Ghanaian demonstrators clashed with security forces in Accra on Monday, burning tires and throwing stones to protest the demolition of hundreds of houses to make way for better flood control, witnesses said.
Police fired tear gas and briefly arrested five people in a bid to deter the protesters, hundreds of whom also marched from the impoverished Old Fadama neighbourhood to parliament before turning back when met by soldiers, witnesses and police said.
Civil unrest is rare in Ghana, a country that prides itself on its ability to resolve political and social tensions peacefully, in contrast to some of its West African neighbours.
Demonstrators said they were angered by a decision by Accra Municipal Authority, backed by the government, to bulldoze the houses at the weekend in an area that borders on the Korle lagoon, making thousands homeless.
On Monday, residents picked through the remains of their shattered homes and businesses for their possessions.
“They (authorities) said they would demolish along the banks of the lagoon but they went beyond that limit and people are suffering as a result of what they did,” said Chief Yahaya Mahama, a traditional leader for many residents of Old Fadama.
Authorities say the lagoon channel must be deepened and widened if Accra is to avoid a repeat of flooding caused as rainfall blocked drains on June 3-4 and killed more than 50 people.
In a related incident that night, 96 people sheltering from the floods at a downtown gas station were burned alive when it exploded, making it the worst disaster to hit Ghana in decades.
Both incidents exposed the country’s ageing infrastructure, making flood control an urgent priority for the government of President John Mahama ahead of elections in December 2016.
Mahama has also vowed to end crippling power blackouts this year. The government is receiving aid from the International Monetary Fund to restore fiscal stability and kickstart rapid growth in an economy powered by exports of gold, oil and cocoa.
Residents said they opposed the destruction of houses and a decision to switch off electricity and water, and thus sanitation, to the neighbourhood.
“I have nowhere to go other than to sleep right here,” said Zainab Mohammad, pointing to a chair where she said she had spent the previous night. Mohammad, who works as a market porter, said she was eight months pregnant.