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Opinions of Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Columnist: Appiah-Danquah, Kufuor

Sodom And Gommorah – Our Collective Shame

Silence of MP’s The ongoing debate on what should be done about “Sodom and Gomorrah” a shanty town at Fadama, Accra has brought into sharp focus the contempt that the “haves” in Ghana have for the “have-nots”. The silence of our Parliamentarians highlights the huge gap that exists between the elected legislators and the down-trodden poor people of Ghana. Have the MP’s lost their voices? Were they not elected to speak for the powerless and voiceless? Whom do they represent? First, there is no doubt in my mind that abject poverty is an unacceptable human condition which does not have to be inevitable. Therefore, fighting poverty and eliminating abject poverty must be the priority of any progressive, democratic government in the world. Nelson Mandela got it right when he stated “Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity it is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life-poverty is not natural.”

Second, there is no doubt that the quality of a country’s governance system is a key determinant of its ability to pursue sustainable economic and social development for the benefit of the whole populace. More fundamentally, open governance systems are more likely to generate responsible and responsive outcomes and a proper focus in policy development. The Sodom and Gomorrah saga reinforces the belief that Ghana may have chosen the path of democratic governance but not participatory governance.

Lack of Involvement-of Poor Folks

The simple truth is: national, regional and local decision making process in Ghana has always excluded the urban slum dwellers and rural poor. There has not been any concerted effort by any national government of all persuasions since independence to involve the “citizens” of Nima, Ashiaman, Sodom and Gomorrah and any slum or poor area in any debate on poverty reduction strategies that affect or impacts on them. The perception of most affluent middle-class citizens in Ghana on slum dwellers ranges from outright contempt to total mockery. How else can a Regional Minister, AMA Chief Executive, Municipal Co-ordinator and other Big-Whigs descend on Sodom and Gomorrah in their designer suits and four wheel drives and literally insult all the 40,000+ residents of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Did anyone at AMA just thought for a minute that the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah could be given a voice in the decision to bulldoze their slums? Did any policy maker/politician thought for once that these slums-dwellers are human, Ghanaians and God’s children? Did anyone thought these “so-called criminals” must be involved or consulted about their strategic decision to make them homeless?

It is becoming the norm in Ghana where houses are bulldozed, livelihoods destroyed, long jail sentences given to goat stealers, market sellers chased by “aba yie” and their goods stolen, street hawkers harassed and maltreated, kayayoo girls harassed and you know what – the common denominator of all these people is “poverty”. It is tough, very tough being poor in Africa. Hell on Earth

Back to the Sodom and Gomorrah issue- There is no denying that Sodom and Gomorrah is “Hell on Earth”. The stench and the general condition of the place are not fit for human habitation and no child must be allowed to live under such appalling and humiliating condition. The majority of residents in Sodom and Gomorrah lack adequate and portable water supplies and collect water from contaminated sources. Some of these sources of water are highly infected with parasites and pathogenic microbes. Most toilet systems in Sodom and Gomorrah are public and pit based. These include the traditional unhygienic pit latrines. Wastewater is drained mostly into natural channels created by storm water and open public gutters which leads to flooding whenever it rains heavily. Solid waste disposal is at public dumps, which tends to pose health hazards to the residents.

Moreover, Sodom and Gomorrah is home to prostitutes, criminals, deviants and unscrupulous young men. There are no educational establishments, health clinics and any infrastructure to boast of. In sum the people of Sodom and Gomorrah suffer from all the illness of “Induce Africa-Government Poverty Syndrome”. The hell on earth unleashed on some of our kith and kin by their own leaders from Congo to Zimbabwe- Poverty that is primarily induced and caused by misplaced priorities and misallocation of resources by African Governments. The emergence of Sodom and Gomorrah in the heart of the capital city is also a by product of the rural urban migration. Poverty in Africa in general and Ghana in particular is predominantly rural; more than 70% of all Africa’s poor live in rural areas and depend on subsistence farming for food and livelihood. That is the primary reason for the creation of Sodom and Gomorrah- rural/urban migration. The rural economy is marked by continuing stagnation, low production levels, low incomes and rising vulnerability of poor people. Most of the rural poor are often isolated and mostly beyond the reach of social safety nets and poverty programmes.

If you were a young girl (Ama) growing up in an isolated village, without any basic infrastructure, no education, no job, no t a glimpse of any life-chances – what are your options? You may end up in one of the slums of Accra, hoping against all hope that your fortunes may change. But will it change? Millennium Development Fund Take the Millennium Development Funds (MDF) for example- A fund that is meant to change lives of people like (Ama): The first 3 Millennium Development Goals are:

• Eradication of Extreme Poverty and Hunger;

• Attainment of Universal Primary Education;

• Promotion of Gender Equality and Empowering Women.

Some of us campaigned and actively lobbied for Ghana to have its fair share of the United States Millennium Development Funds. I was in Brussels to lobby the first Chairman of the MDF, Mr Appleby when he was consulting and seeking views on which criteria to adopt in the distribution of the funds.

Like many Ghanaians, I was overjoyed when we received the funds but disappointed that some of the projects being developed under the MDF have no immediate impact on poverty. The MDF was not meant nor intended to build fly-over’s and urban roads. It is meant to initiate programmes that alleviate abject poverty and create the foundations for sustainable economic growth. Projects that will help lift girls like (Ama) out of the poverty trap and empower her to achieve her dreams.

Indeed, some of the MDF funds can be used to lever in other funds to completely regenerate Sodom and Gomorrah.

For example, the building of new clinics; educational facilities; cheap affordable housing; ventilated and improved latrine pit systems for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah is not beyond the means of the government The provision of pipe borne water; introduction of public sewage systems; improved methods of disposing of liquid waste and construction of more open public gutters will completely regenerate and create a decent Sodom and Gomorrah. Developing Slums Regenerating slum areas is not an added on policy of progressive democratic governments it is part of their main economic platform. Anyone who lives in inner city London, Amsterdam, Spain, Manchester, and Liverpool will attest to that. The main economic development priorities of most European countries and the European Union is the improvement of poor areas.

I once worked on a European Union Project in a poor suburb in Greece (Perama). Like any other shanty area the residents of Perama had build without permits and the place was in danger of becoming a slum. The Greek Authorities did not bulldoze it away – they worked in partnership with the residents to provide them with the infrastructure needed to turn their community into a liveable place. Perama is now a beautiful place, thriving and bustling with activity.

In the United Kingdom, I have worked on many area based regeneration programmes to develop run- down areas from Middlesbrough to Liverpool and Lancashire. In all cases the local authority consults, listen and design its strategic policies in partnership with the affected residents. That is democratic and participatory governance. Accra Metropolitan Assembly should not be penalising the poor it must work in partnership with the residents to find a compromise solution to this sad issue.

The abject poor of Sodom and Gomorrah do not require huge sums of expenditure to turn their slum into a thriving community. They have the building blocks in place; it is the turn of AMA and the Government to play their part. The provision of affordable housing, boreholes, community centers, schools, K.I.V.P toilets and other basic infrastructure developments for the most vulnerable and poor sectors of the Ghanaian society is not beyond our reach in 2009. Sodom and Gomorrah is our collective shame a wakeup call to all of us.

I acknowledge and recognize that most areas in Ghana suffer from multiple deprivations and they all desperately need funds to develop and build lasting infrastructural projects that would assist their communities to lead decent lives. It is imperative that National Government act in the interests of the whole populace and draw up strategic plans for our shanty towns – plans that are sustainable, deliverable and long-lasting.

Appiah-Danquah Kufuor is the Chief Executive for the Volta Regional Development Agency and Director of Planet Consultancy Associates Ltd