Monday, 7 August 2017

A hand-to-mouth life: The story of migrant shoe-makers in Accra

By Emmanuel Quarshie and Chris Zigah,

Migration has always played an important role in socio-economic development, especially in the developing world and Ghana is not an exception. Irrespective of the tremendous contribution of the informal sector to socio-economic development of Ghana, certain jobs have not been adequately studied by researchers. For example, cobblers within the urban informal sector - people who mend and polish shoes. Since Ghana’s early independence, the shoemaker's trade has been gradually increasing. People have traveled to neighboring countries in West Africa like Burkina Faso, Togo, Nigeria, Benin to engage in this informal sector activity. 

Various types of Cobblers
While in many settings women outnumber men in the informal sector cobbling is a mainly a male dominated field with little or no female contributions. Cobblers in Accra can be grouped into three main types:

Type 1 the professional cobbler – they are fewer in numbers, however they make the most in terms of income. They engage in the manufacturing of locally made footwear popularly called the “Kumasi sandals” found on the Ghanaian market. The professional cobbler unlike the other types of urban cobblers can be said to be a more stable profession.

Type 2 the stationed cobbler - they provide services like mending and polishing of footwear, belts, leather bags and other products. The stationed cobbler is located at a particular area where their customers come to them with their footwear for servicing.

Type 3 the “mobile cobbler” -  the commonest of the three types found in Accra. Just like their name suggest, they move from one area to  another with their small wooden box in search of customers. Comparatively, the mobile cobbler makes the least income of the three. They also provide similar services as the stationed cobbler, however they move to their customers rather than their customers coming to them.

Despite their significant roles in the informal sector, cobblers are confronted with numerous problems in addition to their low income and living conditions in Accra. Key among them is the poor housing and accommodation conditions due to the expensive rents coupled with higher initial deposits requested by landlords aside the overwhelming utility bills. Also, most of these cobblers are not able to access quality health care as a result of their low income levels since majority of them do not enrol on the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) even though they are aware of it. As a result, they reside in the informal settlements which comes with challenges due to poor sanitation and congestion. Despite all of the difficulties that they face, an overwhelming number of cobblers are of the view that migrating to the city was not a wrong choice since they believe that it has led to improvements in their living standards. 

The Unseen South-South Movement
With the search for employment and better living conditions being some of the most prominent reasons for migration especially amongst rural folks in Ghana, rural-urban migration is perceived as a key strategy for survival by most young adults. Most migration studies focus on those who move from the North to the South of Ghana. It is noteworthy that chunk of these cobblers migrate from rural areas in southern Ghana to Accra in search of employment. This is as a result of pockets of poverty found within rural areas within the southern part of Ghana where farming is becoming less lucrative. Low skills and insufficient start-up capital, coupled with the poor job availability, mean that many find work in the informal sector. The urban informal sector has remained the major cushion for a majority of unemployed individuals by providing them with employment opportunities.

One cobbler, Mawuli, said:

“I migrated from Ho to Accra mainly in search of employment, as I saw many of my colleagues migrate to the city to improve upon their living conditions and that of their families back home. Before migrating into the capital city, I engaged in crop farming but could not make enough income from produce to support my family. This was as a result of the high cost of fertilizers, limited access to land and our localized system of farming which did not enable me to engage in large scale farming activities.  After a long but unfruitful search for employment in Accra and the quest to survive, I learnt the job of mending and polishing footwear. Even though this isn’t my preferred choice of work, in order to survive here I hang on this hand-to-mouth life as a cobbler till I get a relatively better paying job.”

Just like Mawuli, most young male adults migrate to Accra with the hope of finding their dream occupations. When all efforts to search for employment seemed futile, some find other means of survival, of which becoming a cobbler is one. Being a cobbler requires less skills and capital than others. 

The way forward
Other informal sector workers have associations, however cobblers, irrespective of the type, do not. There is the need for a special cobblers’ association to be formed to see to the specific needs, welfare and development of cobblers. With regards to health, it is also important that Ghana Health Sector encourage them to enroll on the National Health Insurance Scheme to be secure in that regard. Acknowledging the fact that Type 1 cobblers are able to manufacture hand-made shoes, it would be expedient on the part of government to enhance their skills to intensify the quality of leather wear.

Zigah, C (2017). “Rural- Urban Migration and its Consequences on Socio­­-Economic Livelihoods:  A Case Study of Cobblers in La-Nkwatanang-Madina Municipal Assembly”, Bachelor’s Dissertation, Department of Geography and Resource Development, University of Ghana, Legon.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Would you like to respond to anything said by the author of this blog? Please leave comment below.