By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
September 4, 2009
The Biblical accounts on the demolition of Sodom and Gomorrah by God are clear on why God chose to do so. Too much debauchery, lechery, and plain criminality that ran counter to the Covenant and angered God beyond measure. To date, that name evokes revulsion wherever it is mentioned. Ghana’s version of Sodom and Gomorrah may not yet have attained that level of rot; but the stark fact is that the Accra Metropolitan Assembly is set to demolish it. No decent society will want to have a Sodom and Gomorrah on its soil, right? But wait; there is more to the issue.
Far from celebrating this intended demolition and likely eradication of the abhorrent “Sodom and Gomorrah” spectre from our midst, the situation reveals other things. It brings to the fore the pathetic impact of our leaders’ visionlessness, which has plagued our country over the years and consigned large segments of the population to a perpetual state of misery and hopelessness on the fringes of life. It also demonstrates clearly the lack of foresight on the part of our leaders and their wicked agenda to reduce the people to rubble.
Rather ironically, Sodom and Gomorrah began expanding at the time the Kufuor government had created a new Ministry for the Modernization/Beautification of Accra, headed by Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey. Was it not possible for anybody at the time to see the emerging settlement as an undesirable feature in the scheme of the national capital city? What did anybody to nip that problem in the bud? Nothing. Instead, the AMA intensified its toll collection efforts and benefited from tax-payers living there.
Without a doubt, the demolition of structures (residential, commercial, etc.) has become one of the tools used by the various governments (from Jerry Rawlings to Kufuor and to Atta Mills) to attempt instilling discipline in land use or human activities within the public sphere; but it is clear that such draconian measures have failed to solve the problem of squatting or encroachment, especially in the big towns and cities.
I have a disturbing hunch that just like the impulsive actions that are perennially taken against the hawkers, this upcoming demolition exercise cannot be sustained nor will it be done to pave the way for any better alternative to solve the pertinent problems facing the people. I will bet my last pesewa on this claim to suggest that the intended demolition of Sodom and Gomorrah will not restore any sanity into the situation in that part of the city. It appears to be more of a last-ditch attempt against the background of the politically motivated unrests that have occurred at Agbogbloshie and the Konkomba Yam Market. It is not a genuine effort to rid Accra of undesirables nor will it be sustained to keep off any future encroachment. In effect, I see much mere scaremongering in this drive for demolition of structures.
The case of the Sodom and Gomorrah community is not only pathetic but it also shows clearly how disorganized our system of administration has been all these years. Where were the authorities at the AMA when the Sodom and Gomorrah community began developing? Did anybody not see the need to prevent the squatters from encroaching on that part of Accra over the years and turning it into what has now become an eyesore and a security threat in the perception of the authorities?
It beats my understanding why no one thought it prudent long ago to prevent the expansion of this community into what it is today. This threat to evict the settlers cannot be dismissed as an empty one, knowing very well the nature of the Ghanaian politician who thinks that he has all the backing from the government of the day to do so. The action may end up compounding instead of solving problems.
Most big towns and cities in the world have their “Downtown” areas, which may not be as ugly as Sodom and Gomorrah are; but it is clear that congestion and ugliness in many cities is part of human existence. There are also the shanty towns (as we have in Johannesburg in South Africa, Nairobi in Kenya, or Kingston in Jamaica). Some people have even been tempted to see the emergence and location of Zongos in almost every big town in Ghana as almost synonymous with the case of Sodom and Gomorrah. But if one takes away the criminal activities allegedly going on in the Sodom and Gomorrah area, the difference is clear. But then, communities that have sprung up as a result of the activities of migrants who live on the fringes of the established locale are bound to degenerate into what Sodom and Gomorrah represent.
The Town and Country Planning Department of the AMA (if it still exists) should have taken proactive steps to control lands and insist that they are put to the proper use and not left open to encroachment and the development of communities like this Sodom and Gomorrah. Again, the authorities at the AMA (or the other Assemblies) should have taken prompt steps to protect government lands instead of leaving them for encroachers to take advantage of. But nobody appears to know what to do.
I know that the Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly also has a huge burden of this sort, especially in some of the settlements that have sprung up over the years because of the Assembly officials’ ineptitude or connivance (through collecting illegal fees from prospective encroachers). Today, there is a warning that by Monday, September 7, a massive demolition exercise will take place in Kumasi too.
Why shouldn’t these Assemblies be proactive enough to instill discipline in the management of public lands instead of waiting for people to put up houses and shops there and settle in to do business before rushing in with the security agents to evict them overnight and demolish their structures at great cost (financial, material, and moral)? It is appalling to do things this way. Such spur-of-the-moment actions only reinforce public fears that our public officials (and the government, generally) lack foresight.
In the interim what will be done on the land after the demolition of those structures and the sending of the occupants into disarray? Does the AMA have any immediate plan to use the land for any beneficial purpose? If there is no such plan, then, the matter has to be reconsidered.
Rendering the nearly 40,000 inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah homeless and unemployed and flushing them into an already deplorable system in Accra will create more problems for the administration. Certainly, the victims will find other things to do, which may result in more pressure being put on social services in the city and its environs.
I like this suggestion from Nana Oye Lithur, which must be seriously considered by the AMA CEO, Mr. Vanderpuiye and all those backing him. She makes it appealing enough, advising government to consider negotiating with residents of the area as started by the previous government for an alternative accommodation for the squatters. That’s one way to act responsibly.
A short-term solution is to extend the ultimatum for the settlers to have enough some time to end their occupation of the area. They have already sunk hard-earned money into their activities there and must not be treated as if they didn’t deserve attention as fellow human beings. Then, the authorities should work out an estate development programme that will involve building residential accommodation on the land to be leased to those who can afford it. Of course, one expects a low-cost housing scheme so that some of those to be affected by the planned demolition exercise can be housed without much hassle. It calls for clear-mindedness and commitment to doing what will help fellow human beings and reduce pressure on the social sub-sector. Anything short of this will definitely worsen living conditions and turn the victims against the government.
Then, when the period for the general elections approaches, our politicians (especially those in government today) will shamelessly go round to beg those very people for their votes! During the electioneering campaigns in the 2008 general elections, functionaries of the NPP and the NDC visited Sodom and Gomorrah to seek votes. At that time, Sodom and Gomorrah was a good settlement, right? What has changed now to make it a problem?
The matter has already assumed political dimensions and will not redound to the NDC government’s image if the intended demolition exercise goes ahead without any human face being put on it. It is obvious that like other Ghanaians living in narrow circumstances because of the failure of the various governments to solve their socio-economic problems, those at Sodom and Gomorrah were forced by the vagaries of life to live there. One expects the government to do what will rehabilitate their lives instead of worsening the situation and creating criminals out of some of them. As Nana Oye Lithur said in an interview with Joy News, “throwing over 40,000 residents out without providing alternative housing facility creates even more serious security implications.” I agree with her.
The Sodom and Gomorrah problem highlights the need for the government to redouble its efforts to solve the economic problems of the country so that the people can manage their lives in decency and hope. Anything short of this will create more Sodom and Gomorrahs wherever and whenever the people choose to make their homes. Government officials must not allow the perks of their offices to blind them to the reality of the dire circumstances in which the tax-payers live. Without the tax-money, how will their lifestyles be supported, anyway? Like a boil on a bald man’s head, Sodom and Gomorrah stands out visibly as a big indictment on our leaders and they must bow (down) their heads in shame!