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Poverty In The Mist of Riches

Tema Newtown in Tema Municipality of Greater Accra region is home to four heavyweight companies - Volta Aluminium Company (VALCO), Tema Oil Refinery (TOR), Ghana Ports and Harbours Authorities and Pioneer Food Cannery. By definition it should be a richly endowed community instead of the slum that defines it now. A local resident aptly described this sprawling eyesore as "Ghana's richest slum".

Any hope of using the financial muscle of the giant companies on the soil to develop the town has been shattered by a longstanding dispute between the two royal factions of Tema Newtown led by Nii Adjei Okraku III and his opponent Nii Okraku Adjetey II.

So Ghana's richest slum has not seen any development since its birth. Local residents say that there was a plan to create a modern estate on the site of the location but since the plan failed to materialize many years ago nothing has happened to raise the spirits of the residents. The chieftaincy dispute is the final nail in the coffin as far as that grand plan is concerned.

The history of this slum is the history of Tema itself. Before independence, the government identified a small fishing village called Torman as the site for an ultra modern seaport for the new Ghana. Torman residents also grew the calabash plant known as Torma in the local language hence the name of the village which was corrupted to TEMA.

The residents were ejected to make way for the grand project. They quickly migrated to a new site about one and a half miles away which they later named Newtown and because it was closer to the sea, the new site was good for fishing.

In 1962 Tema Harbour and other big industrial establishments and the main Tema Township were constructed. Tema became the "Harbour City", which is the industrial hub of the country and at the same time one of the best planned cities in West Africa with a perfect layout of road network featuring include landscaping and street lights. It also boasted of recreational centres and other social amenities any modern estate would be proud of.

This was in stark contrast to the NEWTOWN which saw no development of any sort. Ironically, this community of some 120,000 inhabitants crammed into a tiny piece of land is endowed with natural potential, especially in the fishing and fish canning industries.

Reports say that Tema Newtown was part of the plan developed by the Tema Development Corporation, TDC, for the modern development of the area as a whole. However, the quick influx of people attracted to the place with the promise of employment overwhelmed the planners and they never got it going. Tema Newtown became the poor cousin of Tema Township and got no good housing, roads, or social amenities.

According to sources, the companies hosted by the village have paid royalties which have not been used due to the chieftaincy dispute, and this has also led to the fishing potential of the area not been fully explored.

Environmental sanitation is one of the numerous problems facing the residents as there are no proper drainage systems and rubbish containers. The entire community is full of wooden structures built in a shortest interval; every house hold is fully occupied with children playing every where.

Any time it rains some part of the community becomes flooded with fatal consequences. This is due to the almost total absence of good drainage and poor roads in the area. Nii Yartey a young fisherman said being a resident here is not enjoyable at all as the community lacks social amenities including access to water and toilet facilities.

To compound things, life has been made even more difficult with the depletion of fish in the catchment area due to over-fishing and climate change. This, according to Nii Yartey has meant that many people scramble for the few and disappearing job openings available.

Under these conditions, good housing is nonexistent for most of the resident. However, an improvised hostel system has been created for those who need a place to place their tired bodies in the night. This is located in a wooden cinema hall and has about fifty beds rented at 50 pesewas per night. The environment of the structure is not healthy as the place become muddy any time its rain while some of the beds are fixed under the veranda of the structure.

Newtown lacks adequate basic social and economic infrastructural services. Children living with their parents or relatives in the town are at greater disadvantaged compare to their counterpart in other communities and vulnerable to epidemics such as cholera and malaria. Despite the Government Universal Compulsory Free Basic Education there are many children roaming in the Newtown.

Some of them engage in petty jobs others are competing with their parents in the fishing business. In the night residents pass the time by watching TV mounted in front of shops which are situated beside filth gutters.

The health centre which serves the community is not well equipped to cater for the health needs of the people while some of the wards lack basic medical machines. Some of the equipment in the clinic is obsolete and therefore often makes it difficult to handle emergency situations.

In an interview with Sunday World, the aspiring assembly Member of the community Mr. Rexford Armah who has been in the community for the past 36 years said the major challenge in the community is sanitation , gutters are not desilted dumping of refuse and waste water raises major concern.

He has personally provided tools for communal labour but the response seems to be low because some of the youth think they are not from the area so any time communal work is going on they refuse to join.

Tema Newtown needs not only amenities but also a stimulating sense of belonging and attention from the government. Above all, however, the chieftaincy dispute that appears to hamper development effort must be settled.

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An aerial view of Tema Newtown
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Frontage of the impoverish hostel
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Some guests enjoying night sleep in the impoverish hostel