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FEATURE: ‘A New Accra for a Bitter Ghana’   
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Concealed by the darkness of an early Monday morning, without warning of any kind and protected by dangerous-looking heavyweights, Accra Municipality Assembly (AMA) authorities led by Mayor Alfred Vanderpuye descended on the stalls of Kaneshie Market street traders.

The team proceeded to destroy the traders’ stalls, many still containing valuable wares ready for sale, wreaking havoc and overturning the more fire-resistant structures. Refusing to provide sufficient explanation to the small group of understandably irate traders that had gathered, the demolition team left the site looking like a war-zone, the traders’ possessions transformed into smoking rubble.

One day later, a visit by AMA officials surrounded by police and army personnel, resulted in severe conflict and gunshot. Deborah Acheampong, daughter of one of the traders affected, says, “this is very bad, very bad.” She fears she would have a dry Christmas with her source of livelihood gone.

The December 14 demolition of street traders’ stalls at Kaneshie Market is in no way an isolated event. All over the city of Accra, AMA staff have been destroying shops and driving people away, from Kantamanto Market to Kwame Nkrumah Circle. The Mayor claims that these individuals are trading illegally, causing congestion and thus an increase in pick-pocket activity. However, AMA’s actions promise to result in a deterioration of the situation.

Ghana suffers from an unemployment rate of 20-percent, according to 2008 World Factbook reports. With a decline in the economic growth rate over the past year, this figure is likely to have risen. Government claims they do not have the revenue needed to support welfare grants such as unemployment insurance, thus making it essential for Ghanaians to generate their own income in any way possible, simply to survive. Speaking to street traders at Kaneshie and around Accra, it becomes evident that trading in the informal sector is often an option of ‘last-resort’.

Individuals involved often lack the education required to enter the formal sector, the funds to gain this education, and the capital to enter into alternative commerce. Taking this meagre source of income away from people ensures that they are forced to turn to other means of feeding their families, thus encouraging the very theft and pickpocketing the Mayor claims he is trying to reduce.

AMA’s eviction and demolition campaigns have characteristically been without fore-warning, using brute force and devoid of consultation with the victims. Dr Daniel K.B. Inkoom, Director of MPhil/PhD Programmes in the Department of Planning at KNUST, says that whatever the context, there is never a case for forced eviction: they have been proven to fail time and again. Even if seeming to prove a temporary ‘fix’ to problems such as pedestrian congestion, people return within days, or are compelled to move elsewhere, causing similar difficulties.

At Kaneshie, traders simply moved to the opposite side of the station, causing congestion problems there instead. Within 24 hours, they had set up temporary stalls metres from the smoking ruins of their demolished stalls. Barely two months after the eviction of traders at Kwame Nkrumah Circle, they had returned, trading right under the gaze of AMA-employed security guards and often employing more aggressive sales tactics on passers-by. After wasting their limited resources on destroying Ghanaians property and livelihoods, AMA simply does not have the manpower to continue to monitor the areas of eviction.

Possibly the most notorious eviction campaign in recent years was instigated by former President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe. Operation Marambatsvina, with a literal Shona translation of ‘clean up the filth’, was set in motion in May 2005. The devastation to people’s means of support and further deterioration of the economy, violent clashes and increase in mortality is well-documented.

South Africa’s Apartheid government initiated its fair share of forced evictions and violent clamp-downs. Many claim that it is because of this legacy that the country is plagued by the second-highest murder rate in the world, according to NationMaster.com estimates. Violence breeds violence: if AMA continues with its aggressive campaigns, an upward spiral of violence is likely to result in resistance to the clampdowns.

Survival instincts! The traders are back in business the next few hours, just opposite where their stalls were destroyed.

The President of the Ghana Institution of Architects, Mr Osei Kwame Agyemang, says demolitions are a myopic way of addressing development challenges in Accra, because the approach lacks proper planning. According to the Daily Graphic, Mr Agyemang suggests a total integrated approach that allows all Ghanaians to fit into the economic structure. This sentiment is shared by Dr Inkoom, who says that in order to achieve viable long-term solutions, thorough stakeholder analysis is necessary, involving consultation with all affected parties. While this process may take time to complete, it will ensure that what AMA sees as a solution does not result in a situation worse than that with which they started.

The local authority in South Africa’s coastal city of Durban faced similar difficulties with informal traders, and after several attempts at eviction, an alternative policy was realised. Featured in a review of street trade in Africa by Caroline Skinner of the University of Cape Town’s African Centre for Cities, Durban’s local authority adopted an Informal Economy Policy in 2001. Acknowledging that informal trade formed an essential contributor to the city’s economy, the policy devised an integrated approach that involved the traders in the decision-making process. The result was a successful long-term solution, where traders were able to continue to sustain their families without relying on the government for income.

It is success stories such as these that need to be used as best-practice models for AMA’s ‘A New Accra for a Better Ghana’ campaign. Forced evictions and demolitions, even if they seem to present an easy short-term ‘fix’, will result in the deterioration of the local environs and Accra as a whole. As traders and passers-by alike declare at Kaneshie Market, the New Accra that AMA is promoting promises not a ‘Better Ghana’, but a ‘Bitter’ one.

Source: Simon Sizwe Mayson is a South African Student from the University of Cape Town studying Urban Planning on study visit to Ghana. You may reach him at ssmayson 'at' gmail.com.

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