THE EARTH TIMES
FEBRUARY 17, 1996
A CONVERSATION WITH ALEX AKUFFO
Habitat II PrepCom
‘This Conference will propel us into the 21st century. We all have a stake…’
By Ashali Varma
United Nations, New York—If more people had the vision and motivation of Alex B. Akuffo, Ghana’s Deputy Minister for Works and Housing, then perhaps some of the problems facing urban habitats could be resolved more rapidly. Educated in the United States with a degree in architecture and design and a master’s degree in planning and urban design, Akuffo worked for Atlanta’s city government for nine years.
“Then one day I decided I wanted to go back to help my country,” he said. In a way he always knew he would return to his native Ghana; even after living in the US for 21 years, he never applied for American citizenship. As head of his delegation to PrepCom3, Akuffo spoke to The Earth Times about Ghana’s priorities regarding human settlements.
“At this conference we have been talking about sustainable development and what we are looking to do in Ghana is systematic development, cities without slums,” said Akuffo. This would include building infrastructure and utilities in such a way that future generations can improve upon it.
Akuffo said it would take funding and, most important of all, private sector participation. To accelerate development the government decentralized decision-making in towns and villages. “We told the people at the grassroots level, ‘you tell us what you are looking for and we will help you,”’ said Akuffo.
A percentage of the annual national budget was put into a District Assemblies Common Fund. This fund gives money to district assemblies for development projects, like clinics, rural roads and other such projects. The assemblies are like mini-parliaments and have to answer to the people.
“Ghana has taken the lead in West Africa by initiating this,” said Akuffo said, “Whatever is decided in Istanbul, one thing is clear, governments can’t do it alone. In Ghana now we are giving incentives to the private sector to invest. To encourage investment in housing construction and agriculture, investors are given tax holidays, can bring in duty free equipment for their projects and can take their profits out of the country. For disposal of waste the government is looking at companies that can burn the garbage and turn it into electricity.
“Empowerment of women is also crucial and in Ghana we have taken the lead in helping women start small-scale industries,” said Akuffo. Instead of selling raw produce from their farms, women have formed cooperatives and process the produce, adding value to it and then selling it for more money. In urban areas women get loans from banks to start small ventures. Ghana’s First Lady Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings has been the moving force behind this, Akuffo said.
Regarding follow-up, Akuffo said, “It is important to have coordination in the implementation process. This is the Conference that will propel us into the 21st Century and every country has a stake in it.”