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Selwyn Market on my mind or is it Rawlings Park?

Selwyn Market on my mind … or is it Rawlings Park?


A beautiful picture of, what is supposed to be the aerial view of that most celebrated market in Accra has been doing the rounds on various WhatsApp chat platforms.  I do not know how old that picture is or who had taken it, but somehow I kept on wondering whether it had been taken during reconnaissance by a certain Flight Lieutenant who had once planned to drop a bomb on that market to rid the country of Kalabule or exorbitant pricing of goods.

I do not know how the name of the market changed from Selwyn to Makola but in the 1960s and early 1970s, it had quite a pull for us students, and the go-to place for our provisions. It was also the place for most things that one could not find in the department stores of Kingsway, UTC, Chellarams, Chebib, Glamour, and Department stores.  We went to Makola to buy ‘materials’ for our turtleneck shirts or our bell-bottom trousers and I remember buying ‘cedi mama’ from Makola for my first Dashiki during my university days

Makola also served an academic purpose for me, as a student from the School of Administration, my Marketing term paper on ‘the role of the market women in the foodstuff supply chain’ had me make several visits to interview the women on breaking bulk, financing using the susu system and fixing daily prices.  Though Makola did not help finance my university education, I had lots of friends who were fed, housed, clothed and schooled by Makola women and even heard of those who were taken through Law School, situated conveniently at Makola having been awarded the proverbial ‘Makola Scholarship’.

Sadly, Makola Market was destroyed because it was a key intended target of the 1979 uprising that visited, on us, the unruly Armed Forces Revolutionary Council intent on curing all the ills of the country through a house-cleaning exercise.  We are now told that the decision was based on anecdotal evidence of urine being poured on soldiers by Makola women because they asked for a reduction in the price of goods

What was happening in Makola, that the young soldiers could not wrap their brains around, was a manifestation of a failed economic system that several economists had tried to cure with palliatives but without success.  What was needed at the time was the adoption and rational application of the science of economics rather than the wanton destruction of an edifice.  That vengeful action so badly affected our economy that several years on we are still feeling the long-term adverse effects.  In the short period of the housecleaning, the supply chain collapsed because Makola was the heart of commerce acting as some sort of central mercantile exchange.  Makola was not the cause of our economic problem it was the effect of an unrealistic exchange rate, the purchasing and hoarding of essential commodities, that no one really consumed anyway, was a hedge against the depreciating exchange rate. Anyone who thought that he could usher the country into a nirvana of economic bliss must have been delusional or in a state of euphoric happiness.

and all the the stock of goods sold at knockdown prices, and with no proper economic activity going on for the three months, no government was going to be able to recover from the blow to the economy.

The reverse move from hyperinflation into depression killed the economy.  The economy simply died through shock.

With Makola raised to the ground there have been serious and far-reaching consequences for many Ga families who depended on the dynamic mercantile exchange that was Makola.  Many Accra matriarchs not only lost their stock and capital and all the money that they had built up over a long life at the market, but there was no replacement for their activity, they could not go back because there was nowhere to start afresh from, a lot were scared because they did not know when the soldiers would come again. There are tales told that some were traumatized as a result of the maltreatment they suffered at the hands of the soldiers, others lost the will to live and became depressed and several died because of the shame they suffered.

The spirit of enterprise died with the destruction of Makola!.

And yet 40 years on, the legacy is a park without grass or play area –  a lorry park, a car park – a grotesque legacy to the transmogrification of the most central place of enterprise into a nondescript park carrying the name of the person who created it -Rawlings Park.

Admittedly Rawlings stayed on for 20 years, but I wonder why successive presidents have never thought of restoring Makola to its previous glory or transforming the space in the central business district back to its purpose.

Is it because the transitional provisions of the constitution prevent this?

Maybe, just maybe this is what we need to breathe new life into our economy in Ghana.  This is what we need, a testimony to the women who created enterprises that fed a nurtured a lot of people in Ghana, that created the jobs that we needed, that would kickstart our economic development after this corocoro business.

I can envisage a tastefully aesthetic, multipurpose, Centre of Enterprise, reconstructed with the most energy-efficient materials that it would serve as the place of attraction for tourists and emerge again as the central gem in the centre of Accra, a pedestrianized city centre that would be the cardinal piece in the diverse tapestry of our mixed economy.

Makola will rise again.

Kɛ otoŋ ni okpa fai e, akɛ ohe faa bo.

Owula Ade Sawyerr

Croydon August 2020.

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The Matters Arising blog is a collection of thought-provoking, thought-leadership pieces sprinkled with some blue-sky thinking on pertinent issues affecting African communities both in the diaspora and at home. It includes articles on culture, politics, social and economic advancement, diversity and inclusion, community cohesion topics. It is also a repository of the political history of Ghana, traditions of the Gadagme people of Ghana, and the Pan-African politics of Kwame Nkrumah. Read, enjoy, like, share, and join!


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