Why Accra may never become the cleanest city in Africa

Accra City Clean 11 President Akufo-Addo has promised to make the capital the cleanest city on the continent

Fri, 23 Feb 2018 Source: Dr. Bob Manteaw

The prospect of a clean Accra is not impossible. However, the chances of seeing Accra as the cleanest city in Africa may be daunting, if not wishful.

This is not because we do not have what it takes to make Accra or Ghana clean; it is also not because our efforts are insufficient.

It is simply because we, as a country, have not applied ourselves to the intractable sanitation quest with honesty and dedication.

For the most part, our efforts have been reactive, short term and haphazard. We have failed to give serious attention to the importance of unravelling the complexity of the sanitation challenge and to adduce logical and transformative solutions.

We have, thus, become experts only at repackaging old and failed solutions as new strategies.

So, we just transitioned from National Sanitation Day to National Sanitation Campaign and under the attention grabbing tagline of Let’s Clean Ghana.

Certainly, we need to clean Ghana and most Ghanaians are ready and willing to clean. The question, however, remains: what it means to clean Ghana and what does it take to make Accra the cleanest city in Africa?

Inherent in these questions lie the rigidity and narrowness of our application and understanding of sanitation. In other words, how will a clean Ghana and an Accra that is the cleanest in Africa look like?

What will be the measure of clean and what should be the mental picture that guides our imaginations and approaches? While these questions linger, the current campaign is yet to define and communicate to all citizens what a Clean Ghana should look like and how we should approach it.

Part of the problem is the lack of clarity in both our use and understanding of sanitation. We have given sanitation a vernacular notion which rigidly equates sanitation to the cleaning of solid waste materials from our streets and in our homes and communities.

This has been an ongoing practice which obscures other important aspects of sanitation and, many ways, impedes our abilities to develop strategies that are comprehensive, integrative and transformative.

Expand notions of sanitation

Most of our sanitation efforts are skewed towards waste collection and community cleanliness

Even though we all acknowledge the management of liquid waste, sewage and the provision of potable water as central to sanitation management, these are muted in vernacular discourses on sanitation.

So, in “Let’s Clean Ghana,” as we currently have as the tag line for the national sanitation campaign, the social cognitive interpretation of that message limits meanings to visual cleanliness and aesthetics.

This rigidity of use and application is widespread in public discourses on sanitation and has, in very unrecognised ways, affected our approaches to sanitation management.

Most of our sanitation efforts are skewed towards waste collection and community cleanliness which in most instances exclude issues of water, toilets and others.

Provide waste bins and address waste disposal

Beyond expanding and communicating proper notions of sanitation, a key requirement for a clean Ghana and a clean Accra is the availability of conventional waste disposal infrastructure.

People need to have easy access to dispose of the waste they generate, and this implies the pervasive availability of waste bins and other forms of receptacles in all homes, offices, public places and spaces at reasonable distances.

As we continue to challenge society to change behaviour towards sanitation, it should also be remembered that behavioral changes do not happen out of sheer will and desire; they must be consciously nurtured, encouraged and incentivised.

It behoves, therefore, the governance system and authorities to meet human behavioural change endeavours halfway by providing the requisite infrastructural and psychological support.

In the current campaign to clean Ghana and to make Accra the cleanest city in Africa, what then is the national understanding of “Clean” and, perhaps, even more importantly, what is our general imagination of an Accra which is the cleanest city in Africa.

Will judgement about cleanliness be based on the tidiness of just streets and drains in the ceremonial enclaves of the city, or will it include issues such as toilets in all homes, end to open defecation, functional sewage and drainage systems, availability of waste receptacles and a functional waste management system?

These questions need answers and answering them also require that the broader implications of sanitation management are properly communicated to help people know what is at stake and what to do or not to do.

It is only when human desires or intentions to change behaviour or attitudes are supported with the requisite tools and facilities that we can indeed see the materialisation of change.

It is critically important, therefore, that government authorities and associated agencies work with the private sector to explore innovative and cost effective ways of procuring waste bins and communal skip containers to serve this purpose.

Addressing the waste repository issue also implies addressing the challenge of waste disposal in Accra. The Accra-Tema area currently faces significant challenges of acquiring land to serve as final disposal sites. This is due to a variety of reasons which could make for another piece sooner than later.

The reality, however, is that we need to develop a new waste management culture. We need to move away from the current practice of unsegregated waste collection, haulage and dumping.

We need to initiate a functional waste management system that has at its core a second-nature culture of waste segregation supported by a burgeoning recycling and material recovery industry in all communities.

Support private waste contractors

Ghana and Accra cannot be clean without the critical roles played by the private waste management service providers.

These companies, both large and small, will require support from the government to build and expand their capacities to make them more efficient and effective in service delivery.

While it is a fact that Zoomlion has been at the forefront of waste management in Ghana, it is also a fact that there are other companies whose services and contributions cannot be underestimated.

Companies such as Jekora, Asadu, Stanley Owusu, etc. are all providing invaluable services within their capacity levels and have the potential to do even more with the requisite government support.

There is also the informal waste collection sector where individuals and groups have come together to provide waste collection services using what is now known as ‘bola taxis’.

These are critical services that are making invaluable contributions to waste management in hard-to-reach parts of urban communities.

It is important that their services are recognised and regularised with the requisite training, logistical support and regulatory mechanisms to integrate them into mainstream practice.

For Ghana to be clean, and for Accra to be the cleanest city in Africa, a lot will have to change in the way we approach sanitation management in the country.

An honest and productive partnership between government and the private sector is an urgent necessity to make Ghana clean again.

The author is a Lecturer and Lead Advisor, Resilience Learning and Climate

Actions for Africa Resilience Collaborative.

He could be contacted at:


Columnist: Dr. Bob Manteaw