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Opinions Tue, 25 Jun 2013

Getting Around Ghana on a Compass of Trees and Kiosks

A few weeks ago I needed to meet someone in the Accra suburb of Nima. This meeting was going to be our first so it was important not to miss each other in that famously unorganised inner-city quarter of the capital. The man needed to be on top of his game as a guide to lead me by phone to our meeting point. First, he asked me whether I knew the big gutter in Nima. I said I had not been there in a long while, so he proceeded to guide me: come to the main roundabout and turn left if you are coming from the police station end of the road but right if you are coming from Mamobi; the roundabout will be ahead of you if you are coming from Kokomlemle. If you turn left at the roundabout, that is assuming you coming from the police station end, the big gutter is down the road just after a car-wash which will be on your right from the roundabout but left if you are coming from Kokomlemle.

That was just for finding the roundabout and the big gutter. The eventual destination involved finding a mechanics shop on the left, a yellow kiosk further down the road and the ubiquitous waakye seller sitting under a mango tree without whom we would all be lost forever… This thing has gone beyond a joke although it never fails to raise a laugh whenever it is mentioned in public. That laughter is one of embarrassment and shame at the thought that a middle income oil-producing nation cannot name its streets and number its buildings and other physical assets. Perhaps, this, more than any other malaise is the evidence that all is not well with our country. And yet, it appears that this is not for want of trying: our information archives include a vast cemetery of dead news about street naming and property numbering schemes that died even before they were born. Every now and then some wide-eyed bureaucrat would try to resuscitate the whole or part of the dead dossier only to be defeated by whatever it is that drags ideas in Ghana down the tubes.

As late as 2010 the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development produced a document on “STREET NAMING AND PROPERTY NUMBERING SYSTEM”. It is a comprehensive guide to “assist Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) to manage the processes for establishing a coherent Street Addressing System nationally”. It also sought to produce “a common understanding of the standards and processes involved. It also outlines the processes for carrying out Street Addressing within a settlement, community, city or district, as well as details the roles and responsibilities of all the actors involved in implementation and management of the System”.

But a lot of water had passed under the “working-on-it” bridge by the time we got to the aforementioned manual. In its February 10, 2005 edition the Daily Graphic reported another attempt by the Accra Metropolitan Assembly to undertake a civic house numbering exercise. The newspaper reported that a similar report had been put out shortly before the February 2005 report. In May 2006 the Daily Graphic reported again that a “zip code street project” was being undertaken, this time in the Shama Ahanta District.

Our futile attempt to name our streets and number properties is littered with bizarre Ghana-type non-solutions of the type that just drains the soul. As reported above we have lying somewhere that 60 pages long manual produced by the Ministry of Local Government. It is loaded with jargon and indexes to shame an academic thesis. What it has not done is guide anyone of repute to name any significant number of streets so far. No doubt they are working on it. Notice too that even more complicated schemes are being introduced into the do-nothing plans: We have already seen the “zip code project” in Shama Ahanta District which may or may not have worked. Meanwhile, some clever person also reportedly proposed something known ominously as “deep scan technology” tp be used to name our streets and number buildings. This technology which was reportedly being touted by a British company uses “Special Satellite equipped with a camera, sensor and backup date with the ability to cloak targets entering planetary bombardment range in view of the unplanned nature of most towns and cities in the country”. This technology sounds like something on the lines of unmanned drones designed to attack our towns, cities and villages.

You might ask, what is the big deal about naming our streets and numbering our buildings; after all, we have muddled through so far using threes and kiosks as our guide? Perhaps, left to our own devises we could continue to survive on the trees and kiosks system but the recent announcement that the UK plans, in effect, to groom Accra to become “an international financial hub” puts our chronic antipathy to proper planning into panic perspective. I don’t know what an international financial hub is, or why Accra should become one, but I have a feeling that a city without proper place names and numbered physical structures will not be the ideal hub.

It might be prudent to find out why we have failed to implement the blueprint which the Ministry of Local Government in its different incarnations down the years has provided. A few years ago, the Ministry set up a committee (what else?) to plan the launch of its comprehensive system to name streets and number buildings, etc. but the launch was aborted for reasons that are still not clear. However, at this point, rather than set up another committee to find out why the previous committee failed, would it not be better for the President’s Office to order the implementation of the scheme? The President’s Office must take charge because one obvious reason why we are still at the trees and kiosks level is because there is no leadership on this subject. We know that the local government system is responsible for the planning and implementation of such details in our villages, towns and cities, but the various councils have their own priorities and different perceptions of their role.

Another reason why the President must take control of this is that although the mandate rests with the local government system the immediate beneficiaries include the trade and tourism sectors which might want to implement the street-naming scheme within at a quicker rate than the various local councils are willing or able to match. After all, the tourism sector should find it unacceptable that visitors to Ghana are expected to get around using trees, kiosks and waakye sellers as their guide. These are potent reasons why the central government must create the appropriate framework to claw back this specific decentralized power to ensure that this modernizing and logical task be accomplished within a specific time frame.

In case you are wondering, yes, three weeks ago at Nima, I found my man, or my man found me but not before I had spent an hour looking for that waakye seller who was actually on the left, not the right-hand side of the road if you approached from the bigger gutter, or perhaps she was on the left hand side…? Would it not be better simply to have had a location address? They numbered buildings and named streets in Lagos long ago without deploying deep scans and unmanned drones; why is this also beating the collective abilities of 24 million people in a middle-income oil producing country?

kgapenteng@gmail.com

kgapenteng.blogspot.com
Columnist: Gyan-Apenteng, Kwasi