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29.12.2003 Feature Article

The Problem of Misdevelopment

The Problem of Misdevelopment
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Development is the ordered transformation of a society from traditional (often inefficient) modes of doing things to modern (often efficient) ones. The emphasis here is on “ordered”, so that in the absence of order during the “development” process we may have nothing more than re-arranged versions of the pre-existing conditions of “backwardness” that we sought to transform in the first place.

We seem to have plenty of this problem of misdevelopment in Ghana.

Take the case of Akweteyman, a neighbourhood in Accra, which as recently as 1984 was designated a rural area complete with mud housing and lacking modern amenities like electricity and pipe-born water. Only a handful of people lived there.

Today, Akweteyman teems with many concrete buildings and a population several times that of 1984. Many homes have some form of indoor plumbing and electricity, and one or two houses even spot satellite dishes. Mobile phones chirp incessantly from every corner.

But Akweteyman, like most communities in Ghana, may never know true development. This is because true development requires order and public institutions that work. Neither exists at Akweteyman.

There, buildings (some of them of dubious structural integrity) have been sited in the most haphazard manner, leaving no room for streets in many instances. This means that entire sections of Akweteyman’s population may never be able to enjoy modern ambulance services, for example, which depends on well-laid out and properly named streets.

Mobile phone or satellite dish, you just can’t tell an ambulance driver to “look for the house near the big mango tree behind Mr. Mensah’s house, and then ask for the house of Auntie Akweley the kelewele seller whose husband works at Kotobabi.” True development has no room for such deliberate state of chaos.

Similarly, the community may not be able to enjoy the benefits of a modern drainage system, because the areas through which this system will be laid are already covered with a mish-mash of buildings, each seemingly built not according to the city’s planning specifications (if there are any) but according to the quirky desires of the owner.

To introduce a modern underground drainage system (such as they have in London, for instance) in an area like Akweteyman would require that the government demolish several buildings, an exercise which may be too costly, economically and socially, for any government to undertake.

The only alternative then would be to leave most of the people of Akweteyman (and elsewhere in Ghana, where misdevelopment passes for development) to their fates of KVIPs, ill-kept public toilets, and generally bad public sanitation, complete with their attendant health problems and, by extension, human poverty.

Pervasive lawlessness is another characteristic of misdevelopment. As Lee Kwan Yew, the father of modern Singapore, notes in his book on how his country moved “From Third World to First World,” without law and order, no society can ever “develop.”

For what is the point in borrowing millions of dollars to build highways only to have hawkers and tro-tro drivers annex sections of the highway as marketplaces? At the Kaneshie Market end of the Kaneshie-Mallam Highway, not even a mesh-wire fence has prevented lawless hawkers and tro-tro drivers from taking over two lanes, leaving just one lane to drivers for whom the road was intended in the first place.

A drive from First Light on the highway to Obetsebi Lamptey Circle that ordinarily should take no more than a few minutes may take as long as 20-40 minutes because of such endemic lawlessness and misuse of public infrastructure. The economic cost of such lawlessness (in terms of lost time and fuel consumption, for example) should run into billions of cedis yearly, money that could best be spent on other development projects.

Already, there are signs that the much-touted Circle-Achimota Highway will suffer the same fate as the Kaneshie-Mallam Highway. Vendors of used bicycles and assorted items occupy various portions of the road at the same time that it under construction.

Moving their wares around to avoid on-coming earth-moving equipment has become a daily ritual for these vendors. It is doubtful that these people, who would tell you they have nowhere to go, would willingly move away once the road is completed. Clearly, there is another misdevelopment in the making.

The sum effect of such culture of lawlessness (and one can cite many more examples, including the common sight of cattle and chickens and goats in the principal streets of Accra) is that the economic returns on costly public projects like the Circle-Achimota Highway are much lower than they would be in countries like Singapore, where even chewing gum in public is forbidden.

This partly explains why Singapore – and all other countries where the law actually works – will continue to prosper, while countries like Ghana (where disorder is the order of the day) will continue to wallow in poverty, despite huge investments in physical and other forms of infrastructure.

For Ghana to truly “develop”, then, it must have functioning institutions, which development economist describe as “the effective application of the rules and procedures that govern the activities of the state, private and civil sectors of society”. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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