Keta under siege
The decision to live in Keta, was entirely mine. As a four-year old, I was put in the Queen Elizabeth Nursery in Koforidua. Papa would come get me in his black Morris with registration number AR 1429 when we closed. But there was a day Papa did not come for me and I decided to walk home because I knew the route. The nursery was behind the present GCB Bank building, but on getting to the main street in Koforidua there was no way a toddler would be minded to watch out for vehicular traffic, so I just had to walk across.
Then out of nowhere came a cyclist who knocked me off my feet and I reckon I might have landed with a thud. He was elderly in my estimation then and he picked me up and asked if I knew where I was going. I said yes and directed him to my home just about 150 metres away. It turned out my jawline was twisted from the impact and I had a big wound on my left foot.
I took quite some time to fully recover. Then the issue of going back to school came up. And that was when the rebel in me was woken up. To be knocked down again? Not me. Nothing would make me go to school; not even a ride on my granduncle’s black Chevrolet. Finally, I decided that if I was to go to school I would prefer to go live with my maternal grandparents who I had visited at Peki with Mother a couple of months earlier. It turned out that Grandpa Demanya had retired and had relocated to Keta.
That was how, sometime after Ghana’s independence in 1957, I arrived in Keta. As to whether it was easy to get me to go to school again is for another edition. But I did go finally. We lived very close to the main arterial road in the town, just a kilometre and half or so to the East of Fort Prinsensten, built by the Danes in 1784. The sea was about two kilometres south of our home. Grandpa forbade us children from going to the beach by ourselves.
Keta simply means vast land of sand. When the Danes built Prinsensten it was very close to the ocean because it was good for trade and shipment of slaves across the Atlantic. With time the sea receded leaving sand behind for a few kilometres. Over decades the people started building houses on the sand. I remember Grandpa saying at a point that the sea might one day come to reclaim its sand. Prophetic, if you asked me.
One day in November of 1961, I went to school as usual and when I got home for lunch, I saw my grandmother waist-deep in water trying to salvage the cooking pots that were floating on the water. The ducks we had in the house were having a field day on the water. Our goats and a couple of fowls were saved earlier; the building broke in two with the southern end tilted into the sea. As a nine-year old I had no appreciation of the magnitude of the problem.
All our belongings were packed by the side of the road where the whole family spent the night. It was a moon-lit night so we knew where everyone was as we awaited the break of dawn. School was on my mind at daybreak, but Grandpa got a Bedford truck to load the eight-member family and our belongings to the landing of the Keta Lagoon near the main Keta market where we were loaded on to a canoe that was to take us to our hometown of Anyako where I was to spend the next six years in basic school.
Just last week, the tidal waves struck the coastal areas one more time. And during the week I heard people make all manner of analyses of the situation. I overheard one person described as an expert postulating that the people of the area relocate. Ghana’s media landscape has become one giant avenue for people who know next to nothing carrying themselves as experts in areas they have little knowledge about. And there are equally illiterate people behind studio microphones who have no interviewing techniques asking very silly questions.
This posture is akin to asking the people of Louisiana, Texas, Florida, Alabama and other southern states in the US to relocate because of the annual hurricanes that assail those areas. Even in the great America,no one suggests to the people to relocate. Simply put, they do not run away from nature. They manage to live with nature. How have we as a people managed our coastal erosion?
Keta has become a strip of land between the Atlantic Ocean and the Lagoon named after the town. If nothing is done about saving the coast from further damage and the sea washes Keta, and its environs along the coast and hits the Lagoon, almost all towns around the Lagoon will be consumed by the sea. Seva, Anyako. Aborlorve-Nolopi, Afiadenyigba, Atiavi, Alakple and, indeed, 90 per cent of Anlo will vanish from Ghana’s map.
I remember some iron planks were used back in those days as a barrier between the sea and land. Now I realise that they were not effective for long because the engineers overlooked or underestimated the salinity of the ocean. The salt gnawed at the metals rendering them useless. With Polar Ice melting fast as a result of climate change, thus increasing sea levels, our situation can only get worse.
A comprehensive, yet quick action is needed to tackle this phenomenon. We can learn from how the United States deals with hurricanes. Better still, Cuba will be ready to teach us how they do it, willy-nilly. All we need is a responsible leadership to the needs of all our people. The “can do” spirit is all that is needed. Tackling issues of national importance is not a cold intellectual process.
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BY DR. AKOFA K. SEGBEFIA