Feature Article of Tuesday, 24 January 2012
Columnist: Kufuor, Appiah Danquah
The uncompleted, half built, windowless, shack with no toilet, bathroom and any human comfort is the home of the grandchildren of one of our late house helps. This tall noble, humble, magnificent man had hopes of a better future for his children and grand children. His kids attended the local school at Nima and his swansong was “they will never be watchman like me” they will be educated and become teachers. This slum building which is home to Papa Jato’s grandchildren lies close to the environs of airport residential area and can easily be seen by the affluent and high – heeled as they zoom pass in their air- condition vehicles to work each morning.
The last time I called round to have some tuo-zafi with the grand-daughter of Papa Jato, she lamented on the havoc that the rainy season was wrecking on his business at Circle. As I looked at them, I remembered the words and dreams of Papa Jato- how would he feel? What will he be saying if he was with us – his hardworking third generation family still earning a living by selling their chores and petty Chinese items around Kwame Nkrumah Circle? What happened to the dream that he had for Fati and Haruna?
Anyway, when the heavens open up at Circle the descendants of Papa Jato will “perch” at one of the wooden structures at VIP Bus Terminal demolished yesterday by the almighty AMA.
CIRCLE OF POVERTY
When I read about this “legal “demolition exercise, my first reaction was: how come the circle of poverty was not broken by Papa Jato? Is it a rite of passage? Three generations of hardworking, humble people trapped. A legacy of shame, humiliation, powerless passed on from one generation to the other - a humiliating bond that refuses to untangle. My second more considered thought was –shut up Appiah, what can you do about it? This is Africa chum.
Broadly speaking, there are two opinions about how so many of our kith and kin end up in this dire strait of living on the margins of society. The first is: to blame the disenfranchised, marginalized and poor urban workers for creating slums and eking out a living on urban roads and urban waterways. The second is: that societal factors are at play and that the past and current crop of our leaders have messed it up. For those of you who believe the former, good luck and see you later. There are other dumb writers that you could turn to and enjoy their right wing, class, tribe, racial superiority bigotry.
SODOM AND GOMMORRAH
When residents of “Sodom and Gomorrah” a shanty town at Fadama, were being pilloried ,harassed, criminalised some of us joined in the march and campaign to keep the place up and running until real alternative solutions were provided by the authorities. I was hugely impressed by the comments made by President Mills at the United Nations concerning the problem of Sodom and Gomorrah”. When asked about the unfolding saga of Sodom and Gomorrah – the President said:” It must be resolved fairly, humanely and compassionately”. I wish the Almighty Lord Mayor had listened to the audio of the father of the nation.
CONTEMPT FOR THE POOR
As an individual, I am fully convinced that not only have the elites and leaders of our sorry continent failed the poor but we actually treat them with contempt. The demolition of the Circle structures demonstrates vividly the contempt that the “haves” in Ghana have for the “have-nots”.
How else can a Regional Minister, AMA Chief Executive, Municipal Co-ordinator, the Police, Fire Service and the whole state apparatus descend on the most vulnerable, voiceless, powerless members of our society and start destroying their livelihoods? How else can the whole state apparatus be employed against hawkers earning peanuts? Please, spare me the ridicule of “the law”-what law?
Our country is fast becoming a society for the well-connected, rich and powerful. Try stealing a goat and you will go in for 5 years. Try living at Ashiaman and get yourself in trouble, your place of abode could be a licence to prison.
Please, Judicial Service provide us with data and statistics- how many kids from Airport Residential, Trasacco Estates, East Legon, Spintex/Sakumuno Estates, and North Labone etc have been incarcerated in the past 2 years? For some young people, growing up in Nima or Ashiaman there are only two choices- a hopeless non-existent long life - pushing trucks or a shorter one stealing on the streets that promises good money and either prison or mob-killing.
Back to the circle demolition, I have 3 simple questions for the Hon. Almighty Lord Mayor of AMA.
QUESTIONS TO HON. LORD MAYOR
(a) PROVIDE GHANAIANS A LIST OF BUILT UP AREAS LYING ON WATERWAYS IN ACCRA;
(b) WHEN WILL ALL THE STRUCTURES LYING ON THESE WATERWAYS BE DEMOLISHED?
(c) WHAT CRITERIA WIL BE USED TO DEMOLISH THE STRUCTURES?
(d) ON WHAT BASIS WAS THE CIRCLE WOODEN STRUCTURES CHOSEN AS FIRST CASUALITIES?
These are questions that the poor wooden dwellers want an answer to? For heaven sake, someone, somewhere must stand up and speak for the powerless. Martin Luther King wrote in his letter from Birmingham Jail: “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people”.
In our part of the world wooden structures and shacks of poor urban folks living in marginal conditions can be bulldozed with impunity. Already these poor urban folks have no resources to fall back on, and shocks like the destruction of their menial incomes become hard or impossible to offset. The situation is made worse by the structure of institutions like AMA which literally excludes them from participating in decision-making over their social and economic well-being.
Who did the AMA consult in this their latest “Rambo” mission? The AMA is a gargantuan, monstrous edifice and like all the other Municipal Assemblies their role and function needs to be clearly spelled out in simple English to the public
As it stands, the AMA is an institution which is abysmally inefficient, not fit for purpose, not structured to deliver services to these marginalized communities and not in a position to preach virtue.
I must admit from Bombay to Kandahar, the sheer magnitude of the urban problem poses an extraordinary challenge to institutions, societies, governments and all of us. For example, the urban poor in Accra live in abysmal conditions, insecure in tenure and lacking basic amenities. Moreover, the pressure of high population growth translates into thousands without formal employment and large numbers of new entrants trooping into Accra in search of a job.
Meanwhile, manufacturing in Ghana is all but collapse and the service industries are becoming the main employers. Modern information technology is creating job opportunities and facilitating the exchange of information across continents, but is also introducing a new form of illiteracy for the urban poor in Ghana without access or ability to use information technology. Skill and knowledge levels required to integrate in these modern sectors are often beyond the reach of the poor. However, this does not mean that we lose sight of the real meaning and purpose of development.
Every first year student of development economics is taught that the; main goal of development is to eliminate poverty and reduce social imbalances- period. It follows on from there that sustainable economic growth and appropriate social policies are keys to fighting poverty. At the same time, reducing poverty helps growth by enabling the poor to participate productively in the economy.
SOME SUGGESSTED SOLUTIONS
No single solution can resolve the huge problems of modern urban-rural dichotomy or the influx of rural folks to cities. Space will not allow for a comprehensive and detail analysis of the problems, however the Government can:
? Adopt policies and make adequate investments in basic infrastructure to increase the capacity of poor people to create income-generating opportunities.
? As a matter of urgency introduce the adult education illiteracy program which will provide basic education for all.
? Instruct the AMA and other Municipal Assemblies to urgently set up sub- committees which provide a platform and a voice in decision-making for market women, hawkers, kayaoo, shoe-shine boys and kiosk owners. This will involve poor people and society at large in policy/program design and implementation.
? Develop a supportive policy framework which is complemented by investments in human, physical, and financial capital, particularly of the poor. This must assist their integration into the main stream of social and economic development and must be chosen, developed and designed with greater involvement of the urban poor.
The AMA must be aware that being transparent and accountable to the people that you serve always contributes to a well-informed public debate and result in better policies with wider support. Broad participation of ordinary folks in decision making process can help improve the management of public expenditures by pushing shifts in resources toward priority areas and avoiding unproductive spending.
There is a natural human instinct which is common to the animal kingdom and mankind our ability to feed and fend for our loved ones and families. In our country there are no welfare and social benefits which cushions one from the loss of his/her livelihood. As we are entrusted with positions of responsibility with the power to “take bread” from the mouth of the less- fortunate among our midst we must always remember the great verse in our Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this Day our Daily Bread” when embarking on livelihood destruction activities.