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Meet Janet Adu, The “President” Of Ghana’s Slums.

Ghana has two presidents. One, Nana Akufo-Addo, 73, trained in the United Kingdom and son of a former head of state, was elected in December 2016. The other is called Janet Adu and is less accustomed to luxury Of the presidential palace. She is 57 years old, has never studied abroad and began her mandate in 2012 as head of the “community leaders” of Ghana’s slums. Apart from their titles and a decided character, the two characters have little in common. “I was not a candidate, but people insisted, ” says Janet Adu, almost modest.

Presentation of our series Africa in Cities

Since then, Madam Chairperson’s daily has been a little rushed. The only ritual to which “Auntie” (“Tata”), as everyone calls it, has never compromised since its election: morning prayer, at five o’clock, said with its two youngest nephews – Bright, And his sister Nyarkou, 13 years old. The children then go to the collective showers, a little further down the aisle, which cost 1 cedi (0.20 euro) per person. Then head for the school, before 7 am. They will buy food on the road . “Auntie” can move on.

“In search of greener pastures”

Janet Adu lives in Ashaiman, one of 256 shanty towns in the Greater Accra region. Located 20 kilometers east of the capital of Ghana, this sheet metal district has grown since the 1960s along with the construction of the port of Tema, which now accounts for 70% of the country’s trade. The shantytown was full of the inhabitants of the countryside who came to look for work . In Ashaiman, where there is no running water and where the sanitation system remains rudimentary, renting a room costs about 40 cedis (7.60 euros) per month, compared with 200 in the port of Tema.

At the beginning of the morning, in the little courtyard, in the center of a dozen wooden huts, a group of women busy themselves. On small coal-fired homes, they prepare dishes that they sell at the market. There are also three babies moping, some chickens pecking and two cats .

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Nothing predestined Janet Adu to a presidential career. Originally from a village in the east of the country, Janet and her husband arrived here in 1987, “in search of greener pastures”, she explains in a pictorial way. With projects: driving a taxi for him , Set up a small business for her. Thirty years later, the couple is still living in the same place, but Janet became a member of the Ghana Federation of Urban Poor People (Ghafup), the backbone of Slum Dwellers International’s (SDI) local strategy. This Indian NGO, present in 34 countries, has established a network of slum dwellers.

“Twenty years ago, informal settlements were ignored by the authorities and were not even part of the development plans ,  says Joseph Muturi, SDI coordinator for East Africa and Africa. The West for SDI, which is based in Kibera, the largest slum in Kenya : “It was necessary to give them visibility, collect information, map it so that it could be taken into account. Residents to negotiate with local officials and establish partnerships to participate in setting development priorities: be it access to energy, drinking water, toilets, education. . “

The key result of this process that SDI sets up in each country? “Governments take poor people seriously and they become development actors.” Each time, it starts with small savings groups that organize, raise funds and then define the needs of the neighborhood together. In Ghana, the over 20,000 members are overwhelmingly women. And at the top of the pyramid, to coordinate the 334 groups, there is Janet.

A slum ministry

Inevitably, since its election, “Auntie” is “too busy” to manage its coal trade. It is his sister-in-law who takes care of her, in addition to her useof collective showers. Janet, like the other residents of Ashaiman, has no toilets in her house. But she pays for the nursing studies of her younger sister, the school of her nephews, and was able to expand her business and expand her dwelling .

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Gone are the only hovel of wooden planks and corrugated iron she rented at the beginning. The volunteer aedile and her husband were able to build two more “rooms”, before offering a “container” (actually a small structure made from a container) for its coal supply. To collectthe 4,000 cedis (about 760 euros) required for its construction, it has taken out two loans from its savings group.

It also stores an enormous refrigerator. “After the rainy season, the children will sell ” pure water “bags after school.” Janet also accommodates her sister’s three elder sisters, aged 20 to 30, all day laborers who came here, like all World , “in search of greener pastures”. “When they have earned enough money, they will look for a place to rent for them,” she said.

Coal fireplaces, in the courtyard in front of Janet Adu’s hut, in Ashaiman shantytown, not far from Accra. Credits: Sandra Twum Barimah / SDI

Former British colony, Ghana is more stable and democratic than its neighbors in West Africa. The State’s pro-active policy of fighting poverty has met with some success and the poverty rate has been reduced by half, from 52% to 21% between 1992 and 2013. By contrast, the authorities are unable to Accompany the rapid urbanization that accompanies this development.


Between 1984 and 2013, the urban population tripled and the urbanization rate rose from 31% to 51%. In cities , access to basic services such as drinking water and wastewater treatment has declined. A 2011 UN- Habitat report noted that 85 per cent of households lacked the means to access formal housing; And the housing deficit continues to grow.

According to the Ghanaian NGO People’s Dialogue, affiliated to SDI, 60% of the urban population in the region of Accra now live in slums.The same proportion as other cities on the continent. Farouk Braimah, director of People’s Dialogue, notes an encouraging signal: the creation in early 2017 of a ministry devoted to the question of slums.

Reproducing the Indian example

Since her election, Janet Adu has changed. She is now one of the few women of her age, in Ashaiman, to speak English.  But now, I will speak to the authorities to defend our rights.” And then she traveled a lot: in Ghana, but also in Kenya, Uganda , China , Colombia , Brazil… For SDI, it is fundamental to learn from the experience of others and adapt the solutions imagined elsewhere.

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In 2011, SDI succeeded in replicating an Indian example in Ashaiman, with the inauguration of a pilot building in the Amui Dzor neighborhood, the first of its kind in Ghana. Thirty families live here. On the ground floor there are shops, toilets and public showers. The idea came to fruition after a trip to Bombay, India . “The traditional leader of Ashaiman and members of the government saw that building such constructions was feasible and reassured them,” said Farouk Braimah of People’s Dialogue. The leader gave way, and UN- Habitatand the Ministry of Housing co-financed the necessary $ 400,000.

The building should soon become the property of its inhabitants, organized as a cooperative. Meanwhile, it hosts the weekly meeting of a savings group, which Janet visits. In the inner courtyard, about fifteen women, a few babies and two men listen to the leaders of the group.It is about ” mobile money” and saving by SMS. Janet Adu jokes with the little assembly. It is about reassuring those who can not write: they will always find a child or a neighbor to help them . Then each one takes turns depositing his share of savings.

Janet Adu at the public showers in Ashaiman, a slum near Accra, in June 2017. Credits: Sandra Twum Barimah / SDI

At noon, return to the Janet hut, alongside a pink container – a perfume shop – and a mauve – that sells prepared dishes. The court is quieter, most women are party deliver their production. We take out two plastic chairs, a friend chatting . Young Nyarkou returns from school, dressed in her uniform dress. In the public school, too small to receive all the children at the same time, it is the turn of the group of the afternoon.

“Tonight we will not dine”

Janet just has time to meet her niece before heading to her meeting with People’s Dialogue in Accra. In the shantytown, all the roads are dirt – and sometimes very muddy when it has rained – but it is lucky to live near the asphalt road, the main market and the minibus station, the “trotro” “. Four hours later, the president is back and goes to the market, like every day. The place is crowded. In the alleys, street vendors circulate, their merchandise on trays placed on their heads.

At home, Nyarkou quickly transforms the small courtyard into the kitchen: two fireplaces and some engraved “Janet Adu” pans to preventthem from disappearing . The receptacle supposedly used as a kitchen only serves to pile the utensils and the barrel of water, filled every three days. Too small and too hot, we only pass. Nyarkou, who would like to become a doctor, is helping his aunt to prepare the soup and the “banku”, a dish of corn and cassava. Bright finally arrives . The two children and their aunt lunch, neighbors pass by to take a little banku and a plate of soup. “Tonight, we will not dine seen that we had a good lunch, ” Janet said.

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After the evening prayer, the two children will settle for the night in the small room adjoining their aunt’s, on a plaited plastic mat on the floor.Their big brothers and their uncle will not have returned yet. Sitting on her bed, Janet will listen to the radio before going to bed . Her husband will not return until about ten o’clock. “In general, he takes his dinner alone, sometimes he wakes me up to serve him,” says the president.

Janet Adu is expected to move soon. A second building will be built in Amui Dzor, next to the first, as soon as the financing is completed.Madam President will finally have running water, a toilet and a shower. At her place.


Written by How Africa

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