Negotiating the Right to Stay: A Community-Led Process in Old Fadama
By: Ariana K. MacPherson, SDI Secretariat
The air in Accra is humid and full of dust. After spending days inside heavily air-conditioned conference centers and nearby hotels, you start to forget the realities of city life. Luckily, I got a reminder.
I spent my last day in Accra in the centrally located settlement of Old Fadama. Old Fadama is an informal settlement occupying 31.3 hectares of land along the Odaw River and Korle Lagoon in central Accra. Established in 1981, its population of roughly 80,000 inhabitants is made up of traders and migrants from across Ghana as well as other neighboring West African countries.
The community has resisted threats of eviction for nearly a decade through use of tools such as enumerations, mapping and lengthy negotiations with the Accra Municipal Authority (AMA). Most recently, the Ghana Federation of the Urban Poor (GHAFUP) and the Old Fadama Development Association (OFADA) have been in negotiation with the AMA around the clearing of structures from land around the Korle Lagoon in preparation for a large-scale de-silting project, funded by the Netherlands Government. Korle Lagoon has experienced decades of pollution serving as the main runoff for the entire city of Accra and its shores as dumping ground for much the city’s solid waste.
Initially, the AMA requested that 100 feet of land be cleared to make way for the project. GHAFUP and OFADA members estimated that clearance of 100 feet would mean demolition of nearly 3,000 structures and eviction for roughly 7,000 inhabitants. They quickly entered into negotiations, proposing that the amount of land be reduced to 50 feet. Immediately, the community went to work enumerating the 50-foot area. Reducing the amount of cleared land to 50 feet meant a reduction to 1,192 residential and commercial structures and 3,000 people. Still not ideal, but certainly a marked difference.
Armed with their enumeration data, GHAFUP and OFADA met with city authorities at the AMA and succeded in negotiating for their proposed 50-foot area instead of original 100 feet, reducing the number of people affected significantly.
The next step was a community led demolition and realignment of structures on right of access identified and negotiated jointly between the residents and the City Authorities. Members of GHAFUP and OFADA led this process, first meeting with community members to explain the demolition and relocation process.
Getting the wider community on board has been key to the success of the process. I spoke with a woman whose structure is waiting to be demolished. She has been a member of GHAFUP since 2008. However, she says she doesn’t know where she will go when her structure is demolished – that she will simply have to find a piece of vacant land and erect her structure there. Sadly, this means she will likely have to live on the edges of Old Fadama, where the dirt paths are riddled with rubbish and the harmattan hits harder against the shack walls.
Despite these inevitable hardships characteristic of any relocation, resettlement of displaced peoples to other locations within Old Fadama is a success story in and of itself. Most tales of relocation involve displacement to many kilometers outside of the city, far from social ties, employment, and opportunity. Thanks to the successful negotiations of GHAFUP, OFADA and People’s Dialogue Ghana, this is not the case in Old Fadama.
In our discussions with GHAFUP and OFADA, it became clear that a waste management plan will be crucial to the success of the imminent de-silting project in order to prevent continued pollution of the lagoon. This is a key time for GHAFUP, OFADA and People’s Dialogue to put their negotiation skills to use. Waste remains a major issue in greater Accra, and the creation of a community-led waste management program for Old Fadama could serve as a key tool for income generation, community upgrading and negotiation with local authorities around the community’s capacity to engage in the upgrading process.
Farouk Braimah, director of the Ghanaian support NGO People’s Dialogue, stresses, “This whole exercise promises huge benefits and leverages. We anticipate capitalizing on this exercise to strengthen our hitherto weak relationship with the city authorities of Accra and to feed into [other projects] in Accra and Ashaiman.”
Bearing witness to the reality and determination of this community, alongside some of its key leaders, was certainly an experience no conference could compete with.