Poverty levels in the three regions of the North have been rightly described as endemic, but one individual who also hails from the North disagrees. “It is not a problem of a lack of resources, it is a problem of poverty of the mind.” Naa Jamaa Matarah II, a Divisional Chief of the Kaleo Traditonal area said this when The Bridge caught up with him in his Accra office on a range of regional issues including his failed bid to represent the Upper West region in the last Council of State elections.

Asked why his campaign pitch was focused on nothing else but education, Naa Jamaa used himself as an example of an otherwise hapless village boy who, but for the opportunity to go to school, would have ended up scrounging around for a living today. To buttress his point, he narrated the ignominy of having to share your source of drinking water with cattle when he was growing up as a child in his village.

Asked whether he was surprised at the results of the election, Naa Jemaa explained that he was mildly shocked that the majority of delegates who seemed to have bought into his message on education, failed to give him the nod in the end. He said the crusade against illiteracy in the Upper West region in particular was all the more compelling because “today’s world is propelled by knowledge, and not just brawn. Is it not tragic that we are leaving the business of tomorrow’s Upper West in the hands of an army of uneducated children in our dear region? Naa Jamaa quizzed The Bridge.

As to how he lost the election, Gbankor Naa said he was not going to sound like a sour looser, and that with, or without the title, he was not relenting on his passion to advocate for access to education for the vulnerable as he was already supporting and demonstrating with action in that direction. He said he was passionate about education  “because iIliteracy begets illiteracy” and cited his many interventions on this front since his enskinnement in March 2011.

He emphasized the need to begin a deliberate process of mobilizing young-and-out-of-school children to get back into school and to stay in school for as long as their capacities would allow; a process of investing in the formation of the right kinds of young minds that will in the future take charge of the many natural resources available in the North.

Naa Jamaa cited the case of Barikisu, a girl-child he encountered by chance in the Wichao market (Wa West District) during the February campaign for Council of state membership. Eleven year old Barikisu ought to have been in school at the hour Naa Jamaa met her. But here she was sitting and idling beside her guardian in the full buzz of the Wichao market. It turned out that Barikisu was a truant. She would run away from school every time her guardian sent her back.

Naa Jamaa explained that Barikisu’s story, as fortuitous as it was, was what inspired and crystalized his message to the twenty-two delegates who represented the eleven districts in the Upper West region for Council of State membership elections. And this is the story he said he recounted to all the twenty-two delegates, majority of whom were teachers. Naa Jamaa had exhorted each of the two delegates per district to look within their individual districts and adopt at least two such children. The idea he told them, was to eventually take advantage of the Council of State membership emblem in order to canvass for material and financial support around the country to ensure that during his tenure, “at least in our four year term, we could together proudly beat our collective chests and say “that forty-four children from our region would have been guaranteed an educated life in the future”.

Naa Jamaa said many of the delegates seemed enthused and easily fell in love his agenda on education on which basis they promised they would vote him in to ensure that it came to pass. “As it turned out”, says Naa Jamaa, “it was a big hoax”. They failed to honour their promise to support this worthy cause, even after Naa Jamaa physically produced the young and innocent Barikisu to the packed hall in a bid to buttress his point on the day of the election.

Unfortunately, the delegates let him down, and by extension let down Barikisu and many like her in the region who can now only at best be qualified for the job of kayayee on the hostile streets of Ghana’s big cities; or at worst be condemned to the life of early marriages.

But Naa Jamaa did not stop there. Man of his word as he seems to be, he said he had to dig deep into his over stretched resources and delivered GHs1,000.00 (Ten Million Old Ghana cedis) cash into the hands of Barikisu’s mother who had accompanied her to Wa on the day. The money was for starters, to shop for educational aids and logistics that would enable Barikisu to stay in school. Some of it was to be used to open an educational account for her in a bank of choice in Wichao. Barikisu, ought to be in school now and can dream of a better tomorrow.

When quizzed further, the Chief said he thought he was going to emerge winner as Council of State Member so that he could in addition to his constitutional mandate, use the title through his networks to bring more development to the region as a whole, particularly access to education for the vulnerable.

The Divisional Chief of Kaleo Traditional area did not stop there. He also made a clarion call on his fellow Chiefs, and other motivated individuals across the three regions of the North to replicate his example and light a candle leading the way for the vulnerable child. We cannot continue to leave our young people behind in a world that is moving by leaps and bounds. Naa Jamaa said this was the best way forward for all who claim to support the new NPP regime. “You should practically demonstrate this support by plugging into the laudable free education promise of the new President, Nana Akufo-Addo” Naa Jamaa added.

On alternative interventions in poverty reduction in the three regions, the Chief described the Savannah Accelerated development Agency (SADA) as a “tragedy and a low point in the development trajectory of the entire North”.

He said SADA could have turned the fortunes around for the people in the area, and expressed his disgust over what he termed “…an aborted dream. SADA was key … SADA was the single most important vehicle that was supposed to bridge the poverty gap between the North and the South. SADA had the potential to dramatically change the lives of the people for the better,” the Chief lamented.

Even though he lauded the National Democratic Congress (NDC) on some major developmental interventions in the North, he chided the then Government for supervising the wastage of over GH¢200 million under the guise of phantom projects like greening the entire North, and guinea fowl production. He said it was all the more regrettable because the people who supervised SADA were in the main all sons and daughters of Northern Ghana.

He bitterly regretted the failure of the SADA programme to promote guinea fowl production in the Upper East region especially because the region is suitable for the project and the people were very enterprising and had on their own and without any direct government intervention been able to supply the whole country with the popular guinea fowl meat.

He further said that agricultural productivity was critical in resolving the poverty factor, and commended the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) for its promise to revamp the sector. He however, added that farmlands in the North had grown weaker over time, thus making crop cultivation more expensive than ever before. He said nowadays “it is more about quality of farming, and not necessarily the quantity of farmers”. He therefore advised that whilst supporting small-holder peasant farmers, the Government should as a medium to long term strategy identify and support the few motivated individuals who are passionate about agriculture and who are engaged in it so they can go into large scale commercial farming right from the farm gate to the market.

Aside being a Divisional Chief of the Kaleo area, Naa Jamaa, also known in private as Emmanuel Mwinila-Yuori is also an Accra-based marketing communications specialist with many other business interests ranging from broadcasting, farming and real estate. His passion for growing his home region is deep-rooted and simply very infectious.

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