Dr Abaka continues with the subject on democracy, with suggestions on how to expand its base to include the rural community
The bulk of Africa's population lives in the rural areas despite the dense population in the urban centers. Africa's bread basket continues to be the rural area. Even major cash crops like cocoa are still produced by independent farmers (large-scale, small scale) in Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire and other countries. Most of the food that is consumed come from the rural areas. Urban agriculture has grown increasingly significant over the last decade but there is no way to sustain food supply in Africa without the contribution of the rural areas.
The large number of people in the rural areas also means that the level of illiteracy is high. How do we surmount the high level of illiteracy in the rural areas? How can we engage them in a democratic discourse that is often, but not always, conducted in English, French, or Portuguese? Education, education and education with a difference (not necessarily in the four walls of a classroom) that is meaningful to the rural people is the answer.
We need targeted approaches to the problems of illiteracy and economic deprivation in terms of basic needs like potable water and basic health. Here are a few ideas to start off a discussion:
b. a. non-formal education/adult education
Time Frame - Follow the agricultural cycle e.g. between harvest and the next farming season or fishing season. Alternatively, work with the communities to determine the best "window of opportunity."
Purpose of education
i. To teach basic reading and writing and to facilitate discussion about governance, civic duties of the citizen, civil society etc.
ii. To facilitate seminars on management of resources. This is designed to accentuate the importance of village cooperatives (transition from sharecropping, i.e. division of produce into two or three parts). The idea is to help the rural folk with planning, post-harvest management storage and other needs. These are things they already do and know a lot about but the level of post-harvest losses and other problems can be minimized with a little extra help.
iii. How do we solve the perennial problem of post-harvest management and post-harvest losses in farming, fishing etc? Can we engage the rural community and help them stem this leakage in the storage armory? Why do we leave food to rot in the rural areas of Africa? Where is the incentive then to produce beyond the subsistence level?
Invite retired teachers or professionals equipped to do this; invite national service personnel (it can be designed to count for double what it is worth to new graduates. A guarantee of placement in jobs in some urban centers after service is not a bad idea); invite new graduates from teacher training colleges; invite interested people (volunteers - a call to arms against illiteracy); but most important, provide incentives (motor cycles to facilitate transportation, bonuses - unfortunately the educational outcome is not a tangible product that is often allocated bonuses. If one opts to work in village X for 10 years, is it possible for one to get a one-chamber or bedroom house as a bonus? Working in a place with no electricity for ten years certainly deserves a little extra in the 21st century and incentives of whatever sort, not necessarily the one suggested above, is worthy of consideration.
In the not-too-distant past, Ghanaian and Ethiopian university students were sent to the rural areas to explain the "aims of the revolution" to the "masses." Why do we have to engage the rural communities only when there is a "revolution?" Can we re-work the model to tackle a "rural education scheme?" Can we call it internship, rural style?
b. Formal education
End the business of schools under trees (in some cases). Some schools close down because of serious leakages from thatched roofs. Other schools send the children home as soon as rain clouds are spotted on the horizon. Help with construction of school structures is important for rural communities. Villages do well to build school structures but they often need support.
Configure the educational calendar slightly differently so that primary school children can still help their parents during the harvesting season (otherwise children will not go to school on parents' orders). The family is the main source of labor so how do we cause as little disruption as possible to the family rhythm of work in the short run? If it is difficult to put food on the table there is no point in disrupting work unnecessarily.
Many people avoid posting to the village because of the absence of basic amenities - potable water, no passable road (hence no access to a newspaper even if one can read and certainly no television or radio). Imagine being cut off from the rest of the country unless and until a kinsman or woman comes from the city or the next big town with "news." Surprisingly villages take good care of the few teachers that come their way because they recognize the importance of education for their children). Create incentives: Teachers who opt to go to designated villages should receive certain incentives (material, financial etc.).
How do we finance this? I have submitted an outline of new areas where we might look for additional funding for education in general. It can be a starting point of a debate.
c. Education on wheels
Mobile vans that will undertake periodic visits to villages to perform some of the functions outlined above, especially on "non-work days," and there is no shortage of this in Africa. A Sunday afternoon "village seminar" or some such activity will not be a bad idea if the villagers are taken into partnership in this endeavor to determine the most suitable time.
This can be designed as a form of Distance Education. Of course we are not talking about Distance Education in the regular sense of the term because there is no infrastructure for it in the rural areas (electricity or postal services are luxuries they are not privileged to enjoy). This is Distance Education rural style, that is to say, periodic contact with trainers is important to make it work.
Ghana used to have a "mobile cinema service" that showed movies in villages. One learnt about one's country and its leaders such as Nkrumah and others via a weekly, monthly, "free show" in the village square. In this way, one learnt even as a child, of Nkrumah's assertion with panache, that, "The independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent." Call it propagandistic if you will, but the mobile van concept - education on wheels - presents itself as a model to consider for rural education. We found money for the "mobile van" in the past.
All of this should be the work of a Non-Formal, Adult Education Bureau or Division of the Ministry of Education headed by an official who reports directly to the Minister and to Parliament so that they could evaluate the effectiveness of the system.
d. Training of Trainers - use the school facilities to train selected individuals from the villages to help in mass/adult education during the long vacation. Give them training over a period of time to be resource persons.
e. Vacation employment for interested students - certainly some of them come from villages and may take the incentive to go help their people seriously. It may also be the best time to mobilize personnel for rural education.
There is something called "Alternative Spring Break" whereby students go to inner cities and deprived areas of the U.S. to spend their week helping people, especially in schools. I know a number of students who have spent such times in inner city schools and like the fact that they have been able to put in a modicum of assistance.
2. Potable Drinking Water
I cannot for the life of me think of anything that the rural folk will appreciate more than potable water. If a bore hole is needed, the state, through whatever agency - regional government, local government etc. should come through on this one. Whenever they get access to potable water or pipe-borne water the rural folk will surely say: hallelujah !!!
3. Economic well-being of the rural communities
A rural banking scheme that takes off from the "susu," "esusu," system of old will be of utmost benefit to rural communities. We can get our economists to work out the mechanics - transform local credit-creation schemes into a special banking system for rural communities. Why? Many in the villages have no collateral. Two crabs on the evening meal make a "good day" for some people. In that context, the mechanics of the regular banking system does not benefit them unless and until the banking system in their neighborhood is made relevant to their condition. That, I think, is the challenge. Why is it that money lenders provide loans to some in the rural areas? They recognize that the rural people can pay, albeit on their own "flexible" terms. Where is the flexibility in the regular banking system to meet the needs of the rural people?
Sometimes the rural folk will borrow money from lenders at very high rates to buy seeds and fertilizer. Why do the people who farm have to go through middlemen to get their supply of fertilizer and seeds? Is it because these middlemen/middlepersons are the only ones who can get the items to the farmers?
Another dimension of the economic package will be "management seminars" that will help the people manage their resources. This can be done at a suitable time that will benefit the people. In the process, trust in institutions can be inculcated.
4. Subsidies and supplements
Radios, radio transmitters and other means by which people can access information. I will not mention electricity because I think I have often heard that "we cannot provide electricity to the villages because it is too expensive." It may as well be a figment of my imagination so pardon my mischaracterization. If we have the capacity to do it then three big cheers!!!
Radio/TV programs - how can we use these as avenues for engaging the rural community? Of course, Parlez-vous français? programs that coincide with the time children are in school or "Let's talk agriculture/Government" programs that coincide with the busiest time in the farming season are not going to benefit the intended target groups.
Can radio and television (where they are available) be the vehicle for civic education in rural communities?
5. Cottage Industries
Cottage industries can be found in some rural areas. Some have thrived and many others have not. Why have they failed? Creating jobs in the rural areas is very important if rural-urban migration is to be minimized.
Ghana adopted a rural banking scheme some time ago. The rural banks, in overall terms, failed. Why? Some of the reasons include embezzlement, mismanagement and the conditions under which loans were given. Besides, all of them were situated in specific towns and in the long run were not too oriented towards the rural people. This new package should incorporate elements of an agricultural/fishing development bank, a rural bank, and indigenous institutions like "susu" or "esusu," and other credit-creation strategies in the villages to create a model that will work. These new institutions can also become the focal points for coordinating targeted cottage industry development schemes.
6. African NGOs and their international counterparts - where do they fit in? With proper coordination and planning they should be able to help. Let us assume that African NGOs can help with rural education in the way that mission schools did in times past.
7. Access roads
A very "radical" idea will be to charge tolls on some of the major highways. To the best of my knowledge, a few toll bridges have been operating in Ghana since my secondary school days. Those toll bridges are still in business. Can a small portion of their proceeds (say 5% or 10%) be set aside for the access roads to Village X or village Y. I am congnizant of the fact that the African is already overtaxed in other areas but do we have to charge tolls on select road arteries to seriously help the rural folk? If so, it is another form of mobilization of resources, it seems to me.
8. Health Issues in the rural areas
Intensify coordination between indigenous health care providers - herbalists, midwives, bonesetters, etc. and medical doctors and pharmacists. Periodic meetings, discussions, "seminars" facilitated by the state will increase the efficiency of such local care givers.
I am sure that when there is transparency in government and state vehicles and other assets are not flagrantly misused, mismanaged and looted by the very custodians of such assets, it will be possible to get people on board the bandwagon of "rural engagement." In this case resources allocated for rural education and empowerment will not be fritted away by the people who manage these same resources. That will certainly be the "most unkindest cut of all" and will also be the end of serious attempts to rectify the growing disparity between the urban and the rural, the privileged and the under-privileged.