Space and place

Kumasi is strenuous. Not too different from Accra, Tamale, and Tema. The sellers of junk computers seemed to assert their space more than the shoes that were washed with powdered soap and sponge before being put in bright sunlight to sell. I often wondered how the shoes survived the vigorous scrubbing. Obviously second hand shoes carry more strength than these boastful ‘designer’ shoes that cost 50% of wages and still caused corns to hurt.

The clothes strung along the city rails and walls , or dumped in little hills, were the biggest fascination. Slinky, bosom- baring tops created butterflies of the youngish looking females on the streets. And did they strut! Gone were the days when you needed a relation ‘in abroad’ to send you ‘been to clothes’. I smiled at these young sisters and daughters rejoicing in vain womanhood. It’s all about being able to shake what your mama gave you through clothes not made of floppy cottons.

But in the brazen colonization of public spaces for use as private business territory, my beef has always been with the corn sellers. You see, corn has to be eaten fresh. And the eaters demanded evidence of this newness. So whether it was boiled or roasted, in order to sell respectable volumes, the sellers claim a need of mountains of corn husks strewn rudely around their fire to prove that what they were selling were five-minutes-from-the-farm. So imagine three corn sellers in a row. Anyone would be right in mistaking that public space to be a rubbish dump. Well, it didn’t take just maize to define the rubbish dumps our cities had been systematically turned into.

Fruit, vegetables, plantain, freshly cooked fufu (still under construction in mortars grounded in mud with the director of the enterprise cleaning her baby’s nose with the hand that held the pestle and the cloth on which the bowl in which the fufu was dished was placed) also lived on the road side. While all this food was being sold, emptied little bags of water boasted their reign over the nation’s sovereignty. Who could challenge them? Parliament and the courts haven’t managed to stop their growth.

By this time in my contemplations, my stomach is churning with the sheer hopelessness of ever enjoying a ride in the cities of a nation that could have provided sheer joy from the simple fact that its people had prayed themselves into lullabies necessary to escape the war we Africans seemed enamored with. How come we didn’t seem capable of keeping our city clean? No one was ready to be told what to do. This seems to be the tricky fulcrum that we haven’t managed to navigate in any meaningful way.

If the public servant would take over without compunction public lands when given responsibility to ensure their appropriate distribution and use, why can’t I take my share of public lands by bathing my child and cooking on any segment? This seemed to be the unspoken philosophy behind all the taking of public space as private territory. Many lessons can be learnt but let me state the most obvious. Injustice, inequity and lack of commitment to proper application of rules will always mar this journey to the proper acquisition and management of territories. This compels the question – can we ever build beautiful societies founded on valid territories if we persist in not learning the lessons? It is making every innocent ride at any time of day painful in this country.

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