Fire disasters in succession, particularly in some of our bigger markets in recent times have been of concern to most Ghanaians. The media has articulated the reservations of Ghanaians well enough.
Worrying as they are, the market infernos definitely have some traits of our unbecoming nature and character as a people. Whether it is lack of adequate planning, lack of a rigid maintenance culture, lawlessness, deficiency in safety practices, chaos in the midst of order, the casual approach we apply to things irrespective of their serious consequences, and of course the “give it to God’ mantra, we are squarely caught in the web.
We lack planning in so many ways. We seem content with today, and as for tomorrow, we leave it to take care of itself. The mess we have been through since the beginning of the year with electricity, water, gas and what have you are all indications of how we have failed to plan for now and the future.
As if we never anticipated that our population was going to grow, we are still heavily reliant on the same good old Akosombo hydro power for example. We are still using the same old hospitals, inner city roads, international airport, harbour and other key facilities from of old. We seem not to have seen beyond planning for population increase nor a boom in our industrialisation process.
Our choked inner city roads where we now spend fruitless hours in traffic at a heavy cost to productivity are as a result of a lack of planning for the future. The lack of an effective street address system in Ghana also goes to buttress the point that our city planners over the years never saw beyond tomorrow. And so it is with our markets too.
In most of our major markets including those where we have had fire outbreaks over the last few weeks, there are indications of our lack of planning over the years. These markets are choked and hardly leave one with very little room to walk around. Disorganised in outlook, they provide customers with anything and everything from food to drinks and to clothes.
From timber to hardware to inflammable items such as paints and their accompaniments, from hair dressing stuff to beauty products and staples, we have succeeded in creating jumbled markets with no planning. As a result, we have created congested markets which stock and sell highly risk items and yet we make no provision for their safe storage thus posing risk to lives and property.
We used to have specialised markets. I remember the likes of the Tuesday market in Accra and the Fishing Harbour in Tema where one could get any type of fish or seafood. We used to have “Kaa Dzaanor” or crab market, timber market for anything wood and home fittings.
The yam market, as the name implied is the place to pick up any variety of yams at a relatively cheaper price, and so it went on. Today, all these specialised markets have turned into jumbled markets selling everything from salted fish to second-hand clothing to highly inflammable items.
But even more reflective of our nature is the lack of a maintenance culture and our care less approach to safety. Many a time, we tend to leave things to go to rot before we consider fixing them. Very much in keeping with the adage: “If it isn’t broken, why fix it?” we have left our own homes and public facilities and buildings including our markets, screaming for maintenance.
Sadly, the maintenance involved, sometimes, is just a few gallons of paint and a nut and bolt here and there. Buildings on ceremonial streets which sometimes can give a city or town a bit of a face lift are of no concern to anyone.
In the context of our markets, it is difficult to recollect when last any of them received some sprucing up. Even the common every day cleaning and disposal of garbage are a far cry. Yet, occupants of the stores within the markets pay their tolls and or rates to the local authorities.
Sometimes the filth and stench, the dirty walls, the exposed and hanging electrical wires all give away our true lack of maintenance culture. Kaneshie market which happens to be on my daily route comes to mind.
Going hand in hand with the lack of maintenance is our poor appreciation of safety. How many of our public institutions and buildings, including our markets, have such safety measures as smoke detectors, fire sensors or alarms, fire extinguishers and other safety devices fitted in them as standard requirements? And even if they do have, who is enforcing their use?
It is so irritating at fuel pumping stations to see fuel attendants watch on as customers use their mobile phones despite the ban on the use of such devices, for example. In the big markets as the ones we have recently lost to fire, how many times did they have fire drills to create awareness? Are there clearly marked emergency exits in our overcrowded markets?
The casual attitude of the Ghanaian to life in general has perhaps played up in our approach to finding the causes of the fires that have gutted some of our big markets. In fires as devastating as the ones we have had with people losing their investments worth millions of Cedis, sadly, we remain clueless as to what the real causes of the fires have been despite the expertise that we have at hand.
As our nature sometimes is, we leave quite a lot of things to chance. When things happen, rather than probe deeper using all the scientific knowledge at our disposal, we prefer to take a back step instead.
We would scrape the surface of even the most critical of issues and before long; we are back to our old ways. We find comfort in rather “leaving things to God” forgetting that God helps those who help themselves. In the process, what we do is to put more fuel in the fire of speculation. We leave speculations to go wild, we curse and blame others where we have no basis to do so and heap insults on anyone in our bad books. In our best moments, and when we want to seek comfort, we ask God to be His own interpreter.
By now, it should be adequately clear to us that we need not look too far beyond for the causes of the various market fires that have traumatised us for some weeks now. We should be examining our own attitudes and actions for clues. Lawlessness is one of such unfortunate attitudes and it is rife in our markets too where sometimes people cook in limited enclosed spaces and scores of electrical appliances are left running. There have been reports of illegal connections in our markets, at least in times past when some markets went on fire.
Due to lawlessness, every space including access spaces have been taken for the display of wares thus blocking access and exits. Regrettably, we reflect same attitudes in our communities too. We have built where we should not, including waterways to the extent that when it rains heavily, we run for cover because our homes get flooded.
Many hard lessons could be learnt from unfortunate incidents such as the recent market fires. We would need to step back and re-look the way we have done things. Looking in that mirror therefore, we are likely to discover some inimical attitudes and practices which have become part and parcel of our culture and which pose risks to lives and to our public places. Whether for the reconstruction of destroyed markets or the preservation of existing ones, enforcement of good practice will always be crucial.
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