For many people, it is a pile of rubbish that must be cleared. But for the about 100,000 residents of the Old Fadama slum, it is the little forest that saves them.
Though riddled with a myriad of challenges, it is what they know and call their home.Follow @Graphicgh
The cluster of wooden structures roofed with corrugated iron sheets that are haphazardly situated, the gutters that are breaking with filth and the "man must live by hook or by crook” climate in the area tell it all about the endemic poverty of the residents.
While the poor layout of the structures leaves very little room for drains, the few narrow gutters are choked with solid and liquid waste that give off offensive smell.
Popular spots such as “You this girl,” “Konkonsa Bar,” “Dabida” and “Brazil” are safe havens for revelers, commercial sex workers and users of hard substances who converge there to do their own thing.
Perhaps it is this aspect of the lifestyle of some of the residents that earned a portion of the slum that straddles the heavily polluted Odaw River the name Sodom and Gomorrah, akin to the biblical city whose residents suffered the wrath of God for living ungodly lives.
Located in the Odododiodio Constituency in the Greater Accra Region, the slum hosts people from all regions, especially those from the three regions of the north.
This slum, which traces its origin to the early 1980s, is inhabited predominantly by migrants from the three regions of the north who moved there mostly due to the unfortunate conflict at the time.
There are others who find themselves in the slum because of push factors such as forced marriages, joblessness in the rural areas and the lack of educational opportunities.
The Konkombas and Dagombas form the two dominant tribes in the cosmopolitan slum community which is also inhabited by other ethnic groups, including the Akans and the Guans.
Touted as the biggest in the country, third in West Africa and seventh in Africa, the slum also hosts nationals of countries such as Togo, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Nigeria.
At the heart of this slum community is the Konkomba Yam Market, the biggest economic activity of the residents.
From dawn to dusk, the old and young, male and female engage in one economic activity or another, ranging from truck pushing, head portage and discharging of yams to connecting buyers and sellers in the market.
Some residents also engage in the infamous scrap metal business at a site closer to the slum which has been touted as the greatest dump site for electronic waste.
The slum community has been the hottest gold mine for politicians and political parties during elections as most of them recruit the youth to do their bidding.
Among the key challenges of the slum dwellers is the lack of public facilities such as schools, hospitals and potable water.
The President of the Slums Union of Ghana (SUG), Mr Philip Kuma, who also lives in the Old Fadama slum, describes as worrying the refusal of successive governments to invest in the area.
“It is worrying that this big community has no single public school or healthcare system. All the schools here are privately owned and come at a high cost to the already impoverished parents.
“People see slum dwellers as criminals but there are very good people here who are ambitious and making it in life,” he indicated.
For 32-year-old Stephen Gyagri, he and other young people have been denied employment opportunities just because they are from Old Fadama.
“I started here as a photographer. Now, I am a Level 300 student of the University College of Management Studies (UCOMS). There are challenges in this slum but I think the opportunities are also available for young people who are serious in life,” he stated.
Accommodation is another major hurdle for the slum dwellers. The wooden structures that provide shelter for the residents is rented out at an average price of GH¢50 a week, GH¢200 a month and GH¢ 2,400 a year.
It is common to find about 10 people pooling resources to rent a single structure to lay their heads, oblivious of the health implications.
Another challenge has to do with security and crime. Everybody seems to be doing what pleases them without minding whether their actions invade the privacy of others or not.
The issue of illegal connection to electricity is a common phenomenon in this slum as a handful of meters are seen around while evidence of sub-standard electrical wiring can be seen at every corner of the slum community.
It is, therefore, no wonder that most of the fire outbreaks that the Ghana National Fire Service has had to contend with in that slum have been attributed to faulty electrical connection.
The Chairman of the associations in Old Fadama, Mr Kwame Noah Jiparl, bemoaned the spate of criminal activities by some of the youth in the area, but added that the leadership of the slum had done a lot of community engagement and education on the need for the youth in particular to stay away from crime.
As part of the security measures, all gates leading to the community are locked at 8:30 p.m. while internal security personnel have been recruited to keep watch on criminal elements.
He added that the leaders of the slum community were always in touch with the Old Fadama police to tackle crime in the area.
Belling the cat
What are the city authorities doing about slums, especially in the wake of the government’s agenda to make Accra the cleanest city in Africa?
The Minister of Sanitation and Water Resources, Mr Kofi Adda, said a number of projects were due to be rolled out to upgrade all the slums in the country, including Old Fadama.
One of the major initiatives by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to deal with the challenges in the slums is the creation of the ministries of Sanitation and Water Resources, as well as Inner City and Zongo Development.
A Zongo Development Fund has also been initiated to help address the peculiar challenges in slums and zongo communities.
But how are these initiatives impacting the lives of the residents of Old Fadama? Is there anything good from Nazareth?
In an interview with the Daily Graphic at the launch of the Clean Ghana campaign last week, Mr Adda said major projects were being rolled out to address challenges in slums, especially in the area of sanitation.
"Currently, there is the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area (GAMA) project with a $100 million funding from the World Bank. The Urban Resilience Project (URP) also brings on board some $100 million, while more initiatives are in the pipeline as well.
“With effective collaboration with the Ministry of Inner City and Zongo Development, the AMA and other stakeholders, peculiar challenges in slums, including Old Fadama, will be addressed to make life a bit comfortable for the residents,” he noted.
He added that there was a behavioural change communication strategy in place to educate and create awareness in the slums because the solution to most of the challenges hinged on attitudinal change.
If the dream to have an inclusive society and bring governance closer to the people will be a reality, deliberate steps have to be taken to provide public services in Old Fadama and other slum communities. It is in this light that effective collaboration between the stakeholder ministries and the AMA is paramount.