Daily archives: December 17, 2011

Rent Culture

Ghana in general is a well balanced society with a good education system and a large middle class. But there is a huge social problem affecting those at the bottom of the ladder, which there appears no will at all among the political class even to acknowledge, let alone tackle, and that is rent.

Ghana’s agricultural production has never collapsed, unlike Nigeria, and the traditional patterns of society in rural areas have not broken down. Modern services, in terms of edication, electrification and clean water, have penetrated rural communities better than in any other African country, though there are still areas of concern, particularly in the North. But the overall good picture means that there has therefore been less extreme urban drift, less shanty town existence, than in most of the developing world, and therefore less urban violence.

But despite all this there is a terrible problem with the rent culture of Accra. The poor all rent housing, rather than own. Demand exceeds supply and landlords invariably demand three, or at the very least two, years’ rent in advance. This is absolutely established as the way the market operates, and for the poor there is no way around it. Three years’ rent is typically over one year’s income, and in consequence the poor are sucked into a permanent life of debt. This applies to the majority of people living in the City. Quite literally, a day never passes in which at least one Ghanaian doesn’t ask me to lend them the money for their rent; yesterday there were four. I help where I can.

This situation was already calamitous but is going to get much worse, as land values are already starting to soar with the coming of the oil industry. I have good friends at the highest levels in all the Ghanaian political parties, but they all seem to have been so indoctrinated with IMF economics that they do not even consider rent controls. Unfortunately the performance of both the NPP and the NDC in building social housing has been very poor. I am forced to the opinion that the plight of the poor is not actually a pressing concern in the minds of the educated classes in Ghana in general.

The fierce party political divisions in Ghana need to be put aside, and an all-party solution on social housing and on rents has to be pursued with vigour, as a primary use for some of Ghana’s oil revenues.

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