I have an invitation for you. Go to Agbogbloshie, Mallam Atta market and Tudu, in Accra, Kejetia or Asafo markets in Kumasi late at night on Saturday or well, before cock-crow at dawn on Sunday.
If you don’t shed a tear, it may be that like Nelson Mandela, your tear gland has been taken out. Stretched on the bare floor are girls, some as young as 13, called Kayayei, 97 per cent of whom are from the five northern regions (according to empirical conclusions). In their bosom are infant babies whose fathers aren’t known, babies whose elder siblings are themselves second and third generation Kayayei.
Korle-Bu Hospital says about 50% of children born to the Kayayei at the hospital have been abandoned by their mothers.
Welcome to their world. Why are they here? Apart from sending remittances back home, their other reason will shock you: they want to be able to afford expensive cloth and shoes that will make them the envy of their marriage rivals!
Why are flights to the North always full?
Among the most frequent flyers to that part of the country are heads of NGOs. There are also the 57 MPs from the five northern regions out of the 275 in Parliament. When it comes to advocacy for or against issues raised in the House, the northern voices are not mute; less than a dozen of them have noise levels that can tilt decisions decided by voice votes. Between the Minority Leader, the Minority Chief Whip and a handful of others, there are enough northerners to move pro-North motions.
Twice in this country, northerners have held the highest public office – as many as there have been Vice Presidents. There is nothing they desire that would be denied them.
History names early prominent northerners as Yakubu Tali, Jato Kaleo, S.D. Dombo. John Dramani Mahama’s father, Dr Bawumia’s father, name them. Add the business moguls such as Asoma Banda and Alhassan Andani, among many others.
Each of the above will confess they are beneficiaries of the free education policy of our first President. It is true that as part of their legacy, the British colonialists left behind £500 million for the establishment of a Northern Educational Scholarship Scheme. True, but the fact remains that before independence, their colonial policy had kept the northern parts of Ghana as a labour recruitment camp for agricultural and mining projects in the south. No wonder that before independence in 1957, there was only one graduate in the Northern territories in the person of Alhassan Gbangzaba who was trained in Britain.
General (later Mr) Kutu Acheampong’s SMC extended the Ghana Cocoa Board scholarship to northern students too. Finding it unacceptable that all the labour works on cocoa farms were provided by northerners, Acheampong’s idea, therefore was to make the scholarships available to sons and daughter of people of the north who were engaged in cocoa plantations.
In the PNDC/Fourth Republic, Jerry John Rawlings set up the University of Development Studies, among other projects. John Agyekum Kufuor’s NPP birthed the Northern Development Fund and NDC’s John Dramani Mahama initiated the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA).
President Kufuor seeded the NDF with GHc25 million capital but it didn’t take off. He himself did not last long enough to implement it; having to give way after serving two terms. It is impossible, therefore, to conclude where the NDF, in its implementation, would have led the northern parts of the country; hopefully, that corruption would not have rendered it totally ineffectual, as has happened to every project since 1957, sadly.
This was followed by NDC’s SADA. Its components included a GHc15 million guinea fowl project and a ₵32 million afforestation project.
The significant fact about the SADA project was that it was headed by a northerner and involved many prominent northerners. This fact is what got a northern NGO, Transparency and Accountability Forum (TAF) mad and threatened to go to court alleging that “the only proofs to this gargantuan investment were only six hundred live guinea fowls, a paltry 20 eggs. Besides, it alleged, less than 20 per cent of the five million seedlings planted for the afforestation programme actually survived due to the unfavourable condition of bushfires, dry soil and heat!
Does that reveal something about the quality of scholarship in Ghana?
So many “brainy” academics our three colleges of agriculture, 38 colleges of education, 10 technical universities and 10 public universities, not counting our 63 tertiary institutions!
Entered Akufo Addo in 2016. His NPP’s manifesto included a promise to settle the girls in a hostel. To their credit, the NPP has built them a 2,000 bed hostel in Kumasi. But I am not impressed: it is a failure of vision – or lack of it. Are these girls doomed to live the rest of their lives as kayayei occupying these hostels?
Soon, there will not be enough land to accommodate the number of hostels for kayayei. My message is simple. Be it SADA or NDF, we shall, at best, only be chasing the wind, and pretending to be pro-North if our list of projects does not include or prioritize education – academic, technical or vocational – for citizens in that part of Ghana. This is the scar in the face of MPs from the North.
Finally, Election 2020 campaign begins. True to form, the very first public meeting Professor Jane Naana Opoku-Agyemang, the NDC Running Mate had was with Kayayei.
The referee’s whistle for the kick-off of the next NDC, NPP political football game has gone off.