Slums are not a new phenomenon. They have been with us long ago. This write up will open your eyes to why we see slums all over the major cities, what we all got wrong and how the proliferating of slums can be curbed.
Slums are created because of the highest incidence of migration of people from the rural to the urban areas. People in search of greener pastures or wanting to be close to economic viable, political and administrative centres find themselves in those unacceptably impoverished areas.
The foremost aim of migrants is to develop new strategies and take part in the economic opportunities associated with national capitals, meet their financial needs and their relatives in the rural areas as well as seek for opportunities for their able-bodied relatives.
In Ghana, statistics gathered by the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN Habitat) shows that the number of urban slum dwellers in Ghana rose from 3.57 million in 1990 to 4.47 million in the year 2000 and a little over 4.84 million at 2010. This statistic, studied closely, reveals migration as a major factor influencing the jump in the population in urban settlements.
Migration into urban areas leads to pressure on land. Thus, many people are forced to live on usually small pieces of land. Because these lands are often used without the authority of Government or her agencies, the people put up a temporal structure. This has given rise to ‘kiosk’ (often substandard, wooden structure accommodation unit in slums). The kiosk-ridden-slum settlements have put Accra in the limelight for discussion due to the inhumane and insanitary conditions slum dwellers are exposed to.
The rapid development that is taking place for both commercial and residential unit can be pinned to the ‘demonstration effect’ of Accra and more interestingly to court investors into the country for various businesses. The other side of the coin is that, it has influenced the high levels of migration of people to find opportunities in the capital cities. And, in the final analysis, this has escalated the population of urban slum dwellers to nearly 5.35 million Ghanaians with 37.9 per cent of Ghana’s total urban population living in slums, according to a United Nations report released in 2014.
The migration ‘epidemic’ puts pressure on both the government and social amenities in the urban centres. The government, on one hand, is faced with a lot of pressure to curb the situation. Some reforms and policy prepositions have been made to ensure that most people are not motivated to move away from their town into the city with the sole aim of searching for greener pastures are under consideration. Particularly, the current Ghanaian government, headed by President Nana Addo Danquah Akufo Addo is proposing a policy with a common, catchy slogan, “One District, One Factory” to create jobs for young people in their districts.
Again, the Ghanaian government, in 2017, created the Ministry of Inner-Cities and Zongo Development. The ministry is tasked with the responsibility of ensuring equitable distribution of resources to less deprived towns (mostly the slum areas where conditions are deplorable). The Government’s belief is that these policies interventions will go a long way to reduce crime rate and poverty in such specific areas.
Rightly so, with the policies of “one district, one factory”, when practically and effectively implemented (something that is hard to expect in Africa), there is the likelihood that development will take place in various regions which will serve as a catalyst for jobs, increased productivity and human decency.
But, realistically, the effect of these policies, may yield little results because, technically and practically, youth unemployment statistics is alarmingly frightening and the policy cure in ‘One District, One Factory’ may not be lethal enough thereby leaving rural-urban migration to thrive.
While we argue about economic policies that may or may not work, decisive steps need to be taken to close the over a million housing deficit in Ghana. The State must recognise the need to formulate more incentives for private developers in the country. The incentives could begin with the removal of the 5% Value Added Tax on property sale. This tax, like many nuisance others, is a stumbling block to the provision of decent and affordable housing in Ghana. Government’s partnership with the Private sector, with regards to the provision of homes through mortgage services which favors especially people in the working and lower classes are welcomed.
Considering the lack of attention from governments, then and now, the canker is widening. The reason is that few of the incentives that the government has provided are piecemeal which estate developers shy away from – providing low cost houses. For most estate developers, the challenge is with the high interest rate and constant depreciation of our local currency. The situation has forced the market to build and sell than to rent. If they did the latter, it took a longer time to recoup their capital and if they are not lucky, time value for money will leave their accounting books hanging.
But there must be a shift in the way we plan, build and deliver homes. From the slum areas to the sprawling areas for lower income earners, ‘container housing’ is the way to go. At least, it is a good way of delivering affordable homes to people on the lowest of the social class scale.
Container housing is not a re-invention of the wheel. It is a well-developed system in other countries. As the popular saying goes, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. Dock Inn Hostel, located in Germany, built entirely out of disused container materials is not far in sight. That building has of 64 rooms and can accommodate up to 188 guests in 25-square-metre area. Parts of the hostel has been welded together to make space for four and eight-bed dorms. While Dock Inn Hostel is built from recycled container, its safety and comfort are not compromised.
Governments across Africa, and especially in Ghana, should be proactive in dealing with redevelopment of slums in the country. This she can do by providing incentives for developers to undertake such projects and educate the citizenry about the safety and quality of the houses.
To be sure, slums must be redesigned with new structures which are well developed and can command a market value. Again, the government can relocate them to newly built container sites to create a new market value which will go a long way to balance the books of developers when the market fully matures.
Finally, by way of call to the government, without incentives, the kiosk-flooded slums will not fade away. It is up to the government to act with partners in taking pragmatic steps to treat the issue with the lenses of national security as well as upholding the decency every citizen is entitled to.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Felix Dade is an educator, peace advocate, youth coach and social development worker with a decade of professional experience working with young people in an atmosphere that engenders respect, creativity , critical thinking and problem-solving.
Ernest Tsifodze is also an author, motivational speaker and real estate learner