Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Plight of Hawkers on the Streets of Accra

There has been a massive emigration to the South of the capital and in the absence of industries to accommodate these numbers-perhaps because of the liberalization of the economy, deregulation and privatization of state owned enterprises with accusing fingers being pointed at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (I.M.F)-an absolute flare-up of the informal sector has occured and street hawking has become lucrative. However, they (hawkers) will have to battle it out with the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (A.M.A) which seeks to decongest the capital of illegal structures and the hawkers who have almost taken over the principal streets of Accra and worsening the traffic jams. We have heard the AMA but lets go to the hawkers and find out what they have to say.

The kinds of treatment being meted out to sellers along this street here at the Airport Junction are very pathetic and we are getting angry about the decongestion exercise of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly. It is not our wish that we leave our homes and to come chasing after vehicles in order to sell our goods.
Our children are hungry and we have to feed them. We do not want to go into prostitution in order to make a living because we have dignity and I would prefer to roam the streets in search of livelihood than to hand over my womanhood just to make a living. The macho men of the A.M.A must know that we could be their sisters and their wives so they must exercise patience when dealing with us.”

We have no meaningful work to do and even if you do, you are not assured of patronage and that is why we have decided to come and sell at vantage places like the side of the street. I believe that the government cannot employ everyone and that is why we are making this attempt at employing ourselves. There are some people in the Ghanaian society who can afford to rent a stall in order to trade but we cannot. The last time I checked, one has to have at least GHC 15,000 in order to rent a shop to do any business and I have no clue where I can raise that money. The state authorities must intervene on our behalf because the A.M.A is really harassing us on the streets in our attempt to make a decent living.”

I come from Agona-Swedru in the Central Region and because of the hassle I have to go through in paying my fees I took the decision to come to Accra so that I could do something and save money before school re-opens. I first tried carrying concrete on two different construction sites here in Accra but it was very difficult. I felt a lot of pain in my back and legs after I carry a few pans of the mixture so I decided to stop and find something else doing.
The idea which came next was to sell credit cards but I needed some money to start that and that is why I am selling ice-cream by the side of the road. I feel so unsafe because I do not have the techniques for crossing and chasing after the cars like my colleagues do but I have to manage because school would soon be re-opened and the fees will be waiting to be paid.”

My brother, nothing hurts so much like the aggressive nature of the decongestion exercise of the A.M.A. On two occasions I was beaten up for refusing to hand over my goods to the guards after a long tussle. I wonder if these young men working for the Accra Metropolitan Assembly would beat their wives in the house like they do to us on the streets.
What pride can a country take for itself when its citizens are not engaged in any meaningful employment so that they can take care of their kids and pay the water and electricity bills? I pray that the Almighty God would touch the hearts of these rowdy men so that they will exercise some patients when dealing with us.”

Very often we are advised to leave the streets and go back to school because education is important. However I am the one who is fending for the education of my junior brother at the University so what are they talking about? If he completes his education and is able to acquire a good job then he would also take care of my needs and I wouldn’t need to come selling in the sun full of fumes from the passing vehicles. If I leave the street my brother would suffer and I cannot imagine that happening.”

Some of the big men who drive past us every morning to work feel we are a nuisance to the society. They wish they would drive to work without the sight of these young men and women who are making a living on the street. Some of them have the guts to open their window and ask us if we have taken our bath in the morning and that is very disheartening. I am sure their children and relatives have never gone hungry and do not know what it looks like to carry water on the head.
The A.M.A must not decongest the streets because of these men who believe Ghana was made for them and we are meant to be slaves. I am very sure a majority of us would leave the streets if these rich men and women are to accept us into their homes so we can wash their bowls after meals. At least we will be assured of a room without the stubborn mosquito and perhaps have a fun blow some cool winds over your body when you sleep at night.”

I was working in a factory at the industrial area a few months ago but the Lebanese man was not treating the workers well. The machines generated a lot of smoke and heat which is often trapped within the factory. I am one of the people who were sacked for complaining about the persistent headache I was having as a result of the smoke. After working for unbearable number of days through the month, we also had to protest before we were given the meager salaries. They deduct Social Insurance and other taxes from the salary so you go home with nothing. I therefore had no option than to try selling something after I was sacked from the factory. All that these people want is to use our labour to make their monies without considering what happens to the workers.”

One needs strength in order to survive the harsh realities on the streets these days because the A.M.A has become very vicious. You have to fight them these days before you can have your peace of mind to sell on the streets. Many things beat my mind about this whole decongestion exercise of the A.M.A and I want some answers. Where do they want us to go when we leave the streets? After all, I do not believe that our mere presence on the streets litters the streets so why the harassment. We are not mad men and women who are causing a nuisance or disturb public peace; we are sane beings who are making a conscious attempt at trying to put in place measures to help kill the hunger that appears in our stomachs from time to time. The A.M.A must stop treating us as common criminals because we have not robbed anybody of his possessions.”

I agree that hawking along the streets often makes the streets dirty but that must not be the reason why they treat us the way they do. The A.M.A must give full responsibility to our work because we are Ghanaians and we must work in order to make a living. I suggest that they begin taking some taxes from us so that the authorities can also benefit from the coins and pesewas we make if they are so interested. Refuse dumps must also be provided along the streets so that the passengers and pedestrians can drop their refuse into them in order not to litter the streets. The A.M.A must be made to know that we are not in a jungle and neither are we on the war-field.”

The impression is sometimes created that we have deliberately and consciously decided not to leave the streets because there are government built stalls which we have refused to occupy . That is never true! Of course the government has provided stalls for us at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle and other places but the cost for the rent is so high. In fact before the stalls are completed, they have already been allocated to certain individuals so when all of a sudden they come running after us along the streets we have nowhere to go. In fact if they arrest us by force and decide to force us into the stalls it would not be possible because none of the stalls exist as it has all been occupied.”

I think the decongestion exercise must be targeted at the very little children who one can otherwise say are engaged in child labour. They are often at risk of being knocked down by a moving vehicle and their lungs are not matured enough to accommodate the fumes from those vehicles. It will be very difficult for any country to achieve complete decongestion because none have been able to cater for the needs of every citizen. What they can do would be to lure them into skills building programmes with the assurance that they will be helped to acquire some employment after the programme is over else they will naturally find their way back into the streets. No one is an outcast in this country. The fact that at a point in time, I would not have the means to meet certain basic needs of mine is the reason we join the queue and vote for the political parties every four years so they cannot be treating us this way.”

Everybody on the street is blaming the government for what the A.M.A is doing to them and the President must be mindful about that. It is not right that because people want to make a living they break the law by jumping onto the streets to sell one item or the other. There is a reality which must be recognized that poverty has really visited a number of people and as the state has not provided alternative livelihood, every citizen of this country will find a way to survive. You will never know what I am talking about until hunger comes knocking on the doors of your stomach. Even the university degree holders are finding it tough to cope with the situation of joblessness so how much we who have never had the opportunity of having taught how to hold a pen.”

I was schooling in my hometown in the Volta Region when my grandmother who was fending for me died. Some well wishers first started showing concern especially with respect to the payment of my fees but it stopped and I had to cope with the situation all by myself. All I want is another opportunity to go back to school and I am willing to do anything in order to do that. My biscuits called “Ayigbe Buiscuit” are best bought on the streets and that is why I would continue to be here.”

What amazes me most is that they (A.M.A) do not harass the newspaper vendors like they do to us. When we ask them why, we are told that they are working for the government but we are working for ourselves. I do not think that if all was well in the villages where we come from, we would have dreamt of coming to the streets of Accra. Even after one has toiled to plant tomatoes and harvested, the tomato buyers prefer to go to Bourkina Faso to purchase from there and that is our downfall. We plead with the city authorities to exercise a little restraint when dealing with us because the maltreatment is becoming just too much for us to bear.” 

“I am a student and was helping my mum on our farm in the Western Region but something unfortunate happened to us. A gold mining company came and said that the government has sold our farm to them and that if we agree they were willing to relocate us to another place to farm. We disagreed because of the huge investment we had put into the farm and as the cocoa trees had almost reached maturity. My father then wrote a letter to the company asking them not to only relocate us, but that they should pay for the fees of his children and build him a 2 bedroom house. They turned down the request with anger and one day we were in the house when we heard that an excavator had brought down all of the trees on the farm and had set them on fire with police men guarding that activity. This is my story and that is why I have come to Accra.”

I bought my goods on credit and now I can’t pay because we cannot find the A.M.A people and the goods cannot be traced. The effect of this robbery on my life was very devastating and I would never forget that terrible experience. We are willing to leave the streets, however something must be put in place for us to do so that we do not go starving. I cannot find a reason why factories cannot be built in every region of this country so that the young men and women can go and work there to make a living. The unemployment situation is huge and it is a well organized factory system which can cure the problem. Everybody must sweat before he feeds himself because thievery and robbery is not right before the eyes of God and that is why we are asking the government to give us work to do.”

The Acute Shortage of Gas

Gas has become an essential requirement in many homes across the country. It is no longer the preserve of domestic users but commercial drivers are switching from the use of petrol and diesel to Gas as their main source of energy at an alarming rate. This phenomenon and other factors has led to an acute shortage of Gas, but what do the people have to say about this happenning!

The shortage of Gas on the market has caught us by surprise and I am elated to know that President Mills has set up a cabinet sub-committee to find a lasting solution to this problem. Given the critical role gas is playing in the lives of the people of this country, it is necessary that all measures are put on board to tackle this problem.
I am reliably informed that although the Energy Ministry can afford huge amounts of the gas into the system, the current reservoir at Tema is not able to contain all and that is what has caused the shortage. Why haven’t we known all along that this would happen and therefore the need to build more reservoirs across the country to feed the need of the consumers? If we had done that we would not have found ourselves in this situation. The bakeries across the country have also contributed to this shortage because of the amounts of gas they use in their work.”

I find it very difficult to understand why expatriate companies come into the country and create all sorts of problems for the people in this country. The Korean companies which have come to do business in this country are the ones which has made the problem of gas shortage worse. The machinery they use in producing their products are huge and consume a lot of energy and as a result of that, they have resorted to the use of gas as their main source of energy. The monies they make do not stay in this country as all of it is shipped outside the country. All the factories and industries especially the foreign ones which are using gas as a source of energy must be stopped immediately. They should not be allowed to make their monies at our expense.”

The change in lifestyle is a contributing factor to the problems which confront people in this country. Of course it is important that in order for us to reduce our use of charcoal as our source of energy in cooking and doing other things which would also minimize the rate at which our forests are being depleted, people are encouraged to adopt other sources of energy. However the rush with which this is happening is what has caused the shortage of gas and we must be clear about this. I do not use gas and I would advocate nor encourage anyone to use it because the accidents which gas have created is just numerous and something needs to be done about it. Gas has destroyed properties running into millions of Ghana cedis and many have even lost their lives. The recent one at Ashaiman is still fresh on our minds. We have used charcoal for a very long time in this part of our world so why must economic activities come to a halt because the many sources of energy have dried out.”

Our failure as a nation to regulate the use of gas is what has brought us here pointing accusing fingers. Didn’t we know that as we allowed the vehicles to convert from petrol to gas demand would soar and therefore shortage was most like to follow? We often sit back and allow things to degenerate so that time and effort and huge sums of monies are used in rectifying the situation whilst we could have done so with little effort without pressure if we had foresight. If this was how Kwame Nkrumah had managed this country, I do not think we would have had the Akosombo Dam and the Tema harbour.”

The good thing about gas is that it has given us an alternative to petrol, charcoal and kerosene. If for one reason or the other there should be a short supply of petrol, gas would serve as an alternative and it can easily replace charcoal and kerosene. I would therefore want to encourage the government to encourage other people who have the means to go into the import and sale of gas to the public so that some of the pressure is offloaded.”

Some of the cars have huge consumption rates and because of that when you use petrol, you make losses as a taxi driver. If you buy GHC 7 worth of petrol and you pick a passenger to Accra for a fare of GHC 5 you would have lost GHC 2 because of the traffic jams. The cars which the white men have manufactured for us to use are fuel injectors and they consume more. You might have purchased that car for private use but later it is converted to public transport or commercial purposes and when that happens, you would certainly be chocked by the high amounts of petrol you would need to use for your work. That is what has compelled many of us to convert our vehicles from petrol to gas. Huge amounts of gas are generated and burnt at the Korle lagoon where the fecal matter from our homes are treated in a reservoir so why aren’t we taking steps to harness that gas for use?
Sometime in the year 2000, the then out-going regime of Rawlings began the construction of an underground tunnel at Kwabenya to preserve and treat all the refuse from Accra for the production of fertilizer and gas and I was part of the labour force which did that construction. I want The Insight Newspaper to go and find out why that project was left untouched after the NDC was voted out of power because huge amount of monies went into that project and I know it as a fact.”

Rather than insulting our political leaders and discussing where they sleep and what they eat, we must be encouraging them to plan our country so that the suffering would be minimized. Not long ago gas was in abundance and it could be found in every corner but as the consumption of the product increased no steps at all were taken to increase the capacity. There are many pressing problems facing this country and whoever is in power would be compelled to find solutions to them. The insults must stop now! Let’s have exceptional love for our country.”

In the interim what I suggest should be done is that when the gas arrives in the country and there is shortage of storage tanks for the preservation of the gas, a company like Mamba Gas which has fleets of gas tankers is put on stand-by so that they are filled for onward distribution to the various stations as steps are being put in place to have more storage tanks. We do not need to necessarily offload the gas into a storage tank before distributing them. We have told that the gas would be brought to this station (Awudome) by 5pm so we are waiting to see what happens.”