Old Fadama Residents Count Themselves

by James Tayler

By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI Secretariat

The community of Old Fadama in Accra, Ghana, along with the Ghana Federation of the Urban Poor, have completed a landmark enumeration report of the historic informal settlement. When faced with a forced eviction threat by municipal authorities in August 2009, the community constituted a new leadership structure, the Old Fadama Development Association (OFADA), and engaged the Federation to assist in conducting the enumeration. “When the eviction order came it was like a spontaneous response by the community to unite to fight this,” said OFADA executive committee member and Federation president Philip Kumah.

The municipality agreed to forego further threat of eviction until after it had the baseline data to be part of its considerations regarding the development of the settlement. The community partnered with People’s Dialogue on Human Settlements for the survey activities in November and December 2009.

For the community and OFADA, the rationale behind the enumeration was to allow the residents of Old Fadama to take control of their own developmental processes, including the possibilities of relocation or development in situ. “If we say we will pull Old Fadama down, we will do it. The government must listen to the community,” said Frederick Opoku, a member of the OFADA executive committee. “We can even plan the township properly.”

The enumeration survey’s findings include the revelation that the population numbers are vastly higher than those based on sampling and conjecture that have been previously quoted by public authorities and the press. According to the survey that the community conducted through door-to-door questionnaires, just under 80,000 inhabitants call Old Fadama home. A previous community enumeration in 2007 found that 48,280 people lived in the settlement, but this count did not include the large numbers of head porters who mainly live in group, dormitory-style accommodation.

The Old Fadama community has faced eviction threats from municipal authorities for much of the past decade. The community is a unique heteregeneous mix of religions and cultural groups from all over the country. Abu Haruna, a Federation leader and Old Fadama resident, described the settlement as a “United Nations of Ghana.” The emergence of the Federation in Old Fadama, home to the first Ghanaian federation savings schemes, was linked to another eviction threat in 2002.

The community has a long experience with destructive fires that spread quickly in the dense settlement, mainly made up of wooden structures. A fire two weeks ago destroyed about 200 stalls in a market (see above photo). Residents have been afraid to build with materials other than wood for fear of imminent eviction. But newer structures are being made with concrete as the community now fears fire — there have been three major fires in the past six months — even more than eviction, according to Kumah.

For the full enumeration report click here.