Poverty, Disease, and Wealth; a Tale of Two Worlds Apart

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sodzi’s short prose below excellently juxtaposes the world of the poor and the world of plenty.  Essentially, Sodzi tries to give a straight forward answer to one of the most asked questions in development. Why is the West rich and Africa poor given their apparent resources, even if not of equal measure?  Hopefully will enjoy this rare writing style.

Recently, my friend, Mansaray returned from a visit to the state of Indiana in the United States.  The effect of the Indiana visit on Mansaray is best experienced. She spoke glowingly of acres of endless cornfields. Then she delved into the plush restaurants typical of the mid-western American State where many rich old farmers would congregate for lunch. She recalled with childlike sentimentalism the lush lawns.

Clearly, she was mightily impressed with Indiana’s position as one of four States in a corn belt collectively producing 50% of all the corn produced in the United States and a substantial portion of the world’s grains and soybeans.

My heart skips a beat when I reach Anyangadoni however. What Anyangadoni lacks in sophistication, it more than makes up for in the beauty of the land.

Anyangadoni is a community in the Kassena Nankana District of Ghana’s Upper East region. Of course our presence there had been occasioned by the third round of the National Immunization Days being organized by the Ghana Health Service. The land is amazing in its beauty. One faces wide expanses of sparsely populated fertile land. In my mind’s eye I saw massive ranches, endless cornfields and vibrant live stocks. I saw the food-processing factories, access roads and the chain of shops, the world class machinery plants and of course their fair share of classy restaurants where local culinary delights like tuo zaafi, tubaani, guinea fowl and pito were served.

In stark contrast was my reality; poor subsistence farmers including a significant number of women ploughing with the hoe, bored younger men cooling off in the afternoon shade and wretched mud houses. On many compounds, goats and other animals would jostle for space and attention with their owners. I wonder why Anyangadoni is not the richest part of the country. Rather, families innovatively cope with feeding challenges in the drought of the dry season. “We survive for months eating leaves.” These bito leaves are dried and stored before being combined with groundnut into a super thick paste called bito soup. A feather of tuo zaafi plus a full bowl of bito soup is often more than enough to kill any hunger pangs for the rest of the day.

With these running through my mind, I turn to my Anyangadoni companion.

“Do you think SADA will address the poverty and under development?” This is in reference to the policy of the ruling government to set up a Savannah Accelerated Development Authority to tackle poverty which according to Economic expert Dr. Abbey is “endemic in all these places covered by the savannah.” In his State of the Nation Address to Parliament, President Mills announced the establishment of “SADA as a more holistic development agency to harness the development of the three northern regions and districts in the Brong Ahafo and Volta Regions contiguous to Northern Regions.” He promised to ‘use the proceeds appropriated under the Northern Development Fund and with the support of development partners to begin urgent development interventions in the three northern regions to bring the needed relief for farmers and residents whose livelihoods were destroyed by two successive floods.’

My Anyangadoni companion is unambiguous in his response, “The policies are always well-intentioned. It is their implementation that worries us. Ignorance and poverty are also major problems. If loans are made available, how even our local farmers can access them is a challenge. Before you are aware, all the money has been used in buying big pick-ups and the people’s lives have not been significantly changed.”

In the ensuing silence, we are reminded of our core mission in Anyangadoni. On this third Polio immunization exercise for children under 5, it is obvious that with Ghana recording 7 cases of wild polio in 2008, no stone has been left unturned by public health professionals. To do this, professionals and volunteers set off sometimes as early as 5am and continue through the blazing sun to immunize child after child whether on the street, farm, school or at home.

To gauge social mobilization, we ask an old woman whether she had sufficiently been sensitized about the impending polio exercise. Something in her response catches my attention.

“This time, they didn’t use the rooftop method.”

I ask what the roof top method entails. As the story unfolds the head of one household mounts his rooftop at night and skillfully yells out a message in the direction of the next household about 100-150m away. The message is in turn passed on in like fashion until the whole village is informed of the upcoming exercise. Rooftop method! Fancy friends in Accra walking around juggling two mobile phones per person when the rooftop is still available!

On setting off, we see a five year old boy plastered against a tree trunk with his little sister gazing adoringly at him. It is a fine opportunity to verify that they have indeed been immunized with their left little fingers marked. As soon as we stop and start beckoning, the little girl takes to her heels. Meanwhile, big brother is scurrying down the tree like a squirrel. Under three seconds, he aptly demonstrates just what it means to hit the ground running. How strange we must have looked! Even if we had been slave traders, I doubt these children would have run so hard.

One day, Anyangadoni would surpass Indiana’s best. Its people would be rich and prosperous and poliomyelitis would be eradicated from Ghana and Africa. Did I hear somebody say Amen?

Dr. Sodzi Sodzi-Tettey is a columnist for www.AfricanLiberty.org and General Secretary of the Ghana Medical Association.  Email him at sodzi_tettey@hotmail.com