Opinions Mon, 16 Jul 2007

Letter from the President: Cover the drains, please

Countrymen and women, loyalists and opponents, it is my pleasure to inform you that we are doing ‘something’ to check the perennial flooding in Accra. That ‘something’ has already started and it involves the demolition of houses in waterways. Seriously, I don’t know where these waterways are but I am told that the perennial flooding of the national capital has something to do with people building houses in these waterways.

I’m glad that we’ve finally mustered the courage and the political will to demolish these houses. They should have been razed about six years ago. But I was then fresh on the Black Star stool and I still needed the people’s goodwill to enable me rule. So we just did what we do best – talk about the problem without taking any concrete measures to resolve it. Now with just a few months left for me to pack out and leave, I am not afraid anymore. So I am glad that finally we are doing ‘something’. I am very sorry that this demolition exercise will lead to some suffering because many will be rendered homeless and others will have their properties destroyed. But in circumstances like this “something has gotta give.” Next time any of you decides to build make sure you get the appropriate authorisation.

The demolition of the houses will go a long way to help prevent flooding in the city. But it’s not enough. The choked gutters need to be de-silted and covered up once and for all. One would have thought that after all these years, we should all have come to the realisation that our open sewers do not serve the purpose for which they were constructed. Instead of providing passage for waste water, our drains have become dustbins, chocked with all sorts of garbage – anything from wood to hard rocks, useless electronic appliances and broken plastic chairs. So when it rains, the floodwaters just flow freely into people’s homes, destroying property and claiming lives. The uncovered drains are also an eyesore. Most first-time visitors to this country are shocked to see that in the 21st century we still leave our drains uncovered and instead of making it possible for liquid waste to flow, we have chosen to use our drains as dumping grounds for solid waste.

I was therefore very shocked (to say the least) to hear the Local Government Minister’s announcement a few days before the start of the demolition exercise that government had voted more than 60 million cedis for street naming and house numbering projects in all ten regional capitals. I don’t remember any discussion (leading to a decision) to spend so much money on such a low priority venture. I suppose that if I was at any such meeting, I might have been drunk because if I were sober I would never have agreed to any such expenditure.

I have called a few people for explanations and they’ve told me that street naming and house numbering is very important for economic growth… bla… bla… bla… Of course, it is important. But is it something we need to do right now? I don’t think so. Right now, I believe we the citizens of Sikaman find our way around the various cities and towns just fine. If you get lost anywhere, you can ask a roasted plantain seller and she’d give you directions to wherever you want to go. Taxi drivers can also help. We also have this crude system of using landmarks (mango trees, yellow-painted hairdressing salons etc.) to find our way around. It’s not the best system but it’s working for us just fine. In the future, when we have a lot of money we can devote some of it to street naming and house numbering. Even then, we’d have to demolish a lot of houses and rebuild them in a manner that makes numbering and identification easier.

For now, I think using 60 billion (old) cedis on street naming is like a foolish man deciding to use the little money he has to buy a washing machine instead of fixing his roof. I believe that a proper street naming/house number scheme will entail a lot more than just erecting poles with the designated street names. In any case, what’s the point in renumbering houses and naming streets when our cities are so poorly planned? Even in places like Airport Residential Area (one of the most affluent and well-planned suburbs of Accra), it is difficult to find your way around using just house numbers and street names. You simply have to ask some ‘bofrote’ seller or use a landmark to find your way around. Trust me, this street naming exercise is an exercise in futility and the only purpose I see it serving is for a few individuals to line their pockets with fat kickbacks.

In the meantime, people are losing their property and/or dying in floodwaters. So I am going to instruct the local government minister that I don’t care about street naming or house numbering. At least, not now. It’s not a priority. The drains should be covered and that should be top on his agenda. He should realise that demolishing houses in waterways and leaving the drains uncovered will amount to what we used to describe in secondary school as a “Cos 90 job.” At the end of the day, you are essentially channelling the waters to flow into choked gutters and, invariably, back into people’s homes. It doesn’t make sense to me at all.

I will also advice the minister that next time he feels like doing something as grand (and inconsequential) as naming streets, he should think about consulting the people who know how these things work. I believe that if he had consulted a few town planners he would have been advised that street naming is not a priority on the list of what we need to make our cities beautiful and habitable.

Excellently yours,
J. A. Fukuor

Columnist: Daily Dispatch