Power politics, disasters, land: The challenge
Arguably, the most troubling global crisis that has caused continuous loss of lives, displacement, hunger, anger, etc is the land-induced Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One cannot even theorise this challenge from the religious or legal angle without situating it within the context of land.
Locally, some of the most serious chieftaincy conflicts in Ghana that the law court has not been able to solve relates to land. This historical complexity may have to persist until such a time that compromises are made by claimants to land, without which a stool or skin would mean less to the people.
The scope of my comment on the politics of land in Ghana today is limited to what the law can be used to ensure sanity.
Admittedly, the rights of individuals to rightly owe or live on their land may be curtailed, even if such were rightfully acquired, in the larger national or public interest. But that comes with lawful payment of compensations. This is where it makes absolute sense for the Volta River Authority to compensate the people who have unfortunately been displaced by the spillage of the Akosombo Dam.
The state owes the people duty of care when it comes to land related issues. Today, many in the major cities, especially the national capital, Accra, get scared of going out anytime the Ghana Meteorological Service forecast a heavy downpour. This fear is not because of the unpredicted natural disasters. It is induced by man-made activities that have made it inevitable to avoid flooding in our cities.
Acquisition of Land
As has always been the case, the politicians will rush to the scene, make promises which they are good at, for the optics. They promise demolitions, compensations and relief packages, and this vicious circle of mediocracy has come to stay.
The legitimate questions asked by people relate to how and why buildings keep springing up in areas not originally designated for human settlements, especially in Accra. The answer lies in the question of justice which has to do with what Thucydides calls the power to compel. As such, the rich and politically powerful do what they have the money and power to do, including acquisition and development of land, and they do not care a hoot about who stands to suffer now or in the future. Interestingly, such have legitimate permits from the rightful state agencies. Why will this not happen when state lands can even be sold with impunity, regardless of which political party is in power?
Our elders say that if you do not know death, watch sleep, but this may not touch many because a rich man sleeping in a luxurious apartment appears enviable. May be the adage that the fly that does not take advice follows the corps to the grave may suffice in this context. It will be strange to watch what people go through on the roads and even homes anytime it rains in Accra and not be moved. If the Accra one is not touching enough, how about those in the downstream of the Akosombo Dam who are currently displaced? If this disaster gets to the Tema enclave, or if the scale of such hits more populous areas such as Accra, would we be prepared to handle enormity of the crisis or the unaffected will continue with expression of condolences, sympathy and empathy?
Granting of permits
To be blunt, neither sympathy nor empathy is enough to solve this kind of problem. Trust me, permits are still being granted by state agencies for buildings in areas that will either contribute to the worsening perennial flood problem or cause new problems for areas that are currently decent. But many of the people who do this are reminded weekly that if they gain all things and lose their souls, it amounts to cos90 in the mathematical sense.
Many have asked why nothing happens to those who gave permits for the building of structures in forbidden areas. Legitimate question. But to answer such a question is a herculean task. It has to do with whether our public and civil servants are working based on the law/rules or that is subordinated to the descendants of the ‘order from above constituency’. The challenge of substance over process is a legal one and I guess many know how delicate this can be, especially at the topmost level.
Natural disasters are occurring globally now more than they used to. Many theories have been propounded to explain them. We may not have the capacity to stop some, including those related to floods, but we can reduce the impact of such with proper planning.
The ongoing crisis emanating from the spillage of the Akosombo Dam may not be directly related but it should be used as the basis to demand that the state takes a bold decision to construct drains where necessary, demolish illegal structures and compensate affected people for sitting aloof while those structures were erected, and ensure that only authorised buildings are allowed across the country.
The writer is a lecturer, Department of Political Science, University of Education, Winneba.