Stop politicising market disasters

BY: Arku Jasmine

One has lost count of the number of fire disasters recorded at various markets in the country, especially Accra and Kumasi, in a decade. Anytime such a disaster occurs, various causes are assigned for the fire outbreaks. These range from illegal connections to the exposure of fire to combustible materials at the markets. 

A matter of great concern is the difficulties personnel of the Ghana National Fire Service go through in trying to control the fire from spreading to other areas. Either there are no access routes to the markets or hydrants cannot be located for water to refill the fire engines. Thus a fire which should take a few hours to control takes several hours which results in serious consequences.

But what is worrying is the chaotic developments that follow the disasters and attempts by the local authorities to rebuild the markets into modern standards with access routes and fire safety measures.

It is beyond human comprehension why the very fire victims who are to benefit from such modern markets are the very ones who so fiercely and ferociously resist plans to put up such structures. In such a case one can only conclude that the motive is politics.

The Ghanaian society has become so polarised along partisan political lines that a national issue which should require national consensus to find a solution to is politicised to the extent that no solution is found to the problem and the nation continues to drift backwards instead of progressing positively.

Photographs carried by newspapers and television footages about the disaster displayed the agony of the Kantamanto fire victims. The wares, capital and livelihood they lost and the despair the disaster has thrown them into attracted a lot of sympathy for them.

It is a known fact that most of them obtained bank loans to go into trading and all is gone with the fire. They are calling on the government to come to their aid to reconstruct the market. The fire victims met the decision of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) to relocate them to the Hawkers market at Odawna to pave way for the construction of a modern market with modern facilities with fierce resistance and hostility. They threw stones at the police and military personnel sent to secure the place for the debris to be cleared. As some newspapers reported it Kantamanto had become a war zone. 

The reason for the belligerent reaction of the fire victims to the decision of the AMA to construct a modern market for them is not far-fetched. Most of the victims are of the view that the decision of the AMA might not be sincere and that its plan is a ploy to secure the land for the settlement of supporters of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and throw followers of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) out of job. 

While some attribute the cause of the fire to a deliberate attempt by a group of the people to throw them out of job, others are alleging arson, claiming the fire was caused by a bomb deliberately thrown onto the market by a helicopter on the directives of the AMA.

They do not think that the fire might have been caused by some deviant youths who might have set the fire to get the chance to loot peoples’ property. Nor do they think it might have been caused by some naked fire recklessly left unquenched after use when the user was going home, or some electrical fault as a result of what has now become known as “dum-so, dum-so”.

It is, however, strange that a disaster of such proportion should be reduced to politics so as to undermine genuine efforts to develop the area into a modern market.

It is to reduce the menace of market fires and other hazards that in 2009 the Ministry of Trade and Industry, through the Domestic Trade Distribution Division, put out a plan aimed at creating efficient markets by facilitating the construction of modern market infrastructure in Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs).  

The markets were to be financed, constructed and operated in phases on a cost-recovery basis. The designs of the markets were made to suit various conditions and have all facilities that current markets lack. These include cold storage facilities, fire protection, strong hygienic market stalls, well laid-out drainage systems, places of convenience, day care centres, playgrounds and water.

These good intentions were contained in the January-March 2009 bulletin of the ministry and their objective was to ensure proper planning to prevent the proliferation of hawkers, itinerant traders, and ramshackle structures and ensure security.

The bulletin encouraged MMDAs to request for copies of the designs from the ministry’s regional offices for study and implementation. Since then no one has heard of how far the ministry has gone with implementation of its intentions. In spite of this it is the desire of this writer that national disasters should not be politicised but national consensus must be built to find solutions to them.

For example, instead of an executive member of one party going to meet the traders to sympathise with them, or extend support to them, representatives of all political parties could meet to discuss the way  forward and extend their sympathies to these fire victims and if they have any support to offer them give it to a non-governmental organisation if they do not believe the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO) to do an impartial distribution.

The practice where an executive member  of a party goes to meet the victims separately to sympathise with them or offer them support only goes to deepen the polarisation of the people instead of social harmony.

Article by: Boniface Ablekpe