There is an interesting African proverb about “BEARD” that says “when you see fire in your friend’s beard, get a bowl of water close to yours”. The seriousness in this proverb is that it teaches us TO BE PROACTIVE IN LIFE! To anticipate problems, hazards and disasters; plan for early warning systems, design and implement adaptation, mitigation, and resilience strategies and frameworks! These are all just a combination of “INNOCENT WORDS” which mean nothing for the city authorities, I KNOW!
The funny bit of the proverb is that it contains “BEARD” and “WATER”…. And it appears that the two words are the CURRENT PROBLEMS of ACCRA, the capital of MY FATHER/MOTHERLAND, Ghana! Why is the “BEARD” a problem? The BEARD symbolizes power—overall power that refuses to allow participatory and integrated urban planning. It combines BRUTAL FORCE with INCOMPETENCE and implements no particular urban development policy. The only urban development policies known to the BEARD are DE-CONGESTION, DEMOLISHING AND FORCED EVICTION. Finally, the BEARD represents THE ABSENCE OF THE STATE’S PRESENCE in the plight of the ordinary vulnerable urban dweller…especially the slum dweller who contributes so much to the urban economy but gets unnoticed! On the other hand “water” is the problem because IT WILL TAKE ITS NATURAL COURSE and carry with it all that is in its way!
Whenever Accra floods, I am ASHAMED as a trained Urban Planner—Though I have remained in the academia without official practice (except for some minimal consultancy services, the reports of which end up in one shelf or the other, only to gather dust !!!). But all hope is not lost! We can get rid of BOTH “THE BEARD” AND “THE WATER” in Accra! We can do that by some (but not limited to) of the following:
1. Agitation for a change in the leadership of the city;
2. Integrated and participatory urban planning that brings all the relevant institutions on board
3. A re-visit to the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area (GAMA) strategic plan prepared some years back, update it and design an implementation framework for it;
4. Start implementing the above gradually, BUT RELIGIOUSLY;
5. Stop the “quick-fix” solutions such as DEMOLISHING AND FORCED EVICTION;
6. Stop reducing urban planning to “RADIO TALK SHOW” where everybody talks and after that returns to “BUSINESS AS USUAL”
Okay friends; let’s see how far we can go with “THE BEARD” AND “THE WATER” annually without any help. Enjoy a fruitful day without the “BEARD” AND “WATER”.