There is a clear lesson for Old Fadama. “Fixing” the problems of the slum begins with seeing and knowing its residents, the scores of human beings densely packed on the banks of the flood-prone Korle-Gonnor.
Survey initiatives by organisations, including the Ghana Federation for the Urban Poor (GhaFUP) and Shackdwellers International, describe Old Fadama as a site where waves of economic migrants from throughout Ghana, the majority of them youth, settle as they seek to make a living unavailable to them in their home towns and villages. Although many of Accra residents have never set foot in Old Fadama, this community is part of the fabric of the city. Old Fadama’s residents are the traders, load carriers, and human power that help make Accra’s Agbogbloshie market function.
The popular nickname of “Sodom and Gomorrah” obscures the humanity of the slum’s residents. The shadow of sinful Biblical cities fit only to be destroyed, looms over the public discussion about the community’s future. In reality, the only abomination residing in the slum is poverty.
Plagued by fire and flood, the inhabitants lack formal education, are occupied with sending money back to their home communities, and exist without adequate health care, sanitation, or basic resources. A nickname suggesting that the slum is the abode of wickedness rather than of human beings obstructs initiatives to view the slum dwellers as citizens of Accra, let alone partners in development.
The other clear warning offered by the history of the Volta River Project resettlement is that without addressing poverty, resettlement is bound to be experienced as a failure. In the NRC, resettled communities pointed to their lack of electricity, inadequate access to health care, and inability to pay school fees as the clearest evidence that the state’s resettlement had not been successful. Although these conditions can still be found in many places throughout Ghana, the state’s intervention raised citizen’s expectations.
Again, the lesson for Old Fadama is that resettlement without poverty reduction is a recipe for disaster. Shuffling poor people around in the interest of aesthetics is not a solution to the problems of urban slums in Accra. Without concretely discussing how to expand affordable housing in the vicinity of Accra Central Market and creating a plan to deliver sanitation and infrastructure to all of Accra’s residents, the debate about “clearing” Old Fadama remains at the level of braggadocio and bulldozers.
With this, Ghana misses the opportunity to claim an expanded vision of national development; a vision that emerges from the missteps of the past and counts the lives and voices of urban slum dwellers and rural villagers as critical parts of the effort to build a better country.
Article by Abena Ampofoa Asare