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Urban Development and the Crushing of Livelihoods of Petty Traders and Artisans

The absence of proper State led urban planning impoverishing the urban poor with the constant demolition of their places of work

photo credit @/erica aryee

If you haven’t visited your mechanic in three months or bought from your local petty trader in that time, chances are they won’t be there the next time you visit. They may have been bulldozed away by a developer eager to erect a dazzling, yet sparsely occupied building.

Meanwhile, the displaced traders and artisans struggle to find a new location to continue their trade, only to face eviction again within a few months, as another developer moves into their new location.

This is the harsh reality for many informal sector workers who depend on occupying others’ land to earn a living. According to the Ghana Statistical Service, about 86.1% of Ghana’s workforce is employed in the informal sector (the latest Human Development Index puts it at 75%), highlighting the significant impact of such evictions on the economy. ‘

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While these stylish and expensive structures enhance the city’s aesthetic appeal, they strip the already struggling low-income population of their means to survive.

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In Ghana, urban public spaces are livelihood assets for the urban poor. Street trading is the means by which the urban poor utilise urban public space to make a living and this results in conflicts between the street traders, city authorities and developers.

The absence of state-led real estate development has left a void, resulting in widespread hardship, despondency, and frustration that may eventually impact us all. Urban development is crucial, but it wreaks havoc when unplanned.

This is why every urban area has a planning department and every district in Ghana has a planner. However, their presence on the government payroll has produced little tangible benefit, likely due to systemic failures.

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A drive through Accra reveals how swiftly parcels of land, previously occupied by petty traders and small enterprises, have been cordoned off. Occasionally, one might find a notice in poorly written English indicating a relocation with a phone number, but more often, these micro and small-scale businesses lose their clientele permanently.

Some of these petty traders and artisans invest their meagre income in makeshift structures and some even spend additional money to brand them, only to lose all of that investment with absolutely no compensation, when they are ejected and the structure built with sweat, crushed before their very eyes by a bulldozer.

If these traders relocate only to face eviction again, the likelihood of giving up and resorting to vices increases. According to a report by the African Development Bank, youth unemployment in Ghana stands at about 12%, with underemployment significantly higher.

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Many young people found loitering on the streets will tell you that their makeshift shops were demolished by developers, often with little or no notice. The constant threat of eviction limits their ability to expand their businesses and stifles their growth potential, as they see what has happened to their counterparts.

This is the story shared by mechanics I have spoken with across many parts of Accra. If we cannot protect the livelihoods of these low-income individuals, despite having over 261 district planners on payroll, our collective failures will soon confront us.

An article co-authored by World Bank President Ajay Banga and Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani warns that over 800 million youths in developing countries could be jobless in the next decade, with Africa being the worst hit.

The alarm bells are ringing—who is listening?

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