When the current government announced their intention to create a ministry dedicated to Zongo communities, I was upbeat about it. That announcement, at the very least, signified some dedication to issues afflicting Zongo communities. So when the government actually went through with its campaign promise, there was a glimmer of hope that was lighted in me. Fast forward to the vetting of the minister, and I began to be more skeptical of the essence of the ministry. Throughout the approval process, there was no discernable policy direction from the then minister to be. It was a lot of we will facilitate, we will facilitate, leaving me to wonder whether the creation of the ministry was worthwhile.
For the entirety of the year 2017, not a single project was undertaken by the ministry. An acceptable explanation was that the fund dedicated to the ministry had not yet been passed into law by parliament and as such, no fiscal activity could be undertaken. But once that hurdle was crossed, we got the first glimpse of the ministry swinging into action: AN ASTRO TURF WAS BUILT IN MADINA ZONGO. And in a couple of months after that, a couple more were built in select Zongo communities.
There is no doubt that soccer is huge in Zongo communities just like every other community in Ghana. In Madina Zongo, a number of indigenes have blossomed to millionaire status overnight through their football exploits in Europe and the Middle East. They grew up playing small poles on satellite football pitches surrounding the two main standard sized pitches in the community. They then transitioned to the local colt team where they played in the U-12, U 14 and U-17 teams before making the big money moves.
Nothing about their success stories was dependent on how green the pitches they trained on were or whether there were floodlights while they kicked balls around in the dark. Do not get me wrong, have football pitches devoid of holes and gravels is way better, but that is not necessarily the key to success in soccer. Even without all of this, those who made it out did make it out. But with better playing conditions and adequate lighting to allow the football to continue well into the night, things might get better. The previous statement would have held true only if the new pitch did not come with significant restrictions.
For starters, the biggest question that still hangs over residents of Madina Zongo as regards the newly built pitch is would we be using it for free or at cost? It definitely makes sense that gaining access to such spaces should come at a fee. There is a very pressing need for maintenance. This only means that persons who use the field would have to pay to make use of it. At a purported “Town Hall” meeting which had a very limited attendance list, these issues were not dressed out. So as it stands, we do not know whether the local colt team that has trained 100s of young persons over the years would still get access to this park for free. We do not know what happens to the other droves of persons who used to play small poles on the smaller pitches. Our most fervent prayer is that access to the park by the colt team is not limited to only when they are able to pay to use the park. If that be the case, then the turf serves little to no use in improving football standards in the community. It would only be a classist space reserved for persons with deeper pockets.
Even if the field is still opened up and access granted freely to groups of persons like the dear colt team of Madina Zongo, their essence is still lost to me. With or without these pitches, football would thrive in inner cities. Talents abounds and even though better playing fields are in need, Zongo communities should not be giving up places of recreation for money making expensive turfs whose revenue allocation scheme is not clear to members of the community.
Of all the things inner city communities like Madina Zongo need, an astro turf field is definitely not number one. I cannot say same definitively for other inner city communities where more of these fields are currently being built but the truth would not be too far from this assertion. But since these fields are at various stages of completion, we might as well welcome them and look forward to life with them with the hope that the host communities would be involved fully in the revenue allocation schemes. However it is time to say Enough With The Astro Turf fields. Here are two suggestions on infrastructure projects the ministry can proceed with.
- Co-working spaces: there are several small scale businesses being run by graduates and drop-outs from inner city communities. Construct Co-working spaces in major inner city communities (Aboabo, Chorkor/Nima, Tamale etc) which comes with Internet connection, work tables, printers, copiers etc. Of course it shouldn’t be free. Charge people for it. Also, provide mentoring, pitching and entrepreneurial training etc at these spaces.
- Libraries/Reading centers: one thing true for most inner-city inhabitants is that they come from overcrowded homes and as such there’s little to no quiet spaces for working on homework. Build these libraries and reading centers so kids can get a quiet escape to do their homework and read.