The two Western Regions

The other day, one of the campaigners for the creation of a Western-North Region (which I would call, the Democratic Region of Tano) sucked me into the debate about the creation of additional regions in Ghana, particularly the Western-North region. He said, “Call your friend ….. to stop displaying his ignorance on factors that have made it necessary for the creation of Western North Region”.

When I asked him what this was about, he replied; “He is saying on radio that when they construct roads in the Western Region, there would be no need for a new region, as it would take only two hours to reach Takoradi from every part of the Western Region. “

I do not know if my friend really said that. But if he did, his “two hours” assumption would have been simplistic and correctly, borne out of ignorance; because on the best of a road network, with the most dexterous driver and with the fastest V8, there is no way anyone from Yamatwa can reach Takoradi in 2 hours.

I had originally decided to keep completely out of the debate because of the way it had taken a partisan twist. As an indigene of the region (Sefwi Wiawso) I know that the clamour for a separate region for the northern part predates the party-politics of today.

It started way back in the last century, long before the NPP or NDC came into being. But these days, if you say something that NDC does not like, NDC people call you “NPP” and if you say something that the NPP people do not like, they call you “NDC”. The kinder critics will say that you have been bribed by the other side.

I remember when I was youngster, the feeling was so intense that some people were even talking about the northern area seceding from the rest of Ghana to join Cote D’Ivoire. By the 1970s, it had toned down to the issue of a separate region.

The predominant view, in those days, especially in the Sefwi area, was that in spite of the massive cocoa production, the bauxite, the timber and gold, the northern part of the Western Region was a desolate and neglected part of Ghana, totally ignored by every government. No potable water, no good road, no sixth-form college, no electricity, and even when the electricity finally came it was most unstable. It was a virtual wilderness, equivalent to the “Wild West” in Hollywood movies. People like DCOP (Rtd) Adu-Gyimah (Senior Castro), and the current Otumfuor, both of who went to school there, will bear me out.

In addition to that, our compatriots on the coast did not respect the people living in the inland parts of the region. I remember as a youngster and on my first visit to Takoradi with a friend, a lady in the market, with whom we tried to haggle over the price of her wares, seeing how we had been bathed in dust from the road, looked at us and sneeringly remarked that she did not have time for “Haban ase fo” (meaning “bush people”). I felt so aggrieved that I even thought of supporting the secessionist tendency. But that was long time ago.

The fact is also that when it comes to sharing the crumbs that the Central Government throws at the region, the elite in the forest areas did not use to have a look-in. President Kufuor took, what at the time was a bold step when he appointed Hon. Joseph Boahen Aidoo (Amenfi East) as Western Regional Minister. President Kufuor appeared to have been left off the hook because Hon. Joseph Boahen Aidoo hailed from that part of the Wassa area that is reasonably close to the coast. However, when President Mills dared to go further by appointing someone from the upper forest area as a Minister for the Region, the roof nearly came down among the coastal elite. People who used to work closely at the Presidency at the Castle in those days know how intensely (what Papa Yen describes as) the “coastal Akans” (both NDC and NPP), lobbied President Mills to replace the “Minister from the forest”.

From the way the current discussions are going, it looks as if any possible division of the Western Region would involve the splitting of the Wassa ethnic group area to add it to the Anyi areas (of Suaman and Enchi) and the Sefwi area, made up of Anhwiaso, Sefwi Bekwai, Chirano, Sefwi Wiawso, (made up of the Sefwi Wiawso, Akontombra, Juabeso, Bodi, Bia-East and Bia West constituencies).

This is where part of the problem lies. Will the Wassa people of Amenfi-West and Amenfi-Central accept to be hacked off from their other Wassa kinspersons of Amenfi East, Prestea-Huni Valley, Tarkwa Nsuaem, Wassa-West and Wassa Mpohor, into a separate Region?

As for the people of the Anyi area, whereas they generally accept, in principle, that there is a need for a separate region, they would like the issue of the location of the new regional capital to be settled. They appear to want the regional capital to be sited at Enchi. At the same time, the Sefwi people appear to assume that the Sefwi-Wiawso town should be the natural location of the regional capital.

The issue of regional capital has become key to the Anyi people because of the conception that having the regional capital would help develop the Enchi town.

My position is that any decision to separate a region should result in a material improvement in effective governance and improvement in the quality of livelihood in the area. Currently, however, every region in Ghana is governed directly from Accra, in spite of the hollow noises from Ghanaian politicians and their allied academicians that there is effective decentralization of government in Ghana.

Firstly, there is no proper Regional Council with powers to make autonomous strategic policy decisions for the regions. Every decision is made from the Central Government in Accra. The Regional Minister is a direct representative of Central Government in the region. The senior officers of the Regional Coordinating Councils are all civil servants appointed from the Head of the Civil Service in Accra and the IGP. Every officer in the regional office receives salary from the office of the Controller and Accountant-General in Accra. As a result, if a driver in the Western Region has a query regarding their pay, they have to travel to Accra.

So, how will having a separate region materially impact on the development of the new region when decisions are taken from Accra? In any proper regional government, there should be devolved powers for regional authorities to exercise some level of semi-autonomous control over the policy and operational directions on some issues such as education, social services, planning, waste disposal, waste collection and recycling, feeder roads, transportation, housing, etc.

Everybody knows that it is the central government that manages sanitation and rubbish collection throughout the country. It was central government that took the decision on household rubbish collection and street cleaning when they awarded a nationwide contract to just one contractor (Zoomlion) to collect rubbish from throughout the country. In order to pay for it, central government directly deducts moneys from the District Assemblies Common Fund of each Municipal and District Assembly and gives it to the contractor.

In a properly devolved regional government systems, the policy on public transportation and housing in the region should lie with the regional or district administrations rather than with a centralised State Transport Company or a State Housing Company. These days, the Ministry of Housing in Accra directly manages all public housing. The decision by the President Kufuor government to build what they misleadingly called “affordable housing”, which was in 2014 adopted by the NDC government, (in Borteyman, Kpong, Asokore-Mampong, etc. was not taken by a Greater Accra Regional authority or an Ashanti Regional authority.

Creating separate regions would be meaningful if regional authorities would be made to have devolved local powers on policy and strategy regarding issues that are regional in nature. Sometimes, when some areas are cut off from the regional centre just because the elite in the regional centre areas treat the outlying parts as irrelevant, there would be agitations for a separate region, whether or not a case for a separate region would be good for effective regional governance.

It is in this regard that the partisan stance taken by some party people against a separate Tano region may not inure to the benefit of their parties, in terms of public support.

Did people realise that, during the 2016 electioneering campaign, none of the five NDC MPs in the Sefwi area stood out against the Nana Addo proposal for a separate region for the northern part of the Western region? When Hon. Sampson Ahi MP for Bodi), aware of the history, tried to shuffle around the subject that they, the NDC in the area had already sent a petition for a separate region, he was immediately shouted down by the semi-detached members of the NDC hierarchy, led by their two Deputy General Secretaries.

The sad aspect of present-day Ghanaian politics is that whatever is proposed by the opposite side has to be opposed by the other. The two Deputy General Secretaries of the NDC and their supporters do not know the situation on the ground in the Western Region. Otherwise, they would have found another way of handling the issue. And it is a shame that local party people are not even allowed to have a say about issues in their own localities.

As for me, I am staying well clear of the debate to avoid any “punitive sanctions” from either side. This is because the NDC hierarchy hates whatever I say and the NPP are equally allergic to my views.

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