Business in Ghana

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Winneba Will Remain a Zongo, Unless ……

Posted by Business in Ghana on July 24, 2011

By Sydney Casely-Hayford, Sydney@bizghana.com

The journey to Winneba is only 30 minutes away from the center of Accra if you skip the nonsense at Odorkor, Sakaman, Mallam and McCarthy Hill.  The end result when you arrive at Winneba, is a disappointing specter of a once interesting town (dare I call it that now), with no business activity or commerce.

Weaving along with the scanty traffic and through a looping one way with a market closing in on the road, you catch a village town crier with a gong-gong, actually calling the attention of the community and parting some message in the local dialect.

Winneba has a University campus spread through the town on the North, South and Centre.  It also once had one of the most visited tourist attractions, Charles Techie Menson Center, which in those days had beautiful chalets, a dance hall and many a beach for lounging and enjoying a good swim.  It also had a pottery and glazing factory, Ekem, I think it was, who made great plates and pots for the local market.

The road to leading to Winneba from Accra is well done and the drive to the roundabout parting left to Winneba and right to Swedru has seen memorable times and lots of political action.  Once you turn to Winneba and make the Fire station on the left, that is it.  Yes, you might want to see Kow Arkaah’s residence and also the police training school and some still grand colonial buildings scattered around the hillside, but that is all.

The roads in Winneba are still pothole motorable, no different from the ones we have in Accra with decorative craters on the sides and middle of the road and they have a wonderful one-way system in place.  No Traffic jams for 2 hours.

But there is virtually no business in Winneba.  The University campus is busy and you expect that business would develop around the needs of the students.  You expect internet cafes, libraries, outdoor parks, fast food eating areas, bustling transport services taking students to and from Accra, Cape Coast and other close towns and cities.  But there is nothing.  Youth loiter on the sides of the roads with no intent and hurry at 11 am.

The offices housing the DVLA and other Government Institutions are old, rickety, dusty and musty.  You get a clear sense of dampened activity with no hurry to complete anything.

Winneba is a typical example of all that is wrong with our urban drift. It is not a slum, but it has the look and feel of a Zongo.  UN Habitat for Humanity defines a slum as ”a place of residence lacking one or more of five things: durable housing, sufficient living area, access to improved water, access to sanitation and secure tenure”.  Not many people want to live there out of choice.

Most countries in the developing world have Slums. These are normally densely populated areas of sub-standard housing, usually in a city, characterized by unsanitary conditions and social disorganization. There are several definitions for the word.

In Ghana, many if not all Zongos are slums.  Great Britain was once a great big slum.  London had the biggest slums.  Rapid industrialisation in the 19th-century was accompanied by rapid population growth and the concentration of working-class people in overcrowded, poorly built housing neighbourhoods.  Colonisation brought prosperity and prosperity brought in a huge effort to improve the lot of the people and clean up of the cities. That is when the unemployed and slum dwellers were pushed to newly developing industrial hubs of Sheffield, Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester.

Our Winneba Zongo is defined by its local standards.  Chieftancy disputes holding back community progress, interminable land disputes blocking titular commercialization, lack of foresight needed to identify wealth creation opportunities and a belief in witchcraft and wizardry and archaic cultural norms.  The UN Habitat for Humanity definition fails to catch what defines our local Zongos.

I have met many investors who are very keen to spend millions of dollars to develop the Windy Bay and recreate the tourist attraction that Nkrumah identified further back.  There are wonderful beaches there and its proximity to Accra makes it ideal for a long weekend break if Cape Coast and Elmina are too far.

But what has Winneba done?

Their prolonged chieftancy dispute is scaring investors away from the Windy Bay.  There is no attempt to modernize the city and position resources to attract the right type of entrepreneur.  When investors have come forward, Winneba youth and Asafo have risen up in protest that their cherished traditions will be eroded and their customs and shrines will be destroyed.  End result?  They by-passed becoming a slum and went straight to a Zongo.

Historic families have abandoned their homes in the bay, to the sea breeze and created a state of disrepair beyond imagination.  It is all around you when you drive through the town.

Until Winneba and the bigger Ghanaian society learn to tamper cultural and social beliefs with a large measure of financial sense, we define ourselves in this localized Zongo.  It has to be the biggest stumbling block to our development.

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6 Responses to “Winneba Will Remain a Zongo, Unless ……”

  1. Kenneth Essel-Cobbah said

    This is a well researched, simple but matter-of-fact summary of the Windy Bay predicament. Both my paternal and maternal family homes are berthed there, so I do a monthly visit, at least. The fact that my father hails from Gomoa Fetteh, and my mother from Apam, should give a clear indication of the attraction Winneba held some five or six decades ago. This town was, at the dawn of independence, bustling with ceaseless commercial activity, serving as the fulcrum of trade between Swedru, Apam, Accra and several other smaller Fante towns. Little wonder important academic institutions such as the Kwame Nkrumah Ideological Institute, the National Academy of Music, and the Specialist Training College(all three which together form the campuses of the present day UEW) were all set up there around those times.
    The sad reality, though, is the fact that several so-called towns in Ghana today fall in this slum-Zongo category defined by Sidney. There is too much work for our leaders to do, for them to find time to dabble in needless and wasteful propagandist argumentation on radio and television. Mother Ghana needs cracker-jack leadership. Where are they?

  2. JK Mensah said

    Sydney,
    I read your article on the net – Ghanaweb dated 25/07/11 and I was really touched.
    I am a Winnebarian but resides at Kumasi.I always feel very sad when I begin to think the way you are thinking.I will pause here since you have hammered on almost every thing that borders me.
    I would want us to link up and would be grateful if you reply this mail so that we can start communicating from here and also know ourselves.

  3. El Syd!!!! Brilliant article!!! This is exactly what is destroying us in Ghana,whilst the rest of Africa passes us by!!! And we keep deluding ourselves by calling ourselves “The Gateway to Africa” Hmmmm!! Gateway to Africa Indeed!!! Hope all is well with you!! Nippy.

  4. Winnebarians should sit. winneba needs development. more of those enlightening comments.

  5. nii amu said

    SomeOne was born in a manger and I in Winneba, when it had its winning ways and the Nana Ghartey of yore dressed better than the British Governor George Maclean(compare their photos in the history book).Took my children to see the room in which their father and his siblings were born but while that was also the occasion for a society wedding attended by a host of former UN employees, I could not stay for the reception and returned the family to Accra immediately after the couple were pronounced man and wife.Now I understand exactly why.

  6. Hi Syd, I went to Winneba some time ago. Specifically to the old town area. I could only make out one road going round the whole place. There were no access roads in the town. And I began to wonder what would happen in the event of a fire outbreak or if someone has to be taken to hospital in an emergency situation.

    There is something basically wrong in the way we start building our hamlets, villages and towns. There is no planning at any stage in this developmental process so we end up with something like Winneba old town and several others like it in Ghana.

    Your story was well done. Bravo

    Thomas Obeng Ampah.

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