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Opinions of Tuesday, 11 July 2006

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

Who The Hell Is In Charge Of Accra?

Satan Is Firmly In Charge Of Hell: Who The Hell Is In Charge Of Accra?

I was on my way to James Town (British Accra) when something caught my attention. So I stopped and took a very good look. A young woman, vigorously smoking fish right next to heap of thrash that was dripping wet and most invariable infested with agile maggots and germs of all varieties. I banged my hands on my steering wheel and won’t repeat the expletives that I uttered. For a moment, I wondered and then wondered again! Have we already lost the next generation? I mean what kind of insensitive mentality are we dealing with here? Does this woman know any better though? A cursory jog along the coastal towns of Sempe, James Town, Chokor, Mamprobi, Akoto Lante, Palladium, Korle Wokon and its environs reveal the same sad story of unemployment, teenage pregnancy, illiteracy, moral decadence, poverty, dilapidated buildings, sick pensioners, ignorance, filthy surroundings and overall depressed neighborhoods.

Can somebody tell me what went wrong? Who really is in charge of these poor areas?

Most of my mornings during my month long visit to Ghana were spent nudging my way through the Abeka Lapaz maze. My hope of catching a traffic break wilted on almost every occasion. Often, I felt like a numbed actor in a vigorous Roman epic. Cars popping up from all angles and riding each and every way that space will let them. Sometimes in the full glare of police officers who seem to have been desensitized to the zoo-like maze that they ably supervise ad infinitum. I noticed with fat curiosity, how the tro-tro drivers ignored the paved road, preferring rather, to gracefully dance in accordance with the curves and moldings of the potholes that govern the untarred shoulders of the road. Quite rightly, these tro-tro vehicles do move swiftly on the untarred road compared to those of us who queue in traffic. Now, if we are going in the same direction and you can get there by riding the shoulder without any consequences, why bother joining the queue? Trust me, if you live long enough in Ghana, you will be riding the shoulder too. I did not though! More intriguingly, what will the queue look like if these tro-tro and taxi drivers decide to aggravatingly play ball? There is no doubt that it will be worse. So, could it be a good thing that these cars ride the shoulders or do their activities provide data that the one lane road is just not enough? I am told that the road was slated for more than one lane but who knows? Chief bonker maybe?

Kaneshie! This so called highway between Obetsebi Lamptey circle and Weija is still holding well. God knows how much headache we endured to await its completion. Three lanes in, three lanes out!!. Really? Not quite! On both sides of the road in front of the market, vendors have taken over the third lane. This in turn has forced the tro-tro and Takoradi bound buses to take over the middle lane. So as we speak, only one lane is left for traffic flow. Where in the world can a vendor wake up in the morning and display his wares in the middle of a highway under the full glare of police officers enforcing traffic rules, (At least that is what they claim to be doing)? If the police ignore it, what about the AMA folks? Who really is in charge of Accra? I want to know!

Try driving from old Kingsway to old UTC. Again forgive my addressing formula. That is just the way we do it in Ghana. Until the authorities see a need to ask all property owners to boldly number their building(s), this is just the way we’ll have to keep doing it. Here again, vendors have seized the pavements and continue to pour onto the road with their wares. The median between the roads have become fertile grounds for trading foodstuff on the floor. These days, all foodstuffs are traded on floor. Wall Street will surely be proud of this development! Just make sure you wash anything you buy from the market before munching. As a result of heavy commercial activity, pedestrian displacement, unsynchronized traffic lights and police abulia, traffic is always at a perpetual standstill around this area. May Gawd pardon you if you don’t have air condition in your car. I want to know who is in charge and will anything ever change? Is Accra now the sole property of vendors and scofflaw merchants?

Makola Square and it environs! Try walking from Melcom store (Old Glamour area) or Opera Square to Tudu (Adabraka). From Glamour right on down to Tudu, all the pavements have been occupied by these ruthless vendors. Keep in mind that there is a fire station on this road. God forbid that a fire breaks out! These pavements are public areas meant to facilitate our movement. So, why it ok for a few selfish vendors to take over and use such as their exclusive executive open air offices? Where are the city planners? Can we really say we are a nation of laws and respect for the average citizen? When will I be able to tell the vendor to get off the pavement so I can walk freely to wherever I please? I simply want to know who is in charge of Accra. Why and how is it that abhorrent behavior is now the norm? I mean go to Sodom and Gomorra and the saga of in-your-face illegality continues. Most places in Accra are a representation of filth and lawlessness. Sachet water bags lace the landscape with impunity. Sign boards, large and small, staked haphazardly and obscenely canvassing the area. Folks, selling cars, excavating equipment, and all kinds of eyesores, show off their wares brazenly along the Abeka Lapaz road leading into the Kaneshie highway. Mud stained building adorn the roadside. Who really is in charge? I want to know!

I can continue to make my case with so many other examples but why go on and on. The basic point that I want to make is that lawlessness and indiscipline is now the norm in Accra. Leadership for the city has collapsed and there is no one in charge. None! If you think I am lying, listen to what Nduom had to say in a June 6th publication by GNA titled, “ministries to become restricted areas”. “He indicated that the Government by the end of the year, would stop people from selling bread, goats and cloth and in some cases alcohol from door to door in the Ministries.” What is Ghana turning into? Live goats and frothing beer at the ministries during working ours? The pressure from the vendors is so debilitating that the ministries are going to be barricaded like the green zone in Iraq. Alas, the taxpayers will end up losing free access to their ministries. These vendors must be a relentless and ruthless gaggle of shirty infidels who cannot be stopped. Law enforcement to the dogs!!

I had engaging conversations with ordinary folks about why we think it is ok to behave lawlessly and adopt filth as the child we never had. Why do we think to be poor means you must be the bosom friend of filth? Why do we accept such? Then the story of Adjiri Blankson came up. I was told that he came to town, blazing saddles as he did, with the goal of drying up the swamp of shameless vendors who blithe the city. In came the odododiodoo elections that put a jarring halt to his efforts. The story goes this, the NPP, fearing that the war on vendors will impact the vote in favor of the opposing party, secretly urged Mr. Blankson to stop his zero tolerance policy on lawless vendors. So, the war on do something won and we are worse for it. In the name of politics, that whole effort has died a premature death. Is it for this same politics that the NPP government cannot muster courage to do what they know is right? Why must the people who live in Accra put up with such blatant suffocation and inept governance in the name of politics? The fear of losing votes has crippled governance in the capital city and the scofflaws reign supreme! The norm again is illegality and indiscipline, my friends. If we plan well, people can still trade in a governable city. Trade and discipline must to be enemies.

Take a careful look at Accra. We have the president, the regional minister or whatever they are called these days, then you have the CEO of AMA, then the minister of beautification, then the Ga Mantse and his sub-chiefs, Wolumo and who else has jurisdiction? Even parliament has some sort of say! With such a constellation of who is who in leadership, why is the capital city so filthy? Why is the capital city so lawless? Open gutters flowing with the most lethal mix of disease generating filth. These so called leaders drive by all day but don’t have the moxie to make anyone responsible? Why is everyone doing what they like? If the drive to bring investors is real, if tourism is our new meal ticket, if beautification is such a priority, if prevention of diseases is the best insurance healthcare policy, if the people deserve better, why do these do called leaders watch on as the governance of the city spiral in gross failure? Let me say this to all those who come to Accra to better themselves and make a living. You have every right, as Ghanaians to go to your capital. Yes you do! However, you have no right to turn Accra into another village. You have no right to set up vending stands wherever you want. When you go to any place, your goal should be to leave it better than what you experienced. We respect your need to work and feed yourself. However, that is not a license to abuse your welcome privileges and turn the whole place into a zoo. Of course, if the existing residents will show some love and protection for their neighborhoods, the story might be different. Where is the sense of pride? If the capital city is supposed to be our showcase, as it is in most countries, why turn it into another village? If we ever were to be measured by the outlook of our capital city, then I am afraid that the representation is abysmal. If our government is intent on creating a city of have and have nots, with green zones and other posh swaths of neighborhoods, then we are heading in the wrong direction. Is the president claiming to be oblivious to the filth? How about the ministers and MPs? The Ga Mantse and sub-chiefs too? Did any MP ask the AMA CEO what he was going to do about the filth before confirmation? Who is in charge?

Now to the people of Accra! You have every reason to demand better leadership. So far, your leaders, including the chiefs have miserably failed you. Some of your own folks who were lucky to escape the harsh neighborhoods have neglected you. They see no need to give back. They see the filth but will not speak up! The people of Accra must not settle for what I see. A nation’s capital deserve better. These depressed fishing enclaves must be freed. Human beings living like packed rats is not the norm. You have no leaders and it is time that you wake up and create your own leaders. Beware of the opportunists and self seeking phony ones who claim brotherhood and pride but serve other interests. We need selfless leaders who are willing to die for the cause. There is a better way to live and you must demand that. Take back your city and make it the paradise that it can be. Let civility guide your actions! Question your leaders and demand an end to the neglect and exploitation. Know that change starts with you!

I urge all well meaning residents of Accra to summon a meeting to discuss the state of the capital. After this meeting, a development council must be formed. This development council must work with all leadership levels to restore Accra to the capital that it is. Set up time tables to clean up the thrash. Take back one neighborhood at a time. Act and speak up! Demand a well laid out development plan, addressing all the depressed neighborhoods. Let the authorities tell you exactly how they are going to develop these perpetually depressed neighborhoods and what it will take to get the job done. Set up a committee to deal with sanitation. Folks, don’t take no for an answer and demand your pound of flesh. Let the chiefs account for all the monies they have collected. If possible take over whatever revenue streams and use the money to build libraries and schools for the depressed neighborhood. The time for talk is over! Please let civility and dialogue guide your actions. Show some love for your city for it speaks volumes about who you are. It is your village and you must salvage it. Restore Accra now!

Remember the fish that the young woman was smoking? Here is what one person quipped, “Don’t worry man; there is more demand that she can supply.” It makes you chuckle, doesn’t it? Our folks in Ghana have a reality different from ours. Even though desensitized by reality, we have to find creative ways to engage them if we want real change. The real disturbing danger is not so much what is going on now, as it is the fear that we will continue strongly in this direction, thus creating some sort of irreversible chaos. If the last stage of law and order is lost, we might as well forget it. Who is in charge of Accra? Will our leaders match their rhetoric with deeds. Will they do what is right by putting politics on the back burner? We want sustainable change not nine day wonders only to be replaced by bedlam. Change! Change! If the capital is in such shocking trance, can you imagine what is going on in the regions? Have you checked on your region lately? Call your MP now! Viva Accra and Viva Ghana.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.