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Opinions of Monday, 31 August 2020

Columnist: Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Abbey-Quaye

Debates surrounding the proposed Cape Coast airport and matters arising: My Take

Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia stated that the next NPP government would establish an airport in Cape Coast Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia stated that the next NPP government would establish an airport in Cape Coast

On Saturday, August 22, 2020, the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) launched its 2020 Manifesto at the University of Cape Coast. During the ceremony, various speakers addressed the gathering, touting the achievements of the ruling Government and giving highlights of the party’s developmental agenda for the next four years when re-elected.

Undoubtedly, the talking point of those speeches since then has been the announcement made by the Vice President and the incumbent President’s running mate, Alhaji Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, to the effect that the next NPP government would establish an airport in Cape Coast.

Even though the Vice President also talked about the building of a harbour in Cape Coast, not much noise has been made regarding that proposal. This seems to suggest that there is a broad acceptance of that idea. After all, Ghana has two major harbours located in Tema and Takoradi and so a third one will not be out of place, and Cape Coast seems an ideal place to locate it. Thus, while there seems to be not much disagreement regarding the establishment of a harbour at Cape Coast, there is a lot of debate currently on the proposed airport for Cape Coast.

In my candid opinion, the controversy surrounding the proposed Cape Coast Airport is borne out of two main factors. One, on the eve of the Vice President’s announcement, the President was interviewed at ATL FM of the University of Cape Coast and asked whether Cape Coast would get an airport and he had answered that it would depend on need assessment and request.

The President’s response and demeanour during the interview did not indicate to many that he supported the idea of an airport for Cape Coast. Thus, the announcement by his Vice President took many observers by surprise. As expected, some Ghanaians are making a political capital out of this, suggesting that either the President did not know what was in the Manifesto or otherwise, the Vice President made that announcement on the spur of the moment due to political expediency.

As expected, party communicators of the ruling regime have vigorously defended the President, arguing the latter did not want to give away the “secret” before its announcement.

Two, I also think that the question on the minds of many Ghanaians is whether at this time of Ghana’s development, Cape Coast and Ghana for that matter, really needs an airport. This is informed by the fact that there are many white elephant projects dotted across the country that were built with taxpayers’ money and since then not put to good use.

The Komenda Sugar factory and the Ho Airport, some school and housing facilities, among others, readily come to mind. Thus, from the point of view of some Ghanaians, including social commentators and experts, it is mostly on this score of viability and utility that the discussions on the proposed Cape Coast Airport should be focused.

As a citizen of Ghana and not a spectator, a proud indigene of the Central Region, and someone who spent much of his school life and early working life as a priest in Cape Coast, I am interested in the ongoing discussions on the proposed airport for Cape Coast and therefore wish to share my opinion on this matter as follows.

Criticisms Against the Proposed Cape Coast Airport

Thus far, notable criticisms against the proposed Cape Coast Airport have come from Mr. Kofi Bentil, Vice President of Imani-Africa, who says that even though he comes from Cape Coast, he thinks that an airport in that city is a bad idea. Among others, Mr. Bentil argues that the budget for the proposed airport should be used to refurbish and dualize the Accra-Cape Coast highway.

He also posits that flying to Cape Coast will be more time consuming than driving there on a dualized road or riding a train. A somewhat similar criticism has also come from one Dr. Yakubu Akparibo, an aviation expert, who opines that an airport in Cape Coast is not viable because commercial flights, a major aspect of viable aviation industry, will not be available in Cape Coast. Besides, Dr. Akparibo argues further that there are not many businessmen and women in Cape Coast who may patronize the services of an airport there.

According to him, the Accra Airport is currently big enough to handle the volumes of air traffic arriving and departing Ghana and so there will be no spill overs to reroute them to Cape Coast, for example.

It is reported that some Cape Coast indigenes themselves have said they need jobs and not an airport as if the operation and services of an airport do not create jobs for people. But be it as it may, one can say that the criticisms against the proposal to build an airport in Cape Coast center mainly on the latter’s close proximity to Accra which hosts Ghana’s major airport, the fear that the airport may not be patronized because of “lack of businessmen and women” who will need its services and the possibility that a dualization of the Accra-Cape Coast highway will facilitate an easier, faster and more convenient commute between the two cities.

Support for the Proposed Cape Coast Airport

The greatest supporter of the proposed airport idea is the who made the announcement, the Vice President himself. Speaking on the Kokrokoo programme on Peace 104.3 FM in Accra on Tuesday, August 25, 2020, the Vice President justified the need for an airport in the ancient capital. According to him, the tourism potential in Cape Coast among many other factors justify the need for an airport in the Central Regional capital.

Beyond the Vice President, notable support for the proposed airport has also come from Mr. Kojo Yankah, Founder and President of the Africa University College of Communications (AUCC), Accra. Mr. Yankah, who served previously in Cape Coast as the Central Regional Minister, states among others, that purposes of tourism justify the need for an airport in Cape Coast, assuring that he will do a full write-up later to state more reasons for supporting the proposal.

There is no doubt that the two above-mentioned positions of criticism and support that have greeted the proposal to build an airport in Cape Coast will continue to be a subject matter of very many debates and discussions in the country for some time to come.

My Position on the Proposed Cape Coast Airport

One, I think that much of the controversy surrounding the proposal has come about because of the period in which we are. This year is an election year and therefore many people believe that the announcement to build an airport in Cape Coast was made just to win the support and votes of the people of Cape Coast and the Central Region for that matter. Proponents of this view cite the President’s response to the subject matter the previous night on ATL FM to justify their stance. Methinks that what Ghanaians must demand from the ruling party is whether this idea is captured black and white in the NPP 2020 Manifesto, and if yes, whether and how this project will feed into the overall agenda for the development of Cape Coast, the Central Region and the nation as a whole, as well as how this proposed project is going to be funded.

Two, in my humble but candid opinion, I also think that some of the criticisms levelled against the airport proposal are weak and to say the least, baseless. For example, the argument that Cape Coast needs jobs more than an airport is simply absurd.

The two are not mutually exclusive. An airport construction offers employment opportunities to countless numbers of people, including masons, artisans, electricians, plumbers, etc., while an actual operation of an airport gives jobs to countless numbers of people including pilots and flight crew, attendants, cargo handlers, ticketing officers, drivers, janitors, operators of gift and souvenir stores, hotel managers and many more.

According to Angela Gitten, Director General of Airports Council International (ACI), “Airports have evolved from infrastructure providers to complex businesses that produce considerable commercial development well beyond their perimeters. The lands surrounding airports have become focal points for a range of economic activities that thrive on long-distance connectivity.” The proposed airport could be a nucleus of much needed socio-economic development of Cape Coast if planned well.

Moreover, the construction of an airport and its operation does not mean that all other employment creation avenues have ceased. I do not think that any right-thinking Government will assume that constructing an airport in a certain town or Region is the panacea to all that Region’s unemployment problems. That will be unfathomable to say the least.

Since 1992, the Central Region has been a major decider in Ghana’s elections, providing leaders and votes for both the NPP and NDC, and yet, job opportunities for the people of Cape Coast and the Central Region, continue to remain elusive, and the Region sadly continues to remain the fourth poorest region in the country. I think that the building and actual operation of an airport in Cape Coast will provide numerous employment opportunities for the indigenes and so I am all for it as long as other employment opportunities will be explored and not be discounted.

Three, I do not think that there are few businessmen and women in Cape Coast who may patronize the use of the airport as some have suggested. Besides, airports in the world and in Ghana, for that matter, are not patronized only by businessmen and women. Teachers, students, nurses, office workers and other professionals, tourists, among others, all make use of airports. In addition, tells airports are not made only made for human passengers. Airlines also carry cargo and so the proposed Cape Coast Airport could become a major hub also for aviation cargo, creating jobs for farmers and local businesses within and beyond Cape Coast. Four, the argument that Cape Coast is close to Accra and so the airport is not a viable idea does not wash and should be thrown into the dustbin. Who tells you that the airport will only be useful for travels to Accra and will not be useful for travels to other places in Ghana such as Kumasi, Sunyani, Takoradi, Wa, and Ho which already have airports, and beyond Ghana? While I cannot discount the fact that constructing dual carriage roads to link Cape Coast to Accra and other places like Takoradi and Kumasi will speed up travel times between these places, in the same way, I do not discount the possibility that some people may prefer the use of flights when that opportunity exists. The proposed airport can even serve as a transit point for those going from Accra to Takoradi and vice versa, and possibly to other places beyond Ghana.

Conclusion

In the nutshell, I think that the building of an airport in Cape Coast is not a bad idea given the fact that thousands of tourists, both foreign and domestic, visit the city throughout the year, the fact that Cape Coast plays host to thousands of students and tteachers at its university and the numerous schools and colleges with parents and guardians visiting the city for various programmes all throughout the year, and the fact that the Cape Coast Stadium is fast becoming the preferred sports facility for the various national teams and for international competitions. Because of these and other reasons, I wholeheartedly support the idea of building of an airport in Cape Coast if it feeds into the overall development of the ancient city, the Central Region, and the country as a whole and not simply because there is an airport in some other places in Ghana and therefore, Cape Coast also needs one.

Finally, I think that the pessimistic attitude of often saying, “It cannot be done”, “It is not feasible”, “It is not doable”, that is fast becoming clichés in some quarters in Ghana is worrisome and must not be encouraged to continue. It pays to exercise caution and carry out due diligence, but outright pessimism is not Finally, I think that the pessimistic attitude of often saying, “It cannot be done”, “It is not feasible”, “It is not doable”, that is fast becoming clichés in some quarters in Ghana is worrisome and must not be encouraged to continue.

It pays to exercise caution and carry out due diligence, but outright pessimism is not great. No nation in the world has ever developed with a pessimistic attitude and the earlier we encouraged ourselves that we can do the things that matter to us as one people and one nation, the better for us and our nation’s development. The proposed Cape Coast Airport is viable, and it can be done.