After spending his 2013 Christmas and 2014 New Year vacation in Dubai, a fully refreshed President of the Republic, John Dramani Mahama, returned with a pledge to transform Accra, the capital city, into the Dubai of West Africa.
That was a laudable gesture and a very ambitious target to set for oneself. Very laudable because it seems our leaders, during their international travels, do not learn anything new which they find worthy of replicating in our country. The significance of the wise saying; “Travel and See” apparently has been lost on most of them.
In this case, our President did not just go to enjoy the ambience and serenity of a modern city, but found it necessary to challenge himself to do what was expected to bring our national capital close to, if not at par with, a city that has gained international recognition and is the pride of the United Arab Emirates.
President Mahama’s pledge of transforming Accra into the Dubai of the sub-region may be overambitious since Dubai is a product of vision backed by abundant wealth. Our leaders have so far not exhibited the former, and the availability of the latter could be questionable, considering the manner in which we have managed our national economy so far.
Dubai is undoubtedly one of the fastest growing cities in the world. Its skyline and modern infrastructure, including roads, banks, hotel chains and luxury residential apartments and villas sprouted out of where there was a desert just two or three decades ago.
Today, Dubai is a major international financial centre and tourist paradise that attract more than 15 million visitors a year, including some of the most wealthy people from all over the world. Its modern international airport has turned it into a strategic transit point for air travellers from America, Europe and Africa destined for the Far East countries such as Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore and, of course, mighty China, the economic giant of the 21st Century. Even those who do not know Dubai have heard enough about it to live its dreams in their minds.
Dubai did not come by as an accident. It was as a result of a deliberate policy by its ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, to plough dwindling oil revenue into building an international commercial hub from the desert that would sustain the kingdom long after the oil wells dry up. The result is what we see today, a city that holds so much attraction and offers modern services to clientele of various description so much so that our President chose to spend his Christmas and New Year there.
As stated earlier, Dubai is not an accident case, neither can it be said to be a miracle. It may have started as a dream nurtured by a visionary leader and crystallised into the physical entity we see today, thanks to the proper utilisation of national revenue.
What it means is that we can have our version of Dubai or even better if we change our leadership style and begin to challenge ourselves and set achievable targets. It also means seeing leadership as an opportunity to bring positive changes in the lives of people and, as political leaders, bring transformational changes to our countries and their people.
Very importantly, it means setting our priorities right and utilising our national revenue not as personal incomes but as vital resources to improve infrastructure and bring qualitative changes in the lives of the people.
We may not be in a position to put up the massive infrastructure we see in Dubai. This is because Dubai was designed and built from the scratch while Accra has been allowed to degenerate into a huge jungle. Changing such a massive jungle of an unplanned city with slums dotted all over the place is not going to be an easy task.
An example of the awkward situation Accra has found itself in is the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, an urban slum in the heart of the city which has refused to give way for modern development. Many of such urban or city slums have been allowed to grow over the years, thanks to the lacklustre attitude of city authorities and political leadership that prefers to look the other way for selfish reasons while illegalities gain root.
Ours is not a total case of despondency. Last week in this column, I drew attention to the huge bottleneck at the Tema end of the Accra-Tema Motorway, which has become a headache for commuters heading in the direction of Aflao and the Eastern Corridor road.
Accra’s major problem, if you take away poor sanitation, is bad road network. The heavy traffic build-up in the city is not because we have too many vehicles, more than in other major cities in the world. It is simply because the roads in the city over the years have not undergone redesigning to account for the growth of the city.
If we can tackle this challenge with zeal, and elevate Accra’s road infrastructure, we may not come close to Dubai, but we may offer residents and visitors some respite as they go about their daily business in the capital city.
As stated earlier, next to poor road network is bad sanitation. Our capital city is very dirty and ugly. Trading activities are everywhere and all manner of refuse and waste materials, including old and broken-down vehicles and road construction equipment, are found everywhere. The drainage system is very poor and our attitude towards waste disposal is appalling, to put it mildly.
If the President’s pledge is not to remain a mere dream, then he must step up his act for us to see the early signs that we are on course in our transformational mission. Accra will still remain Accra and not necessarily Dubai but we want it to be good enough for us to take pride in it as our national capital.