8 January 2013

Ghana: Kumasi Central Market, Fire Outbreaks and Lip Service Payment

THE KUMASI Central market, one of the two major markets in Kumasi, was built in 1936 at the instance of the Manhyia Palace, which graciously released the land for its construction to enhance the socio-economic growth of the people.

The Kumasi Central market, located in the Subin constituency in Kumasi, is an important market. From all indications, the Kumasi Central market is "a massive shopping mall" and a meeting point for traders and farmers from across the country.

It has a life of its own for the fact that it does not serve the people of Kumasi alone.

The market has currently extended beyond its original boundaries and across the railway line into the Manhyia constituency.

Unfortunately, the facility, said to be the largest in West Africa, is beset with unexplained fire outbreaks over the years.

Currently, besides the Asafo Market, which partners the Kumasi Central market as a major market in Kumasi, there are the markets at New Tafo, Old Tafo, Bantama, New Amakom, Kwadaso, Aboabo, Asawasi and Afia Kobi (Abinkyi), which pass as Satellite markets.

Kumasi has also mini Markets at Ayigya, Ahinsan, Sofoline, Breman, Tarkwa Maakro, Buokrom and Atonsu-Agogo. The problem is that most of these markets are not well developed enough, making traders prefer the Central market, which situation is answerable to the congestion at the Central market.

Within a spate of three years and beyond the Kumasi Central market has experienced four fire outbreaks.

The first was on May 28, 2009, with another occurring on January 2, 2010. On December 30, 2012, the Kumasi Central market experienced the second fire outbreak within the year, during which over 150 shops were gutted by fire on December 30, last year. The first was on April 15, 2012.

The effects of these fire outbreaks, which have become an annual ritual, have been devastating, but nothing seem to be done to avoid its occurrence. Personnel of the Ghana National Fire Service have always expressed concern over the difficulty in having access to trouble spots during fire outbreaks.

Official reports have always pointed to electrical faults as the cause. But in all cases, they could have effortlessly fought the ravaging fire, but for the fact that the place is always congested, making water hydrants in the market not easily accessible.

Fact is there are sufficient fire hydrants dotted in and around the Kumasi central market area and other parts of the metropolis, except that most of them are not functioning.

Sources close to the KMA indicate that previous administration of the KMA had budgeted for and funded the construction of as many as 130 fire hydrants in and around the Kumasi Central market, but only a few are functioning. These are not accessible.

The reports say fire hydrants have been concealed by the erection of structures by traders at the market, or there were no access roads, due to congestion. Committees have been appointed to investigate the cause of fire and reports filed but nothing good have come out of them.

In the face of these mishaps, government after government has attempted to redevelop the facility but to no avail and not even opportunities provided by the spate of fire outbreaks have provided the needed encouragement to governments, city authorities and other stakeholders to redevelop the market into a modern market befitting the 21st century.

City authorities acting on behalf of the governments they represent have since only succeeded in paying lip service as to the redevelopment plan of the market.

The Member of Parliament for Subin, Mr. Isaac Osei has on several occasions had cause to call for the redevelopment of the Kumasi Central Market into a modern market. He is convinced that a spate of fire disaster is a great opportunity to completely redevelop the entire market.

The Subin MP is on record to have reacted on the floor of Parliament in reaction to the May 28, 2009, fire outbreak in Kumasi, to have advocated a multi sectoral approach to the redevelopment of the market.

Hon. Isaac Osei made a number of recommendations but I am yet to see the implementation of any of the concepts he mooted in addressing fire out breaks at the Central Market.

Referring to findings of report of a previous Committee set up in March 2007, when a section of traders of the same Kumasi Central market suffered a fire outbreak, Mr. Osei drew the attention of Parliament on the need to consider a legislation, which makes it mandatory for traders who do business in public facilities to subscribe to insurance against theft, fire, unnatural causes and goods in transit.

He also called for the redevelopment and modernization of other markets in the major cities and towns, by adopting a Master Plan to manage traffic and environmental concerns.

Over the years, several investors had come and gone without implementing the project, despite their readiness to invest in the reconstruction of the market.

The good news now is that, new Consortium of Brazilian investors (three Brazilian companies) have expressed interest in the reconstruction of the Kumasi Central market and have since July last year been introduced to Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, the Asantehene.

It is the result of the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, having endorsed a proposal by the KMA to look for an investor to reconstruct the Central Market.

The Brazilian delegation, led by the Brazilian Ambassador has visited Kumasi Central Market last year and held meetings with some stakeholders including Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, the Asantehene for the purposes of reconstructing the market. But whether the Brazilian group is ready to deliver is another thing?

As the Subin legislator has indicated, there is the need for planners and architects to be at the centre stage of the redevelopment exercise since a new market should not be conceived simply in terms of structures.

"The market to be developed should make adequate provision for nurseries for kids of traders, clinics, police post, a fire station, a dedicated FM radio station, Internet Cafes, public toilets at vantages points, open spaces and bus station, and bicycle parks around the perimeter. The market should be disability friendly," he had suggested.

The question is: Is there any guarantee that reconstruction of the Kumasi Central market would commence before another fire outbreak occurs? How long should traders wait to get the much awaited relief from the scourge of fire outbreaks?

Why does the KMA not act on reports of Committees of enquiry set up upon the outbreak of a fire, but wait till another before they make the "ugly noise" akin to proverbial self-assuring promises of the vulture to construct a habitat for itself any time it rains, but reneges on that promise when the rains subside.

While the KMA and the authorities are at it, finding lasting solutions to the problem, I would want to appeal to the Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly (KMA) and the Ghana Water Company to make sure that fire hydrants are properly sited and identified when it comes to reconstructing the market as a major step towards avoiding the recurrence of fire disasters at the markets.

It is high time fire outbreaks at the Central Market awaken the interest and conscience of local authorities in enacting appropriate bye-laws regarding space management, environmental and sanitation processes and move away from lip service payment.

In fact, bye-laws must be strengthened and enforced to prevent people from building and trading on water ways, public access routes, on fire hydrants and in open spaces.

The provision of access roads throughout the market to make movement of goods and people much easier should be given a top priority in the redevelopment plan.

The local authority must be proactive in implementing recommendations of committees of enquiries. If not, can Manhyia or Asanteman Council take over the redevelopment of the project to derive maximum benefits for the people?

The business of the government is to create an enabling environment to generate the interest of both the local and offshore private investment with or without the government partnership.

Kumasi needs a Modern Central market and the time is now. Is somebody listening?

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