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Opinions of Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Columnist: Amenyah, Augustine M.

The Dilemma of Zongo Aficionados

What is a Zongo and Why a Focused Social and Economic Development?

The word Zongo has various meanings and does not mean inner-city suburbs as is generally the case in Ghana. Zongo is both a given name for example, the late Norbert Zongo of Burkina Faso. It is also the name of a river in Central African Republic. In Peru in South America, it is the name for a glacier. Zongo has also been described as a densely populated Muslim community of more than 5000 people. Most of the adults are artisans and traders and the government employs a small percentage. It could be characterized as vulnerable and poor according to one entry in an encyclopedia.

In a feature article “There are Ten Regions in Ghana. But the Zongo is a Grape-Vine Eleventh Region in Ghana” the author Tanko Ali Yahaya writes that the term Zongo varies in meaning depending on the context in which it is used. “Zongo is used to describe a neighborhood which by simple extension applies to the dwellings of an area which is inhabited by the members the Zongo community.” Secondly, the author states that Zongo is a heterogeneous community with a unique cultural practice completely different from any community and ethnic group in Ghana. Furthermore, the article asserted that the “Zongorians” are bounded by Islam and not ethnicity. In effect when a group of people live together, regardless of their place of origin and practice Islam together that community or neighborhood becomes a Zongo.
Though above attempts at defining a Zongo are outrageous and troubling yet they make the critical point about the difficulty of focused Zongo development. What is a Zongo in Ghana as defined by an Act of Parliament? If a Zongo is defined as a community, a neighborhood, and a dwelling place where inhabitants do not share ancestry, ethnicity, or cultural identity with anyone in Ghana but bounded only by the practice of Islam then why a separate but equal development?

Most Ghanaians vividly remember the Aliens Compliance Order of 1969 and what happened in these communities. At the time the ruling Ghana government wanted to generate employment for Ghanaians and believed nationals from other West African countries who resided in the Zongos were to blame. A second reason why purity of ethnicity for Ghana and a third reason was to curb crime. The reasons for the current purpose for a focused Zongo development are eerily similar.

Are the social issues affecting Zongo communities not similar or the same all over Ghana regardless of the community? If the issues of social development, education, health, economic opportunity, life expectancy are the same for all Ghanaian communities and not only the Zongos communities then we have the arduous task of reengineering our communities to create better opportunities for all. What would a focused development of the Zongos entail? Separate Schools, Housing Development? Roads? Hospitals? Economic Opportunity Centers? Work Zones?

We believe that the caution by Michael Porter of the Harvard Institute for Strategic Development Competiveness about inner-city development is worth noting. The Institute believes that distressed communities can only prosper when they are integrated into the regional and national economy. Trying to cure the inner-city problem solely by increasing social investment has rarely been successful.

Moses K. Yahaya
Doctoral Candidate

Augustine M. Amenyah
Faculty-Organizational Leadership
Colorado State University-Global Campus