In Ghana it seems that most people aspire to own their own home and many begin by buying a plot of land and embarking on what they call a building project. The actual construction is accomplished in stages as funds come to hand and a project may last for many years. Some structures are occupied at an intermediate stage and never completed thereafter, while others fail to reach a stage at which they can be occupied in the initial owner’s lifetime. Other houses funded by people remitting funds from overseas, progress quickly and are finished to a high standard. What follows describes a visit to a construction site in Kumasi in the mid-1980s.
Over a wide area could be seen houses at all stages of construction, scattered about in random distribution on plots of about a half hectare. One or two appeared to be occupied because lights could be seen coming on in the spreading dusk. Some structures had walls up to roof height but no roofs, while a few others had roofs but no doors or windows. Many consisted only of open trenches dug to accommodate foundations and some of these had lain exposed to wind and rain for so long that the trenches had partly refilled. Other potential residences were little more than thick concrete floor slabs. Still others remained as piles of concrete blocks standing as silent sentinels of their owners’ intent.
Uncle George led the way to a large structure that consisted of walls surmounted by a freshly cast ring beam, the wooden shuttering still in place. “Here we are,” he said, “this is Peter’s cottage.”
“Some cottage!” said Kwame, “It’s almost as big as your own house.”
“I think the plan is to make it even bigger at a later stage,” said Uncle George, “He keeps saying that this is only the first phase of the project.”
“Well, he certainly has plenty of land for expansion,” observed Kwame.
“Is Peter’s house the biggest around here?” asked Comfort.
“No, it’s the second biggest,” said Uncle George.
“Is that one over there the biggest? persisted Comfort, “Who is that for?”
“Yes, that’s the big one,” said Uncle George, “Peter says it’s for one of his friends called Bra Yaw.”
“Bra Yaw?” said Kwame, “I thought that he was being detained at Her Britannic Majesty’s pleasure.”
“He did have a spot of bother with UK customs but I hear that he’s back now. Anyway, there was no interruption in the building work while he was away.”
“Which is more than can be said about most of these building projects,” said Kwame, “They seem to have been neglected for months or even years.”
“You know how our people are,” said Uncle George, “We buy a plot, put a few concrete blocks on it, and enjoy the prestige of having a house under construction for the rest of our days.”
“That’s being rather hard on us,” protested Comfort, “People have to start somewhere and they invest in the project as funds come to hand. Sometimes there may be a long time during which no money comes in. That’s when nothing may be done for several months. However, by God’s grace, the house will be finished one day.”
“That day could come a lot sooner if only we could be satisfied with smaller houses,” said Uncle George. “With our grandiose aspirations many of us occupy a wooden box before we live in our own home.”
“I understand what you’re saying,” said Kwame, “but does that apply to those houses funded from overseas?”
“The escapees certainly seem to have a lot more money,” said Uncle George, “but much of it is wasted by their relatives here. I think they could all benefit from investing in more modest projects. After all, a small house can be designed to be expanded later if more funds become available, just as easily as Peter’s big house can.”
Night had fallen while they conversed so Uncle George led them back to his home. The conversation continued as they walked. “Are all the plots here taken?” asked Comfort. “They were all snapped up long ago,” said Uncle George, “Land in good residential areas doesn’t stay on offer long these days with all the foreign money coming in. Chiefs can sell their land several times over, and sometimes they do. That is the cause of so much litigation. I told Peter that he should study law. The more trouble there is, the more money the lawyers get.”
“But Peter is reading economics,” interjected Kwame.
“Yes,” said Uncle George, “I told you this morning that he takes no notice of old fogies like me.”
“But shouldn’t he pay more respect to his sponsor?” asked Kwame.
“There was a time when he did, but now he has his own money he’s dropped the pretense,” said Uncle George with a wry smile.