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Wa Airport : A needed infrastructure to enhance development

BY: Emmanuel K. Mordey
The renovated Wa Airport run-way measuring 2,000 metres long and 96 feet wide. INSET: A section of the 370-acre land earmarked for the airport project in Wa which has been encroached upon.

Although Wa, the capital of the Upper West Region, is a fast growing town there are still vast stretches of land available for development.

Moreover, acquiring land in Wa and its surrounding towns is not difficult; if only one goes through the right channel. Here,land is owned by families. Because of the comparatively easy means of coming by land, many businesses would have loved to set up in Wa save for the long distance from the municipality to the principal cities of Accra, Kumasi and Tamale, for instance, where all businesses emanate from.

It takes roughly about 12 to 13 hours to travel from Wa to Accra, and a journey from Kumasi  to Wa takes eight hours while from Tamale to Wa takes about five hours. 

Comparatively, it takes about 45 minutes to travel by air from Wa to Accra and even less to Kumasi. Under the circumstances, for a businessman or woman, travelling by air is an easier option as against going by road.

Beginning of Wa Ariport

In 1958, Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah acquired a 370-acre land for the construction of an airport in Wa. Farmers on whose land the planned airport was to be sited were offered compensation for the loss of their crops. The Wa airport, which was initially developed as a landing strip, now has a long runway measuring 2,000 metres and 96 feet wide. The airport was renovated in 1995 and equipped with modern facilities. 

Regrettably, ever since its establishment it has seen very little traffic, except for the occasional use of the facility by the Ghana Air Force in medical emergencies and also during political seasons when ploliticians fly in and out for political campaigns.

Airport and development

There is no gainsaying the fact that an effective use of the airport would not only make Wa a more competitive location, but it will also make the Upper West Region more attractive to businesses, especially small and medium-scale enterprises. There is the possibility also that when the airport is made more functional, it would facilitate the movement of goods, services and people more quickly to Wa and the rest of the region, improve the standard of living of the people and encourage workers in education and health, for example, to accept postings  to the region.

Another area that stands to benefit enormously from an active airport is the the tourism sector. In the event of this happening, tourists visit and trade between Ghana and its West African neighbours, including Burkina Faso, Mali and Cote d' Ivoire, will be enhanced. 

A former Upper West Regional Minister, Mr Bede Zeideng, gave the assurance when he was in office to vigorously take steps as early as possible to ensure that the skies in the region were open to air flights. He said he considered interconnecting flights to and from the region as a means of bridging the development gap between the region and other places in the country. 

Most people interviewed believe that the construction of the airport in Wa is one sure way for the region to develop since infrastructural facilities play a crucial role in the growth and development of towns and cities all over the world. 

They expressed worry over the poor nature of roads in the country, which they said were negatively affecting the growth of businesses and services in the country. 

“The country is not too big but our transportation system is very poor. Elsewhere in the world there is good infrastructure and this makes life very easy. If the country wants to develop further, it must take the provision of infrastructure in all sectors seriously,” said Abdul-Salaam Abubakari, a resident of Wa.

Setback/encroachment

But there is a major setback to the realisation of a fully functional airport in Wa. Part of the land earmarked for the Wa airport project has been heavily encroached upon, with a number of cases pending in the law courts. According to government sources, the government has not sold or leased any portion of the land to anybody.

Altogether there are 757 structures that have been built without proper layout on the airport land. Many of the landlords are said to be without proper authorisation and do not have the requisite documentation either. Of the structures, 280 of them are built to the lintel level, 370 are at the footing level, with 127 of the houses completed. 

A number of the structures, even though are alleged to be without site plans have been supplied with utility services, including  water and electricity. Houses found to be without proper documents have been marked for demolition.

According to the Wa Municipal Chief Executive, Mr Issahaku Nuhu- Putiaha, a demolition exercise would soon be carried out at a date yet to be approved by the assembly. 

An official of the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said when the matter came up recently, a number of the encroachers came to the authority for advice but when they found out that they were not making any headway, they decided to take the matter to court.  

Litigation

There are four families who are fighting over the ownership of the land and they have sent the matter to the high court and any of them who produces the document wins the case to become the legitimate landlord, he said. While the Foroko family is fighting over the land against the Dori family, the Sungum family is also locking horns with the Suriyiri family for the same piece of land. 

However, he said, none of them had any document covering the property. 

According to the spokesperson, since the government has not sold any portion of the land to anybody and has not advised that the place should be developed, any compensation would be financial loss to the state. 

Due to the inconvenience of spending such a long time on the road, with its attendant problems and hazards such as armed robbery, accidents, and numerous speed humps, coupled with inadequate accommodation, among other problems, many workers refuse to accept posting to the region, thereby having a negative impact on government activities. For now, if you cannot sit in a car for a long period, you will not like to come to Wa, which literally means "come" in the Wala language.