When news broke that Accra Metropolitan Assembly officers had started destroying illegal structures at Old Fadama in the wake of the recent floods, a conflict broke within my spirit, for in August of last year I had the chance to experience Old Fadama myself.
To hear and see the subsequent protest march to the State House on Monday by residents turn ugly leading to clashes with the police and journalists rendered me melancholic. I share with you insights I got from my visit.
“Urbanization is a serious problem affecting all nations and in Ghana we have a housing deficit otherwise why would people reside here” were the words of an enlightened man who works in the community and then returns home after business is done.
According to the president of the Slum Union of Ghana, Sodom and Gomorrah also known as Old Fadama has been in existence a little over 30 years but became heavily populated for three reasons:
-When authorities in a bid to present a clean picture to guest attending the Non Alliance conference got rid of traders on the streets and put them at the Agblogbloshie market.
-When Northern conflicts in the 80’s forced many to seek shelter with friends and families in the vicinity.
-When the yam market was situated in the vicinity.
Explaining further Mr. Kumah noted that eventually people decided to stay close to the market to conduct trade coupled with the fact that accommodation in the community remains one of the cheapest in the capital.
He noted the sanitation situation was bad as calls on the Metropolitan Assembly to provide refuse containers went unheeded to compelling some creative residents to provide the ‘kaya bola’ service which involves young men carting away waste to dispose off in the huge containers along the main Agblogbloshie road for a fee.
The husband and father added since in the eyes of city authorities, Old Fadama is not a permanent site no drainage system had been provided compounding the sanitation situation when it rained adding that the frequent fire outbreaks had compelled residents to build concrete structures for safety reasons as the land was reclaimed with saw dust.
According to 56 year old Philip Kumah who serves as the spokesperson for the community, he has worked at Old Fadama for 16 years and remains grateful to a friend who directed him to the community. “I came here because I could not afford the shops in town, I was then looking for a place to run my tailoring business as the rent charged at other places was beyond my means” he added.
Mr. kumah has managed thanks to Old Fadama to school his three children to graduate from the University of Ghana and two other polytechnics respectively.
The tailor cum social worker explained he’s worked with People’s Dialogue, the Ghana Federation of the Urban Poor, Slum Dwellers International and Amnesty International leading to him becoming the President of the Slum Union of Ghana.
His position and insight has enabled him travel to Gambia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa for conferences including presenting a paper in Brazil but regrets that the Ghanaian authorities fail to meaningfully dialogue with residents as to the way forward and when there is contact views proposed by residents are ignored.
According to Mr. kumah living in a slum does not mean you cannot make it in life adding that it was regrettable that footballers and top comedians who had been sustained in the slums distance themselves when fame and fortune knocks on the door.
“There are hardworking folks here, there are about 15,000 head porters in the community. The Accra Metropolitan Assembly officers take 20 pesewas daily from the porters indicating that tax is collected without failure.
“We contribute a lot to the development of the state yet we are vilified but folks from here man the yam and onion markets without which would emerge gaps which would need fixing” the opinion leader noted.
Mr. Kumah conceded in 2009 an eviction notice was served on the residents adding they were ready to move but it became apparent that the Adjen Kotoku relocation center had only markets but no provision was made for residential accommodation hence the reason the mass relocation halted.
Touching on the way forward, Mr. Kumah explained that the politicians had always known the 3 options on the table which are:
-Relocation of the residents
-Upgrading of the community or
-Offering compensation of any sort
On the issue of residents polluting the Korle Lagoon, Mr. Kumah while admitting that residents living very close to the lagoon might dump waste in the water source, he nonetheless observed that the bulk of the pollutants impeding the flow of the lagoon come from upstream where the industries are located.
The mouthpiece for the Old Fadama folks further revealed that based on an enumeration carried out in 2009, it isn’t every member of the 80,000 strong residents who is entitled to a compensation or relocation package wondering why government cannot take the initiative of generating credible data in footing the bill of relocation or compensation payment.
Before the demolition I had also met Abdul Karim Anas, a middle aged man who had managed to construct a concrete storey building for rent. Anas has been in Old Fadama for 17 years and although he started out with one room he has expanded his holdings because of increasing demands.
According to Anas, men are charged a monthly fee of 20 cedis for a room whiles the females are made to pay 3 cedi per person as they are allowed to be more than 1 in a room.
He explained then that business was good and that with the funds he conducts repairs and expansion works. I wonder what his fate is now.
Occupying a land size of about 31.3 hectare, Old Fadama host Christians, Muslims, Traditional worshipers as well as folks of other faiths.
Economically it boasts of scrap dealers, food vendors, hairstylists, tailors, carpenters, mechanics and other craftsmen.
In a bid to rescue the Old Fadama landscape from serious environmental destruction, the Ghanaian government initiated the “Korle Lagoon Ecological Restoration Project” (KLERP) in 2003 and sourced funding from the OPEC Fund for International Development, the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa and the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development for dredging of the lagoon to curb floods and restore marine life.
As with many well intentioned initiatives, it started well but fizzled out leaving traces of the recreational park that was created and some dredging done.
It is clear Mayor Vanderpuije has much support in leveling houses deemed to be in the way of water bodies than ever before thanks to the fear put in Ghanaians by the recent fire-flood but whiles at least the 80,000 residents have to move from Old Fadama they cannot be wished away.
Now is the time to revisit the 3 options on the table Mr. Kumah talked about i.e relocation to any choice of government or compensation package determined by government with input from relevant bodies since the third choice of upgrading the site seems unlikely.
The duty of every government is to protect the meekest and weakest in society since the strong and wealthy cater for themselves hence per the numerous wastage of funds which become public knowledge thanks to the media through corrupt practices, kick-backs and negligence leading to judgement debt payments, it is well within the means of government to house these citizens in the urban or countryside in a couple of the mass housing projects around which remain uninhabited for one reason or the other.
Some of the residents from my interactions with them seek to return home but lack the funds. By home, the implied destination is usually any of the 3 regions in Northern Ghana but there exist a sizeable number of folks from all over Ghana evident by the blend of ethnicities which abound at the place. Government can assist with a financial package to make going home easier.
For the rich in society, God blesses so the blessed can assist those in need and so I implore you to borrow a leaf from the Asian millionaire who rebuilt his childhood community with his funds and houses as well as feeds inhabitants for free. Your intervention might not be on such grand scale but ‘do something before you die’ enough of the new cars and lavish spending on sex mates.
To the Old Fadamians I say take courage, to lose your home and possessions in a rainy season is no joke but don’t be swayed to take your lives or those of others for in your darkest hour, Mawu Sogbolisa and your ancestors would show the way.
The argument can well be made that if a fellow lives at a place for over a decade and receives income regularly couldn’t that fellow save enough to rent a decent accommodation in a decent suburb?
Shouldn’t that fellow be grateful for the shelter and relative peace he has enjoyed at Old Fadama since escaping the conflict which brought him there in the first place and so be prepared to relocate when authorities demand the land?
Certainly this meat deserves the bite of all with strong and sharp teeth.