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Thu, 16 Jul 2009 Feature Article

Ghana’s mystifying house numbering System

Ghana’s mystifying house numbering System
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Which man in Ghana hasn't experienced the frustration before? You see a stunningly beautiful damsel, plenty of good news in her body, your heart fell and you fall in love.

“Hi, princess,” you say in a weak voice. “What's your name?”

She smiles shyly, “Florence.” Most ladies in Ghana have abandoned their indigenous names for foreign, mostly Anglo-Saxon, names.

“Sunshine, where do you live?” You want to know more about this lady whose beauty is doing something to your psyches.

'Awoshie,” she replies, edging closer to you.
“Beautiful one,” you whine, “which street?” You'll give anything to get this girl.

She takes her time scanning her memory and drew blank, “I don't know the number of the place,” she giggles, “come to think of it, I don't even know the name of the street.” She giggles the more. She's finding her confidence and her voice is becoming more stable.

You didn't find the situation so hilarious.
“Princess,” you cry, “why are you doing this to me? You don't know or you don't want to tell me?”

Her face turns into a register of profound concern. “Oh, no, not that! I am not doing anything to you. It is just that they keep changing what they write on the house. The last time they came, I think that they wrote something like M or H or something and they added some figures like 538/D or 385/M or 835/P, I really don't know.”

She then goes on to describe her domicile like this: “You stop at the Awoshie trotro stop, the last bus stop. On the right side you'll see a woman selling Kenkey in a chop bar, I think it's called the Bachelor's Korner or something. At the back of the chop bar is a small road. You take that small road and walk for about fifty meters until you reach a T-junction. On the left side is a small mosque, you continue for about twenty meters, you'll see a Pentecostal church, a very small one. They are just starting there, you turn to the right, twenty meters down that road, you'll see another chop bar, it is right beside an akpeteshi bar. At the back you'll see a small white house, you go right in the middle of the house, don't worry they will allow you to go through, you'll emerge on a small foot-path. Ten meters thence, you turn to the right, walk until you get to a tall Nim tree and then turn to the left. Count five houses on the left side, my house is the sixth one.”

Your mind is in turmoil. Inasmuch as you desire this beauty, your mental faculties are incapable of coping with the geographic hocus-pocus she calls address. Unless you're wagoned ('have a ride' in Ghanaian parlance), you'll have to curse your bad-luck. Bye-bye princess.

Why are streets not named in Accra, and why are named-streets numbered with a system that looks as though it was designed by a crazy mathematician or a guy who thinks that Calculus is fun or someone who eats Kenkey and Shito every morning? In most cities that I know, houses are numbered consecutively. That is: 1, 2, 3, 4 and so on. It is not so in Accra where a special alphanumeric code is in use. House number one could be mysteriously numbered N 123/X, the next one enigmatically numbered B789/V and the third equally cryptically encoded.

To find answer to the puzzle, I went to the GPO headquarters in Accra and spoke with the Deputy- Director. He was an elderly, round-faced man with a round and paunchy stomach. He looked so old that I was tempted to ask what the retirement age is in Ghana. I was ushered into his bare, austere office by a volumptuos secretary. The very large office sported no modern amenity sans the fluorescent light. A fifty-year old looking typewriter is the most technologically advanced appliance in the room.

Mr. Patrick Aidoo welcomed me like a lost son, “Welcome, you're very welcome, eh, eh. Kindly take a seat.” He threw some ancient files down from a chair and dragged the decrepit thing to me. “Sit down. You're very welcome, eh, eh.” He almost suffocated me with his effusiveness.”

“Thank you very much.” I said and tested the strength of the chair before sitting in it.

“Don't mention,” aged voice assured me. “You're welcome, eh, eh. What's it that we can do for you? Welcome, eh, eh.” He took his seat, re-adjusted the glasses perched rakishly on his nose.

“Thank you. I am doing a research on the Ghana postal system with a bias towards the street- naming and house-numbering system.”

“Oh, I see! Research, postal service, street-naming, house-numbering system. Research, eh, eh. I see.” I don't know what he saw. And why can't he stop all the ermings and ehings?

“Actually sir, I think that if by system we mean some resemblance of logic and order, I think that in the context of the postal service, system is the wrong word to use. I think that we should be talking about a lack of a system.”

“Young man, are you ridiculing our system?” Mr. Aidoo's voice trembled with ancient emotions.

“Far from it, sir. I was just thinking that system is the wrong word to use in a situation whereby streets are not named and the ones names are numbered by system that looks as though it was designed for a secret society?”

Mr. Aidoo scratched his baldness. “Are you among those whose stock in trade is to poke fun at establishment? No system designed by a man is perfect and ours is no exception. We are busy revising it all the time and that's what we're doing. I really don't see your problem, young man.” He looked at me as though I was an errant son.

“I am sorry that you feel that way. I am just trying to understand what logic informed the present system. I consider myself of average intelligence, yet I can't make a head or tail out of the present system. No one that I've spoken to understands it, either. Since your system was designed to satisfy the customer, how could we take advantage of a system that remains a mystery to us?”

“Young man, look here,” ancient voice reverberated around the room, “you've lived abroad for so long that you think that everything should be done in Ghana the way it is done outside (he stretches the word). No country has solved all its problems; we're doing our best here.”

“Once again, I'm sorry that you feel that way. I am not talking about countries solving all their problems. I'm just wondering why a really simple house-numbering system should become a major production in Ghana.”

“What specifically are we talking about, young man?” The old man wanted to know, his Adam- apple dancing up and down like some primitive creature.

“I am talking specifically about counting, sir. We're taught to count consecutively, i.e. 1,2,3,4,to 10 to 100 to 1000 and so on. That seems to us like the natural order of things - every child understands it. I'd like to know why Ghana Post decided to change this simple system which everyone understands to one which even nuclear physicists have problem understanding. Or is your organization operating under some reverse Eisteinean principle that everything should be made as complicated as possible.

“Look, young man,” ancient voice cracked with passion. “We've been operating our system since the British were here, you see. It has stood us in good stead. A lot of energies have been invested in bringing it to its present level. Now you're telling me that you cannot see the logic behind it. Where have you been looking?” Mr. Aidoo's face was a map of paternal concern as he regarded me.

I was unmoved.
“Perhaps, sir, you can simply explain to me the logic behind the system. Because a system has been in place since colonial times is no argument for its retention. Actually, since I know that the British Royal Mail is continually changing its own system; it is the main reason why it should be changed - made up-to-date. Human society is a dynamic one, sir. Institutions and organizations should not be allowed to freeze themselves into a sort of time warp. Perhaps your system makes perfect sense to you and other lucky initiates, but to your consumers, of whom I am but one, it is full of shit-holes that must be plugged. We are on the same side, sir. I am no management expert, but I do have a suggestion or two on how you can improve your services and contribute your quota in improving the economy of this country and, in the process, alleviate some of the groaning unemployment problems.

A bemused smile danced on Mr. Aidoo's antediluvian face, “Glad to hear that we're on the same side,' he retorted sarcastically. “ What are these suggestions of yours which have eluded the best brains we have in our organization?

I was undaunted. Staring fixedly at the aged face I said, “We have to make some basic, even elementary assumptions about your organization. One is that it was set up to improve the communication system in Ghana, bring people closer to one another, so to speak. It is also to make some money in the process and contribute to the economy. Another of our assumptions is that your organizations have to keep abreast of new techniques and technologies in order to improve its services. Are you meeting either of these? You'll agree, without even a scientific poll, that only a tiny percentage of the population are using your services at present. We then have to analyse the reason for this sorry state of affair. I hope that you're following me?”

Mr. Aidoo was toying with his spectacles, “A lot of analysis. What are actually the suggestions?” He said in an impatient voice.

“It is simple, sir. A street-naming committee should be set up as a matter of national emergency. Every street in the country should be named. Following that we should jettison the archaic house- numbering system. While not all of us are endowed with great mathematical abilities, most of us can count one, two, three. A well-designed system, a great mind once said, is simplicity at its best. Every street should be named, every house numbered. The benefits will be many and immediate. People don't write letters at the moment because no one can remember the street name and number where his\her relative lives. A simple, understandable system will result in people writing more letters. The current system is responsible for the high cost of postage stamps. The prices are bound to fall as more people write. This is simple economics. Your customers, who can now write to their relatives, will be happy. You'll be happy because you will be laughing all the way to your bank. Your suppliers will be happy, so will their suppliers, too. The positive effects will boomerang down the road.”

The elderly man was laughing uproariously,” So street-naming and house numbering will increase postage stamps sales, is that all? Actually, our sales are up, so is our profit.”

“That's not all, sir. The suggestion also has some positive social effects. Chances are that if I ask you where you live, you'll be describing it to me, instead of telling me the street name and the house number. I have hardly scratched the surface of the social and economic benefits accruing from a better-managed system. A lot of our youth are unemployed. They are wasting away their lives drinking and smoking away their sorrows. They are able-bodied, ready-to-work young men. If more people are writing, we will, naturally, need more hands to carry and sort the letters. Perhaps we can then join the rest of humanity in distributing letters to homes on a daily basis. As we have it now, people are journeying (at great cost to both their lives and their economies) to deliver simple messages which could easily be written and posted.”

Mr. Aidoo was not convinced, “And you think that more postal boxes couldn't solve the problems you just diagnosed?” He sneered.

“Space alone would not permit it.” I snapped back. His obduracy was irritating me.

“I must thank you for all your concern. I wondered why all these have escaped us all these years.” He said with biting sarcasm.

“It escaped you simply because bureaucrats are not the world's greatest thinkers. You and I know that human beings are, by nature, averse to anything that challenges their comfortable, even if indolent, positions. Our problems will be half-solved when our bureaucrats start to think.”

Which team do you think has the higher chance of winning the 2024 elections?

Started: 02-07-2024 | Ends: 31-10-2024

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