British colonialists profiled the people of northern Ghana as fit only to be hewers of wood and drawers of water for their brothers in the colony. Sixty years after independence, this attitude propagated by the British persists not just in the minds of Ghanaians but also in government service delivery policies.
I’m sitting in a car, returning to Accra from Zuarungu-Moshi. I notice yet another overturned vehicle. Then one just standing on the side of the road, partly blocking it. Then another. By the time we reach Techiman I decide I should count these. So on the c. 360 km highway, some of which is in relatively good condition, I note 11 broken down buses, 41 lorries stopped along the road (not counting the ones when passing through a town) and two crashed lorries. Occasionally you see piled up crashed cars/lorries collected onto one site.
Not far from Accra, I note again the now weed-covered veritable hills of rock chippings. These must have been deposited there 10 or so years ago, when the Chinese began to broaden the two-lane Accra-Kumasi-Burkina Faso highway. I recall seeing them working on the road. ‘Why Chinese, not African workers’, I asked the man sitting next to me in the bus. ‘They use prisoners to do the work – as they are not paid, the work is cheap’, he told me. But the work stopped - why?
No-one I’ve asked could give me an answer. Very curious, as the Chinese are very evidently the latest imperialist power in Ghana. So the road is narrow, crowded and as there is no ‘bye-pass’ around Kumasi, all are caught up in the city’s endless traffic-jam. What does the government do with the tolls it collects on the roads? It must collect thousands of cedis every day, given how crowded the roads are! There are 21 toll booths from Accra to Bolgatanga, so 21 cedis is collected from every car. I don’t know how much trucks/buses have to pay.
Why was I going to Zuarungu-Moshi, a village about 15km East from Bolgatanga? (‘Bolga’ is the capital of the Bolgatanga Municipal Assembly in Upper East Region of north Ghana.) I had met someone from there at a conference many, many years ago and accepted his invitation to visit. That was my first visit to the North and I was completely taken aback. It was a very different country from the cities and towns I had visited in the South. Poverty and ‘under-development’ were all too evident.
For example, I visited the hospital in Tamale. About half-a-kilometre long queue waiting to see the ‘general practitioner’. Patients on the floor on the ground floor as the roof had leaked, ruining the equipment and beds on the upper floor. No repair, no replacements. Then I was taken to Zuarungu Senior High School near Bolga, about 10Km from the village: very, very little dormitory space for the girls, many of whom were having to sleep on the ground outside the building. No library. The literal skeleton of a building supposedly for a library and ‘common room’ for the teachers. Response to my questions: the Assembly had told the school that the builder had absconded with all the money for the building. But the teachers had seen the builder in town!
Let me tell you a little about Zuarungu-Moshi. No, not its history; that is too complicated. A village of about 16 square kilometres; the population is about 3,500 living in about 320 households scattered around the small fields for millet, etc. There are now six boreholes and three wells still in use. (Not because I want to show off, but to demonstrate the problems: I raised the money for a well and then for some of the boreholes.) So now not all the women have to walk kilometres to the wells and hand-pump the water! About 50 of the households are linked to the electricity which arrived in the area about eight years ago. Most cannot afford to pay either for the connection or the flat rate charged for those without meters, which are not always available. And many compounds don’t even have pit latrines.
The first school for the Gurine people was built in the town of Zuarungu in 1938. On my first visits in 2006 and 2008, I went to see the Zuarungu-Moshi primary school. An almost new building, but badly built: the floor already cracked and the shutters on the windows so badly fitted I was sure they would fall out soon. Not a printed book to be seen and no exercise books. The headmaster was trained but not the other teachers. Three children sitting in every desk, designed to take two. The collapsed desks were piled up at the back of each classroom, thus reducing the space for pupils. There was a blackboard in each classroom, but not a single poster/picture on the walls.
I went to Bolga and was allowed to speak with the Education Director and the Municipal Chief Executive. I related to them all that I had seen and asked them to take action. I saw the Education Director again on another visit and also sent some letters after other visits.
There is a pit latrine for the pupils. Were the school connected to electricity or water, it would have to pay for the amount used from the funding it receives from the government. But this is often in arrears! The school’s only source of water is the nearest borehole.
A health centre was built in the village about 10 years ago, near the primary school, with no nearby water and no electricity. So the nurse working there could not do much except weigh the babies and refer ill people to Bolga – if they could get there. There was/is no public transport of any kind from the village to Bolga. I raised the money for a refrigerator, making it possible for medications to be stored in the centre.
On returning to England, I realised that I had to find information on this division between the North and the South, so I began to scour for books at the University of London and other libraries and for articles in journals. And I began to save money for return trips and to at least buy some school books.
I have been back about every two years, usually traveling by bus at least as far as Tamale where my friend usually picks me up to take me to his home village. So, what did I find this year? The road from Bolga to Bawku (and on to Togo) has deteriorated so much one cannot really call it a ‘road’ any more. Most of the tarmac is gone. Small, large, huge ‘potholes’ and subsidence. A massive broken-down truck about half-way between Bolga and the road to the village almost blocks the road. Cars, motorbikes and the now very popular tricycle carriers nicknamed ‘Mahama Camboo’ have to swerve all over to avoid falling into one of the holes.
The most positive improvement has been in the senior high school, where the girls’ dormitory has been completed; the ‘library’ building is almost complete, with some teaching space, but certainly no library. And there is a computer room with computers! That’s almost a miracle!
The health centre is now connected to the electricity grid.
In the primary school the window shutters have been replaced by very elegant metal ‘burglar-proof’ grates. Look great, but the teachers tell me that when it rains the wind blows the rain into the classrooms. There are still insufficient desks, so two pupils have to sit in a desk for two and three in desks for two. Does not give you much elbow room to write! And the rear of each classroom remains filled with broken down desks and other rubble. As it was raining when I visited, the kindergarten class had to be brought in from its ‘classroom’ - a mud-brick building, with a mud floor and an almost useless roof, much too small and really unusable in the wet season. They were sitting on the floor of Class One. And that class has 50 pupils, with only 16 desks!
The government is supposed to provide text books for each pupil, but at best there is one between two. For example, the 47 pupils in Class 3 were sharing 15 English text books – 1 between 3! So the teachers have to copy from the texts onto the blackboard. What a waste of their time! The government is also supposed to provide exercise books but these don’t arrive ‘regularly’ I was told, so quite a few pupils don’t have one.
Each class of the primary school now has a trained teacher, and also an ‘assistant’ from the National Youth Employment Agency. There is no ‘common room’ for the teachers as its roof has been infested with bats and is unusable. I was shown around by the deputy head, a woman. The head teacher was absent – not unusual, I was told. The teachers are all men.
The deputy head does not speak Gurine (sometimes written as ‘Gurunsi’). Neither do most of the teachers. How do they communicate with the parents and the incoming pupils? Even more distressing is that Gurine is NOT one of the ‘examinable’ languages for the Basic Education Certificate. But Gurine has many dialects and is also spoken across the European-drawn border, in Burkina Faso! What message does this give other than that the people speaking it are of no importance!
I visited the junior secondary school, built in the village three years ago. Here too the ceiling in the head’s office has been removed because of bat infestation. Again, the builders were obviously not inspected (supervised), as some of the floor is already cracked; there are small holes in the roof; the walls, especially around the doors, are cracked. How much will all these necessary repairs cost over the years?
There are 8 teachers, 7 of whom are trained. All live in Bolga, 16km away, so need their own transport to get to the school. The 27 pupils in Form 3 had just graduated; there were 49 pupils in Form 2 and 51 in Form 1. Girls outnumbered boys.
The school has no electricity. And no computers, yet Information Technology is a compulsory subject! The government has provided almost enough technical drawing books and atlases for each pupil, and a few basic design technology texts. But that is all! So if you want a textbook, your family has to buy it for you! And if any pupils have an exercise book, it was also bought by the family.
But the government’s policy is to distribute exercise books: each pupil is supposed to have one for every subject, so the teachers can collect them and mark their work. If you are using one exercise book for all subjects, how can your work be marked? (And, as to be expected, there is no ‘common’ room for teachers where they could sit and mark the pupils’ work.)
So will the pupils be able to achieve enough marks to be admitted to a senior high school? Most want to go, the headmaster tells me.
Why are the Gurine people treated so badly? My scrutiny has revealed that about one hundred and fifty years ago they were still having to fight slave traders from the North and the South. Then came the British colonisers: the British in their Annual Report for 1937-8 stated that the Northeners were ‘amiable and backward people, useful as soldiers, policemen and labourers in the mines and coca farms; in short fit only to be hewers of wood and drawers of water for their brothers in the Colony (ie, the South) and Ashanti’. So this was the attitude propagated by the British.
For the mines ‘forceful recruiting’ was permitted by the Governor, according to historian Nii-K Plange. Sometimes recruitment/enlistment for the military was also by ‘forcible’ methods. In WWI, about 70% of the Gold Coast Regiment were Northeners; I have not been able to discover what proportion were Gurine. I also found that the very first bullet in the war was fired by ‘Alhaji Grunshi’ of the Gold Coast Regiment on August 7th – three days after the war was declared. (This was the beginning of the struggles by the French and the British to take over Germany’s colonies.) ‘Alhaji Grunshi’ fought in all three of these campaigns; he was raised to the rank of sergeant and in 1919 was awarded the Military Medal for his part in the East African Campaign.
It is very important to note that the British did not use his real name – just named him by his ‘tribe’, and his religion, as if Africans did not have their own names. It can only be this ignorance and racist attitude that resulted in some of the Gurine people being called ‘Frafra’! That is a reduction of the phrase ‘fara-fara’, a Gurine greeting: ‘hello’. And this mis-naming can be found in many books on Ghana, including some by Ghanaians. (Northeners were also the majority in the military and ‘carriers’ (the Pioneer Corps) recruited/conscripted for WWII. )
Called a ‘martial race’ people, the Gurine were also recruited for what in 1919 Governor Guggisberg called the ‘para-military Northern Constabulary’. So now Northeners could point the gun on behalf of the British rulers at all Gold Coasters, in order to keep the peace – perhaps also to ensure that enough ‘volunteers’ were provided for the British owned mines, et al. I try to imagine what Southerners felt like about a Gurine policeman! (They could distinguish Northerners by their facial marks/engravings.)
To this day I am questioned about why I want to go North. The land of the slaves. Nothing of interest there, I’m advised. (And no-one acknowledges that it was Africans who supplied enslaved men, women and children to the European traders in slaves.) But there is much there of interest, in arts, crafts, wonderful food, and histories. And very sadly, so much evidence of discrimination by the Ghana government.
* Hungarian-born MARIKA SHERWOOD has lived in many parts of the world. In England she taught in schools before undertaking research on aspects of the history of Black peoples in Britain, more particularly the political activists of the past hundred years or so. In 1991 with colleagues she founded the Black and Asian Studies Association, which campaigns on various issues with a focus on education; she edited the BASA Newsletter until 2007. Appointed a Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London, in 1990, she is the author of a number of books and articles. She researched Kwame Nkrumah: the Years Abroad (Freedom Publications, Ghana, 1996) at the suggestion of Professor Adu Boahen. The most recent books are After Abolition; Britain, The Slave Trade and Slavery from 1562 to the 1880s (2007); Origins of Pan-Africanism: Henry Sylvester Williams, Africa and the African Diaspora (2010); Malcolm X: Travels Abroad (2011); World War II: Colonies and Colonials. (2013). Her current research is on the beginning of the Cold War in the Gold Coast in 1948.
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