The rebuilding of the road to School Junction is paved with political intention — an undertaking that will be wrapped around our necks come election time. The disintegrating bitumen oases in the red desert have been dug up, construction helmets dancing in the sun, bright with the promise of what is to come.
“It is good.”
says one taxi driver, our teeth rattling in the impact of shock unabsorbed. “We have been suffering with this road for too long.” …
Accra City’s task force has been through Madina Zongo Junction, clearing away vendors and destroying their structures; this in response to the Ashaiman Market accident last week where a truck ran into vendors & pedestrians, killing one and injuring several.
The Madina vendors are asking, the Ashaiman Market Queen is asking, we should be asking — where are the people supposed to go?
The city’s chosen action is an example of our insistence on the approach of symptom ‘management’; a knee jerk reaction that highlights our refusal to address the real issue, the real disease — the fact that we are yet to build a city that accommodates its inhabitants. …
It occurred to me this afternoon
That the peaceful trickle of this Unnamed River
Would have been a little more soothing -
Had this Unnamed River not been an Unnamed Road
A short 60 minutes before.
A while back I realised that my neighbour would drop empty pure water sachets on the floor of my apartment but not on the floor of their own. I called them on it — they were completely unaware and very apologetic. I began to think about this on an urban scale.
So much of our lack of respect for the city (littering, public urination, etc) stems from a lack of ownership of the urban spaces we abuse. The city was not built for us in the colonial era, and continues to be built for an elite minority under the hegemony of free market capitalism. …
And yet hope lives, in every gutter leap, every pothole swerve, every dark road lit.
I believed that in 2018 the road to revolution would at least be properly paved.
It is not just my back or my knees, which age with every unabsorbed bounce. It is not just the dust in my hair, my nose, my mouth, my eyes. It is not just that a stretch that should take 10 minutes takes 20, 30. It is not that a little bit of rain makes it almost impossible to cross the road without landing ankle deep in mud. It is not that the gutters they are building are just going to become dustbins in a city that doesn’t structure waste removal. …
Do you see this kiosk? The owner sells garri and flour by the kilo, as well as fried plantain and beans. She has been here for over a year.
A year ago, the kiosk was a roofless stand, shaded by a massive, beautiful tree. The lady’s clients would sit on benches in the shade, laughing and talking with her as she dished out their meals. Her neighbours would stand under this same shade, exchanging pleasantries as they waited for their trotro. This was a gathering space, a small community centre on a busy, unkind, hot road.
One day, a man in an air conditioned 4x4 vehicle with tinted windows arrived with a group of men. With no ceremony or explanation, they cut the tree down — no one knew whether they were municipal workers, or just citizens who felt there were too many trees on this stretch. All we knew was that they were not of us. …
If you want to know whether your city is built for you, take the short walk from Spanner to Accra Mall.
When you are done running, dodging, skipping, let us talk about how cities today are designed to absorb surplus capital [Marxist scholar David Harvey on Intercepted http://tun.in/tij77h], which means cities are built by the elite for the elite, which means they are not built for you. We build the Circles, the Atomic Junctions, the motorways to carry the vehicled elite from one investment to another; your pedestrian overpasses are an afterthought, inadequate, inconvenient, incomplete.
Let us talk about how you feed this city; how you underpin the economy with your ‘informal’ trade, making this city — that is not yours — functional, flowing between the cracks where this photocopied urbanism did not stick, filling them with pure water sellers at hot, badly designed junctions, soothing them with mobile money kiosks where GCB would not venture. How you innovate (!) without your generators and shock-absorbing, AC’d V8s, almost transcending the gutterless roads, the neglected trotro station, the unreliable power supply. …
“You see the power of names? These people didn’t want to live in Nanakrom. Then they changed the name to ‘East Legon Hirrrrlls’ and now the Burgers are sending money from London to buy houses.”
I laugh at the cab driver’s disgust as I exit his beat up Corolla near a bank in East Legon. In the trotro later, I will think of how often he finds himself in ‘East Legon Hirrrrlls’ and other suburbs like it, penetrating these inverted prisons for as long as it takes to drop a passenger off at their high-walled, well-maintained destination. …