uncertainty and water

Starting off in Accra, I find myself in a Rumsfeld-like situation where I have to define what I don’t know. There is so much I don’t know that it’s hard to find a place to start, but the dynamics of entrepreneurship in West Africa is one big area where I draw a blank. People have looked at microenterprises a lot, and also farming. There is a literature on how these things contribute to development. But I am looking at a new field, and am not sure how to address it. Small-scale companies in the tech sector are a new development here, and I am having to try to figure out what questions to ask.

One thing that is confusing me is that these businesses seem to survive without any visible means of support. They infrequently make a profit, but people seem to be content to pour resources into them in the hope that they may, or just to keep them going without actually making money from them. There are several possibilities: one, that they are classic African businesses that are designed to provide employment for family and friends, and just need to break even (or come reasonably close) to fulfil their purpose. Two, that they are not about profit, but instead are about the aspiration to take part in what is seen as modern international culture. So profit may be incidental to their function. There may be an option three, which I have not yet discovered. So this week I need to figure out how to ask people what they are doing, not just how it is going.

In other news, the rainy season is unusually rainy. Over in Kaneshie, the city’s biggest market area, there was a storm last weekend that in the space of two hours tore up the main road, flooded the area to chest depth, and drowned 7 people. Everyone has had to move, and the rains keep on coming. As I write, it has been raining almost solidly for about 6 days, and the streets are like rivers.

kaneshie flood damage

kaneshie flood damage

(thanks to Hannah for photos)

The reason for the flood is that a ‘river’ (sewer) burst its banks due to a critical build-up of rubbish. This was partly due to the lack of rubbish bins in an area that is one of the country’s busiest, but also due to people not figuring out a way to keep the neighbourhood viable despite a lack of bins. People throw things out of bus windows, they throw things off overpasses, they throw things on the ground as they walk around. Traders throw out unused food, bags, water containers. The whole of Accra is covered in a layer of plastic rubbish that moves around whenever it rains, blocking the storm drains and forming mosquito-nurseries as soon as the rain stops. A company, Zoomlion, is under contract to clear up, but the scale is too great. The people of the neighbourhood are now complaining that there is a risk of cholera, while others are pointing out that there would be less risk if people didn’t use the street as a public toilet. Then there is the argument that if there aren’t any public toilets, what do they expect will happen…

kaneshie cleanup

kaneshie cleanup

Here are some news reports and more pictures:

It’s amazing that this could happen in the centre of a city, even a coastal one. Particularly one that, ironically, has water delivery problems…

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