The importance of market women can never be exaggerated. For centuries, these women have held the purse strings and purchasing parity of West African families, deciding what gets sold and at what price. These markets, now little more than stalls or windowless containers were once the nerve center of West African commerce. Now, in the names of of ‘globalization’ and ‘modernization’, they are under attack, with those at the helm of government facilitating their demise instead of redirecting services that would aid these women in providing Ghanaians with quality food and materials in sanitary conditions. These cowards are literally burning the markets down.
The market holds a special place in my heart because it has saved the life of many a girl. I have a number of (female) primary school mates who could not afford to finish school who were forced to sell in the market, sometimes from the tender age of 12. Through wit and savvy business practices, they rose to become economic power houses in their own right, out-earning even those of us who went on to get degrees. It is therefore obvious why pernicious elements within local government would seek their destruction. They are blinded by greed and motivated self desire. My dear friend Nana Ama Amamoo explains below:
The third incidence of arson in Accra’s central business district in as many weeks, is the latest manifestation of racist and misogynistic policies of colonial and successive governments, and traditional rulers in Ghana and elsewhere in British West Africa. The arsonist(s) may get away with it, because the target of their psychopathic acts are dismissed as powerless market and street traders, the majority of whom are women. The latter have been vilified for decades simply for having the chutzpah to resurrect again and again from the ashes, despite all attempts by the authorities to snuff them out!
Busia was dismissive of them as illiterate women. Acheampong likewise rebuked them for the economic problems that his policies engendered; Rawlings, Akatapore et al blamed them for inflation and the shortage of commodities, stripped them naked and lashed them publicly! Others have since lined up to pour scorn and blame on them.
Now our markets are being torched to make way for expensive shopping malls to sell us shoddy goods from the East! We should not look on helplessly but it is worth reminding ourselves of some key issues:
- Market Women’s Associations (MWAs) predate colonialism. There are reliable records of regular trading sessions at Techiman and other markets in the sub-region. MWAs are the most important socio-economic organisations that African women own and control.
- Now classed as prime real estate sites, large markets such as Makola and Kejetia sprang up on the periphery of the business and residential districts of the colonisers, to serve the food and other requirements of the growing urban African population.
- Lord Lugard’s policy of Indirect Rule appointed local African chiefs to collect his hated Land Poll Tax (lampoll). Market women were sitting ducks, an easy and obvious target to collect from, unlike farmers and fishermen who were mainly or exclusively men, and whose work schedules were inconvenient for the tax collectors!.
- African women fought back vigorously. See: http://www.blackpast.org/?q=gah/aba-womens-riots-november-december-1929 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aba_Women’s_Riots.
- However, they have been losing the battle since the Aba Riots in 1929, as the system of Indirect Rule continues unabated. Today, staff from local government and traditional rulers carry on collecting ‘lampoll’ from them on a daily basis, without providing any amenities!
- As the women do not have leaseholds on their trading spaces, it does not make economic sense to invest in improving their work environment; besides, that is what they pay the ‘lampoll’ for.
- So we now have the sorry situation in Ghana (and other African countries) where everybody, from the President to the lowliest beggar, sources their food, daily, from these filthy places, with grave implications for public health!
- In Ghana, every government since Dr. Nkrumah’s, has continued the twin-track economy inherited from Lord Lugard’s Indirect Rule. They zealously implement IMF/World Bank policies that harm our economy, and carelessly ruin the market traders who together with subsistence farmers, constitute the backbone of our economy!
What can be done?
- Sort out once and for all, who owns the land that these markets operate on; is it government or stool land?
- We should stop limping on a two-track economy: a ‘mainstream’ one, full of toxic policies dictated by the IMF/World Bank, and an ‘informal economy’ which is teeming with entrepreneurs, the majority of whom are women!
- Pay attention to Market Women’s Associations and sell them the land (peppercorn rate, freehold, leasehold, whatever), and allow them to construct purpose-built markets with adequate storage, security, toilets, running water and crèches.
- Security of tenure/leaseholds of their trading sites for members of MWAs would in one fell swoop, create an asset-rich class, eligible for bank loans; and taxation of them would be justified.
- They are an important socio-economic group that will help grow the economy and create jobs, thus avoiding the welfare system that has blighted western economies.
Nana Ama Amamoo is the Director at T.A.F.F. TRADING CO (UK) LTD, a civic and social organization in London, UK