VRA discriminatory against Volta Basin Dwellers

The construction of Akosombo Dam in 1965 was seen as coming to boost the country’s industrial growth through the provision of hydro-electric power. And it has been so, at least, to a large extent.

However, not the entirety of Ghanaian populace has seen it as such. To the multitudes of dwellers in the Volta Basin, the fallouts area perfect replica of scenes from the novel, ‘the gods must be crazy’ by Jamie Uys, South African; a curse. The Akosombo Dam, reinforced with the KpongDam, constructed in 1982, has robbed the people of their livelihoods and enveloped them in abject poverty. Besides, it has left in its trail bilharzia, as many of the communities are thirsty of potable water.

Community Development Programme (CDP)

Following untiring outcry by opinion leaders of these communities, the Volta River Authorities (VRA), in 2011, introduced what it calls Community Development Programme with the objective of supporting the development of human resources from its ‘impacted communities’, through ‘educational scheme’.

The Authority claims that under the CDP, it provides support for tertiary education through the awards of scholarship to give ‘equal opportunity to brilliant but needy students’ who are NATIVE and RESIDENT in the impacted communities. Qualified students interested in the scholarship package are required to complete an application form with relevant documentations for ‘consideration’ (https://ww.vra.com).

During its 50th anniversary at which the programme was launched, the VRAoffered scholarship to fifty (50) needy but brilliant students from its ‘operational area’ with the first beneficiary coming from the Osudoku Traditional Area, said its website.

The scheme looks laudable, especially as we are told that it will support the development of the human resources to contribute to the sustainability and the growth of the communities and provide opportunities for the youth to maximise their full potential.

At the assembly hall of its International School (AIS) in 2016, according to a GNA report filed by Edward Acquah in March, 2022, the VRA offered scholarships to sixty-one (61) brilliant but needy students within its impacted communities. The then Chief Executive of the VRA, Ing. Kirk Koffi, assured the audience that VRA would not renege on its efforts to offer development to the communities in its ‘operational areas’. My question is, what did he mean by ‘operational areas’? Is it the same as ‘impacted areas’, used during the CDP inauguration?

In a recent speech (graphic.com.gh/news), Mr. Emmanuel Antwi-Darkwa, Chief Executive, VRA, said the scheme was institutionalised following a ‘broad consultation with stakeholders’. He was quoted as describing the CDP as successful. But that success, for me, is limited to a tiny fraction of the impacted communities. Why should Mr Antwi-Darkwa hijack that assessment, instead of leave it to the impacted communities to make?

He reportedly assured the public of the Authority’s commitment to sustain the scheme and include candidates who have qualified to enter Technical, Vocational and Educational Training in the ‘impacted communities’.

He said the VRA has so far awarded 329 scholarships to students within its operational area to access higher education. Out of this, 95 were said to have benefited at the tertiary level, while 30 have successfully graduated, and 234 graduated at the Senior High School level.

In March, this year,60 students from ‘across the country’ were assembled at Akosombo for the scholarship atGHc 800,000, reported by Ezekiel E. Sottie of the GNA. The beneficiaries were said to have been drawn from the communities impacted by the VRA’s operations (Akosombo, Akuse, Kpone, and Aboadze).

VRA’s Ruse

Why is it that there is no beneficiary from the whole of Tongu among the 60 students? Is Tongu not impacted? It would have been appreciated if the VRA had given the Traditional Areabreakdown of the 329 beneficiaries. It is no secret that applications from some Traditional Areas in Tonguhave become dusty on the desk of the VRA with very faint consideration probability.

There are at least fourteen (14) Traditional Areas constitutingTongu. Only a few of them have had just a native or two as beneficiaries of the scholarship. Others cannot point at anyone, even though they submitted applications on behalf of qualified students. Why the discrimination? Was this what Messrs Kirk Koffi and Antwi-Darkwa promised for human development in the impacted areas through scholarships?

Criteria for scholarship

Among the criteria for the CDP, an applicant must have been a native, attended school in the Traditional Area, and obtained a single grade (from BECE to SHS before it became free, but still demanded for SHS to the university).  The people of Tongu are the worst impacted by the operations of the VRA.

If you are above 50 years and ever travelled through Sogakorpe in those days, you would have noticed booming oyster business there and at other landing places along the River. 0yster shells were also a huge source of money. Do you know that oyster shells are used in producing lime, used in washing minerals? Ghana imports it, and that is how rich Tongu would have become if the Akosombo Dam had not been constructed.

The construction of the Akosombo and Kpong Dams has impeded flow of the River, consequently resulting in thick growths on the riverbed, thus rendering oysters extinct.

The Riverbed too has been heavily covered with weeds, making fishing a worthless venture, hence the migration of Tongus to Yeji, Yapei and other areas upstream so as to continue to practice their natural vocation; fishing. Is it surprising, therefore, that many of the children being ‘rescued’ on the Volta Lake as child-labourers are from Tongu?

How can anyone ask an applicant from Tongu to justify being needy in the face of all the harsh conditions afflicting the area? In some of the communities, it is difficult for pupils to get enough mature palm branches to weave baskets to sell in order to get money for school.

How can such children have the stable mind to study and compete with applicants from privileged VRA schools for the CDP? As some children from Tongu, most especially Agave areas, struggle through streams to get to school in makeshift and leaky classrooms with their disabled furniture on their heads, their counterparts in good schools have had the first lessons. And the VRA is pulling wool over our eyes that it is concerned about the future of our communities.

How insensitive can anyone be to compare the academic performance of children from these deprived communities to those from first grade schools?I see this as cunningly giving something out with the right hand in the open, but surreptitiously withdrawing it with the left hand in the dark.

Hon Ablakwah to the rescue

A few weeks ago, there was a news story of the MP for North Tongu, Hon Okujeto Ablakwa, shouldering the sponsorship of a Basic School pupil.SameliaMekporsigbeof BattorD /A Basic School in the North Tongu District exhibited superlative brilliance by winning a spelling duel in the whole of the region. The feat she chalked up was exciting and refreshing, considering the fact that she attends school in a deprived community.

So, but for the magnanimity of Hon OkujetoAblakwa, this poor girl’s education could also have collapsed under poverty. What the VRA is failing to realise is that, all students of Basic Public schools in Tonguare needy. Does the VRA not believe in ContinuousAssessmentas a better option for selection? By this yardstick, the VRA is encouraging a ‘chew-and-pour’ performance. In any case, who says it takes only single-grade scholars to develop communities? A highly technically-inclined boy from Tongu, who can easily produce a radio or torch by connecting carbons and wires, has dropped out of school. Does this boy not deserve the scholarship to develop his talent and support others and his community?

Was this what the ‘stakeholders’ from Tongu accepted at the CDP meeting with the VRA? It is doubtful if Tongu chiefs were part of this meeting. Are the chiefs, student and youth groups fromTongu content with this lopsided educational support? The three MPs from Tongushould show more concern and demand fairness and accountability from the VRA for the negative impacts its operations have had on the Volta Basin. Only God knows how many of Samelias’education has been truncated by poverty when, of course, they could have benefited from the CDP of the VRA.

What is the composition of the CDP Board? How many Tongu chiefs are on it, and who are they? The VRA should give each Traditional Area in Tongu annual quota for the scholarships. Furthermore, it should create a separate programme for Tongu, the worst impacted area, to be known as Tongu Community Development Programme (TCDP).


[The Writer is the Public Relations Officer of the Veterans Administration of Ghana (VAG)]

Email: re.shuffle@yahoo.com

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