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Opinions of Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Columnist: Prosper Kwame Nartey

29 days in Elluokrom

There is nothing refreshing than travelling to see places you have never been to. My dad always told me that Prosper “travel and see” yet I took it for a joke. You get to experience the culture of people and learn to appreciate why they do the things they do.

On the first of March 2019, I had the opportunity to do a one month survey in the newly created Western North region precisely Bia West District. Being a newly created region I was eager to be one of the pioneers to visit the place. The experiences and cultural shock is what I share with my readers.

One interesting thing that caught my attention was the people of Bibiani. Enroute to Elluokrom, I had my first experience. 6th March which is the Independence Day of Ghana is actually more than a festival in Bibiani; I guess the reason is that Kwame Nkrumah was a native of this region. Independence Day is celebrated with pomp in Bibiani than any other part of the country.

To the people in Bibiani, the 6th March is more than a festival and perhaps one of the happiest times to be in Bibiani. These celebrations cut across the towns and villages of the Bia West District. I really had fun watching the glee with which these people celebrated Independence Day. The patriotism and the love for the Independence Day was top notch. I believe this is unbeatable anywhere in the country. I doubt students from this district will get a question wrong when asked when Ghana attained independence? This was my first experience.

On the first of March after almost a 6-hour long drive we finally branched to enter the Bia West district. The shock of the deplorable unconstructed road I am still yet to recover from. The road from Sefwi Benkyema to Adjofoa is untarred. From Nsinseim to Dominebo as you drive through the rain forest, this is the scariest part of the unconstructed road. The road in this part is mountainous and very steep, the valley is already eroding.

This can result in a serious landslide. I don’t see anything as important in the country as this. Should we wait for a disaster to occur before we wake up? Your blood runs cold and you jump out of your skin whiles driving across that part of the road. We are talking about a district where natural resources like cocoa, timber and mineral resources abound. I wonder how we perceive development.

When it rains cars can be stuck on this unconstructed road for days. The road, I learnt from the community was being constructed under the erstwhile John Mahama administration but this was abandoned by the present government after the NDC left Office.

I also learnt the road was given to a local contractor and perhaps was one of the reasons the road had not been completed. The effect on business is huge. In a few years if the road is not constructed lots of the people will die from polluted air and dust related diseases like Pneumoconiosis.

Most of the children I spoke with, I noted had stopped schooling. I was wondering what the challenge was when there is free primary and secondary education. When I got to Nkra, a community of about 1000 inhabitants, I realized that the school there ends at Primary 6 and the students when in JHS have to walk from Nkra to Asempaneye to attend JHS. I asked the driver the distance from Nkra to Asempaneye and he said two Kilometers.

But if 1000 meters makes a kilometer then in my estimation, from Nkra to Asempaneye is roughly four Kilometers. The same was the situation in the town of Canaan. The school there was just up to primary six, and students in Canaan had to commute to New Agogo to attend the JHS.

Again in Akweikrom, I spoke with one teacher who revealed that the school ends at just primary 6 after which students must continue schooling in Old Papaase or Yeripemso, this is quite unfortunate. From Akweikrom to Papaase or Yeripemso is 5km according to a teacher I spoke to, but I daresay it is more than 5km.

A chat with the teachers revealed that most of these kids get to school like 11am in the morning and they are tired and just not in the right frame of mind to go through rigorous work of academia. The teachers reveal the nature of their buildings affect academic work, one even added how he always look dirty and doesn’t see the need to polish his shoe.

The clay and the deplorable nature of the school is a demotivating factor for them. He added that he will wish that the NGOS operating in the district will add the building of schools as their social responsibilities and not just concentrate on only the farmers in the communities.

The privileges are not the same and the challenges are different for most students in this district. In my interactions with the people, I couldn’t blame most of them for dropping out of school at the JHS level. The kilometers to cover alone made me empathize with the high level of illiteracy in these communities.

Despite the fierce fight against the galamsey menace by the Nana Addo Danquah government, the activity still goes on in this district. I just didn’t know who to blame for the galamsey. The town kept quiet because the youth is benefiting from it. However, I was wondering why these galamseyers won’t even have a reason to help construct these roads. I felt these people are not angry enough. They are being deprived of several amenities that they are entitled to but perhaps just didn’t know how to go about it. I came face to face with several challenges of the district and I just wondered what the media houses in the district were doing. I didn’t listen to much radio during my stay in the district.

The few times I did, I noticed they are not using the power allotted to them as a journalist. How can a district be in such a deplorable state in 2019 and there are media houses in the communities always discussing challenges facing the country in the capital. People in this town are used to not having a well-constructed road, the implications of these dust will be realized in a few years’ time. For crying out loud this is 2019 why should certain Ghanaians not have access to the basic amenities in life? All they need is a voice to be heard. In Ayigbeline, the community had not been connected to the National Grid.

There were mounted electric poles but the project had been abandoned because one government left Office. That brings to mind the question of continuity in development when there is a change of government. Is it not strange that in 2019 some people live in Ghana without Light? This was the most shocking experience of my stay in the Bia West District.

One of the disgusting attitudes in the district that caught my attention was the behavior of motorcycle riders (Okada) in the district. I spent 6 years in the Ketu South District of Ghana precisely Aflao. Okada is common and used on a large scale in Aflao than this district, yet the riders in Aflao are very decent and disciplined in the way they use the motorcycle.

What I witnessed in the Bia West district was utter madness. Riding at the topmost speed without helmets, putting the lives of pedestrians and other road users at risk. The road is not tarred so the speed raises a huge volume of dust as they ride at such speed along the road.

This makes it difficult for one to have even minimal visibility whiles driving behind them. I had the chance of meeting about four victims of Okada accidents; two passengers and two motor riders. injuries were irreparable.

Interestingly Okada riders in the district are over the moon. They look like the big shots in town and they hardly listen to any advice I guess. I asked myself what the Police in the district have been doing about this? You see the Police at the barrier always busy on their phones; they never lift up their heads to see who is even passing.

Chiefs and Elders in the town can address this bad motor riding behaviour during durbars, funerals and festivals and through the media. This does not require an intervention from the Office of the President.

One of the shocks was the Krobos I met in the Bia West district. I thought Krobos were predominantly located in Odumase and Somanya in the Eastern region of the country. As a proud Krobo with my parents originating from both Somanya and Odumase little did I know that I will meet a lot of Krobos in this district? It came to me as a surprise and was later refreshing to know that there are so many Krobos spread in the Western north region. The Krobo communities in the district included Kroboman, Addonkwanta, old Papaase, New Papaase, Asemnyinakrom, Akweikrom, Israel and Bethlehem.

I did enjoy walking through these towns and pretending I didn’t understand the language whiles some spoke ill of us. It was really an experience and for me I was glad to know that a lot of my consanguine relations were here in the western region contributing to the development of Ghana through the growing of cocoa.

I want to make a special mention of the Church of Pentecost (CoP). Churches in the country are doing well and sometimes we don’t get to appreciate them in the cities. The great work of the CoP was just glaring for all to see. It showed the Church’s commitment to missions and the expansion of the kingdom business.

The only church that was represented in every community in the district I stayed was the CoP. Sometimes their sign board in the yellow and blue colours is the only available signboard that helps you know your location. One striking thing about the CoP buildings in this district is that they were all built in a particular fashion and painted in the same colours.

Anecdotal evidence revealed that one of the towns Yesukrom was renamed by the CoP. It is believed the town was initially referred to as Tigari krom (name of a powerful god), and after a massive crusade by the COP in the town, the name was changed from Tigari krom to Yesukrom.

I paid a visit to the Bethel assembly in Essam and I was blessed. I want to say Kudos to the Area Heads and District Pastors in the Bia West of the CoP.

The Significance of Agriculture is gradually dwindling among the youth of Ghana, especially in the cities. Strangely enough the same is the situation with the youth of these cocoa farming communities. They look down on farming and prefer to ride Okada and keke (popularly referred to as “Pragya”), indulge in business, do galamsey or travel to Ivory Coast for greener pastures.

The question on my mind was; what is the future of Cocoa in this country? In this vein I want to commend all NGOs in these communities helping the cocoa farmers build their capacity and ensure that it is still the number one cash crop in the country.

Whenever you take a bite into a bar of chocolate, does it cross your mind how the cocoa farmer toils to bring us the sweet taste of chocolate? The people who are in the villages cultivating this crop, in my opinion, are making a huge sacrifice for humanity.

Some of these people are cut off from modernity. Staying in the thick forest of the country just to ensure that cocoa is grown on a large scale. Is this how we repay these farmers who sacrifice their lives to live in these environs? This is just not fair and to think that sometimes Politicians waste monies such as we observed in the Woyome case and certain parts of the countries are this underdeveloped I feel sad and peeved.

Lots of questions were on my mind; who is the MP for this constituency and what is he doing about this? Has he ever raised these challenges on the floor of parliament? What are the steps he’s put in place to ensure he gives his people a better standard of living? How is he attracting the attention of government on these challenges in the constituency? If you find yourself in such areas you realized that Ghana is far from reaching some of the goals and targets in the SDGs.

What I intend to achieve through this piece is just two things; that the road should be constructed and schools should be built in the communities. If this is not done then free education is not meeting it goals entirely across the country.

The cocoa farmer deserves better, why do we have cocoa clinics in the capitals and not even a CHIPS compound in every community here. We had to drive a woman whose son had a fever from Yesukrom to Elluokrom simply because the nurses at the nearest CHIPS compound were asleep and won’t mind us. Cocoa farmers must be treated equally. Access to basic amenities such as schools, water, toilet facilities, health facilities and good roads is all they deserve.

Is that one too hard to fulfill? Despite all these deprivations, I admired these people, they were mostly happy people. I learnt to not take life too serious and be happy no matter what. That was the lesson I learnt from them. I left the district angry, and I hope this piece will draw the attention of government to this district and the farming communities here.

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