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Opinions of Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Columnist: Okoampa-Ahoofe, Kwame

Demolitions Must Be Well-Thought-Out

By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
Garden City, New York
June 12, 2015

The massive demolitions reportedly under way in Accra, following the flooding and fuel-fire conflagration that hit the Kwame Nkrumah Circle area of our nation's capital, and cost over two-hundred lives between June 3 and 4 this year, is quite in order, even if it wistfully appears to be ad-hoc or knee-jerk in methodical orientation (See "Demolitions Are Simply Lousy, Cheap And Crude - Atik Mohamed" 6/11/15). The exercise is well past due and may well have prevented much of the mayhem and absolutely unnecessary loss of lives, if it had been tackled even some seven years ago by the erstwhile Mills-led government of the so-called National Democratic Congress (NDC).

While those who have been criticizing the exercise, including Messrs. Kweku Baako and Kwesi Pratt, may definitely have a point, it is, nevertheless, a worthwhile exercise, if only homes and structures expertly earmarked are the primary targets. In the past, there has been a hue-and-cry over what critics then termed as politically motivated demolitions. The current exercise may be informed by desperation which, while not the most constructive approach, is, nevertheless, far better than the virtual stasis that was hitherto the rule on the part of the central government. Now, what has to happen is for city engineers, environmentalists and policymakers to sit down and deliberately put a comprehensive demolition package together not only for the jurisdiction of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA), but the country at large. For the problem is both perennial and nationwide in scope.

The latest massive loss of lives is a wake-up call which, if not tackled immediately and frontally, may well degenerate into one of apocalyptic proportions. And it may well then be irreversible and irreparable. Those decrying the ongoing exercise are the real cause of the problem, because it clearly appears that they prefer to annually, or seasonally, wring their hands and gnash their teeth; and then when it is all over in two or three days, go back business as usual, almost as if they have no long-term memory cells underneath their skulls. The description of the exercise by Mr. Atik Mohamed, the aspiring general-secretary of the People's National Convention (PNC), as "lousy, cheap and crude" is inexcusably absurd. But, of course, it is perfectly understandable that the so-called PNC policy analyst should attempt to score brownie points with his supporters and sympathizers.

Still, it can hardly be gainsaid that Mr. Mohamed is accurate when he attributes the cause of the perennial flooding of Accra to "lack of adequate drains [or sewage systems] and the clogged nature of the few that are available." In other words, the problem has been squarely caused by abject civil-engineering neglect and poor environmental hygiene. As I stated in a previous column on the subject, the entire sanitation system or city council apparatus may have to be reviewed and thoroughly re-designed. But even more urgently, city ordinances and regulations bordering on the habits and negative cultural mindset of the average Ghanaian towards public spaces and properties, ought to be rigidly enforced. For instance, laws bordering on indiscriminate littering ought to be promptly activated and rigidly enforced in the form of spot fines and court summonses. This could be one viable way of raising revenue to boost up the staffing of the sanitation departments of towns and cities across the country.

Of course, I am also thinking about villages like the ones in which I grew up before decadent city life and culture caught up with my siblings and me. It is rather a shame and a pity that demolition exercises, such as the ongoing one in Accra, have been dictated by the avoidable incidence of political and administrative dereliction of duty on the part of our cross-partisan leadership. What is direly needed to ensure that these salutary exercises do not become ad-hoc or band-aid projects, is a set of well-articulated zoning laws, backed by prompt and rigid enforcement protocols across the country.