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OPINION: I'm Dreaming Of A Dry Christmas…   
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Just like the ones we never knew. Where the streets are rid of jolly men, and the frowns are all that we all own.

This reworking of the old Christmas Carol, made famous by the songwriter Irving Berlin in 1942 was prompted by the grievances of a motley collection of people in and around Kaneshie, Obetsebi-Lamptey Circle who were ejected by on the basis of a specific court order obtained by a Landlord, Abeka-Lapaz and adjoining areas that Mayor Vanderpuije decided to give a very special and bleak Christmas treat.

Nothing could be more heartrending than the lot of the few youth, who either by accident or design found themselves plying a trade of petty street-hawking in and around the business districts of Accra.

To wake up one morning, and see one’s life work and livelihood wiped away under the direct supervision of Mayor Vanderpuije is not a joke: it means a dry Christmas is their expected end and lot, it means caring and sharing will not be the lot of those unfortunate people; it means driving through Accra would be nicer, the same way that it means despondency and despair has been visited upon citizens of this Republic whose only “crime” is to seek a legitimate way of plying their quasi-legal trade through unapproved and by extension, illegal means.

Truth be told, Mayor Vanderpuije’s punch is as legitimate as it is frustrating, but can one blame him for visiting a dry Christmas upon the torsos of youthful individuals imbued with a sense of responsibility but who must necessarily eke a living out of nothing’s nothingness?

There is no doubt that many governments in the country’s history have sought to find the one-stop solution and numerous ways of dealing with the menace of street-hawking especially in the capital cities of the various regions.

Accra being the so-called Gateway to West Africa is perhaps the most problematic in that area, for the youth who ply their trade on the streets and pavements have indeed developed novel methods of “shifting retailing” stretching from the Central Business District through the security zones and finally into the residential enclaves of the city.

It is almost as if the street and pavement hawkers move with the flow of traffic, for as often as there is a log jam or rush hour traffic conundrum, there will be items thrust into the faces or drivers of vehicles.

I have always admired the sheer determination of these street hawkers, who never cease to amaze me with their smart business acumen, never mind that they can in equal measure be a veritable nuisance on occasion.

Yet, they are also propelled by a certain drive to resort to the very activity they know is frowned upon by the law: after all, did J.K. Siaw not build his government seized brewery out of street hawking?

Is it not the case that the owners of arguably the two most popular Radio stations in Ghana started off the same way, making the sale of rice the underpinning platform on which their rags to riches stories are told?

Why would other up and coming youth not embark on a programme to replicate the Radio moguls of Accra and beyond? Yet, it is wrong, for in whatever way that one looks at it, street-hawking also engenders its own vices, including but not limited to unhealthy rivalries among traders, petty theft, sale of faulty items and stolen goods and ultimately, high levels of unwanted or rather unplanned pregnancies within the hawking community.

One cannot overemphasize the implications of their nightlife when juxtaposed against the backdrop of their accommodation preferences: novel shift-sleeping systems and very unsanitary conditions in which they prepare for the day’s work.

If a dry Christmas has been unleashed on these souls, it is also because we have failed to plan properly to address the issues of operating in a vacuum and not having a proper legal framework within which the non-formal economy runs under the aegis of the recently displaced persons.

Mayor Vanderpuije grew up in Accra and from interviews granted in the immediate aftermath of his elevation to the post of Accra Mayor, he clearly relishes a return to his “good old days” along the banks of the Korle Lagoon where he used to play street soccer with his contemporaries.

Today, the irascible crowds of Sodom and Gomorrah have ensured that Mayor Vanderpuije’s promise to rid the place of the increasing population therein is nothing but the blowing of “hot air”: as some of them are wont to say, “He can’t do foko”.

Much as the state of Ghana is losing financially and environmentally due to the activities of the inhabitants, their living conditions and practices within these areas, there are also the self-declared Human Rights Advocates who have argued with great unmasked political blackmail billowing from their mouths to the effect that it would be wrong to eject these trespassers, for that is what they are, from these areas without providing them places of sojourn or permanent settlements.

The same principle has not been applied to the sacking of hawkers off the pavements within the city. If one may ask, where did the residents of these areas come from before settling in such areas? The last time I checked, they did not come from some hole in Bono Manso; neither did they land with ships as part of any movement of Jah people from Ile Ife or Mansa Musa’s ancient Kingdom.

It is interesting also to note that the rabble-rousing elements within the Ga-Dangbe Youth have maintained a studied silence on the occupation of Sodom and Gomorrah by the inhabitants therein at this time; perhaps because the inhabitants are not predominantly people with names like Osei, Boateng and Ama Akyaa.

These are bona fide Ghanaians who were displaced during one of our usually senseless wars up north.If I may ask, to the extent that the war which drove them migrating down south is over, what stops them from going back to their own land? Why must they appropriate some other people’s land and our Mayor’s hands tied behind his back although he is clearly resolved, willing to and capable of beginning the process of sending them back to their own homes in their lands where their umbilical cords were buried?

Sometimes we behave like my very good friends the Jews, who always wanted a home and when they finally got one, did not want to go home. If we can make excuses why those domiciled in Sodom and Gomorrah should stay, why are we not extending the same privilege to the street hawkers? Is it because some people wrongly or rightly assume that these displaced people vote in a particular way? Is what bodes well for the goose not appropriate for the gander in this case?

There is no scientific study upon which we can base an assessment of the impact of this recent action on the lives, liberties, fortunes and security of the affected persons.

What no researcher or analyst can gloss over however is the fact that for these people, the loss of their property and in effect, start-up capital means that if they well and truly want to celebrate and participate in the Christmas festivities, they cannot only look unto the impartation of ancient words only: they may have to resort to more desperate means to survive, more so because some of them have families, nuclear and extended with infants and numerous dependants expecting to have a feel of the glad tidings and goodwill towards men that the Christmas season disperses and signifies.

How are their expectations to be met under such circumstances? It is just like a parent telling his child that “you cannot go to our day”. Irrespective of the reality of the parent’s financial standing, such a child will be so crestfallen, the look of which is powerful enough to break the most stubborn parent into a mournful wreck.

Why then do we unleash such a thing on our own kith and kin at such a time?

There are those who might argue that there is never a better time to clear the streets than now, which might be a sound argument: I ask again, why have the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah been spared in the exercise to rid Accra of that which it must be rid of?

Someone has planted seeds of bitterness, despondency and despair in the hearts of many a people, for the act of clearing has rippling repercussions on many people directly and indirectly connected to the fortunes of the legally demobilized.

We have succeeded in petrifying the dreams of those who have opted not to go the way of the criminally deviant; we have scored a costly success, the implications of which would return to haunt us when we least expect ghosts of the past in our activities; we have told our street youth that perhaps the straight and narrow is not worth it; we have pointed them in the direction of the fast and the furious; we have presented them with the option of holding all of us to ransom.

Ataa Mayor, rather than rid the city of people he might consider as a clear and present nuisance has, in my humble opinion, transformed angry and irritated men and women into night urchins and unwelcome guests and simultaneously transferred them from the streets and pavements into our homes, offices and places of rest, for just as the inhabitants of the banks of the Korle Lagoon have nowhere to lay their heads when ejected forcibly, so also must these ones find ways to keep body and soul together.

In the midst of economic stagnation and increasing helplessness on all fronts in Republique du Ghana, what else can this addition to the unemployed brigade imply for us? May Jehovah-Mephalti let His ancient words impart, sooth their pain and guide us safely home as we collectively dream of a dry Christmas.
Source: Calus Von Brazi/Chronicle

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