Talensi: Rock shelters, shrines & gold
The Tongo Hills, with its attractive rock formations and natural rock shelters, is the sacred epicentre of the Talensi people, and home to numerous shrines.
People from all walks of life visit the shrines for consultation, spiritual healing, fortification and pursuit of wealth, among others.
The Tongo Hills and Tengzug Shrine have been proposed for the United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage site.
Students and researchers, including anthropologists and archaeologists, often visit the site for academic purposes.
This is the Talensi Constituency.
The constituency, regarded as the gateway to the Upper East Region, is endowed with large gold deposits, and fast becoming an emerging gold mining hub.
In all, there are about 70 mining concessions with gold-deposited sites for mining.
There are about seven active concessions with a maximum of 40 pits for mining.
Currently, two large-scale mining companies have been granted licences to undertake large-scale mining in the constituency.
They are Earl International Group Ghana Gold Limited and Cardinal Namdini Mining Limited.
Whereas Earl International is already engaged in mining, Cardinal Namdini is yet to commence commercial mining after resettling more than 1,000 people from its concession to pave the way for the mining project to take off.
On the side of the regulated system and processes, there are sites of illegal mining activities in some of the communities with gold deposits.
Talensi is among the 15 constituencies in the Upper East Region, and its political space has been largely dominated by the National Democratic Congress (NDC) since the commencement of the Fourth Republic in 1992.
The NDC won the 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2016 and 2020 parliamentary elections.
The New Patriotic Party’s only victory there was in 2012, when its candidate, Robert Nachinaab Doameng Mosore, polled 11,380 votes to beat the incumbent Member of Parliament (MP), John A. Tia.
However, in 2015, Mr Mosore resigned as MP after being enskinned as the Paramount Chief of the Talensi Traditional Area, with the skin name Tongraan Kugbilsong Nanlengbetang.
Subsequently, Benson Tongo Baba of the NDC won the by-election and went on to win both the 2016 and 2020 parliamentary elections.
The constituency, which also hosts the Talensi District, used to be part of the then Talensi Nabdam District until it was separated from Nabdam under Legislative Instrument (L.I.) 2110 in 2012.
A tourist at one of the shrines during a tour
The constituency shares boundaries with Nabdam, Bolgatanga, Bawku West and Kassena Nankana.
The rest of the part of the constituency to the south shares boundaries with North East Region.
The constituency’s location is strategic due to its proximity to Bolgatanga, the regional capital, to attract potential investors to establish businesses or firms in the district to contribute to the growth of the local economy.
It has a land size of about 838.4 kilometres square, which is mostly rocky and provides the potential for quarrying, mining and cement production.
Currently, two quarry companies are operating in the constituency and contributing to the progress of the construction sector.
The 2021 Population and Housing Census puts the district’s population as 87,021, with 43,849 males and 43,172 females.
Despite the presence of two large-scale mining companies in the district, residents still complain of underdevelopment in the area.
Among their concerns are poor road networks, especially in the eastern part of the district, high youth unemployment, teenage pregnancy, school dropouts, and inadequate educational and health infrastructure.
Currently, the roads in the constituency stretch up to 99 kilometres, which form about 4.6 per cent of the total network in the region, out of which 74.6km are engineered and 24.5km are not engineered, while six kilometres are bitumen surfaced.
That notwithstanding, many of the roads are in a deplorable state, making transportation very difficult for the residents, especially those in the remote communities.
In 2018, the contract was awarded to contractors to work on the Balungu-Gbeogo, Shia-Yinduri-Tongo and Balungu-Pwalugu roads, but the projects are yet to be completed.
Also, although the Degaare Junction-Buing road was awarded on contract in 2020, the contractor is yet to move to the site.
The Gbee Kindergarten/Primary Basic School also highlights the infrastructure deficit in basic schools in the district.
Unfortunately, the absence of the school feeding programme and inadequate classroom blocks and furniture have forced more than 100 pupils out of the school.
The school currently has pupils from Kindergarten One to Primary Six who are being accommodated in a two-unit classroom block provided by ActionAid.
Due to the lack of furniture, KG pupils lie on their stomachs daily on mats to take part in lessons.
Some residents said a major concern of the youth, in particular, was the inadequate job opportunities despite the area being endowed with natural resources and large-scale mining firms.
They indicated that the absence of job opportunities in the area, despite the mining potential, had forced many youths to travel to the south in search of non-existent jobs.
“We believe that immediate steps must be taken to create more jobs for the youth to keep them in the district to contribute to its growth,” a resident of Gbee, Daniel Naab, said.
He said a worrying development in the district was school dropouts among basic school pupils who preferred to engage in illegal mining instead of going to school.
Due to the alleged lavish lifestyles of some illegal miners, there is a high rate of crime, including incidences of armed robbery, in some of the mining communities.
Health & Education
Healthwise, the constituency has 45 health facilities made up of a district hospital, seven health centres, two clinics and 35 Community-based Health Planning Services (CHPS) compounds.
The CHPS compounds are all functional, with support from the government, donor partners and local stakeholders. In all, 144 community volunteers are supporting healthcare delivery in the health facilities.
A new basic school built for the Gbane community Earl International Group Ghana Gold Limited
The constituency has one school for the deaf, a technical and vocational institute, 146 basic schools and two senior high schools (SHSs), namely Bolgatanga SHS and Tongo SHS.
A Community Day SHS started at Yameriga to provide secondary education for students in the eastern part of the constituency has been abandoned, with portions of its roof ripped off.
The Chief Executive of the Talensi District Assembly, Thomas Duanab Wuni, admitted the poor state of roads in the district, saying “Our district is very new, and it will take some time for the constituency to have the required roads”.
He noted that as and when the district assembly was able to rake in proper revenue internally, more accessible roads would be created to ease transportation within communities in the district.
Thomas Duanab Wuni, DCE for Talensi
While admitting that some farmers had lost their farms due to the presence of two major mining companies, he stated that the assembly, in collaboration with Cardinal Namdini Mining Limited, had developed a five-year plan to assist affected farmers.
He said the move was to provide an alternative source of livelihood to the farmers, adding that “the smallholder farmers would be put together and supported to cultivate some crops and go into animal rearing as well”.
He added that plans were advanced to set up a training centre to develop the skills of the youth to take advantage of the mining activities in the area, and stressed that when Cardinal Namdini begins gold production in September 2024, about 2,400 youth would get direct jobs.
The MP of the area, Mr Baba, said since winning the 2015 by-election and two subsequent elections, he had rolled out several interventions in the various sectors to assist the constituents in their activities.
Benson Tongo Baba, MP for Talensi
He mentioned the construction of 63 boreholes for communities with water challenges, and the provision of start-up equipment to more than 300 artisans who completed their training in sewing and hairdressing.
He said his interventions also included providing pumping machines to farmers to enable them to undertake dry season farming, providing six tractors to plough farms at subsidised rates, as well as the provision of five incubators with the capacity of hatching 2,000 chicks to encourage the people to go into poultry farming”.
He stressed that he had, over the years, also offered support to the educational and health sectors in the constituency to address some of their basic challenges.
The popular North Star Tomato Factory, also known as Pwalugu Tomato Factory, is in Pwalugu, one of the major towns in the constituency.
The Earl International Group Ghana Gold Limited mining site in Gbane
The factory, which hitherto sourced the majority of its tomatoes for processing into paste from neighbouring Burkina Faso, became defunct due to the deprivation of the needed tomato supply to enable it to operate at the minimum level.
Several interventions by successive governments to revamp the factory have been unsuccessful, as residents who used to cultivate tomatoes and supplied to the factory had turned their attention to the cultivation of other crops.
Residents in the communities are of the view that if the needed attention was paid to the factory to come back to life, it would create thousands of direct and indirect jobs for the youth and transform the local economy as well.