The failure of successive governments to bring rapid development to rural Ghana has contributed to the influx of young people from rural Ghana to urban Ghana in search of greener pastures.
As Ghana moves to develop through industrialization, the living conditions of head porters, popular known as Kayayei, are a glaring reminder of how far the nation has to go to extend its developmental drive beyond urban areas for young people, particularly in Northern Ghana, to live decent lives.
Despite government’s efforts to promote economic activities in rural Ghana with policies like One District One Factory, One Village, One Dam, and Planting for Food and Jobs, hundreds of young people continue to migrate from rural areas to urban areas in search of a better life.
Adiza, Aisha, and Amina are three of the thousands of head porters who have migrated from Tamale to Accra in search of a better life.
Adiza shares what motivated her to move to Accra, “I migrated to Accra because my husband is dead, and I have four children. They all have to go to school and so I decided to come to Accra to make some money to help take care of them back in Tamale. Business has not been too bad since I came here. There are good days and bad days.”
Ideally, young Ghanaians like Adiza, should be able to achieve their goals from any corner of the country but because of inadequate distribution of wealth, they’ve had to settle for working as Kayayei with very little social support.
Aisha outlines how much she earns for her service. “When we carry a lot of things, we will get 5 GHS, 10 GHS, 15 GHS, 20 GHS. If the things are not much, we get between 2 GHS to 5 GHS.”
Amina shares her long shift as a head porter. “I come to work at 5 AM and close at 6 PM. I make between 20 and 40 GHS a day. Then I have to account for money to pay for my shower and buy food to eat. By the time I’m done, there’s practically nothing left.”
For most head porters, the hours spent waiting for customers can be daunting, especially when they have to deal with the possibility of going back home without any money.
Aisha says, “There are days where we will sit here for a long time and no one will demand our service. You’ll go home searching for 2 GHS or 5 GHS to buy food and there will be no one to provide. If you don’t have the money, you’ll go to bed hungry. Our fathers and mothers are not here, our husbands are not here for us to ask them for money.”With all the challenges with being a head porter in the City of Accra, these young women would rather take their chances living below the poverty line in Accra than as farmers in Tamale, reminding us yet again of the work that needs to be done to equitably distribute wealth across the country.
Adiza recounts, “My late husband and I were farmers. I left where we lived after he died to be with my family. I left the children with my late husband’s family. When I get a little bit of money, I buy things for them.” Aisha added that “Back in Tamale, we worked as fishers, and we also worked on groundnut and corn farms.”
Working in Ghana’s uncertain informal sector is a huge challenge. The City of Accra has very few social services to help head porters afford basic necessities like decent bathrooms and showers, affordable housing, and support to help them rise out of poverty.
Despite all these, Adiza, Aisha, and Amina are hopeful that with hard work, they can engage in a vocation that will help them take care of their families.