The Lockdown in Accra: Hungry receivers and fame seeking ‘philanthropists’

Abdul Hayi Moomen Abdul Hayi Moomen

Sun, 12 Apr 2020 Source: Abdul Hayi Moomen

With his wheelbarrow sitting idle outside his one-room shack, Sule is one of the tens of thousands of poor Ghanaians hit the hardest by the coronavirus partial lockdown.

His family of six are stuck in their slum home along the peripheries of the city of Accra earning nothing and waiting desperately for help to arrive, but from where?

Like an estimated 40 thousand others, Sule is a migrant worker. He left his home village in Wichau in the Upper West Region, one of Ghana’s poorest regions 15 years ago "for a better life" and "good education" for his children.

Before Accra's partial lockdown began the 44 -year-old earned - on a good day - GHC20 a day pushing his wheelbarrow at building sites as a labourer, while his wife served as a domestic worker, moving from house to house to clean and wash for families for a fee.

Now with all activities except essential services halted in the country of 30 million people, Sule can't work, and his wife's employers wouldn't even let her in their buildings. "They feel she will give them this disease," he said.

Their home at Oshuman, near Pokuase on the outskirts of the capital, is one of dozens of single-room structures in rows with shared toilets and no running water.

It is among the many potential coronavirus breeding grounds that have experts alarmed. "We store water in buckets for drinking and cooking. We can't waste it to wash our hands every time," Sule said.

The situation is similarly grim for Kwaku, who is 270 kilometers away in the Kumasi neighbourhood of Aboabu. He left his home in the North East region when he was just 17. Today, he is 37.

Until the lockdown, he used to send his family as much as he could from the GHC 30 daily wage he earned from working for a factory. "How will I send money home or pay back loans? The future looks scary," he said.

Ibrahim is luckier than others. He said he would have starved but for the generosity of his employer, who was looking after him and other stranded employees.

The fear of going hungry sparked an exodus by hundreds of migrant workers and their families back to their villages last month.

"So many of us live from one day to the next," said chop bar worker Yaa, who is now the only earning member of her family. "It's the poor who keep this country running," she said.

Governments across the country have come face to face with a difficult sphinx-like riddle – and the choice is between two evils. Many governments, including that of ours, have chosen the lesser evil. But the sufferers of that decision must not be forgotten. Government has assured such vulnerable people of free water and free electricity.

Sadly, not many of them are even connected to any source of water. Those who are lucky to have electricity have to share a meter with tens of other families. And that means their collective consumption will definitely shoot up and above 50 kilowatts. Is anyone listening?

Many of the affected persons are now subsisting on food distributed by the government and charity organizations. But that comes with some challenges.

First, is the risk of being infected with the virus as people scramble for food. The second, is the indignity that comes with the sharing process. And finally, the cameras that follow hungry receivers from fame seeking “philanthropists”.

Columnist: Abdul Hayi Moomen