When we were kids we learnt an English proverb that ?Necessity is the mother of invention?. It seems that this did not apply to Africa. Can one really say that we have any necessities? Of course we don?t. Nature has blessed us greatly! That is why we don?t normally invent anything. But is that true?
The pain of having to analyze African problems brings nothing but shame for most of us who are awake and care, and especially more to those of us who chose to stay overseas and practice our Engineering after our studies. For those who don?t care or are asleep, so to speak, the more chaos there is a nation, the better off they think they are. I recall the days when some used to argue that ?African germs are cruel?, meaning that there is nothing we could do about poor health.
The Big Boys: June is the month when the Big boys of the big 8 industrialized nations meet to wine and dine and plan strategy how to divide the rest of the world. June seems to be the rainy season when in Ghana the streets are usually flooded, killing many people and destroying houses and other property. This month happens to be a month when I reflect on why life treated some of us so differently. Why is it that some have the cake and can cut it with wine and caviar, and some have to struggle under the yoke of oppressed leadership and depressed mentalities that seem to have no end! US Treasury Secretary Paul O?Neil may have a changed heart about Africa and even about our problems, but are African leaders going to have a changed mind on how to solve our problems?
I wrote a short piece on the GRI and Okyeame Internet Forums asking if Mr. President of Ghana had any written down major laundry list to show the man who holds the key to the US Treasury on how he could help us in our developmental Goals. A younger friend wrote me ?how do I know he did not??. Of course we the people who elected him may not know, but we await the results of such meetings in how it affects our lives. The sweetness of the meeting lies in the eating of the economic cake, one might analogize.
Our Annual Disaster and Photo Ops: The Accra rains falls and flooding in June is no new news. But people do die from them every time! And that is news! And Sad news. In the 1990s, former President Rawlings used to score some browny photo opportunity points every time these rains and flooding occurred. He would get out of his luxury Toyota Landcruiser or Pajero, and in his nice imported boots, wade in the water and take a shovel to help remove the debris left after the disaster. For a President, all it takes is a couple of such shovels, and his pictures are all around the world news. Rawlings is a man of action. He loves the people! A real leader of the people. In fact reporters and news men like such antics. But does a politician?s flag-waving solve problems? In Rawlings 20 years in office, were those photo ops enough to solve the Accra and Ghana flooding problems?
Had some of us not studied overseas and lived overseas for long, we would not have known that white people also have problems and natural disasters. In the South Eastern half of the US at this time there are always threats of hurricanes and tornadoes, strong winds that show nature?s forces at it?s worst. In her fury, these tornadoes, hurricanes and storms can lift whole houses and cars off their tracks and foundations, and deposit them miles way. It reminds one of the Biblical teaching of Jesus about how He said that with faith, one can say to mountains ?be thou removed from yonder?, and it shall be done. What we know in Africa is that these natural disasters such as heavy storms don?t have any faith in man. They just come and remove whatever they want, and there is nothing we seem to be able to do about it.
Do we succumb? The idea of succumbing to natural disasters is hard for some of us to swallow. Engineers never give up and succumb to nature. That is our training. We fight until solutions are found. Perhaps it is for this innate differences in man that make some of us itch and criticize sometimes. How can a whole nation of people with such lovely land and rich reserves waiting to be exploited, a whole continent of strong, intelligent and proud people, a whole race, succumb to nature!! And our leaders relegate the thinking process of our brains to an entity called World Bank or IMF! How possible? I have said this before. In 1989 I entered the office of one of my old school mates, a powerful Minister in the Rawlings regime, and asked him nicely why our streets were so dirty. His answer was: ?Kwaku, we don?t have money?. Since he was one year my senior in high school in the 1960s, I could not ask him the next logical question. ?Do we have any brains to clean up our streets??. I was just being diplomatic, as you know.
African Solutions: There are some who have proudly shouted from the mountain tops of their arm-chair Academia: African solutions to African problems. I love the sound of this, and it really makes me feel like taking my shirt off like the old palm wine drinkers in my village and saying ? We too are men!?. But on second thought, I am not going to do that. I really don?t see how flooding is an African problem. I don?t see how dirty streets where garbage is littered all over or burned in broad daylight, heavy black smoke emitted from cars to choke even the brave from breathing, are African problems. No! I don?t see them that way. I have seen litter and dirt sometimes even in American streets and cities, and I have seen flooding, and I have seen earthquakes and some hurricanes. But are these American problems? Americans solve them daily!
Flooding in Accra: Flooding in Accra is not something that we in Ghana can apply for exclusive patent rights and say ?we own it?. We are as human beings as any in the world, eating and drinking, and nature is no tougher on us than it is in America or Europe. So what is our problem? Where are our leaders to hire the many Engineering talent we have?
This year 2002, perhaps there has been more rains than some anticipated. In the first week of June 2002, there has been so much rain in Ghana there are records set. Instead of the city of Cape Coast starving of water only a few weeks ago, today they have record rainfalls. Let?s see what they do with them without building reservoirs as they do in America. .
There are many reasons why Accra has poor drainage and flooding every rainy season. Among them is the fact that we have NO CITY DESIGN. Simple!! It seems Accra has never seen a City Planner since it was started some 200 or more years ago! Of all the wonders that I have heard it seems to me most strange what some people call African Solutions to this problem:
Listen to this:
AMA to Demolish 150 Unauthorised Houses
The Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) in its bid to make Accra a flood free zone would have to demolish over one hundred and fifty buildings in the metropolis to allow for construction of drains in flood prone areas. Some of the houses identified to have impeded the drainage system have already been demolished while others are in the pipeline. Mr. Solomon Darko, the AMA Chief Executive made this known in a tour with the press after the torrential rain that hit the metropolis on Sunday night. Mr. Darko admitted that there cannot be a total elimination of flood in Accra but efforts and logistics are in place to minimize it. He said the manner in which some structures are put up in the city impedes efforts to make Accra a flood free area.
He said last year, the government granted them a loan of five million dollars, which was used to construct the first phase of the drains, covering 3.2 km on the Avenor Odaw River. They would still need about six million dollars to continue the second phase of the project on Onyasia River, which passes by the Tetteh Quarshie Roundabout through Dzorwulu.
Question: What kind of education does Mr. Solomon Darko has? I?ll like to know. What do they men by unauthorized houses? Are the AMA not working together with the governments Lands Department which gives builders permits and register the lands?
Is this demolition of 150houses a plan thought out carefully by the city council including consultation with City Engineers (hope they have such people in Accra AMA)? I think this will be an insult to the many fine Civil Engineers we have in Ghana and Accra. What will be the cost of such demolition and are there any alternatives?
Civilized Laws: In most civilized nations whose Law is based on Old English Common Law, there are two Laws, Eminent Domain and Police Power. Eminent Domain give government the right to use a private property for public use. An example will be if there is a fire and the fire Truck has to drag their hose and walk over some private property. Sometimes there is a major Highway designed, and people are told they will have to relocate. Such Laws, though, negotiate with the owners, and compensates the owners of such property, and give them adequate notice. The other Law, Police Power, is the power to seize a private property in case of emergency or war, without any notice or agreement by the owner. We have seen the use of such powers under the Rawlings administration of the PNDC. Ghanaians are sick and tired of such arbitrary use of power. No such misuse of power must enter the minds of any government leaders, be they city, regional or national. Period! The cost of putting up a simple modest house in downtown Accra is at least $50,000. 150 houses demolished is an estimated minimum of $7,500,000 or C58.5Billion cedis. Is the AMA going to compensate the people who are losing their houses or they plan to use Marshall Law and Police Power?
It is the opinion of many of us who have built house in Accra that the AMA is a very ill-managed apparatus of government. They don?t know how to manage, and they want to wield arbitrary power without being able to deliver basic cleanliness to even make Accra, the capital, seem a normal city. The AMA has failed to pick up garbage, failed to name all streets and failed to number houses. The AMA has been reported as paying its executives hundreds of thousands of dollars to rebuild their houses, when they cannot even use part of the taxes they collect daily from the Makola women and others to provide simple public toilets for them. They cannot enforce simple laws of decency requiring decent sanitary toilets by Banks and businesses doing business with the city. This is done in every civilized nation that I am sure Mr. Mayor has visited and perhaps lived overseas.
Please note that I am not trying to put all blame on Solomon Darko, since he is a new mayor of Accra However the Chief Exeuctive must act like a Chief Executive, as the name calls for. Here are examples of what is expected of him by the people of Ghana who use Accra s their capital.
- 1. The Chief Executive should sit down with his Architechts and City Planners, or hire some good ones, plus a City Manager, pay them well, and with a pen and paper and calculator (preferably a Computer with a simple Spreadsheet software program), START PLANNING THE CITY.
2. LIST all the negative things people see and have reported long ago about Accra, that has made Accra a poor place to do business for Ghanaians as well as potential investors: Traffic, garbage and dirt, lack of planned roads with new development, flooding and poor drainage problems, central sewage system, water services, lack of fire hydrants and water in the fire stations (Some recall the disgrace in the 1990s when a fire truck had to drive from Valco at Tema to come to Accra to help extinguish fire at Makola next door to the fire station)., poor road surfacing, lack of street names, lack of consecutive house numbering, lack of public parks, lack of public libraries.
3. Use the Pen and Paper and Computer to find ways to add up the taxes collected, and brainstorm what needs to be done to solve the problems. AMA, without any help from outside, should work with the central government to device a revenue-sharing and cooperative means to develop Accra. The money is there in front of you ? use it and stop simple macho bulldog approaches that may subject the city to lawsuits, or bring untold suffering to the poor who cannot afford to sue. There are always alternative Engineering solutions. We have even built a huge dam to divert the Volta river. Isn?t that an inspiration left by Kwame Nkrumah, that we can find solutions instead of this destructive demolition derby to allow water to pass it?s own pathway!
All the Best,
Fremont, California, USA. (June 11, 2002)
Views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of Ghanaweb.