Driving on the motorway amidst cars that could pass for jets, and of course structures moving on wheels which could not pass for vehicles, it is more of a formula-one track at one time and a trotro route at another time. In the midst of the commotion, the view ahead was temporarily obscured with thick smoke that would cause even the fastest cars to slow down, if only for a moment. The reality shook me – a garbage dump had been set on fire! A Settlement! It did not appear overnight; it was built one day at a time, and slowly but surely a slum-town has emerged. Oscar Hammerstein II once said: “I know the world is filled with troubles and many injustices. But reality is as beautiful as it is ugly. I think it is just as important to sing about beautiful mornings as it is to talk about slums. I just couldn’t write anything without hope in it”.
The Accra-Tema Motorway (ATM) ‘slum-towns’
The Accra-Tema motorway, which was built so many years ago by President Kwame Nkrumah, has served the people of Ghana and our northern neighbours (Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali) in no small way. The stretch has seen so much more abuse than any such road network I’ve ever encountered. Death-threatening potholes which could pass for manholes have caused several accidents through tyre-bursts, and cars swerving.
The irony is, while the motorway was originally constructed with concrete and iron rods, caretakers of our highways find nothing wrong in covering these potholes with bitumen instead of concrete. The more road tolls are increased with the promise of fixing the road with resulting proceeds, the worse this important road becomes. As much as I would have loved to stay on this point, it is not the focus of this piece. There is a serious phenomenon occurring along the motorway stretch: the first was encroachment on the greenbelt by developers and the creation of several unauthorised routes into and out of the motorway. In fact, the number of unauthorised U-turns created cannot be counted so easily.
What appears to be quite disturbing at present, and which has drawn comments from concerned citizens, is the springing-up of slums along the motorway. Authorities did not really take notice or probably did not care about this, giving a lot more rural-urban migrants the encouragement to add one more ‘kiosk-house’ at a time – until today a ‘slum-town’ has emerged along the motorway stretch. These settlements are so glaring that nobody driving on the motorway could ever miss them. In fact, these slum-towns are developing by the day, and if left unchecked will result in another Sodom and Gomorrah.
Slums – A Global Outlook
A slum, according to Wikipedia, is a highly-populated urban residential area consisting mostly of closely-packed, decrepit housing units in a situation of deteriorated or incomplete infrastructure, inhabited primarily by impoverished persons. While slums differ in size and other characteristics, most lack reliable sanitation services, supply of clean water, reliable electricity, law enforcement and other basic services.
Slum residences vary from shanty houses to professionally built dwellings, which because of poor-quality construction or lacking provision of basic maintenance have deteriorated. It is obvious that slums start from the construction of one shanty house until a vast area is covered. The capital city, Accra, is already reeling from waste. Now the slum-town along the motorway has started producing a lot of waste because the population has started growing – and they’ve resorted to burning this waste along the motorway not too far from where they reside, polluting the environment in the process. In no time, a refuse dump that will be difficult to control will emerge. The children born in these areas are going to be exposed to fresh threats: pollution, risks of being run over by high speeding vehicles, living under high-tension power lines, security etc.
That authorities are still watching unconcerned about this development along the motorway can only be credited to lack of leadership and a clear case of abandonment of the social welfare contract the people of Ghana have signed with government. The Ministry of Roads and Highways, Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Protection and the Ministry of the Interior should take special interest in this, and of course all other areas where slum-towns are briskly rising up.
The first six sustainable development goals cannot be said to have been achieved in slum-towns, and we have so many slum-towns in Ghana to learn this: there’s no chance of No poverty, Zero hunger, Good health and wellbeing; Quality education, Gender equality, clean water and sanitation and reduced inequalities. According to UN-Habitat, around 33% of the urban population in the developing world in 2012, or about 863 million people, lived in slums. The proportion of urban population living in slums in 2012 was highest in sub-Saharan Africa (62%), followed by Southern Asia (35%), Southeastern Asia (31%), Eastern Asia (28%), Western Asia (25%), Oceania (24%), Latin America and Caribbean (24%) and North Africa (13%)
It is time for the appropriate ministries and agencies to team-up and stop this new phenomenon of slum dwellers on the motorway before it gets out of hand. There is a bigger challenge when it comes to the rural-urban sprawl, which is lack of jobs in towns and villages forcing migration of rural folks to urban centres. Every citizen is entitled to the essential things in life; good food, education, clean water, shelter and security. However, siting of infrastructure and settlements must be done in a more disciplined manner.
Central government needs to take a critical look at these developments along the motorway and move quickly to halt them. Not long ago, attempts to move residents of Sodom and Gomorrah did not work. Once the population in an unauthorised area exceeds a certain number, it is more difficult to get them to relocate. It is therefore strange that almost all the people who hold the solution to this problem drive past these emerging slums in their huge speeding cars and do nothing about the situation.
Stopping this development and giving notices for current settlers to relocate into authorised settlement zones would be a wise decision to make. Secondly, the greenbelt along the motorway must be reclaimed and possibly fenced-off to prevent further encroachment and the building of new slum-towns.
Government’s affordable housing project should seek to build 1-bedroom homes in apartment style for rent to people living in slums. Amounts charged for renting such apartments should be truly affordable. A stitch in time, they say, saves nine.
Johnson Opoku-Boateng is the Managing Director & Lead Consultant, QA CONSULT (Consultants and Trainers in Quality Assurance, Health & Safety, Environmental Management systems, Manufacturing Excellence and Food Safety). He is also a consumer safety advocate and helps businesses with regulatory affairs. He can be reached on, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.