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01.10.2021 Feature Article

White Umbrellas In Black Hands

White Umbrellas In Black Hands
01.10.2021 LISTEN

The Politics Card
Last week, I could almost see you wink at me from your newspaper. You, reading on, I tell you, I could see you directly wink at me from your phones, tablets, newspapers—some of you, actually. One friend went the extra mile, making their ‘wink’ a call, “Oh! This week’s title misled me oo. I thought it was going to be an indictment on the NPP government. Too bad!” Having seen ‘elephant’ in the title, that was all he, a staunch NDC gentleman, needed to hear to draw his conclusions. Thank God he actually read the piece.

And that is why I say that ye, an adherent of the umbrella, I tell ye, I could almost see ye wink conspiratorially at me last week. And me, being oblivious, thought something had fallen into your eye.

So, being a fun of approving and appropriate winks, I decided to change the title of this week’s piece, though a sequel to last week’s—for no reason at all—to include ‘umbrellas’. ‘White Umbrella’s in Black Hands.’ It makes no sense, I know. But at least I have in my books, a momentary NPP wink—yours.

I’m in trouble, aren’t I? I would have to now write a piece featuring the names of all the other political parties. ‘White Hen in Black Hands’ ‘White Doves in Black Ha…’ Oh, wait that’s pretty redundant, the NDP party symbol already features a white dove, doesn’t it?

I’d rather when talking about these national issues, that we are able to put aside political sentiments, and focus on arriving at consensual, working solutions. But perhaps we can’t blame ourselves for thinking along party lines when the nation’s developmental issues are brought to question. And we will find, perhaps this illustrated perfectly in this week’s piece. But just for these Wednesdays (and sometimes Thursdays—when I submit the articles late. Sheesh.), just for these few minutes we spend ‘attempting prophecies’ let’s try as much as we can to keep the sentiments curbed. That will prove too hard erh? Because how do you ‘curb’ an elephant, eh? How do you ‘curb’ an umbrel…? Oh, you just close it by pressing that metallic thing—bad example.

But what I mean to say is that if there is one thing we can all agree on, it is that the nation’s problems hasn’t been the ‘fault’ and ‘cause’ of one political party. Because unlike certain countries, Ghana has not had just one political-party government since independence. Think about it, as you are pointing at one political party, they are pointing at you, so in the end, we are all, looking at the big picture, complicit. And also, because at the end of the day, when it comes to issues as crucial as housing—and the consequent homelessness, the only good a person’s political party can do them is using the party flag as cover cloth.

“What is Complicit? I don’t know what it means…” Ivanka Trump

Last week, we promised this week’s piece to be an exposition into the history of the State Housing Corporation and match it up against the upcoming National Housing Authority—and hope that perhaps (just perhaps) we find in them a divergence of objects and conclude (thankfully) that the nation is not wasting its money, time, and effort on a duplicate institution. But we have ended up starting this week’s piece on a political party point. And if you are one for foreshadowing, you maybe have already guessed this week’s piece to in the nutshell, be put as so: politicisation of the nation’s housing issue is one major bane that has stalled the nation’s progress in its housing sector.

But perhaps, before we can adequately talk about these institutions—the SHC, NHA, and so on—set up to aid the realisation of housing policies, we must first look at the various housing regimes the nation has experienced in its national journey—both pre- and post-independence. Yes, I am a hypocrite. ‘We don’t do politics here in ‘Attempted Prophecies’, also, let’s talk about politics’—this is what I seem to be saying.

As one young gentleman, Mr. Freddie Blay said to me one time, you say you don’t write about politics, but economic and socioeconomic issues, those are all politics. Good point. But being cursed with the inability to love a single political party wholeheartedly, as some (worldwide) religiously do, at least I get the benefit of preventing those situations where one weaponises issues to reach desired political ends—political party’s end, I mean. So, get your party flags ready, because in today’s piece and subsequent pieces (in Oprah Winfrey’s voice) e-ve-ry-bo-dy gets a point! CPP, you get a point; NDC, you get a point; NPP, you get a point. Everybody gets a point! And also…bashing.

Colonialism and the Characteristic Inefficiency

As if it wasn’t enough that an entire people be made subject to foreign invasion and rule, the British imperial government appointed McCarthy as first governor over us, then the Gold Coast. Incorrigible fella, he set to terrorising us in our own homes. Oh, the Ashantis did us all a favour by cutting McCarthy’s head. He actually killed himself after facing defeat in the war he brought against the Ashantis, but that didn’t stop our people from killing him some more by decapitating him. After a slew of tyrannical governors and consequent wars, the British imperial government, they learnt their lesson. ‘We don’t fear hu!’ our people had showed them, so they changed their governing approach with subsequent governors. In 1919, they appointed Gordon Guggisberg governor of the Gold Coast.

He proved himself the imperial leader a people could ever wish for, if they deigned, by some sheer ignorance wish upon themselves imperialism. He tried his hands on diplomacy, and on peace. He also tried his hand on housing policies. In the 1920s, he introduced the ‘Dispossessed Person’s Housing Scheme’ to loan building materials to persons dispossessed of their (own) lands (in their own country) by the British governments, so they could put up buildings for themselves—on other lands, that is. I believe that’s what our Ashanti brothers and sisters call ‘dumfo kumfo.’ Thanks for nothing eh? But this was something—or had the potential of becoming something for the colonial state’s housing sector, if it was actually successful. But unsuccessful it was. It was discontinued because the British government found the Scheme ‘expensive’ to keep up. Not as ‘expensive’ as the vast natural resources they were siphoning from the nation, but I digress.

Years later, the Alan Burns government in its 4-year Development Plan, 1943 tagged housing as one of its topmost priorities. It sought to, among others, build housing units with as much local materials as possible (hence cutting down on construction costs, and consequently housing costs).

In 1951, the Arden-Clark colonial government in its development plan, undertook to eradicate the pervasive slums and housing deficit the colonial nation was experiencing, by providing housing loans to locals and fostering the usage of locally-made construction materials. All these sound good, don’t they? But they, characteristically of colonial governments—and as was seen unfold in our case-study country for these housing pieces, Singapore—proved good on paper, but their implementations were tepid at best—horrible, if we be brunt.

This is just one of the many arguments against those certain tendencies we have, when critiquing our national growth, to make reference to our colonial past, deigning to call them better alternatives. You know, our tendencies sometimes to, with childlike adamance insist that our nation (and other African countries, for that matter) would be far more advanced had we remained under colonial rule. ‘False’ does not adequately cover how false such sentiments and statements are. The Caucasian had no mind to develop ‘your’ country for you. Theirs was a mind only adequately described by Jesus himself—"The thief only comes to steal, kill, and destroy…” Never has it been witnessed, a thief leaving behind a gift for those from whom he/she has stolen. They won’t stoop to even mistakenly leave behind and consequently gift you one of their weapons. Herh? You would think brotherman would at least leave a gun behind.

Let’s proceed: independence was scheduled for 1957. Ghana, the black person, was scheduled to with immediate effect (starting from 1960, to be precise) be in charge of their own destiny. It couldn’t get any better than this. No?

Big Plans—Nkrumah’s CPP
In the periods from the 1950s to 1960s, the Nkrumah government, in three separate developmental plans, had at their core, housing policies and initiatives intended to curb the ever-growing national deficit the very young independent nation was experiencing. The first was the 1951-1956 Development Plan. Still at the claws of colonial rule—pseudo-independent rule, Nkrumah saw to the establishment of the State Housing Corporation (SHC) and the Tema Development Corporation (TDC). The object of the former was to provide housing units for civil and public servants and provide long-term housing financing for these private individuals. The latter was established to fill the newly developed Tema industrial city with affordable housing units—targeted at low-income workers.

It was under this same development plan that the Roof Loan Scheme was introduced. This Scheme sought to provide loan facilities to public servants to build their own homes. A total of 2 million pounds was set aside for the Scheme; a total of 6,700 housing units was projected to be build out of this Scheme. But ‘woof!’ went the hungry dogs under the Roof scheme as ‘poof’ went the 2 million pounds. Only some 2,517 housing units were built.

Nkrumah was not one to give up, so there we had it, a second plan—the 1959-1964 Development Plan. Hoping to beat the increased urbanisation the newly-independent, developing nation was facing, this plan sought to house as many of the citizens in the urban areas as possible—and as equitably as possible. A total of 6,700 housing units were targeted. 1,500 of them were targeted at the low-income class; 200, at middle-income earners; and 5,000, at labourers. This initiative, as sound as it sounds, failed at reaching its mark.

Then there was the 1964-1970 Development Plan. The nation’s population was on a steady increase, so was its housing deficit. This Plan proposed the construction of 60,000 housing units. A total of 44.5million pounds was set aside for this project, out of this figure, 13.2 million was to be used for the construction of housing units for low-income earners. Once again, this mark was not so quite met.

The NLC Government
The people had had enough—that was Ankrah’s explanation for the coup, not the CIA as some were floating around. So then, the National Liberation Council took power from an authoritarian rule and set out to ‘liberate’ the people. This interim government, in a Two-Year Development Plan set focus on the nation’s housing sector. It set out to, among others, see to the reduction of the housing deficit and the endemic slums experienced especially in the urban areas. It undertook to churn out a total of 2,000 housing units annually under the Nkrumah-created TDC and SHC. After having suspended, and subsequently led an inquisition into the activities of the TDC and other housing institutions set up under the Nkrumah government, the NLC ruled these corporations worthy of continuous existence. But under these same institutions, the NLC faced its own share of defeat, building only half of the intended figure at the end of the day.

The Second Republic—PP
Fast-forward to the Busia government. After our experience with the socialist-leaning Nkrumah government, one that had slowly turned into authoritarian rule, Ghana, you can say, had a bad taste in her mouth for socialist rule, and capitalism, championed by USA (forced down the throats of nations, if we be frank) got its full turn in Ghana. The Busia government thought it necessary that the housing situation be thrown to the market—a private-driven market. That seemed the only way out, successive governments pre- and post-independence, having tried their hands at public housing initiatives and failing miserably, it made sense that the private sector be given a turn at the wheel. But knowing how prone the private market is to turning into a jungle, the government introduced initiatives such as the Bank for Housing and Construction (BHC) which offered construction finances to the private sector at cheaper rates and moderate terms than those being then offered by the nation’s commercial banks.

This was a fabulous initiative yet fabulously un-financed. Thus unsurprisingly, the BHC failed at its mandate. And the private sector, being among others, largely made up of low-income earners, could not contribute this quota expected of them by the Busia government.

So, the government found itself back to square one—the private sector could not don this housing-sector crown, the government had to wear its own crown. So back we were with development plans promising such-and-such housing units by such-and-such time periods but failing. In its One Year Development Plan, the Progress Party, set out to produce a whopping 26,000 units a year. Need I say that the government failed at hitting its mark?

And need I say ‘to be continued’ or you have already figured it out?

See you next week. Don’t forget to bring those party flags along. We might end up just burning them. Who knows?

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