A Nation Of A Million Housing Deficit Razing Down 167 Houses?

“Humankind seems to have an enormous capacity for savagery, for brutality, for lack of empathy, for lack of compassion. ” — Annie Lennox

“It is a man’s sympathy with all creatures that truly makes him a man. Until he extends his circle of compassion to all living things, man himself will not find peace.”  — Albert Schweitzer

Reading from afar the sad and shocking news of mass demolition of Adjei Kojo houses in Tema, in Accra, by the Tema Development Corporation, (TDC), last week, to say the least, continues to bleed my heart and I believe the heart of many right thinking, sympathetic and empathetic people on our planet earth.

This was due to the manner devoid of human feeling, sympathy, empathy, mercy and compassion with which the destructive operation was carried out.

Imagine, a situation where families, including the most vulnerable group, such as toddlers and children as young as three, four and five year olds, have to stay aside and see their houses being demolished, due to TDC’s claim that, they have no permit to build structures on that land. And this was disputed by Mr. Kofi Portuphy, the National Coordinator of the National Disaster Management Organization(NADMO), when he went to present relief items to them. He was quoted as saying, “…the TDC could not be absolved of complicity in the sale of the lands to the individuals in the affected area…there were evidence that occupants of the land had paid various sums of money to the TDC and Tema Metropolitan Assembly and (I)wondered what might have prevented the TDC from dialoguing with the occupants and the allodial owners of the land in order to resolve the problem amicably.”

Not only Mr. Portuphy, but two other powerful bigwigs of the government also bemoaned the inhumane nature of the operation. Mr. Samuel Ofoso Ampafo, former Minister for Local Government and Rural Development and a parliamentary candidate for the area, also expressed discontent in the media at the lack of consultation among the TDC, the TMA and agencies such as NADMO, when the TDC decided to carry out the demolition exercise.

He was buttressed by the Minister for Communications, Dr. Edward Omane Boamah over the weekend who said, “…irrespective of the reasons for carrying out the exercise, “demolition should always be a last resort”. He doubts if that was the case when the TDC pulled down those houses.

Speaking on Joy Fm’s weekly News Analysis Program, “News File”, Dr. Boamah supported the argument of a panel member John Ndebugre, a former Member of Parliament, that even if the TDC owns the land, it would need a court order to demolish those houses.

However, this view went in diametric opposition to the strict and stiff position held by his colleague cabinet member , the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Alhaji Inusah Fuseini, whose statement unfortunately seems to add insult to these victims’ injuries, when he was asked by the Joy FM News Anchor if there was no other alternative than to render the people homeless, he said “One should also question whether we should allow impunity and indiscipline to prevail in this country. It is always important that we always balance the need to ensure that we have law and order in this country and the need to meet the requirements of people…The indiscipline in the land administration must be brought to an end.” And he strongly back the demolishing exercise saying that, he was convinced the victims encroached on a piece of land they had no title to…”
It is rather unfortunate for a government Minister to make such a statement in this difficult moment for the victims.

Even if they arguably had no permit to build, as a civilized nation in this contemporary world, governed by civilized and highly educated people, who believe in God, for God sake, why should we consider demolition of 167 houses as the last resort, thereby rendering over 800 people homeless, without taking into consideration the waste of huge resources, running into billions of cedis, in this strain and severe austerity period?

Why couldn’t the state be humane and humanitarian enough, by finding quite decent temporary accommodation for them, and making sure their personal belongings were evacuated first, before going ahead to carry out the operation? but only to leave them at the mercy of the terrain of a park, which might be a dangerous breeding ground for reptiles, such as snakes, scorpions, wild ants, mice and mosquitoes. Simply, a sorry sight befitting war refugees’ camp?

We know unlike here in America and Europe where by virtue of their strong macroeconomic development the governments always subsidize housing needs, being the basic necessity of life for the low income earners and build shelters for homeless-a wise safety net for their poor citizenry, Ghana cannot afford that, but there is the need to establish some form of a safety net to relieve them.

What on earth will the state lose, if we decide to be merciful and magnanimous enough to forgive them, for the sake of the children, who are victims of circumstances beyond their control and rather ask them to pay some form of penalty? Because these people have already built and have been living there for a long time, paying their public utilities, paying tolls to the very TDC that facilitated this demolition. And to according to the Joy News, these home owners are currently producing certified documents to show that they rightfully acquired their lands from the chiefs of the area concerned who are also claiming ownership of the land.

A similar indecent incident happened in Kumasi sometime last year; where a politician facilitated a demolishing exercise of about 100 houses, some of which were storey buildings, with the same reason being that, the land belongs to the State, in spite of the available records in the archives of the Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly (KMA), indicating that it belongs to the local chiefs of the area, but not to the State.

In fact, according to an eye witness account, during this demolition operation, some of the owners of these structures fainted out of shock and disbelief that, this operation was orchestrated by their own kith and keen, (a politician) who turned around requesting for a huge portion of said land, and interestingly, those who were fortunate to have their land back after the demolition exercise were asked by the said politician to pay compensation to the other victims whose land he made his own or hi-jacked it-a clear case scenario of an abuse of power. Some of them always act, creating an impression that, they have been given green light to act from above, taking advantage of the calm, cool and collected sense of demeanor of our President, thereby tarnishing his reputation.

I would therefore prophesize to my fellow Ghanaian members of the inky fraternity(media) to observe closely, with keen interest as I could envisage the same situation happening with the TDC, where they will wait for a couple of months for the media frenzy on this case to fizzle out and will end up selling this land at sky rocket prices to expatriates and local rich business men. Ultimately, it appears obvious that the hidden motive is sheer corporate greed and money consciousness, clear and simple!

Many were those instances that we heard about some of these officials violating state laws, even to the worse. There were series of allegations of corruption and malfeasance against that same minister who strongly supported the demolition and I know the media in Ghana will soon expose him. And even should he be exposed, the question is who will prosecute him? In a country where top public officials are known to be exhibiting an unprecedented arrogance of power and fond of abusing this power, lording it over its citizenry, serving as the watch dogs to protect State properties, then the million dollar question here is; who watches these watch dogs if they violate same State laws that supposed to be no respecter of any individual, regardless of his or her socio-political status? Obviously, in this situation it is only the ‘fittest’ who can survive! And they and their cronies are the only survivors!

This state of affairs would send one’s mind far athinking , cogitating and contemplating that, does it worth to be a citizen of a country like Ghana, where such a barbaric and horrific decision could be taken on him or her just because of ‘violating’ the state law, in a bid to acquire the very basic human need, such as shelter, to enable the person put a roof over his/her head?

And in a country where you see individuals making their own efforts, not relying on the government to put up their own houses, that is a great and gradual sign of a growing middle class-a vital yardstick and a pre-requisite for that country to be considered as fast-growing, an emerging boomerang economy. Therefore this action by the TDC and the other one by a politician in Kumasi should be considered as suicidal to our socio-economic advancement. In the sense that, it was being carried on by the agents of the same government that is lamenting about the need to solve our ever growing housing deficit of about one million, while facilitating and supporting the destruction of huge houses, that our hard working citizens managed to build. And most of them even rent out their houses to other people, thereby gradually reducing the huge and whopping one million housing deficit in the system.

It is very clear that, our government could hardly able to meet even a quarter of the housing needs of our people within the span of a decade, because having been practicing investment consultancy, by way of facilitating housing contracts in Ghana for some western investors, I could clearly see that, the government does not provide funding for mass affordable housing projects, but only gives out sovereign guarantees to a selected few prospective investors in the housing sector to apply for loans from the international financial institutions. And most of these companies would tell you that, they cannot fully fund these projects without the government meeting them financially, at least half-way. So as of now, the Ministry of Water Resources, Works & Housing is inundated with so many applications from foreign firms for tender to do housing projects, but most of these investors would come down just to test the waters and see how promising it will be.

They would however make a swift U-turn with the next available flight back to their country, after realizing they cannot get full funding, due to the current ailing state of the Ghanaian economy, which could not be attributed directly to the current government, but a spillover from the global economic meltdown or recession. But the government is doing its best to salvage the situation.

In fact, the way and manner this operation was done was devoid of deep and sober thinking of the negative repercussions that the victims find themselves in. It simply could be equated to a loss of a loved one, because it is a fact that many of them borrowed from the banks to build these houses, hence it would be very suicidal and difficult for them to recover from this great loss, not to even think of paying up their bank loans.

Some of our officials’ general lack of sympathy and fellow feeling reminds me of a quote, replete with wisdom stated by Anderson Cooper of CNN 360 fame, one of my favorite American journalists that, “Anyone who has experienced a certain amount of loss in their life has empathy for those who have experienced loss.” True to Anderson’s assertion, even if you never experienced any loss, why can n’t you see and feel yourself in the shoes of these victims, whose children are now continuously crying miserably, seeking answers from their parents who are also confused? How do you feel to see your wives and young daughters bathing outside, while other men are feasting their eyes on them, in this “refugees camp”, where they can easily become vulnerable in the unsafe hands of thieves and rapists?

Not to sound like a prophet of doom, this are one such economically suicidal incidents that could easily sway some victims who are deeply hurt by it, in a bid to apply vengeance to resort to voodoo or juju to destabilize or destroy the lives of those directly involved in this operation, since they know they will never recover their monies in full, or even get a place to build again.

But above all, the most patient and deep thinking among them will leave their grievance to God, the only most reliable and most merciful shepherd, praying to retaliate on their behalf and verily, God does not sleep, he hears and sees the pathetic plight of every one whose rights are violated and would render justice accordingly upon those who acted unfairly to them, either here on earth or in the hereafter. After all, the day of accountability in the presence of God, the creator is inevitable!

Ghana is considered as one of the most advanced countries in Africa, and if the state does not want the country to lose such a privilege and prestige, for the citizens to be unpatriotic and for us to continuously become a laughing stock in the eyes of the expatriate business people and the international community, then there is an urgent need to begin to deal with such a delicate and dicey human situation with human face and begin to dignify, sympathy and empathize with the people by not putting them in such difficult situations that we hate to find ourselves. A word to a wise is enough!

*H.Y. Baba AlWaiz, New York Correspondent African News Analysis, Director of Media & Marketing, Energy Source Solutions, Marketing & Adverting Consultant, [email protected], [email protected]