As the buses arrive in droves carrying panicky but yet hopeful villagers notably from Accra and Kumasi to Sandem, my hometown, which undoubtedly is happening across the country, one ponders to imagine not only the social, political and economic costs but also the gains that may inherently lie therein. In this treatise, I try to undertake a multidimensional analysis of the issues with a view to shaping policy.
Yesterday, the count of buses to Sandem was about 16 which is very unusual and today, the count is on. Normally, when our brothers and sisters come from the south of the country to visit home, we are very happy to meet and reunite with them, sadly this time round, their coming is met with apprehension, suspicion and prejudice and this is because of COVID-19!
The decision to lockdown Accra and Kumasi in order to contain COVID-19 is bringing to bare, the reality of the yawning inequalities that exists in our society. Due to inadequate opportunities in the rural areas, many people, mostly the youth travel to the urban centres in a bid to escape poverty and deprivation. With an economy that is largely supported by the informal sector, most of these youth, who travel to the cities in search of greener pastures find themselves employed by the informal sector, many of them living in self- constructed ghettos and hoping for upward mobility. With an eminent lockdown of Accra and Kumasi that starts today, 30th March 2020 and facing the danger of not able to sustain their daily livelihoods, it is understandable why these people are heading for their respective hometowns where they hope to find safety nets that cannot be guaranteed in the cities.
With an economy that may not be able to sustain a stimulus package as has been seen done in the USA and Europe, the socioeconomic impact is going to be painfully drastic. Some of the people fleeing home provide remittances to their families back home and now having to come home and share shelter and food with their kin back home, the impact can only be imagined. Many of these returnees face a real threat of losing their jobs and thus their livelihoods even post COVID-19. The gender aspect of this whole situation cannot also be missed. Many of the returnees too are young women who sell groundnuts and other fruits with several others too engaged as head potters popularly called kayayei. With many of them sleeping on the streets and the eminent lockdown, their only choice was to return home. They are going to lose their daily incomes and their vulnerability exposed bizarrely to the vagaries of the situation. With all these, there is also the threat of transporting the disease home!
So what next? Necessity is the mother of invention, so the saying goes. This is an opportunity for us as a nation to address the weaknesses that exits in our economic structure. The issue of the north south development gap has to be given critical attention and comprehensively addressed. The development gap between north and south doesn’t seem to have an end in sight. There has to be a conceited effort to address this challenge. Young men and women troop to the south to look for opportunities. This is an opportunity for the country to provide conditions in the north for the youth to have the opportunities they seek in Accra and Kumasi. This virus presents a viral environment for creating the conditions for investment and development up north. The Tono Irrigation Dam has succeeded in engaging many youth, male and female in its catchment area who do all year farming to the extent that those youth have no desire to travel down south. The current government policy of one village one dam is a fantastic policy in that regard but regrettably, its implementation is cruelly flawed. Agriculture has the potential to transform the north and its economy, and if we must build dams, we got to really build dams, not dugouts! I see massive potential in the prospective Pwalugu Dam though. Education has been one of the best tools against poverty, however, due to the merribound challenges in the north, the educational progress of many youth has been hampered. Therefore the issues that hamper their educational progress has to be addressed. Weak grades as a result of poor supervision, inadequate Teacher-Learner Materials, poor infrastructure, poor nutrition has to be addressed. But thank God we are in the regime of Free SHS.
Then again, we must look at our social protection policies and how to enhance them. There has been an attempt to implement various social protection policies, however, like most policies, design and implementation remain a challenge. The LEAP, School Feeding, Capitation Grant, to mention but these are policies that are aimed to help people mitigate their vulnerabilities. However, the aim of social protection is not to perpetually keep people in poverty but to help them move beyond the bottom line. However, policies such as the LEAP lack in this regard. The critical strategies that are supposed to be part of this policy by giving beneficiaries the skills and attitudes to exit the policy and move beyond the poverty line are missing. The targeting strategies used to identity beneficiaries too is another challenge. It is not uncommon to find people who are part of the LEAP as a result of politics. There are two targeting methods, proxy and means testing but you find it difficult to appreciate the method that is used to identify beneficiaries. In the end, the tax payers money that is supposed to help drag people out of poverty is wasted.
We are confronted with these challenges because of the decisions of the past and post COVID-19 presents us a rare opportunity to make better decisions that will help the citizenry. There must be a political will to confront the north south development gap. There must be a political will to confront the rising inequalities in our society, there must be a political will to lift up the common man. There must be a political will to build key infrastructure at every corner of the country. Whilst the politics of NPP and NDC will not go away, there must be a new politics of common sense, that will give room for multi-stakeholder participation in our development paradigm. If any thing at all, COVID-19 has shown the bourgeoisie that he is no better than the proletariat and so it is either we all move up or we all will eventually crush! Our budget is going to be significantly hurt and our politicians must be ready to act in the common interest of the Ghanaian. Any opportunism, that any politician would seek to gain from COVID-19 to the interest of the nation must not be allowed.
Ghana despite our challenges has often risen and showed leadership during critical times of our history that provides a glimmer of hope to the other African countries, COVID-19 presents us with another opportunity to shine as the Black Star of Africa. Together WE CAN!!