Ghana may not require any aid at all …

Ghana is one of Africa’s great successes – a stable and thriving country that is testament to the impact of aid. As pressure on these budgets grows, Observer editor John Mulholland travels to the country to assess its progress

Early last Sunday morning on a plane ride from the Ghanaian capital, Accra, to the northern town of Tamale, Jeffrey Sachs – director of the Earth Institute research group, economist at Columbia University and international development expert – is explaining what happens when you move from the south of the country towards the north.

“If you look at Ghana and all of West Africa, it’s wet in the south, and as you go further north you get into desert. All of West Africa is graded by climate. It’s cocoa plantations and tree crops and palm oil up the coast, but as you move north you move into the savannah, and as you go further you get to the desert.

“In general, the farther you go north, the drier you go, and in general as you move from south to north you also go from more Christian to more Muslim communities. And as you move from wetter to drier, you go from sedentary agricultural to more pastoral. And whenever in economics you go from the coast to the interior you almost always go into a poor economic gradient.

“Everything about this trip from Accra to Tamale is moving towards more poverty in Ghana and more Muslim, more distance from markets, less productive agriculture, lower population densities, and more marginalized politically.”

This brief assessment offers a unique insight into why aid is becoming not just an ethical but a political issue. And why Ghana, one of the most stable and economically successful countries in Africa, recognizes how imperative it is to address poverty and infrastructural failings in its northern territories.

If they were in any doubt, they just need to look to near-neighbor Nigeria, where escalating sectarian violence is spreading between the largely Christian south and the Muslim north. The situation maps precisely what Sachs has outlined: Nigeria’s northern regions are climatically stressed, economically disadvantaged (Nigeria’s oil reserves are in the south), agriculturally challenged and politically marginalized. The lessons from Nigeria are all too clear – and increasingly brutal and bloody.

By any measure Ghana is a success story. The first African country to gain independence in 1957 following 83 years of colonial rule by the British, it is now a stable democracy whose last five elections have been deemed free and fair. It has made huge progress in reducing poverty, having already met the millennium development goals on poverty and hunger, and boasts a growth rate that places it among the best-performing economies in the world.

And yet these impressive statistics seem to count for very little when we arrive, after a two-and-a-half-hour journey north of Tamale, at the small village of Kpasenkpe and visit the clinic.

It is a clinic, in a sense. There is a building, and a nurse. There are vaccinations for children’s immunisation programmes. But there is precious little else in this bare, three-room brick building. A few yards in the dusty distance are some small houses; in better days, these served as nurses’ quarters.

Fatahiya Yakubu, 24, is one of the two nurses at the clinic serving 30,000 people in this and neighboring villages. Only it doesn’t serve them. Not really. It has nothing to offer beyond vaccinations and wound dressings.

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Posted by on Feb 11 2012. Filed under Editorial. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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