By: Nii Amu Darko/ www.africanakua.com, Ghana

Lockdown occupies the extreme end of the social distancing (spacing) spectrum. It is a spatial phenomenon whose success depends on spatial distribution of the population. This is the most functional definition of lockdown. Unfortunately, you will not find it anywhere. It partly explains why lockdown seems to be working better in Australia with very low population density than in Europe with very high population density.

Population density (PD) is the number of people who live in a specified area (km2). The PD of Australia is 3.1 people/km2. The PD of my state of Victoria, the smallest state on the mainland is 27. Victoria’s size is like that of Ghana and the UK. Its population is 6.5m, that of Ghana is 30m and the UK 68m. It is very clear that a spatial phenomenon like lockdown, all other things being equal will work better in Victoria (and Australia) than the UK whose PD is 279. Ghana’s PD is about 130.

One would think therefore that Ghana has a better chance at lockdown than the UK if we go by PD. No! Lockdown is not just about PD. It is a spatial phenomenon and its effectiveness depends on the spatial DISTRIBUTION of a population in a jurisdiction. That means settlement patterns and building practices are key.

Some flats located at Airport Residential Area (Residence for the elite and middle class) in Accra.

Australia, UK and all developed countries have planned settlements and strict building practices. In Australia, certain conditions are met before a building permit is granted. Your house must be at least 2m away from all fences. It means 2 houses are at least 4m apart from each other. In Ghana, how many build houses with building permits? Who checks whether things are done according to law?

Bukom,a densely populated area in Accra.

In the developed world, population distribution is fairly even, and it also correlates fairly well with provision of amenities. That is not the case in Ghana. What I am saying is that the socio-cultural ecosystem in Ghana is radically different from those we are copying the lockdown from.

Why have I taken a position 180 degrees from the most popular view? Because I was born and bred in traditional Ghana where I witnessed how 90% of its citizens live and I am now living in the world’s most livable city, Melbourne, so I know the difference.  For the past 6 years I have been writing about the ACCRA PROBLEM and what will happen if disaster strikes. Below is the 1st paragraph of an article I wrote in 2016 after the floods – ACCRA, The Deluge and The Disaster – Edɔ shi ekuko (bent but not broken)

“I just read 2 postings from 2 friends on the recent floods. I wrote about it 2years ago “The Accra Problem – PACE Capital for PIES.” I wrote again last year under ‘’Cry, the beloved City’’. I am forced by circumstances to write again this year.” Yes, I warned in 2014, 2015 and 2016. We are now in it.

Statistics, they say are like bikinis, what they reveal is suggestive but what they conceal is vital.  From the 2010 census, the PD of Ghana was 103 (now it is estimated to be 130), but the population is not evenly distributed. In the AMA jurisdiction of Greater Accra, the PD then was 12 000. Ghana Statistical Services say that 66.4% of all Ghanaians when they leave their homes, end up in Accra. So, if the national PD has increased from 103 to 130, then the PD of AMA is at least 16 000.

Ga Mashie, a slum in Accra

Within AMA, again the population is not evenly distributed. We have estates with low PD. Ga Mashi, specifically the Bukom area is likely to have PD 4 to 5x the AMA average. Brothers and sisters, we are talking about 60 000 to 75 000 human beings living on a km2. This is toxic. You must be completely out of your mind to suggest a Melbourne-type lockdown for Bukom. That is unmitigated insanity.

All this kind of stuff that I have been writing for some time now are developmental issues. Paraphrasing Obama  in Accra, ‘’make no mistake, development depends on good governance. And this is the single most important ingredient missing in Africa for so long.’’ Developmental issues are ultimately POLITICAL. Make no mistake about that. I will not go too much into politics today. The emphasis here is the correct strategy to contain the spread of coronavirus in Accra and Ghana as a whole.


I have modified my initial ITT to TITT to make contact tracing a prominent and not a nuanced part of the strategy.

Lockdown will not work in all these densely populated and poorly regulated areas. Someone living in Airport Residential area has a backyard and gardens in front of his house. Under lockdown, he can still walk around his house. His children can still play within their walls. The backyard for Bukom and Chorkor is the beach. You cannot stop them from going there anymore than stopping someone walking in his own backyard.

Airport Residential Area in Accra

Heavy densely populated areas are disadvantaged in many ways and in situations like this covid disaster, they are the most vulnerable. Locking down 10 people in their little room they run shift to sleep in is cruel and unsustainable. It can easily degenerate into upheavals and violence that nobody may be able to stop. This is not the way to do it.

Instead of spraying them with hot water, seal off Bukom, test all of them, isolate those who are positive and bring them to redesigned Accra Sports stadium for treatment and quarantine. Trace their contacts and go through the same protocol.  The rest then can lead their normal life. Take the sick from the crowd. Do not lockdown the infected with the uninfected. This is no rocket science.

Instead of spraying them with hot water, stop the mindless middle-class welfare of placing private returnees from overseas into 5-star hotels, and use the money to bring water to Bukom and all those disadvantaged and vulnerable areas in our country. Quarantine the overseas returnees in our empty university halls of residence.

After the bushfire in Australia, wealthy farmers were put into tents temporarily for few weeks before other arrangements were made. The 1st plane of Australians and New Zealanders from China were quarantined in a refugee detention facility on Christmas Island off the Australian mainland. Subsequent returnees were quarantined in sparsely populated Northern Territory government facilities. A state that has not been able to put up even 0.1% of its GDP in this crisis, cannot afford to pay 5-star hotel for its middle-class. We cannot be that stupid, can we?


Nii Amu Darko is a writer and the President of The African Reform Movement.

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