Sane Eteshi – Matters Arising
The time must have come for the government to take an interest in the development of Accra and to do something about the big blot on the landscape of our capital city. Sodom and Gomorrah must fall and it must fall now, otherwise the prospect of Accra as the most beautiful city in Africa will remain an unfulfilled fiction.
One cannot imagine a London without the Thames or a Paris without the Seine, rivers that have defined the character of these excellent cities. In Ghana, most people do not know that we have a river in Accra which could define our city, and those in authority do not care. Otherwise, how can one explain the total neglect of the Odaw River? And yet, considering how we sat unconcerned as our rivers elsewhere were ravaged by galamsey, one may be right to conclude that we have lost control of spatial planning and our respect for the environment.
There was a time when the Odaw was full of edible fish. I know, because I have fished in the Odaw with hooks and a bit of tsenɛ as float for the line, using worms dug from the riverbank as bait. Not any more.
From car crash to sin bin
Raw chemical effluent from factories seeps into the river in the Industrial Area. The motor mechanics at Adabraka Odawna jettison irreparable cars into the river as it meanders its way towards the wetlands at Fadama. The real havoc starts where Old Fadama meets Agbogbloshie. That is where Sodom and Gomorrah rose – the eyesore that must be erased from the landscape.
How did Owusu Memorial Park, a premier sports venue, turn into a shanty town? How did the garden of Accra, with allotments that produced many choice vegetables, turn into a toxic waste dump? Why have governments allowed this to happen? This was land that belonged to the Ablorh Mills family, that carried the name of the patriarch. Today it has acquired a name that equates it with the biblical den of iniquity.
Settling people here who were fleeing internecine violence in the North was the right thing for officials to do at the time. But it is unforgivable to leave them to flourish – or rather fester – in the dump that is Sodom and Gomorrah. Any government should be ashamed of this monstrous slum in the middle of Accra. The government must clear the slum, and do it now.
Why the government did not enforce a court ruling to evict the squatters many, many years ago remains a mystery to some. The intention at the time was to relocate them to Adjen Kotoku. Some felt it was an opportunity to implement a Northern Industrial Powerhouse policy that would provide them with jobs and useful businesses in their places of origin. That would have recognised their human rights, enhanced equity and improved their quality of life. It is just as wrong for governments to lure migrants into a life on the margins by promising to build hostels for kayayei as it is to exploit them for their vote, which is what happened not so long ago when an order for the squatters’ eviction was announced.The partial demolition of Sodom and Gomorrah, 2015
No sensible beautification of Accra can be undertaken without a masterplan that involves the Korle Lagoon, the water body into which the Odaw River flows on its way to the sea. But the neglect of the Korle is even starker because governments will do nothing to prevent the temporary residents from using sawdust from the sawmills at nearby Galloway to reclaim land from the lagoon on which to build their shacks.
Wake up and smell the coffee
It is the pollution of the Korle which has created “the stench”. But I suppose that when you live with a stench for long enough you become inured to it and forget that what you are breathing is certainly not fresh air.
Our capital city must not be “celebrated” for having the foulest-smelling slums, or for having one of the world’s worst toxic dumps, nor indeed for being the location of what the local people sarcastically call Lavender Hill, where untreated excrement is poured into the sea right near the point where the Korle meets the sea.
With all the talk of Ghana being the new destination for tourism in Africa, people will go on Trip Advisor, see Lavender Hill listed as a site in Accra and get on the plane thinking that they are coming to a place where they can enjoy sweet fragrance – only to breathe in the real stuff. Nose tourism? Anosmia training?
We cannot kill the Korle, which gave life to places such as Korle Bu, Korle Gonno, Korle Dudor, Korle Wɔkon, because the Korle, in the animistic beliefs of Ga cosmology, is a Djemanwɔŋ, with its own wulɔmɔ. The Korle is a creation of God that is immortal, rational and mobile. The Korle is a testament to the power of the Supreme Being, Ataa Naa Nyɔŋmɔ.
Killing the Korle is ecologically immoral. It is criminal. We are playing with sacred spirits that we do not understand – which is why spirits are used to pour libation: only spirits can talk to spirits. OK, I made that last bit up, but what I am talking about makes scientific sense, too. You cannot kill a beautiful creation of God that has changed the climate in Accra and replace it with a toxic dump.
Naa Korle Abɔyoo, Naa Moomo Naa, Naa Yoofɔyoo, Naa ni jɔɔ ni ahe – the Korle is the mother or mothers who calm things down.
Sodom and Gomorrah must fall, so that the Korle, the female deity among male deities, can breathe! Otherwise, it will fight back … and when the rains come, as they surely will do more often now, Accra may just turn into One House, One Dam, with all the attendant destruction of property and human life.
Cut and polished stone
Whoever rescues the Korle so that the water can flow readily in its natural path to the sea gets my vote. Whoever dredges the Odaw and the Korle and restores ecological equilibrium gets my vote. Whoever transforms the main river in Accra to its former glory gets my vote.
With the inertia of successive governments, including this one, I may have to wait for a CPP government to come to power for anything tangible to happen with the Korle. Meanwhile, the floods and the tides of filth will come every year, and lives will be lost as governments refuse to turn the rough stone within their grasp into a gem.
Deal with the problem now. Extending the Marine Drive to Mensah Guinea will claim even more lives if the Korle is not fixed.
Sodom and Gomorrah must fall, and fall now, and our government must take responsibility for it!
Ablekuma aba kuma wɔ – akɛɛ akɛ ablekuma aba tua wɔ.
London, November 2020
Owula Ade Sawyerr is a writer, social activist and founder partner of Equinox Consulting, which works to develop inner-city and minority communities in Britain. He comments on economic, political and social affairs and is a past chairman of the UK branch of the Convention People’s Party.