The Economic Gravy Train is Passing you by!
In the days of yore, when our country was struggling to shake itself off the shackles of colonialism, it was absolutely necessary for the colonial masters to maintain a huge security presence to protect themselves from the restless natives who were agitating for Independence. It wasn’t surprising then that the colonial masters, not willing to take any chances, built various military and police barracks close to the areas where they lived and worked.
In those heady days of nationalistic and patriotic fervor, Accra was virtually empty in terms of physical and infrastructural development. Those were the days when acres upon acres of land in various parts of the city were undeveloped and the colonial masters had a field day carving out huge tracts of land for the security forces in various parts of the city. This explains the huge military or police presence we see today in Accra Central, Cantonments, Osu/Ring Road, Flagstaff House, 37 Military Hospital, Airport Residential Area, Kotoka Airport and Burma Camp.
Those colonial vestiges have stayed with us to this day, even after 56 years of Independence. But the writing is on the wall. The physical, demographic and economic development trends we are witnessing in our country today, and the growth path our cities are currently taking, must be a foreboding to our security services to seriously consider relocating themselves from some of their present locations to the outskirts of the cities because their presence in such areas is an obstacle to development.
In Accra in particular, it is becoming obvious that the security services must give up their dominance and chokehold on some of these areas because these have become prime real estate that could be put to its highest and best use by investor capital. As real estate practitioners will tell you, “The interests of our nation and its citizens require the highest and best use of the land”. The growth path of the city of Accra today is showing clearly that certain parts of the city occupied by police barracks are a complete waste of precious real estate, and these barracks have become an obstacle to the physical growth and economic progress of the city. Areas which could obviously pass for prime commercial and residential real estate, are now occupied by unkempt colonial structures the police “proudly” call their barracks.
The Police Administration desperately needs to pay a visit to the Ghana Investment Promotion Center to find out how many investors, foreign and domestic, are looking for land in some of these very prime areas to build huge office blocks, modern hotels, high-rise residential apartments and mixed-use commercial/residential properties, examples of which they can easily find happening in areas like Airport City near the Kotoka International Airport, the Airport Residential Area itself, Oxford Street in Osu, downtown Accra at the Octagon Business Center and Kempinski Hotel at the former Accra Race Course. The growth patterns we are witnessing in Accra, and the pace at which that development is taking place, loudly proclaims the necessity for government itself to give up some of its own land holdings – currently occupied by dilapidated colonial bungalows – for private investors to develop into modern edifices befitting the city we proudly call our nation’s capital. This will set a shining example for the Ghana Police Service and the Ghana Armed forces to follow suit.
Why should the Ghana Police and the Ghana Armed forces place a chokehold on prime commercial and residential real estate in these very modern times when our country is in a hurry trying to develop and create jobs for the teeming Ghanaian population? Why is the Ghana Police Service wasting all that prime commercial and residential real estate stretching from Danquah Circle all the way into Cantonments for police barracks full of “chamber and hall” apartments for their staff, instead of releasing all that precious land for redevelopment? And what is the Prison Service also doing in that same area? Can’t the security services see all the development going on in the opposite direction along the Osu Oxford Street?
And what are the Ghana Police doing in Accra Central, occupying all that prime real estate stretching from Tudu all the way to the Makola Market? What is a police barracks full of “chamber and hall” apartments doing in this prime Central Business District of Accra in this modern-day 21st Century Ghana? Where in this modern world is this acceptable? In London, Paris, New York, Johannesburg, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Shanghai or Dubai?
And what is the Ghana Armed Forces doing keeping those colonial buildings along the stretch from Busia Circle at the 37 Military Hospital all the way to the El Walk Stadium area? If they don’t have the financial wherewithal to redevelop that whole stretch into modern edifices, why not give up that land and partner with private investor capital to redevelop it, the same way the government has given up for redevelopment the land on Independence Avenue directly opposite the 37 Military Hospital?
It is about time our security forces gave up their chokehold on prime real estate in this modern Ghana or the economic gravy train will pass them by. And there is a very brilliant way to get out of their dilemma: Look across the boulevard called Ring Road at Danquah Circle and see all the development going on, and follow suit. Property owners in this corridor, who know that their families don’t have the wherewithal to redevelop their land to suit these modern times, are getting into lucrative joint venture (JV) partnerships with private investors, both foreign and domestic, to build high rise residential apartments, offices, hotels and shopping centers in these areas. If the Police Administration takes up this challenge, they can get their lawyers to craft their JV contracts in a way that could relocate their forces and even build for them brand new offices. The same strategy could be employed in the Central Business District of Accra Central to relocate the police barracks in the heart of the city to make room for vital commercial redevelopment that befits the city we all proudly call our nation’s capital.
Peter Atsu Tsikata
CEO, Millennium Properties Ltd, Accra (A real estate brokerage and property management company)