At the CityLab Summit in London, Accra’s mayor, Alfred Oko Vanderpuiye, joined in a convening of, “preeminent mayors, urban scholars, architects, city leaders and innovators” to address problems facing metropolitan areas around the world. Vanderpuiye, who was named Africa’s best mayor in 2015, presented what he considered an innovative response to the congested streets in Accra’s central business district (CBD) – clogged with cars, trotros, and increasingly, street traders who cross from the sidewalks to the streets to sell goods to customers.

Vanderpuiye’s solution? He ordered red lines painted up and down the sidewalks, creating a boundary for the vendors.

“One day, about four months ago, Alfred Vanderpuije told some staffers to meet him at 6 a.m. with brushes and paint. As mayor of Accra, the capital of Ghana, he had a problem on his hands. Traders near the central marketplace in Accra were increasingly encroaching from the sidewalks into the street, making for a chaotic mix of vehicular, pedestrian, and market traffic. So the mayor set out to fix things with buckets of red paint.

“Before and after, just with a red line, it made a difference,” Mayor Vanderpuije said during a discussion at The Atlantic’s CityLab 2015 summit in London. With one broad brush stroke, the mayor delineated where vendors could and couldn’t operate. The very next day, pedestrians and traders were talking about it. Vanderpuije said that the local press reported on the new rule: “Do not cross the mayor’s red line.”
— ‘Paint the city you want to see’ by @kristoncapps — CityLab

But could the Mayor’s solution to decongesting the CBD’s vehicular, pedestrian and market traffic be as simple as painting a few red lines? In Accra, the reactions of residents were, at best, mixed. Many said they were surprised to learn about the new lines, admitting they hadn’t seen them in their areas yet, while some hailed the mayor and his red paint. Others were quick to point out that even in the photo shared as part of the Mayor’s CityLab presentation, there are two police officers patrolling the red line. These residents said it was the police presence keeping vendors at bay, not the red lines.

Photo from CityLab article. Original caption: “Do not cross the mayor’s red line.” (Courtesy City of Accra)

Photo from CityLab – original caption: “Do not cross the mayor’s red line.” (Courtesy City of Accra)

In this photo, the freshly painted bright red line streaks a sidewalk somewhere in one of Accra’s thriving but congested commercial hubs. On Twitter and Facebook, local residents shared their confusion and frustration, along with support for the Mayor, while guessing at potential locations where the photo could have been taken – Okaishie in Makola Market? Pamprom traffic light near Kaneshie? La Paz?

“Is this a joke?”

“the mayor obviously lives in a different city from Accra,”

“Well, never seen this red line solution in town, will lookout for it though cos the sidewalks in Central Accra still congested with street vendors.”

“Haven’t seen it personally but I have had a few conversations with a few people that frequent Accra Central and it is apparently working superbly. These people are not fans of Oko.”

“Cancerous lies .. this man will never stop false propaganda. Oko God is watching!”

“I have seen a few in the Okaishie market area. Shop owners are also not allowed to display their wares beyond the red line…The AMA [Accra Metropolitan Assembly] City Guards are also there to ensure compliance!”

“I work at Ridge and frequent the CBD and I see these lines in Tudu, Drug Lane, Opera Square and these lines are sometimes policed by personnel of the Assembly.”

“The mayor’s red line approach has eased congestion on the street of Accra,” argues blogger Kwame Anim. “However I think it’s not sustainable as hawkers are lurking about for the least opportunity to sell on the pavements again. What’s keeping them off are the guards who have been deployed on the streets. My question is will these guards stay permanently on the street and what law enforces the red lines? When the paint scraps off and fades, can anyone be held accountable for selling on the pavements?”

Anim’s photos shared on Twitter, show the current state of the Mayor’s red lines,

At Okaishie, the faded red line along this sidewalk has kept vendors’ goods at bay (left), but hasn’t prevented street vendors from returning back to the street (center). At right, a vendor walks the mayor’s fine red line. (credit: Kofi Anim)

At Okaishie, the faded red line along this sidewalk has kept vendors’ goods at bay (left), but hasn’t prevented street vendors from returning back to the street (center). At right, a vendor walks the mayor’s fine red line. (credit: Kwame Anim)

Four months later, the Accra Mayor’s red line is already fading, and in at least some locations, where there is no guard presence, vendors have ventured back into the street. Has this solution really worked? Follow the #AccraRedLine conversation on twitter and share your experiences and photos.