History matters greatly in understanding Ghana’s slums-Quayson
In this enlightening perspective (in the ancient disputatio fashion) Prof. Ato Quayson world renowned scholar(board member of Strategy3) provides a response to Dr. Lloyd Amoah’s paper on Ghana’s slums.
He suggests the centrality of excavating the history of Ghana’s slumization process to both understand and respond in policy terms to it. Prof. Quayson recently published(2014) a book on Osu’s Oxford Street which was critically acclaimed globally. To stay true to the gravamen of his comments his position is published unedited. S & M refers to Sodom and Gomorrah the sobriquet given to the Old Fadama slum.
Thanks for sharing your paper on slums. I read it immediately on receiving the message and thought it well-written. But there is a crucial dimension that you do not quite attend to, and that is the history of slums (and slumization) in Accra’s urban planning. Even though Sodom and Gomorrah presents the most media-friendly example of slums, strictly speaking I would say that the real test case of continuing government failure to deal with slums is the case of Ga Mashie. Since the colonial period that area has been subject to sustained attention by various regimes. All have signally failed. The reasons are varied but investigating them might provide good insights into what the problems are.
In terms of S&M, the thing to note is that as a largely northern slum (i.e., occupied mainly by people from the northern regions of Ghana), it obeys a key principle of all such zongos (the Hausa word for stranger quarters). Whether we think of Tudu, Cow Lane, Nima, Accra New Town, or Madina, each of these was allowed to develop on what at the time was considered the outskirts of the town. Of course it did not take long for each of them to also come to be surrounded by other urban developments, such that their status as slums was redefined in relation to their role as reservoirs of cheap labor. This is a shift that works both ways: on the one hand they supply menial labor and household domestic help to more salubrious neighborhoods around them, and on the other the economic returns from this menial labor serves to energize commercial activities within the slums themselves. And each slum has historically satisfied a specific labor need. Thus Nima was in the 1960 the source of workers for the PWD and thus the government. Tudu before that provided the source of porters that serviced the old Jamestown harbor and subsequently broke down deliveries of bulk goods from the Tudu Park to all parts of the town. It was no accident that Tudu developed close to the railway terminal at Kantamanto and that it also hosted the first Police depot and thus served as a favored recruitment base for non-commissioned officers into the Ghana Police Force in the 30s and 40s. Madina, on the other hand, was established specifically to service Legon and Achimota, a role that despite some major changes, it still largely serves.
And so we come to Sodom and Gomorrah. How about that one. One big difference between S&M and the other slum districts I have just enumerated is that unlike the others, it did not evolve on the outskirts of the township. Quite the opposite. There is a complicated history of failed industrial development on what are essentially the waterlands of the area all around the Korle Lagoon which I cannot go into here. But be that as it may, in the 1990s S&M attracted refugees from the northern “guinea fowl, mango, and pito” wars (from the title of a very fascinating book byJames Brukum that explains the wars). In other words, S&M actually started as a refugee campsite. Since the Rawlings government never had the courage to declare it a refugee camp, the normal protocols by which refugees are treated were never put in place (temporary nature of the settlement; explicit plans for resettlement either back where they came from or some place else; welfare, health, and educational support for children and women during the process of transition, etc). It was allowed to gradually morph into what is now a permanent or at least semi-permanent settlement and without any clear economic relationship to the rest of the city. This last statement may be thought by some to be a bit too harsh; of course the slum has a labor relationship to the city. But viewed in relation to the other slum districts I have enumerated, this relationship is extremely precarious and indeed dispensable. And that is how come the municipal authorities can make bold to try and dismantle the slum without any clear path to resettlement.
The long and short of what I want to say is that no one can arrive at a proper framework for solving Accra’s slum problem without a proper grasp of the history of the city and of the slums that have become a key part of it. Your paper is a good starting point, but only just.