Thursday, August 23, 2007

New Partnership in Bolga

Greetings from Bolgatanga!

Bolgatanga (or Bolga for short) is the capital of the Upper East region of Ghana. It’s a cool little city, known for producing some interesting music and having a bustling night life. It’s quite different from Tamale in many ways – geographically (it’s much hillier), culturally (a different set of ethnic groups and languages), religiously (Christianity is more prevalent than Islam in this city – apparently the result of French Canadian missionaries in the early 1900s, but I’ll write more about that later).

And Bolga is more or less my new home. I’m still keeping my room in Tamale, but I’m spending the bulk of my time here in Bolga, roughly 3 hours by public transport to the north.

I’m now working with an organization called Community-Based Rural Development Project (CBRDP), a tongue twister whether you say the full thing or its abbreviation.

What is CBRDP? It’s a big national project with an overall budget of around $86million, funded by the World Bank, the French Development Agency and the Government of Ghana. Its main goals are essentially:
1) To strengthen the government at the various levels (including Regional, District, Area Councils and rural communities) so that they can do their jobs as well as possible
2) To develop the infrastructure of the districts (e.g. construction of markets, schools, health clinic rehabilitation, boreholes, etc.)
3) To held develop small-scale business in the districts so that jobs are created
4) To encourage good environmental management

This is a pretty ambitious project, obviously, but an important one in the process of decentralization that Ghana is undergoing.

Decentralization is a fairly popular concept in international development right now. The idea is to push decision-making power away from centralized governments, and towards communities.

In Ghana in the past the central government of Accra had a significant degree of influence over development projects throughout the country: the placement of a borehole, for instance, in the northern part of the country could be determined by someone operating from the capital city of Accra, 500km away.

Under decentralization, the need for this borehole would be decided first and foremost by the community, and then its construction would be facilitated by the District level government.

(See the diagram listing the various levels of government in Ghana. Note that I’ve placed “Communities” on top to indicate they’re the most important part of the structure! Ghana has been split into 10 regions, and those 10 regions split into 138 district assemblies, and those 138 district assemblies carved into numerous more area councils.)

But this process of decentralization is incomplete, with District governments and other substructures still not fully able to take on all the responsibility that they’re ultimately responsible for. Problems like lack of facilities and technical know-how still plague the District Assemblies.

CBRDP’s strategy is to train the District Assemblies and Area Councils in project management, provide funding for infrastructure projects, and then coach them along in implementing these projects – a sort of “capacity building by doing” approach.

I was recently in a training workshop for two Area Councils. They were being taught how to plan out and execute projects. It was exciting to see these people – all members of nearby communities – so excited about improving the quality their own little piece of the district. One Area Council wanted to ease congestion in its single school, and was thus planning out the construction of a new school.

One of the Area Council members was donating land for the construction of this school. He told me that, as a child, he’d attended the existing school -- over 30 years ago. The community had grown but the necessary schooling facilities hadn’t, so he wanted to do his part to increase the quality of education in his area.

This is the kind of community engagement that CBRDP – and decentralization in general – is looking to encourage.

So what am I doing for CBRDP?

An excellent question! Right now I’m in what EWB refers to the “diagnostic phase” of this new partnership. Basically I’m learning as much as I possibly can about CBRDP, so that I can then figure out where I can best support their efforts. This is how most EWB placements begin, and the purpose is for us to provide service to our partners that is as highly customized and relevant as possible.

Right now I’m helping CBRDP carry out these Area Council trainings, as well as helping Districts complete Environmental Impact pre-Assessments – both activities are giving me a chance to figure out just what CBRDP is doing. From this knowledge, I’ll be able to choose a specific focus for the rest of my time.

To close off this blog entry, here’s a goodbye picture taken at our final Junior Fellow workshop last week. It’s sad to say bye to our 16 friends, but thanks to Kristy Minor, they’ll have fantastic shirts to remember us by.