers was recovering at home from injuries sustained in a motorbike accident while traveling in remote parts of the district. (Injuries from motorbike accidents appear to be a job hazard for NGOs working in remote areas, - a fate not likely to be shared by politicians who swoop by in modern day 4 x 4 steroidal steeds on the Spintex Road).
Lest we forget, “remote” in Juaboso means remote. Our hosts were Thomas Gyamah, Executive Director, Ambrose Ameworwor, Accountant, Joshua Agyeman, Coordinator, Emmanuel Gyamah, Field Officer, Larweh Elvis Tetteh, Project Officer and Hannah Adu Sarfo, Administrative Secretary. They regaled us with stories from their work among the “deprived” communities in the Juaboso District and its environs. The idea that any of those communities is “deprived” is the eternal paradox of the African condition; the so-called 64-million-dollar question that can only be quantified in the American currency: How can people living in such richness be deprived? When you look around you, all you see is green to the ends of the earth. Robert Frosts “woods are lovely…” cannot come close to a description of the richness of this land. Around Juaboso, the woods are plush, lux and lush!
The Juaboso District is mainly a farming area, and you can say it again because even in its “deprived” condition, agriculture in the district punches far above its weight: with its ultra favourable climatic conditions, the district produces a large variety of food and cash crops such as cocoa, plantain, rice, cassava, maize, vegetable and citrus, while livestock including animals such as sheep, goats, pig and fowls are reared on a smaller scale. So the eternal question remains: how can the people who produce the food on which others survive be poorer than those they feed? In an election year, this ought to be the question we should ask all political office seekers to address and explain what they will do to abolish such unacceptable existential inequality.
Juaboso has also got gold and other minerals which are being prospected for and mined. Now, here is the looming danger: Juaboso sits in one of Ghana’s main forest reserves, a reserve that is currently holding a number of wild animals some of which are on the endangered list. If indeed there are mineral deposits in the forest, it stands to reason to expect Chinese chainsaws and excavators to invade the forest very soon – as the pattern has shown elsewhere, with the full complicity of the chiefs and local politicians. We must ‘shine our eyes’ and protect the forest reserves in the area. Apart from mining, there are safer alternatives for cottage industry around rattan, cane, bamboo and clay which are found in abundance. Juaboso lies close to the Ghana-Ivorian border, so in addition to being a custodian of our forests, the deprived district could also be defence-critical especially as Ghana is being drawn into the simmering Ivorian conflict by the day.

It comes perhaps as a “no-surprise” surprise that the whole of the Juaboso area has only six police stations which lack manpower and technical resources to be effective in a potential raid on the forests or across the porous border. Juaboso has only one senior high school, four banks, two of which are rural banks and one hospital. Its capital, Juaboso, has well laid-out roads but looks sleepy in its red laterite condition.
It is into this quietude that the current political atmosphere is injecting dangerous tension that makes the intervention of Rural Water even more necessary. It has to be said that while the nation’s eyes are on the major cities and towns in Ghana, history tells us that if election trouble will come, it will probably start from places like Juaboso which are far from the capital but near enough to spread trouble very quickly. Apparently, radio stations in the catchment area are awash with insults and threats so, sadly, don’t expect to see any time soon the candidates of the NDC and NPP walking arm-in-arm around the market street in the town.

However, our friends at Rural Water are doing their best, indeed the association is acknowledged as having initiated a process that could avoid election trouble. Their strategy centres on providing a platform for dialogue along the lines developed by Alliance for Reproductive Health Rights, the STAR-Ghana grant partner in whose network Rural Water operates. In the past five months, the organisation has gathered stakeholders in election and politics to build a peace coalition which is holding – against the odds. With no national or local government support in terms of money and material, this illustrious group survives on infrequent donor money which is getting smaller by the month as the expected economic recovery in Europe and America, the principal sources of donor funding, stalls.

The organisation needs help to fulfill its mandate, especially with communication. At the moment, a substantial part of its expenditure pays for radio coverage, which is essential if it hopes to reach all parts of the Juaboso and Bia Districts. In the coming days and weeks, my Juaboso hosts hope that their organisation’s intervention becomes one of the factors that contribute to a peaceful election in December. What Juaboso gains from the election is a different matter that should be politically determined.

kgapenteng@gmail.com

kgapenteng.blogspot.com

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