As Trans-Volta Logistics Corridor rolls out
Friends in the development community and I have been discussing the ‘North’ and its potential as the new economic hub for the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) for a decade and a half now. Particularly when the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA) failed to click, we have been wringing our hands in despair when we heard, for instance, that a major investment entity in South Africa had been waiting anxiously for policy to be developed to invest in the crop and livestock chain from the Sahel through the Savannah to the Middle Belt and the South.
It appears that governments in our part of the world enjoy missing opportunities. That’s why it has taken us almost six years cleaning up the mining sector alone to deliver and 20 years to tidy up the fresh tomato sector.
Fiddling while Rome burned
In that same vein, we recalled how the deposed Burkina Faso civilian President made so much noise about collaboration with Ghana in the minerals and vegetable sectors for the same six number of years, only to dither when producers were expecting him to deliver on an already existing Blaise Compaore agriculture template.
The last time we heard about him pretending to continue with the major agro initiatives that was on the drawing table in government, he was dining big-headed with Turkish President Erdogan, outside the Blaise template. Am sorry, but my only recollection of Faso ex-leader Marc Roch Christian Kabore was his taste for resplendent African garb…He was a typical King Saul of Israel, and nothing more. Thick, tall, stately, yet very empty, after riding on pro-Sankara philosophy to power, instead of reconciliation.
The Sahel and Savannah, for those who have studied West African history, have long been trade routes from Mansa Kankan Musa and Sumanguru to the birth of the Ashanti and Dagomba kingdoms. Even as a kid then about seven years old, I recall a granduncle who left home on long treks, returning briefly to re-organise and go back again with Ashanti merchant colleagues from Aboabo. In those days, when people wanted to refer to how distant a place was, they spontaneously cited Niamey. I got to Middle School before I realised that Niamey was capital of Sahelian Niger.
Samori and Babatou, who had been villains in the cross border trade, had long died; and merchants like my granduncle had resumed vibrant activity in salt, cowries, kola and footwear, among other commodities. He had been doing it since his 20s, I was told, retiring a little over 80.
The hilarious twist to his success as a merchant and cross border trade local tycoon (I was told) was his importation of a beautiful, rotund Fulani woman and two kids to the community, only to be told ‘in sign language’ that ‘we beg’, Papa, ‘as for this one’…. The inspiring bit, however, was his construction of a cute stone-designed house on the nether side of town. That asset had become a family inheritance over which lazy great grand-children would be feuding.
In the days, when death was solemn event and kids were blocked from being in the compound when a father or uncle passed on, I cannot even recall how he exited this life, except that I saw him come occasionally around [then over 80 years old] in his flowing northern attire. To facilitate his trade activities, I understand he picked some vocabulary in Hausa and Fulani – quite unlike our onion and tomato traders who rely on swindler interpreter middlemen who add to the cost of doing business, while fleecing both parties.
My other memory of the cross border trade is the usual sight of ‘mammy’ trucks coming in and going out in the early 60s with tomato cargo from Bolgatanga and Navrongo. My maternal uncle had married one of them, and I recall that the team of three traders in the next compound even owned Morris and Austin ‘mammy’ trucks driven by a certain Lawerh. Sammy Agyei and Sammy Ablakwa never heard of an Austin or Morris vehicle…
The long and short of this story is that what the politician would call ECOWAS of the people long started before the Community of States wasted decades developing policy, without the input of these informal economy actors.
I love to write about SADA in lamentation because it doesn’t take a researcher or intelligence officer to tell that, regardless of the lack of infrastructure and security that must undergird the sector, the cross border trade has been vibrant since I began to take notice as a kid, until I got involved in development work. All that was needed then was the SADA touch to ignite it.
But there is another opportunity for the architects of SADA, should the originator government fumble and bungle.
Yes, the terrain offers very little formal employment; yes, it has been subsistence agriculture largely and, yes, it has been unattractive because of its huge informality. But that has been because the politician, until now, had little idea how to formalise the situation to deliver jobs and improve livelihoods, while reducing migration and growing local economies from the Savannah through the Upper East and West into the Sahel.
Again, why SADA for instance failed may be because more and more needless politics is behind too many of the programmes that we engineer than the invaluable ingredients of research, relevance, feasibility and sustainability.
It appeared that, in the case of SADA, we looked only at benefit to a particular segmented region for political benefit. The last time I visited the Tamale SADA offices in 2012 and 2014 with a development worker colleague from DFID UK, the environment didn’t look serious; nor did human traffic on its corridors. As usual, it was visitors fired more by politics than relevant agribusiness vision that should have impacted lives in the targeted dozens of districts.
Friends we have; friends we have lost
From the Savannah through Upper West to Upper East, I have quite an array of friends, including lecturers and community chiefs. Others are youth association heads and women in agriculture to landlords and farmer heads. And the complaints have been many. From lack of inputs and markets to credit-and-abscond buyers and their transporter accomplices, the terrain is infested with intrigues.
Also among my good friends are big girl farmer Degia, ‘gong-gong’ beater Atio from Navro-Pio’s court and contractor Lucas in Navrongo City. Then I had Rev John Akaribo and late Bolgatanga chief Martin Abilba in Bolgatanga; youth activists Mohammed and Awudu and co in Tamale and tall, lanky farmer Aligidongo and colleagues in Pwalugu. The concern from these persons is that the dream for a vibrant North has been suppressed by partisan politics that forces people more into political colours than partners in constructing a vibrant local economy.
Trans-Volta Logistics Corridor
The sod-cutting ceremony, therefore, for the construction of a multi-modal transport corridor under to be known as Trans Volta Northern Corridor is a stroke of fortune in the fight against the negative impact of COVID-19 and the Russian-Ukraine conflict. Beyond that, however, it is game changer that should create adequate jobs along the Sahel-Savannah stretch. It may be the key to a rebound. And, I can anticipate hundreds of thousands of jobs, beside hugely reduced costs of doing business and life to our long vehicles on highways along the Sahel-Savannah corridor.
In addition, food security will be enhanced and the processing sector space activated, not only for crop, but also livestock commodities.
Only yesterday, I called a friend at the Burkina Faso Presidency. They believe in collaboration with Ghana in strengthening the food security sector, with the private sector playing key roles, not Presidents dining and wining in Eastern Europe away from the realities of the sub-region’s agricultural space and potential.
Yam, maize, rice and vegetable prices will be modest as transporters and wholesale will lose excuses for transport costs. Energy costs will similarly come down and, with it, vehicle maintenance costs that traditionally have cargo and long trucks running twenty-four hours in and twenty-four hours, with costs in maintenance but also precious human lives, owing to fatigue.
Then we will have the challenging warehousing situation in the northern parts of the country minimised, culminating in massive reductions in postharvest loss. But that will depend on the credibility of government in proving that if we collectively failed in making SADA tick, we have learnt our lessons in understanding the dynamics in tidying up the north and soaking it in relevant infrastructure to deliver jobs, livelihoods and vibrant local economies under clearly defined AfCFTA programmes led by a responsible and serious private sector.
- I hope the Land and Minerals Ministry development PR is not mere gimmicks. Are the water bodies rejuvenating? Have Lake Bosumtwi been tidied up? Are the land reclamation efforts truly yielding fruit and the galamsey checkmated? Let’s have footages on Oti, Ankobrah, Birim etc cleaner; farmers back to work on reclaimed sites and on-site technologies delivering gold and cleaner water hand-in-hand. Such is better in the estimation of the public than proposals that are mere paperwork, without immediate economic rebound flavours.