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Beyond The Zongo Development Fund: What To Do About The Zongos

January 13, 2017

For the first time in the history of Ghana, the government has appointed a Minister of State responsible for the development of the various Zongo communities in Ghana. The New Patriotic Party (NPP) under the leadership of H.E. Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, the President of Ghana, from all indications, is really serious about the development of Zongo communities. In their 2016 Election Manifesto, the NPP stated that when given the mandate (which they have now) to govern, they will establish what they call a Zongo Development Fund (ZDF). This fund, according to them, “is designed to develop Zongos.”

To quote directly from their manifesto, “the NPP Zongo policy is aimed at developing these communities in order to unleash their potentials to become centres of opportunity. In this direction, we (the NPP) will establish the Zongo Development Fund (ZDF) to invest in:

  1. education and training within the Zongos
  2. improved infrastructure in the Zongos targeting health and sanitation
  3. supporting local businesses and centres of culture and arts, and
  4. community policing and security.”

To be frank, I am impressed by the good intention to develop and to transform the Zongos by a political party that has not, over the years, received any substantial political support from the people of the Zongos. The people of the Zongos have been voting massively for the National Democratic Congress (NDC) since the advent of the Fourth Republic. And there are many reasons why this is the case. I am not ready to discuss the reasons here due to time and space. My focus in this piece is to go beyond the ZDF and to make some suggestions and recommendations for consideration by the government.

So, how do we develop the Zongos beyond the ZDF? Well, that is the $64,000 question.

First of all, it is important for the government to note that in improving and developing communities such as the Zongos, summary evictions and resettlements create more problems than they solve. When people are pushed out of their homes, sooner or later, they will return to the same place because they will still need the kind of incentive that drew them to the community in the first place. So evictions and resettlements should not be considered at all. And in fact because of the unpleasant history of the NPP in the Zongos, evictions and resettlements of the Zongos should not have any place on the Change Agenda.

Secondly, I would like to suggest that the ZDF should be turned into a Zongo Development Authority (ZDA) with a full legal backing. The ZDA should be moulded in the form and shape of the proposed Middle Belt Development Authority (MBA), Coastal Development Authority (CDA), and the Northern Development Authority (NDA). An Authority in the form of ZDA should serve as the pivot around which all developmental activities in the Zongos should rotate. This body should be a permanent body with an annual budgetary allocation for the effective and smooth implementation of its programs and projects.

Thirdly, and for me the most important point in developing the Zongos, is the idea of property rights in our Zongo communities. As I stated earlier, improving the Zongos rather than relocating or resettling the residents is a much better approach. However, resources to build new housing units within the current spaces may not be readily available. So a more realistic approach is for the government to partner with private investors to offer support in the form of home improvements and investments in infrastructures. But the main challenge with most Zongo dwellers is the fact that most do not have the formal rights to remain on the land they occupy. This means that they will have no incentive to develop the land for future use. So what should we do about this?

Under the Zongo Development Authority, the government should as a matter of urgency, begin a nationwide program to assist Zongo dwellers to have formal title deeds to their properties. Possessing the formal title to their properties will go a long way to benefit the people of the Zongos. This will mean that title owners will have the means to raise finance to improve their dwellings as well as to raise finance to start a business. When people have legal proof that they own the land beneath their homes, it can help them attract investors for the development of their dwellings.

So, in conclusion, beyond the Zongo Development Fund, we need a Zongo Development Authority that will develop a long term plan for the development of the Zongos. Politicians are short term thinkers. They always think about the next election. We need an institution that will think beyond the next election. We need a Zongo Development Authority!

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