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Elizabeth Ohene writes: He wants to make Accra work

BY: Elizabeth Ohene
The writer
The writer

I wish the new Minister of the Greater Accra Region well. I really do.

I thought it was brave of him to have appeared at his vetting in Parliament stating that he wanted to make Accra work. If you live in Accra, or have any reason to come to our capital, you would wish our minister well, you would pray that he did succeed in making Accra work indeed.

It is difficult enough to accept that our city is not exactly a naturally beautiful place. I have been thinking of the words that are usually employed to describe other cities of the world, words like beautiful, charming, dramatic, ancient, even romantic and I can’t think of any such word to describe this city that has been home to me for the greater part of my life.

I know that as the Ewes say: Ame nuto eyor efe akpleko be akplekoe, in other words, you have to talk up your own, you have to call your house, a mansion.

In other words, I can’t expect someone else to come and praise my city, if I don’t do it myself. Maybe there is a hidden beauty that I have been unable to see, but the truth about our city is that it doesn’t work.

That is why I am rooting for the Member of Parliament for Ayawaso West, Henry Quartey, the Regional Minister of Greater Accra. I want Accra to work.

It wasn’t that long ago when the thinking was that the area covered by the Accra Metropolitan Area (AMA), was far too large and impossible to administer successfully as a single entity. The 11 sub-metros, under the AMA, were, therefore, given formal autonomy and the AMA was divided into what were considered to be manageable municipalities.

Carving up

This carving up of the AMA was generally seen to be a good thing, even if it happened just around the time that the AMA had finally got an impressive office building and it now looked in many ways like a 10-year old wearing a parent’s clothes.

The reality, however, seems to be that even though the city has been subdivided into these 11 different municipal areas, I can’t see that there is much difference in how they are administered.

There is one particular peculiarity that seems to characterise all of the municipal areas in Greater Accra: The determination to allocate whatever space there is anywhere for trading; the most popular one now being car lots.

Every bit of space that has been left by design to provide some greenery is now being given out as selling lots to car dealers. Both sides of the N1 have been turned into car dealerships, the area of the Olusegun Obasanjo Way, which goes from the Accra Girls School, all the way to the Achimota School roundabout has been turned to car dealerships.

You would think we have enough problems finding space to move at the Tetteh Quashie interchange, but a car dealership has been squeezed into the place.

Second-hand cars

I cannot understand how come a place to sell second-hand cars has been determined to be such a critical thing that has to be placed right in the middle of the city and right by every major road. Every car dealer has now created its own inlet and outlet onto the main artery of the road network.

Whatever happened to the area that was set aside and designated for car sales in some place beyond Tema, off the Aflao road? I remember we were told it would be called Car City.

Who determined that if we want to buy cars, we cannot drive out of the middle of the city to take a look where all the dealers have been or should have been placed?

Why are second-hand car allotments part of the activities that have to be found space in the centre of the city? Why is it that all the different municipal assemblies under Greater Accra are behaving in the same way? What do they have against space?

It seems to me that those who are in charge of cities must know something about the business of city layouts and they must care about the environment.

Accra is our capital city, it is the face of our country, it is the place that welcomes visitors to our country. But above all these considerations, Accra is home to 2,514,000 of us, according to the official figures, even though it feels more like 5 million when you are trying to move around the city.

How come that when you are trying to get around the city, there is nothing to show that you are crossing borders across the jurisdiction of different municipal assemblies?

Area zones

All of them have no areas zoned as residential any longer, chaos is the middle name for all parts of the city. The advantages that the carve-up of the AMA were to bring, have not yet materialised.

Enter the new Regional Minister, Mr Henry Quartey, and his pledge to make Accra work. He has responsibility for the entire Greater Accra area and he is dealing with it as an entity.

He seems to have worked out that an important ingredient in getting a city to work is the ability to move around the city. He has, therefore, started his task by trying to clear the notorious crossroads and junctions that bedevil our lives in the capital.

Thus far, the traffic appears to be moving at the Zongo crossroads on the Madina/Adenta highway.

Then he managed to keep the beaches along the coast to obey the COVID-19 protocols for the first time in the year of the pandemic. We celebrated Easter without people congregating on the beaches in defiance of the rules.

Some questions come to mind in watching these events unfold…where will the money come from to pay for the sheer number of police officers deployed for the exercises if they are not supposed to be nine-day wonders?

Is it easier to make Accra work as a single entity than as 11 separate municipal entities?

People seem to be listening and obeying the Honourable Minister of Greater Accra, Henry Quartey. I probably have to find a way to get on the right side of his large size and cheer him on to succeed.