Closing Down On Housing

Feature Article Closing Down On Housing
NOV 8, 2021 LISTEN

Cold Opening: ‘The Misuse of ‘black’

I must say, I am a big fan of the expression ‘white elephants.’ It is one of the only few times the White man suffered themselves a bad connotation. In the slew of derogatory expressions existing in the Caucasian’s language—the English language…

  • Black magic: Apparently, there is good magic and bad magic. And you guessed it, ‘black magic’, according to the Caucasian, is the bad one, the evil one. And ‘white magic’ are those intended for good. (Even in delusion the black folk cannot win);
  • Black sheep: This is the member of your family or any clan, group, association, etc. to which you belong who is regarded a failure, a disgrace to your bunch;
  • Black hand: This means extortion; a typical criminal organisation or lawless society awash with criminal activities, examples of which include terrorism. The expression itself having an Italian origin, and being concretised in America, one would think the term would rather be, ‘white hand’. But no, the black person’s hand had to be called into this white conversation;
  • Blackmail: This is an extortion we are all familiar with (not to say that we have each experienced it);
  • Black mass: A satanic mass;
  • Black plague / Black death: The bubonic plague of the Middle Ages which claimed a third of Europe’s population. The pandemic which makes Covid-19 look tame in comparison. Looking at the number of White lives it claimed, one would think ‘White Death’ would be more apt, but there you have it, the Black Death—the Bubonic plague;
  • Black economy & black money: Illegal trade and criminal activities within a society, country, always falling outside the scope of such nation’s taxable activities;
  • Black Monday: Those Mondays when misfortunate events happen
  • When painting Black Jesus, the White person makes Him White; when painting Satan, a person none of us has had the misfortune of actually seeing, the Caucasian paints him Black.

…You have right there, standing in this midst, alone, this expression, ‘white elephant’, denoting ‘something of little to no value.’ It is not ‘black elephant’ as this imbalanced world would ordinarily dictate, but ‘white elephant.’ I’ll be damned if I don’t use this idiom every chance I get. Too bad I had to let the ‘White Elephant in Black Hands’ title go. Because in our context ‘elephant’ means something. Elephants don’t forget they say; the elephant in Ghana justly has a dedicated following. So, I had to balance whatever misconception a person may have had about this housing sector series, by venturing into the absurd. That’s when we found ourselves with ‘White Umbrellas in Black Hands’. I nearly even went for ‘White Hens in Black Hands’, but at a point I felt it quite tired, the joke.

You know what, can we all agree that political parties be disallowed from using things common to our consciousness as party symbols? Eh, I see a video of a majestic elephant sitting on its butt, flailing its limbs and trunk in the air, throwing tantrums right in the middle of the street. It was for a good reason why this majestic creature did this, yet still that wasn’t a good picture.

The whole of this month, with the rains pouring sporadically, I have seen people painstakingly walking in the street, trying to get to work or back home from work. I see them gripping on to their umbrellas, with these umbrellas, being heartless, giving in to the storm—useless when it is needed the most. These are not precisely the kind of images a political party would want to be associated with, are they? Most importantly, citizens in slums, on the streets, living in kiosks, in squatter-settlements, on the verge of homelessness, etc., these are not the kind of images any political party would want to be associated with, are they?

A Rundown of the Matter at Hand
I will admit that this right up here is quite the opening. It almost deviates from the matter at hand—but perhaps not so much. Looking at the journey we have taken through our nation’s housing sector, right from the ‘#Stay Home. #Stay Where’ series, to the ‘Son of Man and the Concept of the Abode’ series, right up to having ‘Pigs in Skyscrapers’, to the majestic ‘White Elephants in Black Hands’, then to the absurd ‘White Umbrellas in Black Hands, and then to ‘It is with a Heavy Tongue…”, looking at the issues addressed in the abovementioned pieces, we can’t help but see pieces of them reflected in today’s almost nonsensical opening.

To properly critique the sector, we had to look at the housing issues as glaringly as they presented themselves. We had to look at the heavily private-sector-led housing economy, and the challenges presented the Ghanaian in the search of a home in the brutal private sector-led housing jungle. We did so with care however, because truth is we can never fault the private individual with the nation’s housing problem, since, we showed, right from independence all the way to the present, the private individual has been responsible for about 80% of the nation’s housing supply.

We took a look too at the legal and regulatory frameworks attempted in the past and present, their failures, their prospects (left untapped). We took ourselves back to colonial Ghana, to decipher the efforts (supposed efforts) made by our colonial tyrants. And this particular inquisition led us to the conclusion that indeed, the Caucasian came to the African continent to steal, kill, and destroy—never to build it. And that this nation we have upon our hands, is to be developed only by Black hands, because we have, in our past, been forced into trying White hands, and nothing good came and would ever come out of it. This bit, I must say, forms the thinking behind today’s article’s opening ‘The Misuse of Black’.

It is empowering—this thinking. That indeed it is us, and only us that can cause an upturn in our national lives. We selected one country in the slew of successful nations (with colonial pasts), Singapore to form our principal case study. And we found it to be true, this fact, that it is only a people that can truly cause an increase upon their own lives—and no one else. And certainly not the Caucasian.

But it is confusing—our situation. And this is an issue we have addressed in, inter alia, the article titled ‘Genesis’. Because a people have every right to be critical of their journey—their national decisions. We have every right as Ghanaians to critically look at the course our nation takes—each and every step of the way, to determine if we are indeed on the right track. And where we find ourselves amiss, we would be woefully remiss if we kept quiet about them—our mistakes and watch on as our leaders run our country to the ground. That is why we write; that is why we engage in national discourses, among ourselves, at work, at home, at school, on the radio, on TV, and on the new age medium—social media, etc.

But since we have a past as damning as slavery and colonialism, we tend to find ourselves, in attempting to undertake this needed self-assessment, traversing the road, rather, of self-degradation. The Black person never gets self-appraisal right, because we, suffering some sort of mental decline, an inferiority complex, end up always (always!) agreeing with these derogatory expressions such as those listed up here under ‘The Misuse of ‘Black’’

In the article ‘It is With a Heavy Tongue…,’ we, after taking the tortuous road through our housing journey, could not help but sum up our housing failure to bad management, bad leadership, and I was very careful not to add the word ‘corruption’ (because corruption has had a huge part to play in all this). But you see, in this world of the degraded Black, in a world where the White man, the inventor, the originator, the repository of true corruption—the Old Corruption, has managed to convince the Black race, that it is us rather who rightfully bear these derogatory adjectives, me attributing our nation’s failure (in this case, in the housing sector) to corruption, might just, as unintentional as it might be, be adding to the glossary of the degraded Black. So indeed, it was with a heavy tongue (or hand, no?) that I wrote those words last week.

But Closing Our Eyes Would Be Dangerous…

But closing our eyes to our flaws would be dangerous. In the nation’s housing sector, right from independence through to this pandemic-plagued 2021, no one (absolutely no one) can say the nation has not tried its hands on enabling policies. All the legal and regulatory frameworks and policies needed to ensure a successfully housed populace have been penned in the country. Execution, however, has been another thing. We have tried our hands on public-sector-led housing development, we have tried our hands on the market—on a private-sector-led housing economy. We have tried our hands on pairing the two—public/private partnerships towards housing development. We have tried our hands on hands-on legal and regulatory regimes, ones that provide enabling environments for a flourishing private-sector-led housing economy. We have done all these on paper—in policy wordings. When it comes to implementation, I repeat, this has been a whole different story.

Ghana’s issue has never been that ‘we do not know what we are doing’; that our leaders are clueless; that we do not know how to write good policies. The Ghanaian knows English, please! All our policy documents have commas and full-stops in the right places. The Ghanaian knows English—we know how to put words together, to form concepts, implementations of which can only promise immense successes. But when it comes to actual implementation, the story has been different. So, someone please tell the West to stop writing these research papers, articles, opinion pieces, etc., attempting to tell the Black folk what to do. We always know what to do! And in fact, we can write better English than they have been ‘harassing’ us with.

Ghana’s problem has never been in the ‘how’ it is with the ‘doing’.

The Act of Doing
One of the main ways we have failed at ‘doing’ is our endemic tendency to politicise each and every national issue—each and every development imperative. And I am not in this case talking about the people, but our governments themselves. What is with this whole, ‘I don’t want to complete projects left by my predecessor’ attitude governments have been exhibiting? Why are we, the citizenry, watching on as they happen freely? Why should a country, competing poorly in a highly competitive, highly globalised world, a world highly industrialised, this Information Technology Age, a country comparatively poor (yes, poor. Sometimes we just have to give in and use the right words), a nation, I repeat, comparatively poor like ours, with limited fiscal resources to go by, why should a nation such as this deign to entertain waste? Ours is a nation filled with uncompleted housing projects—each of them causing an increase in squatter-settlements—projects which each have the capacity of slashing down the nation’s housing deficit. Yet they sit destitute, occupied by squatters (some of whom may just be ghosts).

Or maybe it is our weather which is to blame—it is conducive for outside living. In the West, where many of these nations fall in the temperate zone, the characteristic stinking cold climates makes homelessness literally an issue of life and death. This perhaps is the reason why such nations seem to have a better appreciation of the earnestness of the housing issue—its place as a basic human need, and actually make provisions to see to the realisation of housing initiatives. Maybe, our nation’s leaders have assessed our weather, and have scientifically concluded that homelessness is in fact something the Ghanaian citizen can live with—something the nation can afford to put on the back burner. Oh, hear me out: maybe the incessant sirens we hear on the streets, the countless motorcades that emerge from these noises, these are our leaders on their periodic ‘meteorologic rounds’, to decipher if the conducive weather for homelessness has remained unchanged.

With each round, they empirically arrive at the conclusion that in fact, squatter-settlements, homelessness, etc., are all conditions the Ghanian can live with. Just walk right under the Spanner bridge, you will get the heart attack of your life, as from nowhere, you, on your way home from work (‘home’ is a funny concept as your rent is almost due, and well, you do not have what they call the purchasing power to afford the next two-years’ advance rent) … from nowhere you hear someone greet you, “Good evening!” Yes, you have just passed through someone’s living room without greeting, so very typical of Ghanaians, he had to sarcastically greet you. Good evening? This homeless guy under the bridge, greeting each and every passerby, this person is living his best life under the conducive Ghanaian weather, is he not?

The population of Ghana has famously exceeded 30 million—just as projected. I’d be remiss if I did not mention the fact that the census lady came by my house pretty late, and promised she would come the following day to count me, but never came (ridiculous, eh? Well, that is exactly what happened). So, it’s safe to say the nation’s population is over 30 million plus one—me being the one. And our problems do not diminish with our sheer numbers, they are exacerbated by them. The nation’s housing deficit, presently standing at some 2 million, is set to further increase with our increasing numbers. So no, we cannot afford to put a national issue as crucial as housing on the back burner. The sector needs vigorous and dedicated efforts. It is in dire need of a laid down plan, unmoved by the changing of political hands, a plan as adamant to frivolous changes perhaps as our 1992 Constitution is (this analogy is maybe extreme. But I am going to stick with it). We need a bipartisan following-through to the myriad housing policies the nations has (and has had in the past). Policies that act as the nation’s blueprint—workplans to be thought through to the tee and executed to the letter. That is not too hard to ask. Other nations have done exactly that and have seen enormous successes.

Cutting Down on Waste
And this might just be the right time to rethink our relationship with waste—institutional waste policy waste, legal and regulatory waste, etc.

The State Housing Company (SHC) is making great strides. We see housing units turning up from time to time, filling the rich to medium-income-earning housing gaps (if really there are that many gaps in the rich segments). And we know the origin story of the SHC, its founding mission and vision, and its mandate as it stands now to, among others, “increase the availability of dwelling houses in Ghana.”

And there are talks of a National Housing Authority (NHA) set to “serve as a regulator and plan, develop, and manage housing development in the country.”

We know wherein lies the crust of the nation’s housing problem. We know very well the segment of society who needs the most help in securing housing. We know too that these segments of our society, the low-income earner comprise the main chunk of our nation’s population. They, forming largely the nation’s informal sector, constitute about 80% of the population. We know also that governments in instituting such institutions like the SHC, the TDC, the NHA, do so, unlike the private sector, not driven solely by profit but to fulfil national needs—they do so, for the common good. So then, which of these many housing institutions is to actually tackle the housing need of the low-income earner (as Singapore managed to do with just one national housing institution, the HDB)?

If these institutions are set up, the NHA to boot, but the crust of the housing problem, the low-income earning housing demand remains untouched, can it be said that what we have on our hands is duplicate institutions but the same story? Looking at our housing history, the Ghanaian has every justification to fear that the NHA might end up another white elephant—white elephant with black people on its pay roll—paid to underachieve.

Oh! Government payroll is to again open up after all!

[Published in the Business & Financial Times (B&FT) - 7th October 2021]

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