Community 25, while originally allotted by the government for agricultural land, was scoped out years ago by land developers as an strategic place to buy up. Situated on the eastern outskirts of the Tema industrial area, not far from the Tema Port and only 2 hours east of Accra, the land that was sparsely populated “bush” ten years ago was bought up around 2006-2008 and wealthy Ghanaians from the city started constructing luxury homes on it. (Manye itself is about 10 years old.)
Then the financial crisis hit in 2009 and many halted construction on their homes. By then hundreds of squatter families had moved in and were living in the concrete foundations/skeletons of the houses. Most of these families are migrants, and will be forced to leave when the houses resume construction and the new families move in.
Additionally, there are many excellent schools (compounds?) in the neighborhood, such as DPS International (aka “The Indian School”), Princeton Academy (no relation to the Princeton branch), and SOS International (arguably the most elite primary/secondary school in Ghana). As a result, Manye’s principal draw is its low school fees, and most of its students, according to Mr. Kabutey, come from local squatter families.
The main change, if I had to pinpoint one, that has taken place in the 3.5 years since I last stayed at Manye is very visible gentrification. Vastly more of the luxury homes in the neighborhood have been completed, and many upper-middle class Ghanaian families are actually living in them. There are still hundreds of semi-deserted concrete shells of houses, but while such structures were the vast majority in 2010, they are now comfortably outnumbered by completed homes.
This means that while Manye has been able to maintain its enrollment of about 300 students, some are now coming (even walking three hours, from 4:30-7:30am) from remote, impoverished villages to attend and take the places of those whose families (Selassie, Howard&Kelvin, Richmond, Rita and many others) were forced to move out. And as the low-income population of C25 shrinks, the local vendors and shops that catered to them have less business, are strapped financially even more than before. And thus don’t pay their school fees and/or move out.
All of which boils down to a huge financial crisis facing Manye, in my opinion, although Mr. K believes, to the contrary, that the school will expand into other countries soon and is doing very well. He may be right, but I may be right. And it seems to me that without a complete overhaul – building a (new) permanent schoolhouse with cement instead of sheet metal held up by bamboo, getting bathrooms and running water instead of wooden outhouses, getting computers that work, using them for both learning and accounting, and making Internet access available for students – Manye will continue to lose low-income students (as their families leave) and fail to complete with the more elite local schools where wealthy C25 residents send their kids.
(Tetteh and I doing our best Tyra Banks growls outside the school)
It’s interesting, because Mr. K has expressed his eager support for the wealth that has recently settled in C25, because he thinks it will show the students to appreciate fine things. I am perhaps more cynical, and might add “fine things they will never have.” Admittedly I don’t know a whole lot about gentrification as a social phenomenon, but these are my impressions. And while undoubtedly it is a mixed bag, beneficial at a structural level in the long run, devastating on a personal level in the short run, I cannot help but worry on behalf of the dear friends I have made here. we knew, all along, we would have to leave, 11-year-old Jerry told me, but that doesn’t mean we want to leave home. And of course it creates the sinking feeling in me to know, that if I were to return again in 3 years time, perhaps they would all be gone – Jerry, Albert, Vanessa, Clifford, Christobel, Abigail, Daniel, Kate, Baba, Charles, Bernice, Bertha, Grace, Dorothy, Dorcas, Evelyn, Betty, Richard, Solomon, Precious, Nassif, Samuel and the rest. And in my experience, when one is poor and uneducated one becomes invisible in this world. The prosperity of literally everyone depends, in some way, on the labor of those individuals. But in society’s collective memory, in history books, songs and stories, in entertainment and social media, many such people are forgotten and excluded, or else their presence obfuscated. How do you find such a person to invite them to your wedding, to send them a birthday card? I do not know. But much of life – and migration is no exception – comes with its violences and delights alike.
I remember a line from an oral migration prayer of the Peyote Indians of New Mexico that I once listened to with Professor Watanabe, and which has come to mean very much to me:
Do not weep, Do not cry, brother; we came knowing we would have to leave.