Shama is a new district that has only been in existence since March/April of this year. It is predominately rural covering an area probably the size of one fifth of North Devon. Their Chief Executive (Mayor) was appointed by the Government and his staff includes a district co-ordinator, planning officer and finance officer and some secretaries. They have a small executive of approximately six people and a general assembly and work closely with their Member of Parliament. They are well motivated but have many large challenges.
I spent most of my visit viewing the area and discussing the issues facing this new district with the Mayor, his staff and the MP who is the deputy education minister for Ghana. The main occupations are based around fishing and farming but there is a great potential for the area, particularly as oil has been found in commercial quantities off their shoreline. The major problems include lack of experience, an infrastructure that needs coordinating and developing and real poverty in some areas. Until the new district was formed they were left out as all the real development took place nearby at Takoradi (Ghana’s third city).
Everyone treated me brilliantly and I found the mayor to be amazingly kind and generous. He gave me a car and driver for the week and insisted that I stayed at a guest house where the owner and chef is retired from one of Israel’s top hotels where he had 25 chiefs working under him. Needless to say he loves to cook, so the accommodation was good and the food was superb.
Shama is desperate to have a close relationship with South Molton area. So much so that the President of the African Sister ‘Cities’ (note Africa not just Ghana) not only met me in Accra but came to Shama to chat about it even more. They see it as an opportunity to help them understand how the modern developed world works in a rural area. They want the people in Shama to link with similar organisations in our area e.g. their churches with our churches, their schools with our schools, their police with our police, their council with our council etc. By doing this they believe their people will learn so much and they would like to develop short-term exchanges of staff e.g. week here and a week there.
The mayor and some of his staff would love to visit South Molton to meet the people here, make friends and learn about how things work in England. They see it as an important aspect of their education as I believe they feel rather thrown in at the deep end. I believe they would also need to spend some time with the NDC and/or County officers in order to see how local government works in England and to get advice on a wider scale than South Molton can offer, as they are responsible for all the services in their area (a truly unitary authority).
Shama could become a tourist destination but at the moment this area is largely undeveloped. There are a couple of guesthouses and one hotel in Shama itself and a little way away another development, which provides for 16 people but is planned to expand. This accommodation is of a standard acceptable for European tourists e.g. TV, showers/baths, suitable food etc. Shama has an interesting fort, which was used in the slave trade, but it needs managing. Shama is the place where Christianity first came to Ghana and there is quite a lot of interesting history if someone could put it together. They have just produced a colourful brochure but it isn’t in my opinion exactly what is wanted to really promote the area (but it is a start).
Shama is situated at the estuary of the River Pra and has a beach but it really needs cleaning up and turning into a really good spot for tourists. Not far away in the district are some beaches, which have not been developed.
I could not find a single shop for tourists (not even at the basic level – no postcards, souvenirs of any description) – a real opportunity for some local people.
It could be used as a base for visiting many interesting places near to Shama. Cape Coast is not far away with three forts and superb beaches, Kakum national park with it’s wildlife and rope bridges that go over the top of the jungle is also in the vicinity and it isn’t far from the third city in Ghana and some truly outstanding beaches – miles of golden sand, coconut or palm trees, gentle breezes and they are not crowded – paradise!!
Their culture is really interesting and varied. The festival week brought 1000’s to Shama from all over Ghana. It included boat races and a traditional durbar with the local chiefs. This included traditional African dancing with drums, school children and even a small brass band. They are very religious with thriving church communities many of which have schools e.g. Methodist and Roman Catholic in particular. I also saw Anglican, Baptist, Assemblies of God, Pentecostalist churches etc. and spoke to some of their pastors. People from this area would find it very interesting. There is no language problem as everyone speaks their local language and English. The common greeting is ‘Welcome, How are you’ – ‘I’m fine.’ The children in particular love to talk to you.
There is still extreme poverty in some areas. This is due to lack of resources and opportunities. One school I attended has over 1000 students in 12 small classrooms. The first class I entered had 93 students in it and very little resources apart from a blackboard and chalk. They had no computers and are desperate for second hand books for a library. Great cheers went up from the students when they learned that we were from England – they were so happy to see us and were extremely pleased to think that we were interested in them. Each student does receive a meal each day, which helps tremendously, but they have to pay to be able to attend secondary education. I took letters from Chulmleigh students to Shama Senior High School. This is a boarding school of 1000+ although many travel daily and it is much more acceptable. It is modern, has spacious grounds and decent buildings and one classroom with a dozen or so computers. They are not attached to the Internet yet but have the wiring in position so hopefully it will not be long before it is all connected.
Many families have a few chicken, a couple of goats or sheep but they lack tools to develop their agriculture. They grow bananas, some maize and a few other crops but it is all very small scale – much of their land is only the size of a garden.
The main roads are good. From Accra right along the coast to the neighbouring country is a good major road (speed bumps slow you down going through the villages). A decent ‘B’ standard road links Shama with Shama junction (on the main road) but the minor roads are just dirt tracks – even to the guesthouse where we stayed. Shama did have streetlights although they were quite a way apart but many of the buildings are really poor and need replacing. There are surprises within the area as the district does have a modern oil fired power station so the villages have electric power.
I asked them to put together a resolution, which I could bring back to the Council, which they have done. I suggested that they put together a list of ideas that in an ideal world would help them ignoring the fact that many of things they want may not be practical for our community to fulfil. Please read their document in this light realising that they are not expecting the South Molton area to deliver everything or even nearly everything on the list either in the short or long term. They are listing the things, which would be beneficial, and any assistance in any of the areas would be greatly appreciated. There are great opportunities for investment in this area for anyone wanting to invest as in a few years time it could well be a boom area because of the discovery of commercial quantities of oil just off the coast. Don’t be put off by the calling of South Molton a city. They do have a tendency to exaggerate and they know we are a rural area just like they are.
Next July the Sister Cities are having a world conference in Northern Ireland. Shama District officials would like to attend and they would also like the Mayor from South Molton to also go to the conference and sign the Sister City relationship (if that was possible). I believe I am correct in saying that we would be the first area in England to have such a relationship with Ghana although many areas are already linked with other countries and the USA in particular. This would also be a good time while they are in the vicinity (relatively speaking) for their Mayor and a couple of their officers to visit the South Molton area (either before or after the conference).
As Shama is a district and not just a town it would be useful to involve all the parish councils in the area around South Molton (if they are willing), particularly as Chulmleigh Community College and East Worlington Primary School are already involved with partner schools. Also I am conscious of the links we have with the twinning in France and Germany and by widening the area we are less likely to adversely affect any plans concerning those links. Indeed it may be a possibility to suggest to those towns that they might wish to also link with Shama – making three way links (this is becoming increasing popular in other places).
I believe that we have a really tremendous opportunity to benefit not only the people of Shama but also our town and area. They have a lot to offer us and I am certain that we can help make a difference and help them to move forward.
David Worden 13th November 2008.