Harruna Attah writes: Of dev’t projects, mosques, interchanges and salaried wives…
I first heard of the word “Development” many years ago, during the First Republic when Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the founder of our modern nation-state was in office. I did not know what it meant, but it always featured a lot in the president’s speeches. I would find myself repeating it over and over, without knowing what it meant, until one day, an uncle (late Uncle Saleemu), who had obviously noticed my fondness for the word asked me whether I liked it. Embarrassed, I tried to slink away, but he called me back and said he also liked it especially the way I tried to pronounce it, like President Nkrumah.
From then on, he would every now and then call me to recite that one-word poem or prose for our mutual enjoyment – for it had now gone beyond just one word! That was certainly before 1966, when the Osagyefo was overthrown in our first military coup. I entered secondary school in 1965, so please do the maths. As the years went by and I grew into an adult, I became aware of the gravity of the word and how it would often be twinned with the word “project” to make “Development Project”. The concept of “Development Project” is now the main paradigm of our human progress measurement and all our governments have promoted how well they have done or how badly others have done depending on what development projects they can cite to prove to the people. From our first post-independence government to the present, development projects have occupied all politicians, including even those who came to politics through the barrel of the gun – and believe me, some of them had a lot to show. Projects=Development=Progress. The equation seems that simple, but is it? The mother of all our development projects, without a doubt dates back to our immediate post-independence government: Akosombo Hydroelectric Project, the Tema Harbour, the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission, roads, schools, hospitals, airports, harbours, universities, stadiums, housing estates and many, many others. The First Republic was the great incubator for these development projects. Since then, no other Ghanaian government has been able to pack such a punch in terms of development projects, save perhaps during the presidency of John Dramani Mahama. I am not making this up. The records are there in the public domain for reference. In the first few months of 2019, I had the opportunity of travelling with him the entire 47 constituencies of the Ashanti Region and later the new regions of Bono, Savannah, North East and Oti.
Those trips brought me face to face with the underdevelopment and deprivation facing our country and paradoxically, also the efforts put in by governments to address those developmental inequities. I recall us stopping at many projects initiated by President Mahama abandoned by Nana Akufo-Addo. It was heartbreaking. In certain places, even projects as mini as culverts were abandoned! We stopped on the way to inspect the E Blocks meant to alleviate the accommodation shortfalls in our senior secondary schools, some almost completed, but abandoned. Clinics, roads, all left to rot… And so when last week Nana Addo went to Pokuase to commission the interchange there, he should have exhibited the spirit of nationalism and fair-play to acknowledge the man who started it, like the late President Mills did for President Kufuor in relation to Bui and the N1 George Bush Highway. He would not have lost anything. In fact, it would have shown him off as a man with some integrity. This trying to totally deface John Mahama from our history and our country’s developmental achievements makes no sense. It is a sign of vile pettiness, vindictiveness, and really, “ahon ya” politics at its worst, that will never see us move in step as a nation. Seems like a carbon copy of what they did to Kwame Nkrumah after the coup of 1966, trying to erase his memory from our history, only that this time it is a constitutional dispensation requiring us to rise above such childish escapades. To deny Terminal 3 at our international airport and yet gloat over an interchange smacks of political schizophrenia. To deride an important addition to our medical training infrastructure like the UGMS facility at Legon, and yet salivate over an interchange seems like a mindless cartoon character bully screaming “it is mine”! Development projects stretch as far back as our slavery and colonial eras. Even the slavers who came to cart our ancestors away to the Americas, in the 15th Century (1482), felt the need for development projects to help them in their inhuman trade and so built railways, forts and castles, harbours, etc., along our coastline. One of the castles, the Christiansborg aka Osu the Castle, eventually became our seat of government, taking over from the Cape Coast Castle. (Not in anyway suggesting that our ancestors did not have development projects before the arrival of the slavers and colonialists, that being another issue altogether).
Who can deny the fact that it was President Kufuor’s administration that eventually put up a purpose-built seat of government for Ghana in the early 2000s? Kufuor did not even get to stay there, nor did his immediate successor, John Evans Atta Mills. That is how these things work: The international airport was started by the Osagyefo before he was overthrown; it was completed after his overthrow and named after one of the conspirators who overthrew him. Years later, the PNDC of Jerry John Rawlings modernised it and increased its capacity until John Dramani Mahama brought it into the 21st Century with the construction of a brand new terminal, one of the most significant investments in the ECOWAS sub-region. There is a little detail I must not leave out – a detail known to only a few people. The Rawlings era refurbishment of the airport was commissioned during the Kufuor era. One of the beefs Rawlings is supposed to have harboured against Kufuor was that Kufuor did not have the grace to acknowledge the PNDC’s pioneering role! Nana Akufo-Addo has treated Terminal 3 with contempt; even refusing to acknowledge it. So you see? I am challenging Nana Addo, if he is what he’s been claiming to be – reiterated during the commissioning of the Pokuase interchange – to commission Terminal 3. Echoing President Reagan’s challenge to President Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, I say, Mr. Akufo-Addo commission that Terminal!
Development Projects do not come from any politician’s pocket, but resources belonging to all citizens either in the form of locally generated funds or loans or grants. If Pokuase is worth celebrating, so is Terminal 3, especially in this case, when the builder of Terminal 3 is also the originator of the Pokuase development project, and be honest about who built it – John Dramani Mahama).
New Big Mosque
The following is a media quote from 2016: “President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday visited Furqan National Mosque Complex that was built by Turkey in the country’s capital Accra (Please see picture above). Noting that he was delighted by the speed of construction of the mosque, Erdoğan said, “This mosque has a great importance not only for Accra, but all of Ghana.” Stating that the mosque is built on a 40-acre land in the capital, he said, “This mosque, God willing, will be an institution for religious education.” Earlier on the same day, the Ghanaian president John Dramani Mahama announced that the new Ghana National Mosque will be open within three months.
“I would like to express appreciation on behalf of the Muslim community of Ghana to Turkey’s president and the people of Turkey for the assistance that is being offered to build a new national mosque which will be finished in the next two or three months. It is being built by Turkish foundations with support from the Turkish government”, Mahama said. Meanwhile, Mahama also said that Ghana will open a new consulate in Istanbul soon”. (Source: www. dailysabah.com)
The mosque, variously referred to as the “National” or “Central” mosque, has been long in planning and execution. It goes as far back as 1979 when the ancient mosque in the centre of the Accra Business District was demolished by the hell fire days of the June 4 1979 coup. Though old and decrepit, and in truth, in search of a new image, the demolition scandalised the Ghanaian Islamic Ummah. The need for a new site and building became an urgent matter for Muslims in that part of Accra who used it as the site for regular but especially Friday Prayers. Land was provided at Abbosey Okae, where the intermediate mosque is sited and later, the administration of the late Flight Lt. Rawlings finally offered the site at Kawu Kudi Junction for a new modern place of prayer. The rest is a long history of many individuals and Islamic countries’ efforts to midwife it to the magnificent edifice it is today. The choice of the spot cannot be lost to residents of Accra, that is very close to Nima, Nima being the best known concentration of Muslims in the metropolis. The reference to it as a “National Mosque” is something of a misnomer:
There are three great mosques in Islam, namely The Masjid al-Haram, the great mosque that surrounds the Holy Kaaba in Mecca; Al Masjid an Nabawi or Al Haram al Medina in the city of Medina (in English, the Prophet’s Mosque) and then the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. The King of Saudi Arabia is often referred to as “The Guardian/Custodian of the Two Mosques”. Many great and grand mosques litter the surface of the planet, some being general in nature and others specific to any number of sects in Islam.
A grand mosque it certainly is, and could have adopted the name of the sub-metropolis of Nima in honour of the place. Eyes have been raised in disbelief by sections of the Ummah on why the centenarian NCI was not made the centre of the consecration ceremony, but a sectarian politician who is already challenging Islam with his so-called “National Cathedral”. He never misses the opportunity to tell Ghanaians about how his religion outnumbers all other religions in Ghana. Was it a kind of pathetic fallacy therefore, that he missed the tape a couple of times as he tried to snip it? Whatever it is, it is a holy space as a mosque, in no way more important or more consecrated than a 20-seater “masallachi” in your neighbourhood. Indeed, other subsidiaries, like the Shi’a, Ibadi, Ahmadiyya, Sufi and Tijaniya may take a rather dim view of the “national” mosque, its magnificence notwithstanding, just as others – including Christians – are taking an even dimmer view of the so called “national” cathedral.
Kasoa Junction Interchange
Another quote, this time from the Daily Graphic: “President John Dramani Mahama yesterday cut the sod to signal the official commencement of work on the Kasoa Interchange. Among the components of the project, which is expected to ease the regular traffic congestion around that part of the Central Region, are a three-tier interchange, two modern bus terminals at Kasoa and Nyanyano and a drainage system. The rest are the provision of schools from crèche to junior high in four communities and the construction of a modern polyclinic with an emergency centre at Kasoa to replace the existing facility. Besides, 10 communities will benefit from borehole projects, while roads in the Kasoa community will be rehabilitated. He thanked the Brazilian government for supporting the project with funds and expressed the hope that the contractors would do a good work. The Brazilian Ambassador to Ghana, Ms. Irene Vida Gala, said Brazil was happy to be a true partner in Ghana’s development.” (Source: Daily Graphic February 4, 2016).
As to the other interchanges – Kwame Nkrumah, Tema Motorway Roundabout, Obetsebi-Lamptey Circle – no honest, sincere and impartial Ghanaian can say they have not heard President Mahama make references to them in his speeches on development and commencement timelines. “We do not eat roads”, his detractors scoffed at his road building development projects and now they are ravenously wolfing those same roads/interchanges and claiming credit.
Below, also, is an excerpt from public records (African Development Bank – AfDB – document) on the just commissioned Pokuase Interchange, whose genesis goes as far back as 2015, two years before President Mahama left office: “This project focuses on improving urban mobility in the Greater Accra Region and entails construction of an interchange at Pokuase connecting with the World Bank financed Awoshie Pokuse road with planned community works, specially providing institutional and technical responses that will help inclusive urban development and sustainable improvement of living conditions of the people impacted by the project…” There’s more from where the above came from and can be sourced from the Ministry of Roads and Highways.
We are living in times of egregious greed and deception. The issue of spousal salaries has only added in making nonsense of “I am incorruptible” and “I will protect the national purse” lies. Why belabour it here then?
An epilogue: “National” and “Ghana”
A few years ago, it fell on me to have an NGO, whose name started with Ghana registered. An official at the Registrar General’s Department quietly and politely explained that those two are reserved for institutions and organizations taking their authority directly from the State. I defended the application by explaining that the NGO involved Ghana and another country on a quasi diplomatic/bilateral platform in which the two countries’ names had to feature.
Being sectarian, “National” Mosque, “National” Cathedral, may actually be breaking some silent but extant rule, law or convention. I don’t know, but it makes sense: Ghana Army, Ghana Police, National Football Team, National Theatre, Ghana Commercial Bank, National Investment Bank, Ghana News Agency, Ghana Journalists Association, Ghana Education Service…When Ghana Airways was in service, it was often referred to as the National Carrier. We have the National House of Chiefs and N1 stands for National Highway and so on…
The wisdom of the framers of our constitution can be seen in how they tackled religion, making it a private and personal affair. The state has no business there! You cannot force non-Christians to own a “National” cathedral, nor can you force non-Muslims to own a “National” mosque…
And on Development Projects, why bicker over what is created from taxpayer money? If only our politicians would precede their thoughts and actions on development projects with Ghana or National featuring more, we would all own our development projects as one forward-looking Nation. And by the way, how often do we hear our “development partners” talking of development projects in their own countries? It is not as if they are not developing their countries, they are always adding, and that is why they are collectively called “developed countries” and well, for us, it used to be “underdeveloped countries”, and now somewhat respectably as “developing countries”. We surely cannot afford to bicker on development projects.
The writer, Amb. Alhaji Abdul-Rahman Harruna Attah, is a journalist, diplomat and author.