GHANA:The dirty politics of development projects hurts – Observes Dr Michael J.K. Bokor

The writer, Dr Michael J.K. Bokor
A group within the National Democratic Congress in the Volta Region is reported to be angry at “the level of depravity, neglect and under development in the region.” The leader for the Youth for Action Group, Alhaji Bello, told Joy News’ Bernard Saibu that the region has been so neglected he wonders if the Volta Region is part of Ghana. He claimed the citizens have become so disillusioned and have sworn not to vote in the 2012 general elections.

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But the Regional Minister, Joseph Amenorwode, has dismissed the comments and challenged the credibility of such a group. According to him, the region has about 200 development projects, including the completion of Akatsi-Vedze road and many others.

The credibility or otherwise of this group notwithstanding, its complaints can’t be dismissed with the kind of impunity that the Regional Minister displayed. The group’s complaints are not an isolated instance of nuisance but part of what has dominated public concerns in almost all the 10 regions of the country. And such sentiments influence political decisions!

If there is anything with which Ghanaian politicians entice the electorate—and get away unscathed—it is nothing but promises of bringing development projects to their doorsteps. So alluring are such promises that a vast majority of the electorate easily fall prey to the machinations of these fiery, fast-talking and cunning politicians who seek to use such promises just to curry favour.
Recourse to the rhetoric of development projects has become the trump-card for these politicians of all shades to use at will. In fact, a cursory assessment of their political rhetoric over the years suggests that their electioneering campaign messages will lack substance without the inclusion of promises verging on development projects. Their hustings depend on such a trump-card.

This penchant for highlighting development projects has, therefore, become synonymous with contemporary Ghanaian politics. Sadly, though, it seems to be a millstone around the necks of the promise makers. As we can see happening to the NDC government, that trump-card has become a curse that will blight its political fortunes sooner than later.

The problems that President Mills has with some segments of the population can be traced to this “promise-and-fail” tangle. In effect, after dangling the bait of development projects and enticing the electorate to vote for the NDC, there is little to show that the government is fulfilling that promise of providing the much-needed development projects. Hence, the flurry of genuine complaints which politicians like this Volta Regional Minister are afraid of but can’t shrug off easily.

It seems “development projects” are part of the major issues that have plagued Ghanaian politics.

There is a twisted aspect of this use of development projects as a bait. I remember very well how the NPP ridiculed the arguments favouring development projects carried out by the Rawlings government in its bid to undermine the NDC in the 2000 elections.
The NPP’s argument was that Rawlings’ legacy of massive development projects (for instance, rural electrification, potable water, macadamized/asphalted roads, improved telecommunications network, imposing installations such as the National Theatre, Accra International Conference Center, and many more) meant nothing to a suffering people.

In other words, the NP argued that regardless of the Rawlings government’s provision of such development projects, the living standards of the people hadn’t improved. Indeed, they bluntly castigated Rawlings with the statement that for as long as Ghanaians were “hungry,” such projects meant nothing to them. And they hammered so much on this argument that it stuck and was one of the major factors to detract from the NDC’s worth. The result? It lost the elections.

Rather paradoxically, though, the Kufuor government spent eight years concentrating on providing development projects to win the hearts of the electorate. Once in power, the NPP administration saw the political capital embedded in development projects and went for it, putting aside what it had earlier condemned Rawlings over. An apparent hypocrisy of all hypocrisies on the political imperative of development projects, one may say.

Indeed, so proud was the Kufuor government about its attention to development projects that the NPP harped on that accomplishment, using it as the bait to lure voters for Akufo-Addo’s Presidential bid in the 2008 elections. That didn’t tick and Akufo-Addo lost the gamble, although not necessarily because of that factor alone. But constant reference to development projects continues to be the basis of the NPP’s plea for the sympathy of the electorate to enable it regain power. The NDC government is toeing the same line. We hear the same refrain over and over again, even to the point of irritation.

What baffles me is that this NDC government has constantly been praising itself for providing development projects all over the country. But against this background of self-praise, reports and complaints continue to emerge from almost all the regions that the government isn’t doing much to provide development projects, contrary to what it praises itself for. So, who is deceiving whom?

Indeed, some friends who have been to the country of late have returned with harrowing stories about the deterioration of infrastructure. We are told that work has ground to a halt on many of the projects begun by the Kufuor government, especially the Achimota road and the one from Accra to Nsawam as well as all the way to Kumasi. Recent concerns expressed by residents of the Ashanti Region that the Mills government has abandoned projects initiated by the Kufuor government (e.g., the Asafo Roundabout project in Kumasi) give credence to such apprehensions. Don’t talk about the Western Region!

In other areas, especially intra-city environments, we are told that roads are in such a deplorable state of disrepair that no one knows what the government is doing to tackle such problems. Yet, the government continues to praise itself over development projects.

I am particularly piqued about this issue because of the way both the NDC and NPP have sought to do politics with development projects. It’s a tradition that undergirds politics in our 4th Republic and can be traced to what happened under Rawlings’ PNDC even to the point of that government’s being accused of neglecting the “human” aspect of national development.

We’ve seen President Mills touring the country and cutting the sod for the commencement of projects or commissioning completed ones. But based on the complaints from many parts of the country, especially the Western Region (and now the Volta Region), one wonders where those development projects are or whether they are the kinds of projects that will meet the people’s needs.
The problem of the Volta Region is particularly intriguing, especially when viewed within the context of the NPP-NDC rivalry.

We have heard from the NPP side that the Kufuor government provided more development projects for the Volta Region than any other government has ever done. Indeed the claim has often been made that in view of what the Kufuor government had done for the Volta Region, there was no justification for the beneficiaries to sideline the NPP. We have heard such claims well enough to wonder what exactly the Kufuor government provided or whether the group in the NDC now complaining of lack of development projects isn’t just being mischievous. Where are the projects established by the NPP?

The point is if the development projects that the region needed have already been provided or initiated by the Kufuor government, what again does the region lack for the NDC group to be complaining about? Of course, we can’t simply deny the fact that no matter how much it sank into the Volta Region, the Kufuor government couldn’t have provided all the development projects needed by the Volta Region.

But given the huge claims by the NPP that Kufuor had solved about 60% of the region’s development project needs, one wonders how this NDC group could turn round to bemoan the sad fate of the region. Something is not adding up properly here.

The main issue now is if development projects mean so much to the people—which the politicians know and often take an undue advantage of to worm their way into the favour of voters—what prevents the Atta Mills government from fulfilling its promises so as to claw back lost grounds? It’s a big question that I cannot answer, but which will go a long way to turn the electorate against the government at the 2012 polls if the anger being expressed now festers into an ominous electoral decision. This empty politics of development projects won’t win political power for those glibly making promises. It’s a curse to be avoided.