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We now have addresses

Wed, 19 Aug 2015 Source: Elizabeth Ohene

Road: A specially prepared hard surface for cars, buses, bicycles etc. to travel on. Street: A public road in a city or town that has houses, shops etc. on one or both sides.

Lane: (1) A narrow road in the countryside; (2) narrow unimportant roads often behind a row of houses.

Crescent: A street with a curved shape.

Loop: A road or railway line that leaves the main road and then joins it again further on.

Promenade: A wide road, next to the beach, where people can walk for pleasure.

Close: A road that has only one way in or out.

Avenue: A road or broad path between two rows of trees, especially one leading to a big house, a tree-lined avenue.

I have favourite subjects to which I return over and over again. One such subject is the lack of addresses in our country.

I have written numerous articles about how we give directions to a place by asking people to turn right at the blue kiosk and opposite the woman selling roast plantain.

When my very good friend, the late Kwadwo Baah Wiredu, during his time as Minister of Local Government brought his trademark enthusiasm to a project to name all streets, I was very excited and supportive. I have been following the current street-naming project around the country with keen interest.

I got even more interested when it looked like the President of the Republic was very interested in the project as well. During the launch of the National Urban Policy Framework and Action Plan in March 2013, President John Dramani Mahama directed the Minister for Local Government and Rural Development to ensure that all streets were named within 18 months.

Then in November 2013, it was reported in the media that the President had given an ultimatum to metropolitan, municipal and district chief executives (MMDCEs) to complete the street-naming and house-numbering exercises in their respective areas or lose their jobs by September 2014. Since September 2014 would have been 18 months from when the first ultimatum was given back in March 2013, I decided it was the same directive we were reporting. September 2014 has been and gone and I don’t recall that any metropolitan, municipal or district chief executive was sacked for not having “completed the street-naming and house-numbering exercises in their respective areas”.

But it looks like all might soon be forgotten as the work is certainly going on, and in some parts of the country, the naming process has reached the theatre of the absurd. Recently, my neighbourhood finally got in on the act when workmen with dainty dust jackets embroidered with street-naming signs arrived and started erecting poles with street names on them.

I then realised the fun and games that had been involved in the exercise. Some streets that had names appear to have lost them and have been given new ones and, therefore, the chances are you have got a new address and you don’t even know it.

Criterion for naming the streets Last year, the chief executive of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly had gone to great lengths to explain how the streets were to be named. He said the streets would be named after prominent citizens who had made a mark on society through their contributions to national development.

He said some of the streets would also be named after foreign nationals ­­who had also made an impact in the country, adding: “No street will be named after anyone alive.”

I was a bit anxious at the time because I feared that going by that criterion of naming streets after prominent citizens, my favourite street name in Accra might disappear. I had always been enchanted by the name of a street in Osu called, “Awulakpakpa Street”, but then I found out a decision was also made that well-known streets would keep their old names.

I was relieved that “no street will be named after anyone alive”. We surely must have learnt our lessons from having named streets after fashionable freedom fighters of the time who then rapidly lost favour. Ndabandinge Sithole Street sounded such a great idea at the time, but by the time Zimbabwe gained independence, it was embarrassing Sithole was the one with a street named after him in Accra.

But I have discovered in my neighbourhood that the promise not to name any street after anyone alive was not being kept. We have the names of living and dead governors of the Bank of Ghana and First Ladies on our streets. I wonder if we can protest against naming our street after a governor under whom the cedi crashed; it sounds like an attempt to impoverish the inhabitants of the street.

It turns out a decision on the name is only half the battle; the big one is what to add to the name — should it be Ohene Road, Ohene Street, Ohene Avenue, Ohene Crescent, Ohene lane or Ohene promenade?

Depending on which part of the country you live in, your street can be demoted to a Road or promoted to an Avenue through the application of a formula that is a bit difficult to decipher.

Numbering When the project is completed, I am hoping there will be an accompanying booklet that will provide a brief glossary of the names that have appeared on the streets. Some of the names might belong in the prominent citizens category but their relevance needs to be explained.

I must go and check if Awulakpakpa Street still exists or has been demoted to Awulakpakpa Road or has been renamed OAU Street. That will­­­­ not be any stranger than naming Seventh Avenue, home to corporate head offices, Mayor’s Road when there is no such title of a Mayor in our bureaucratic setup.

Now that we all have names to our streets, we should brace up for the numbering to start. I might wake up one morning to find that I am no longer number 7, Ohene Street, but number 13 Ohene Road. I wonder if that would make our address culture any easier to comprehend. I doubt it very much. I still remember the young man who came trying to find my house and drove to the gate three times, read the address clearly on the gate post and left because he said he had been told I had a brown gate but he saw a green one.

Columnist: Elizabeth Ohene