Monday, May 11, 2015

The North/South Divide

As a proud Northerner myself, I’ve always been acutely aware of the invisible line which seems to divide the southern parts of England from the northern ones. It’s a part of British culture, like rainy days, drinking tea and complaining; the North and the South are like oil over water, coexisting in two distinct layers.

The root of this lies back in the Industrial Revolution, when heavy industry was concentrated largely in the North, while the South became the financial centre of the country. Even now, the idea that the North is less developed is still perpetuated, and frequently supported by studies. Recently, Centre for Cities carried out a study which found the South had vastly outperformed the North between 2004 and 2013, thus creating a two-tiered economic system which highlights a great difference between the northern economy and the southern one. This is reflected in the political landscape, where the north is generally supportive of the Labour party, traditionally seen as belonging to the ‘working people’, while the South is linked to the right-wing Conservatives.

It isn’t just an economic divide which exists however. Although the UK, and in particular England, shares a common culture, both unfair northern and southern stereotypes do exist. The North is frequently seen as cold, miserable and poor; the phrase “it’s grim up North” surely hasn’t appeared from nowhere. Southerners meanwhile, are seen to be rude and selfish.
Interestingly, my time in Ghana has shown that a similar geographical divide exists here too, creating one country split into two very separate halves. My in-country volunteer summed the issue up perfectly, when she told me that people in Accra, hearing she was from the North, asked her whether or not they had cars where she lives. Just as in the UK, in Ghana the North and the South appear to belong to two different countries – perhaps even more so pronounced. An article published by the World Bank in 2011 argues that the rapid economic development in Ghana has done “little, if anything” to reduce the divide present. It states that between 1992 and 2006 the number of “the poor” declined by 2.5 million in the South, and increased by 0.9 million in the North, although the article neglects to specify what is meant by “poor”.

The root of this divide lies largely in the climate, and the more traditional nature of the North. As climate change has affected the rainy season here in Ghana, pushing it to occur later in the year and for much briefer periods, northern farming has declined, whilst the more regular southern rains have allowed farmers there to flourish. My in-country volunteer is worried by the effect this may be having on the attitude of people in the North, and cites the example of Boko Haram in Nigeria, who initially grasped the alienation felt by those in the North to gain support, before revealing their much darker motives. She worries that as power cuts, less jobs and poverty plague the North, anger will begin to spread, and people will look somewhere other than the government to be represented.

Let this not, however, be a story of poverty and depression. Just like the North of England is flourishing, with big cities such as Sheffield, Manchester and Leeds beginning to dominate the economic climate and becoming cultural hubs. As events such as the Grand Depart of the Tour de France prove that the North is proud to be just that, so too in Ghana are Northerners proud of their roots. Talking to my host mother, she tells me that she finds people in the South ruder as “nobody is greeting anyone”. She likes being a Northerner just as much as I do, and although she complains that the weather here is “too hot” with “not enough rain” (just as us English Northerners like to complain about the exact opposite) she says that she wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

The North of Ghana has a rich historical past, with many great places to explore. Just last weekend the TradeAID team visited Paga, a crocodile pond just 40 minutes’ drive away from where we are based in Bolgatanga, and then a nearby slave camp to learn a little more about the historical significance of slavery in the North of Ghana. Tongo Hills, known for its shrines and caves, is a 20 minute drive in the opposite direction. While Cape Coast and Accra may hold a large number of tourist attractions, the North too features many places for one to visit.

The North/South divide so prevalent in both British and Ghanaian culture should be celebrated, not ignored. Of course the economic disjunction present needs to be addressed, as does the clear gap in job opportunities and political representation, in countries where both political and economic powerhouses, London and Accra respectively, sit in the South. Yet there is something beautiful about a country which is not only unified as one, but simultaneously features two distinctly different cultures. Let us appreciate the stereotypes of Northern England – we really do eat chips and gravy and smile at people in the street – just as much as those in Northern Ghana should appreciate those they have. Yet let us also not sit idly by, and assume that once divided, always divided; enjoy those cultural divisions, learn about not just the culture of other countries, but also that of your own, and fight to ensure that the metaphorical wall which currently exists does not become a way to slice the country in two.

Lena Fabian

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