Railway dwellers near the end of the line in Accra
By Angela Johnston
In Ghana’s capital city, Accra, a commotion stirs along the train tracks near the central railway station. Dozens gather to hear the news — soon their homes and workplaces will be razed for a new rail system.
“Last year we came to warn you to leave the railway lands. Last week we came again. And today, too, we have come,” Accra’s mayor, Alfred Vanderpuije, tells the crowd in Twi, a local language as he tours the site. “I can’t tell you if I will come tomorrow or tomorrow next. But we will come and we will demolish all of the structures.”
Railway officials call this a “sensitization exercise.” That is, bringing the message to thousands of people who have settled in at least 10 informal communities along the rail line that they must leave — and soon — to pave the way for a new, high-speed rail system. The problem is many say they have nowhere to go.
This project is worth about $900-million US, and will connect Accra to nearby cities by train. The China National Machinery & Equipment Import & Export Corporation (CMEC) is responsible for building it.
Ghana’s president John Evans Atta Mills promised Ghanaians modernization of the country’s rail system under his “Better Ghana” agenda when he was elected in 2009. This particular project is expected to take a year-and-a-half and employ Ghanaians at a rate of 40 per cent. Work could begin this month.
The delegation of politicians and Chinese engineers moves on to its next stop. In the thick Accra heat, laundry dries in the hot sun on the rocks. People cook with oil frying on charcoal fires. Life bustles in these communities, where children sway to music videos blaring from televisions in small shops.
Some residents say they have lived here for 30 years. Baffour Anom sells cosmetics in the area. He says he looks forward to the new development, although he’s concerned about how it will affect his livelihood.
“I’m worried. I’m worried, because it will affect me later on, but I have to take it. I can’t do nothing about that,” Baffour notes.
Frank Doyi, a coordinator with Amnesty International, says the group doesn’t oppose Ghana’s development, or even necessary evictions, but says in this case, people were not consulted enough or given enough help to relocate.
“You can’t just kick them out, they are human beings,” Doyi says. “They are Ghanaians and they have rights… and these rights must be respected.”
Amnesty estimates at least 50,000 people live in slums in Accra. Although forced evictions are not new to the city, Doyi says this would be the largest so far.
Ghana’s Railway Development Authority says it has given people more than a year to leave, and there are other markets where railway dwellers can work. Although it says it is trying to evict people humanely, railway authority board chairman Daniel Markin says helping people relocate would be to “condone illegalities.”
“Some people just become very recalcitrant and difficult in doing what they have to do,” says Markin, “Look, we should not legitimize illegitimate things. We should not let the lawless ones dictate the pace of the law.”
As the tour wraps up, people begin to protest, and chase the delegation’s bus on to the street outside the station. So finishes another day at the end of the line, living on the edge of demolition.
Listen to a radio story about the evictions, originally aired on Ghana's Citi FM here (produced by Umaru Sanda and Angela Johnston):