Sometimes we talk about access to technology, to education, to a strong job market, to a number of complex ideas that require substantial institutions and planning and cultural integration to succeed.
Yes, I’ve seen some of these things at play in Karaga, and heard extensively about them from friends and colleagues.
But what about basic physical access?
Twice I have frequented this road that is just abominable. Imagine being subjected to a mountain-biking trail against your will, on a moto (rbike) which has the gear shifter lever that keeps falling off, maybe with a bawling goat and a second passenger on the back, in the rain with lakes in the way or in the dark, and… you get the idea.
The first time I travelled on this road, I was coming to Karaga for the first time in a tro-tro (minibus) and I guess I was really prepared for the worst of everything at that point, I had my game face on, so I was thinking “this is just how it is”.
The second time was last Friday, to go to the field to visit a farm with an extension agent by the name of Red. We took his moto and honestly I was shocked, because all of the other roads I’ve been on in the Karaga area are pretty decent, at least mostly flat and sometimes with a bit of rain damage or a few rocks. I really felt like life would be precarious if I were trying to ride this road in the dusk as I frequently do to my home in Nangong-ayeli. This road leads to Tong, a sizeable community with electricity, and about 3 hours later, to Tamale. Looking at the road last week, I honestly do not know how the tro-tro driver on my first trip to Karaga managed to haul the bus over all of those rocks, over ditches and through what can honestly be called ponds. And the people in these communities have to use this road every day to get to Karaga or their farms or the clinic or anything.
So it ends up being that farmers can be severely hampered by the road that they travel. The AEA that services these communities arrives exhausted and harried, which may affect their extension services. The tro-tros do not pass through here often, because the other road to Tamale is a far cry flatter and faster. To get to town with your bulging bag of maize is a lot harder when you’re mountain-biking with a bike that has no shocks, gears, or brakes that work (a common phenomenon here).
So let me ask you a (slightly controversial) question. Why in the world should we invest in building better school structures and systems when the public service cannot provide adequate roads even to communities close to the district capital? What’s the point if the kids can’t get to the school in a safe and timely fashion? If their parents can’t easily access the market in town to sell their crops in order to pay for school uniforms? Why should we invest in better farming practices when access to farms and available markets are so broken?
The access we have in terms of being able to physically move from place to place is, in my mind, a significant determinant of someone’s ability to access their potential. Something I did not really appreciate until my Ghanaian mountain-biking experience last week.