My recent visit to Tamale in the last week of January 2023 was my first in about twenty years since my last in 2002. Somehow, at about 1,200 feet above sea level and a few minutes before landing at Tamale airport, my mind evoked strong memories of yesteryears. As the Commanding Officer (CO) of the Ghana Military Academy (now Commandant) in the late 1990s, Tamale was my home every January into February from 1999-2002 when I took my cadets to the Airborne Force (ABF) for the parachute training phase of their training.
Why did I have that palpable excitement at 1,200 feet?
Paga Crocodile Pond
Before then, from Tamale I went further north to Bolgatanga from where I visited the Crocodile Pond at Paga I first saw in 1999. The huge fearsome-looking and awe-inspiring grandpa crocodile I saw twenty years ago was absent. It appears his son, no less fearsome, deputized for him, assuming he is still alive.
Without any fear, the three uniformed ladies on our Gender-Mainstreaming Team, Gp Capt (Colonel) Sophia Jiagge, Naval Capt (Colonel) Veronica Arhin and Maj Linda Oboh were the first to take individual pictures touching the mid-section, and then holding the tail of the crocodile.
For the number of years that the pond has been touted as a tourist attraction, a lot more needs to be done by the appropriate agency to make it worth visiting.
For operational jumps, paratroopers are dropped from 900 feet. However, for trainees, jumping started from 1,200 feet.
As a Commanding Officer, my first batch of cadets to do the parachute-jumping from aircraft, or para-trooping was in January/February 1999. The jumping is preceded by weeks of very hectic and physically demanding training in the harmattan heat and dryness of Tamale. Perhaps, the most worthwhile comment on my 1999 group was that, the all-male team had two casualties with broken legs at different stages of the eight jumps to qualify them for the paratrooper’s wings.
Significantly, for the millennium graduating class of cadets of 2000, there were two females who for the first time in the history of the Ghana Armed Forces had to jump with their male colleagues. Showing lots of grit and determination, the two ladies O/Cdt Ernestina Assan and O/Cdt Vera Quaye successfully jumped their way into the history books as the Ghana Armed Forces’ first two female qualified paratroopers in January/February 2000.
I commend the efforts and encouragement of the then Commanding Officer Lt Col MI Tetteh (now Brig Gen Rtd), and his Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) and also Parachute Jumping Instructor (PJI) WO 1 Bawa Bezua of blessed memory. WO1 Bezua certainly deserves a posthumous honour for his contributions to training paratroopers in the Ghana Armed Forces.
When I asked what has contributed to the numerous hotels and guest houses in Tamale, I was told the hotel/hospitality industry services the numerous NGOs in Tamale and its environs. Indeed, Tamale was described as the “NGO-capital” of Ghana! Three-quarters of passengers on my flight to Tamale which was full was made up of expatriates belonging to an NGO as their unique T-shirts suggested. Probably because my stay was short, I did not see much development and wondered the contribution of the NGOs in support of local effort.
However, I saw the 20,000 capacity Tamale Sports Stadium (now Aliu Mahama Sports Stadium), which was built by Ghana for the 2008 Football African Cup of Nations’ we hosted.
Remembering the childhood rhyme “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” I made time for rest/relaxation, especially over guinea-fowl. Years ago, Ghanaians were told that, the guinea fowls in a particular project had flown to Burkina Faso. In the military they would have been guilty of “AWOL” (Absent Without Leave). Happily, it appears many of the descendants of the guinea-fowls which migrated illegally have patriotically returned home. My evenings therefore saw me regale in guinea-fowl meat.
Until the Commanding Officer, ABF took me and my instructors out the first time in 1999, I was used to three or four of us happily sharing a plate of one guinea-fowl in Accra. To my surprise, six plates of guinea fowl landed on our table for the six of us. Thinking it was a mistake, I drew the CO’s attention to the error. Amused he replied laughing saying “Sir, here in Tamale, it is one man, one guinea-fowl (1M, 1G).” Interestingly, buoyed by the copious administration of beer/pito in response to the hot weather, those of us from Accra had little difficulty finishing our “1M, 1G)!”
What took us to Tamale and Bolgatanga, and next week, to Damongo and Wa? The answer is “GENDER MAINSTREAMING!”
In October 2000, a United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on the effects of conflict on women/children was unanimously passed. It also sought to increase the participation of females in UN Peacekeeping Operations. Ghana was one of the early signatories to a Canadian move called the Elsie Initiative in 2017, to actualise Resolution 1325 and subsequent Resolutions. It is the sensitization of troops on this, which took us to the units in Tamale, Bolgatanga etc.
My journey from Tamale to Bolgatanga, a distance of 162 kilometers took three hours. For a road linking two regional capitals, the state leaves much to be desired, having seen deterioration since my last trip in 2002. The team which did the 80 kilometer stretch to Bawku did not have kinder words. Unfortunately, we always talk of our poor maintenance culture and yet do not do much to reverse it!
As we crossed the White Volta with all the vast lands around it, I asked myself, why do we continue to import rice from Thailand, Viet Nam, China etc, the same way we import sugar, in spite of having Komenda and Asutsuare from the 1960s, and even tomatoes/vegetables, crabs and tilapia from our immediate neighbours?
And after all the reckless handling of our resources, why are pensioners whose little gratuities we invested in bonds being so callously told to bear the brunt of mismanagement in the twilight of our lives?
Remember Proverbs 21, 1 “a good name is better than gold!”
Finally, let us honour posthumously Africa’s first UN Force Commander Gen EA Erskine and Para-jumping Instructor (PJI) WO1 Bawa Bezuah, and the living second Ghanaian UN Force Commander Gen Seth Obeng! For, in a way, the current Gender Mainstreaming drive we are on, can be attributed to the foundation the Generals laid as Force Commanders many years ago.
Fellow Ghanaians, WAKE UP!
Brig Gen Dan Frimpong (Rtd)
Former CEO, African Peace Support Trainers Association
Family Health University College