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23.07.2004 General News

Beggar Invasion

By Chronicle

Chadian Nigerians subject Ghanaians to compulsory alms-tax

MORE AND more Ghanaians in the nation's capital of Accra and the second largest city of Kumasi are experiencing an unhealthy, most often embarrassing situation, following their subjection to what may be described as, "compulsory alms tax."

The alms tax is not for religious purposes and has not been imposed on the people of the land by the State under any legislative instrument.

Residents and travelers to the cities are paying forced arms as a result of the aggressive nature of beggars, mostly Chad and Nigerian nationals, known locally as "Fulanis" who have besieged the streets of the nation's two largest cities over the last couple of months.

These foreign beggars, mostly women and children aged between 10 and 15 , have been begging for alms in the streets of Ghana for sometime now.

But the rate at which their number is soaring, coupled with the modernization of their vocation is what has raised the eyebrows of many a Ghanaian.

These beggars have now resorted to begging strategies that represent a far departure from the usual begging that had existed in the country for decades now, and which had since been attracting the letter and spirit of the proverbial Ghanaian hospitality.

These days, one counts oneself unlucky if one happens to fall into the arms of these beggars. One either offers some money immediately or undergoes the ordeal of being heckled for minutes. One is also likely to face a barrage of insults and curses, which are often uttered in an unknown dialect.

What had become more worrying to the benefactors was the way they easily rejected meagre amounts between ¢100 and ¢200 , followed by a insults and sometimes a deliberate attempt to dirty the dress of the giver.

Weeks of The Chronicle's monitoring of the activities of the beggars here in Kumasi, show that they can be found at almost all the busy parts of the city such as the Central Market, the Kejetia lorry station, the Amakom roundabout as well as Adum- the central business district of the metropolis.

Sources in Accra, the national capital, indicate that the situation is virtually the same, if not worse.

In the capital, the activities of these aggressive Fulanis are said to be concentrated in areas like the Kwame Nkrumah circle, Kaneshie Market, Tema Station, intersections and traffic lights.

A number of citizens have expressed concern over the way the foreign beggars have besieged the two prominent cities in recent times, pointing out that if the beggars were allowed to continue their trade without any restraint by the authorities, the nation's tourism industry could soon be disgraced.

The concerned citizens argue that the activities of the beggars posed a serious threat to the tourism industry because they (beggars) were not selective in their request for money from benefactors.

"Foreigners who have been patronizing our tourist facilities would come no longer if it becomes a norm that when one visits Ghana, these beggars would subject them to such ordeals, it has been argued.

Foreigners have also raised questions over the nation's policies on entry into the country and the kind of activities those allowed into the country are expected to engage in.

Despite ECOWAS and the African Union's (AU) conventions protocols that might provide guarantee for foreign nationals to have a virtually free entry into the country, majority are those who are of the opinion that the immigration policies of the nation should not be relaxed to the extent that the freedom of nationals would be trampled upon by citizens of neighboring countries.

Over the years, Fulani herdsmen have been a thorn in the flesh of some Ghanaians living in farming communities. These herdsmen have, on numerous occasions, engaged in deadly gun battles with Ghanaian farmers, some of which often resulted in several casualties. Communities in the Eastern and Ashanti regions along the Afram Plains were the worse hit areas of the Fulani cattle caretakers' activities.

The questions that most people are now asking are, "Are these Fulanis being given the chance to extend their disturbances from the farming lands to the streets of the cities," and "are they being allowed to grow in the streets only for them to redouble their troubles in a few years' time when they would have been mature enough to be employed as herdsmen?"

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