opinionBy Philip Kobina Baidoo Jnr
London — I never ceased to be amazed by Ghanaian politicians. I have, for some time now, been brow beating myself with the question, why can't these people argue on pure economic principles? The fact is, the running of a country is all about the allocation of scarce resources. Is it because they lack the knowledge, or for the simple paltry reason that it does not win votes? What you are about to read is tantamount to playing an old gramophone record for the third or fifth time; it becomes boring, but hear me out.
The people of Ghana are crying out for help. Their desperation is palpable, and it has a lot of legitimacy. Their expectation couldn't have been greater with the discovery oil in commercial quantities, besides our traditional cocoa, gold and the countless goodies our land produces. The cry is for leaders who will debate the affairs of state based on sound economic principles. And what do we hear them talking about? It is unbelievable; hostels for Kayayei. The sort of fights they pick does not inspire any confidence. This is one of the times when one raises the hands and says I can't fight anymore; it is a lost cause.
The Kayayei problem is akin to what the British and most of the European countries experienced during their industrialisation when people from the rural areas swamped the industrial towns to look for jobs that paid pittance. It just happened that their livelihood had been decimated by the introduction of a plethora of machinery most important among them agriculture, which employed the bulk of the workforce in the countryside. The parallel is striking. You would expect that our so called leaders who want to captain this huge ship of state would have studied some of the problems that these European countries went through, and use that as a model to shepherd us to avoid the pitfalls they encountered. They went through those horrible experiences, because they did not have any precedence to guide them, but we do.
Most of these unfortunate lives that have left the comfort of their villages to brace the cesspool of city life were basically engaged in subsistence agriculture. Unfortunately, that way of life is only able to maintain people without any aspirations in life. That is, people who just work to keep body and soul together. Strangely, those types of people are endangered species. Now everybody, bar none, wants a better life for themselves and their offspring. And the most important ingredient to guarantee a better life is education. And of course they will also like to educate their children to the level where their intellectual ability can carry them, though they did not have that privilege. Most of these people are not stupid. They cannot express it, but it is alive in their every waking thought. They are aware that those type of dreams cannot be realised in their villages hence their migration to the cities for non existing jobs, or perhaps follow the path of a compatriot who come back home to their village every now and then to showcase her success courtesy of her life in the city.
We may all have our perception about these our unfortunate fellow citizens. On the other hand, their low life, which has become a fodder for political grandstanding, is inherently the essence of the human spirit at work - the desire to better one's life. It is the same spirit that drives the development of mankind. It is the same spirit that drove giants like Albert Einstein, Michael Faraday, Thomas Edison and many more. However, in this instance it is flowering in the faces of people we don't want to know. It is a nightmare for every government. But the solution is not conjuring all type of goodies to see who has got humanity in his heart. It is purely an economic problem.
NPP as part of their freebies galore are promising hostels for Kayayei. Caught on the wrong foot, and not in the least interested in the train leaving the station without them, NDC has also opined that it was originally their plan, which has been usurped by their opponent. I find it very sad because these are the two main political parties in the country, and they are churning out policies that float on economic illusions. What I find contemptuous is when their opponents come up with some ridiculous vote grabbing ideas instead of counteracting the policy with a serious economic counter weight to expose its fallacy; they rather squabble over whose Father Christmas policy is the best.
It seems they are unable to learn anything from the authentic three full election cycles we've had since the end of the butcher's reign. For example, during the 2000 campaign Kufuor promised the shoe shine boys that if he wins the election he will take them off the streets. Even those in Accra who were registered in Kumasi bought into that promise and travelled all way to Kumasi to vote for him. What did he do for them when he won? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! I am not saying this to denigrate Kufuor or the NPP party, but to emphasise that we should grow out of this electioneering campaign trickery.
The Kayayei brouhaha is a problem that is experienced by every developing economy and the government cannot jump the rope to circumvent it by building hostels. It will just be a cosmetic solution that will aggravate it later. It is now a trickle; it will become an Exodus immediately such a half house solution is tempted. Renting at low cost is another word for unsustainable. Perhaps, they need a crash course in applied economics to understand this. The snag with this idea is when you build those properties, and rent them at low cost how do you maintain and expand the project when you don't collect enough rent? It is a slum in the making. Secondly, you create an economic gridlock because the resources cannot be recycled back, and it will just be like a warehouse full of unsaleable goods. Besides, so long as these hostels are not going to be entirely free, there are some who will prioritise whether to pay for housing or continue to brace the elements in order to save some money to probably start their own little business. Please stop giving the electorates fish and teach them how to fish. This is just figurative. It's all about fixing the economy and the problem of Kayayei will take care of itself.
Finally, the solution is not, for example, as some would like to suggest stopping people from migrating within the country, it is against the spirit of humanity. The chunk of the problems lies in our land tenure system. Quite a substantial amount of stool and skin lands are lying fallow without it being farmed. The land tenure system needs a serious overhaul; to release farmlands for commercial interest. Quite a few Ghanaian intellectuals have produced scholarly work on the issue. All that needs to be done is to exhaustively debate it in parliament, and perhaps put it to referendum for ratification, because a lot of entrenched interest groups will resist its implementation if we should come to a workable solution.
Practically, a comprehensive approach will need to be adopted by the government to tackle the housing problem. It is a difficult balancing act to perform. That is only if we are prepared to shift resources in the economy for that purpose. They will have to embark on massive housing project for the general public, and rent them at the going market price. Now, by doing so those who move into such properties would have moved out from some private landlords who rent at ridiculous term i.e., five years advance etc., which prevents a lot of moderate income people to rent houses. By so doing it will make the lower end of the housing market more competitive to eliminate such ludicrous practices for the betterment of all stakeholders.