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Opinions of Monday, 25 July 2011

Columnist: Casely-Hayford, Sydney

Winneba Will Remain a Zongo, Unless ……

By Sydney Casely-Hayford, Sydney@bizghana.com

The journey to Winneba is only 30 minutes away from the center of Accra if you skip the nonsense at Odorkor, Sakaman, Mallam and MaCarthy Hill. The end result when you arrive at Winneba, is a disappointing specter of a once interesting town (dare I call it that now), with no business activity or commerce. Weaving along with the scanty traffic and through a looping one way with a market closing in on the road, you catch a village town crier with a gong-gong, actually calling the attention of the community and parting some message in the local dialect.

Winneba has a University campus spread through the town on the North, South and Centre. It also once had one of the most visited tourist attractions, Charles Techie Menson Center, which in those days had beautiful chalets, a dance hall and many a beach for lounging and enjoying a good swim. It also had a pottery and glazing factory, Ekem, I think it was, who made great plates and pots for the local market.

The road to leading to Winneba from Accra is well done and the drive to the roundabout parting left to Winneba and right to Swedru has seen memorable times and lots of political action. Once you turn to Winneba and make the Fire station on the left, that is it. Yes, you might want to see Kow Arkaah’s residence and also the police training school and some still grand colonial buildings scattered around the hillside, but that is all.

The roads in Winneba are still pothole motorable, no different from the ones we have in Accra with decorative craters on the sides and middle of the road and they have a wonderful one-way system in place. No Traffic jams for 2 hours. But there is virtually no business in Winneba. The University campus is busy and you expect that business would develop around the needs of the students. You expect internet cafes, libraries, outdoor parks, fast food eating areas, bustling transport services taking students to and from Accra, Cape Coast and other close towns and cities. But there is nothing. Youth loiter on the sides of the roads with no intent and hurry at 11 am. The offices housing the DVLA and other Government Institutions are old, rickety, dusty and musty. You get a clear sense of dampened activity with no hurry to complete anything.

Winneba is a typical example of all that is wrong with our urban drift. It is not a slum, but it has the look and feel of a Zongo. UN Habitat for Humanity defines a slum as ”a place of residence lacking one or more of five things: durable housing, sufficient living area, access to improved water, access to sanitation and secure tenure”. Not many people want to live there out of choice.

Most countries in the developing world have Slums. These are normally densely populated areas of sub-standard housing, usually in a city, characterized by unsanitary conditions and social disorganization. There are several definitions for the word. In Ghana, many if not all Zongos are slums. Great Britain was once a great big slum. London had the biggest slums. Rapid industrialisation in the 19th-century was accompanied by rapid population growth and the concentration of working-class people in overcrowded, poorly built housing neighbourhoods. Colonisation brought prosperity and prosperity brought in a huge effort to improve the lot of the people and clean up of the cities. That is when the unemployed and slum dwellers were pushed to newly developing industrial hubs of Sheffield, Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester.

Our Winneba Zongo is defined by its local standards. Chieftancy disputes holding back community progress, interminable land disputes blocking titular commercialization, lack of foresight needed to identify wealth creation opportunities and a belief in witchcraft and wizardry and archaic cultural norms. The UN Habitat for Humanity definition fails to catch what defines our local Zongos.

I have met many investors who are very keen to spend millions of dollars to develop the Windy Bay and recreate the tourist attraction that Nkrumah identified further back. There are wonderful beaches there and its proximity to Accra makes it ideal for a long weekend break if Cape Coast and Elmina are too far. But what has Winneba done?

Their prolonged chieftancy dispute is scaring investors away from the Windy Bay. There is no attempt to modernize the city and position resources to attract the right type of entrepreneur. When investors have come forward, Winneba youth and Asafo have risen up in protest that their cherished traditions will be eroded and their customs and shrines will be destroyed. End result? They by-passed becoming a slum and went straight to a Zongo.

Historic families have abandoned their homes in the bay, to the sea breeze and created a state of disrepair beyond imagination. It is all around you when you drive through the town.

Until Winneba and the bigger Ghanaian society learn to tamper cultural and social beliefs with a large measure of financial sense, we define ourselves in this localized Zongo. It has to be the biggest stumbling block to our development.