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Opinions of Thursday, 21 July 2011

Columnist: Ablorh, Raymond

My side of the ‘yam sellers and AMA taskforce’ story

Raymond Ablorh

Monday, July 18, 2011, the police and personnel of the Accra
Metropolitan Assembly task-force clashed with yam sellers on the Graphic
Road in Accra. The task-force went to the area in the
morning to stop the yam sellers from plying their trade on the streets,
but this resulted in a scuffle. Police officers who were
called in to intervene arrested 12 of the yam sellers for allegedly
assaulting personnel of the AMA task-force. The traders claim several tubers of
their yam were taken away in the raid. Some
of the yam sellers in an interview with a radio station in Accra said
they tried to beg the AMA officers to return their seized tubers but all
to no avail. According to them, the police also failed to
listen to their side of the story when they arrived and hastily
arrested 12 of their colleagues. But, before or after you listen to their side, this
is my side of the story. Until
about a decade ago, what our politicians used as a campaign case was
the dog chain seller’s story. They claimed they would take all of them
from the streets and create more jobs for them. But, just
after the campaigns, the dog seller too joined the chain seller on the
street for complimentary sales. Then, the dog house seller came with the
dog cage and feeding bowl to complete an industry on the street. What I don’t know
is where those behind this industry stay in Accra. As
for these yam sellers, many of them illegally stay in the Ghanaian
replica of the Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah where all the evil activities
under the sun are undertaken. The Ministry of Water
Resources, Works and Housing, for instance, has always maintained that
the delay in the achievement of the set objectives by the Korle Lagoon
Ecological Restoration project (KLERP) is due to the activities of these
squatters living at the sprawling Sodom and Gomorrah settlement. Even
though their stay there has created an ever expanding money wasting
hole in government’s resource keeping sack, the state hasn’t been able
to evacuate this squalor of them, and continue to pour a lot of money
measured in thousands, if not millions, of Euros and American Dollars
into the effluvium emanating Korle Lagoon to dig the solid filth these
illegal slum dwellers create daily. These squatters know
government hasn’t got the gut to show them the exit of the slums. Also
they are very much aware of the lackadaisical approach with which both
central and local governments have dealt with street hawking and its
associated ugly derivatives. Are they not in this country
when hawkers are sent off the streets in the central business district
of Accra, and are virtually begged to come back later? Perhaps,
these AMA guys always come and get them off the streets only to allow
them there again during elections’, and their tired of this ‘going’ and
‘coming’ business. Opposition parties enumerate more than
thousand and one reasons why government must employ measures with human
countenance when getting these people off the streets to allow free
passage, among other conveniences. They define, describe,
explain and discuss how wicked and heartless government is for taking
these day light law breakers from our streets with the ultimate purpose
of gaining admirers from that constituency; and, only to come into
government to face the same problem. This is what happens
when subscribers of democracy reduce this otherwise active development
vehicle to mere elections, and, nothing but electoral mathematics. It
seems government here are only good at passing laws. One can’t blame
those who break the laws more than those whose duty it is to enforce
them, because, over here, many a citizen doesn’t know the laws they are
supposed to abide by, let alone understand them. Ignorance
of the law is no excuse, people often argue, but, the citizens aren’t
the state’s ‘enemies’, hence, it’s wrong to virtually ambush them with
‘unknown’ and ‘incomprehensible’ laws. Governments ought to inform and
educate their constituents on the laws and the regulations governing
them to promote such laws and facilitate their acceptance and compliance
to them. How many Ghanaians know public begging is a
crime and why? How many understand why they shouldn’t sell or buy on the
streets? Many people here are too ignorant of the law. Recently,
a man was seen easing himself on a beach in Accra and when he was
questioned by some of the people who had gone there to have fun, he
ignorantly argued that he’s rather doing the state some good by reducing
the work of the men who carry human excreta from homes into the sea. This man
simply doesn’t know, nor understand, why he shouldn’t defecate there. He’s doing us
some good, in deed! Moreover,
while common sense might tell us the wrongs with our action and
inaction, present pressing economic needs make us defiantly object the
thoughtful dictates of our conscience, which is why force must be
applied instead of searching for undefined human-faced measures to
employ. But, more importantly, in the case of the slum
dwellers and those selling the tubers and everything on our streets, we
need, as a nation, to spread growth in such a manner that people would
find less reasons to leave where they are completely to settle in slums
in urban areas. And, when they come, the authorities
shouldn’t allow them to settle and develop roots in generations before
they try to uproot them. After all, merely allowing them
to settle should be part of the broad definition of breaking the law
against their illegal settlement, hence, those authorities who permit
them to squat in authorized places, as in any serious jurisdiction,
ought to face the law for implicitly aiding crime through their
inaction. We need governments that could go far beyond
enacting laws to ensuring their pragmatic enforcement; governments that
are prepared to wash and dress these aching socio-economic sores of the
nation without fear of being voted out of power for doing the right
thing. After all, democracy isn’t just about the next election; it’s about solving
problems and meaningful development. Raymond Ablorh

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