Hands off Sodom and Gomorrah!

Editor’s note: This Article was first published on Nsempii.com on February 20, 2014.  Over a year later the  problem persists…
On July 17, 2009, the headline of the Daily Graphic read; ‘AMA cracks whip on Sodom & Gomorrah’. Over a year ago, the Accra Metropolitan Authority (AMA) embarked on a demolition exercise of Sodom and Gomorrah. These were not the only attempts at demolition the place. The rational for last year’s exercise was to construct a USD 600 million drainage project in the area. It is over a year now and not a single block has been laid as foundation for the purported project. Meanwhile, the Authorities have looked on for the squatters to move back.

Here we are, faced with a major flood issue once more; and instead of the AMA acknowledging that it has failed to deliver on the promised drainage infrastructure, poor squatters are to be blamed. Another demolition exercise is agog; throwing people onto the streets at the mercy of the pending rains, mosquitoes and other vagaries of the weather. It seems squatter scattering is fast becoming the excuse card the AMA quickly pulls – anytime it is faced with the fact of not holistically addressing Accra’s drainage challenge. It is therefore important that we do not fall for another of such window dressing exercises. If there is any proper drainage plan worth its salt, as indicated in the article, it would not sanction this abrupt displacement of persons.

The point most people miss is that, government cannot eat its cake and have it. You cannot look on for people to settle at a place for years and pay taxes and other utilities; then you wake up one cold morning to displace them because of pressure from the larger populace stemming from flood issues. This is the umpteenth time Sodom and Gomorrah is being destroyed – But surely the authorities go back to sleep, or rather look on, for the squatters to move back. While no one encourages the phenomenon of slums, this hot and cold approach of the government brings to question its commitment to enforcing the law.

Once you allow a people to settle at an unpermitted location for a year or more; and as a State you provide and take utility tariffs from them, then indirectly you have legitimized their stay. In other terms, the State is guilty of contributory negligence. AMA can therefore not assume the legal high grounds to evict these people forcefully without a proper resettlement action plan – which is not limited to simply demarcating a patch of land elsewhere that they should move to.

A proper look must be taken at this development and a plan devised to resolve it once and for all. Our leadership must not be pressured into such knee jerk reactions – for it can have rather dire consequences for Ghana’s peace and stability.

That the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) intends to embark on an exercise with the outcome of rendering about 80,000 Ghanaians homeless, is one that calls for great concern.

Like any other slum in this country, Sodom and Gomorrah is a genuine manifestation of the ever increasing housing deficit that confronts our nation. It will therefore be the greatest heights of irresponsibility on the part of the AMA, and other state institutions, to summarily sentence these citizens of equal rights to the chilling colds of the night, with its attendant mosquitoes, and the blazing hot heats of the afternoons, with no shelter for respite.

Two major reasons are given by the AMA and other pro-demolition advocates concerning the matter. The first being that government seeks to implement a USD 600 million Accra Sanitation and Drainage Upgrading Project in the area. The second premise for seeking to smoke residents out of the suburb is the allegation that the settlement serves as a hub for thieves, drug peddlers, night workers and other miscreants.

However the afore-mentioned reasons, adduced by the AMA for its belligerent posturing towards the residents, cannot be sufficient basis for forceful eviction of these people. In the instance of the Sanitation and Drainage Project; one wonders what stage this so called project has gotten to, and if there have been any studies approved by our Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and other statutory authorities, that sanction the forceful ejection of residents.

Because, from my years of work in the areas of Development and Environmental Consultancy; I am aware that, a key prerequisite of any project worth its salt is an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA); which must be sanctioned by the EPA. Within this report, the socioeconomic impacts of the project are detailed along with mitigation parameters. So, to the extent that we are to forcefully eject residents of an area with no plans for resettlement or compensation, then one is made to wonder what kind of planning or studies informed this. Another dimension of this leads to some questions that need to be asked. In other projects; for instance, during the construction of the M1, small businesses and roadside shops (some of which were even located on road demarcated areas) were compensated.

In similar projects across the country, compensations are a part of the entire project consultation process. So what motivates this militant stance against the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah? Isn’t this disposition surely revelatory of the kind of stereotypical disdain and contempt with which the marginalized are treated in this country?

Another point that the supposed land owners and demolitionists argue is that, these squatters do not own the land and for that reason do not have any permission to settle. As a result, they should receive no mercy whatsoever. But the learned counsels of tort will argue that; doesn’t it amount to an instance of contributory negligence on the part of both the state and the whining land owners; for allowing this community to thrive unopposed in the full glare of all and sundry?

To claim Sodom and Gomorrah is a hub for criminals and therefore should be demolished, to me doesn’t sound strategic. The inquest here is; if these supposed miscreants are evicted from their current locus; does it by any means rid them of their devious ways? Wouldn’t we only succeed in randomly distributing these misguided elements of society into equally squalid shanty towns and other areas which hitherto had no elements of criminal minded settlers?

From my viewpoint; if it is true, as they say, that this area festers with purveyors of illicit drugs and other antisocial trades, it provides the perfect opportunity and setting for our security agencies to push in undercover agents who can then work to stem out these gangs from their very roots. To rather destroy their nest, hence arbitrarily dispersing them into the entirety of our city, is not a move indicative of savvy security considerations.

All that having been said, the point must adequately be made clear that, not all inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah are miscreants. We have law abiding citizens and loyal tax payers dwelling therein as well. As such, the issue of this area, including others, should be looked at through the holistic lens of a national housing deficit crisis and its attendant problem of squatter camps in our city centres.

It is a whole project that requires thorough planning that must involve all stakeholders including the Ministry of Works and Housing, the Metropolitan and District Authorities, Land Owners, Representatives of the Squatter Camps, Development Partners, among others.

To end this piece, it must be indicated strongly that, this attempted ad hoc exercise to throw people out of their homes onto the street – to hell with their welfare – cannot be one befitting of a nation striving to entrench the tenets of human rights. I believe this is the time for our human right attorneys to take legal steps and for advocates to make their voices heard. Why would we think as a people that; for the supposed good of a certain majority, a minority group should be made to suffer such indignity?

Jason Tutu

Jason Tutu is a creative, dynamic and motivated professional with loads of initiative and enthusiasm. A trained biochemist, he practiced as an environmental and development researcher with almost a decade of experience before making a foray into the terrains of business and organizational development, communication and negotiation. He studied Business Administration (Project Management Option) and later trained as a Project Management Professional (PMP) after taking a professional course with the Ghana STOCK EXCHANGE (GSE) in Securities Trading and INVESTMENT Advisory. Thriving in fast-paced environments, Jason is a prolific writer, trainer, researcher, business developer, networker, and very much a ‘big picture’ strategic thinker.

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