Accra, Ghana//-From the complexities of distribution hubs to a functioning nationwide logistics network, not to mention the minimum consistent business activity needed to make the whole model viable, a housing numbering system performs an essential role in the development of the next Amazon in Africa.
If Amazon wanted to set up in Ghana as in the US and the UK, and it hasn’t, you can bet that one of the factors has been the lack of a fully functional addressing system.
Good news: Ghana has a shot at fixing that. Let’s look at the general need for a functioning address system and its role in national development.
First, an optimised and functioning address system is the basic structure for quickly identifying physical properties.
Second, by directing the creation and delivery of infrastructure projects and services in the urban setting, an address system is a tool used by city governments to monitor urban growth.
Third, address systems assist companies in providing essential fire and police services and act as a guide for more effective and efficient mail delivery.
Also, a helpful street naming and numbering system is the foundation for intuitively identifying locations. Finally, street addresses are necessary for locals and guests to navigate (Ecklu 2011).
Address numbering is a practice that allows one to “assign an address” to a plot of land or dwelling by using a system of maps and signs that list the numbers or names of streets and structures.
This idea can be used in urban networks and services because, in addition to buildings, other urban fixtures like streetlights, taxi stands, and public standpipes also have addresses.
The housing numbering system, as mentioned earlier, is one of the most basic techniques for service delivery utilised by institutions in the public and private sectors.
It makes it possible to collect taxes efficiently, dispatch emergency services like ambulances, firefighters, and law enforcement officers, and manage utility companies’ networks and revenue collection more effectively (Mennecke and West Jr 2001; Yildirim et al. 2014).
Still, proper location identification systems positively influence the achievement of more general socio-economic development goals in most developing countries (Meso and Duncan 2002).
Increasing digitalisation and the widespread usage of mobile devices today have created a space and a framework for innovation that increasingly combines physical and digital components (Nylén and Holmström 2015).
According to Imieliski and Navas (1999), Roick and Heuser (2013), and Goodchild (2009), this phenomenon gave rise to the idea of digital location addresses, which makes use of significant technological advancements to transform descriptive locational information like postal addresses and named locations into an unambiguous geographic reference.
As a result, authorities in both wealthy and developing nations continue to look for ways to address issues with geographical addresses (Walsham and Sahay 1999).
It took the world a while to discover this solution. Moreover, the fact that it is constantly being modified makes house numbering more challenging to tackle in mainly developing nations, such as Ghana.
In the past years, countries worldwide struggled with their housing addressing system. Rarely have new neighbourhoods been added to the street identification systems initially utilised in city centres’ older communities. As a result, urban services were in a worrying situation due to inadequate identification methods.
How can you navigate a rapidly growing country easily and effectively, nationwide? How can you swiftly send out ambulances, firefighters, or law enforcement officers?
How are letters and messages delivered to private residences? In what ways are municipal services offered? How are malfunctions in the telephone, electricity, and water networks located? How do you put up a system for collecting taxes effectively?
It was against these questions that the need to intensify and extend the street naming and addressing system to other parts of cities worldwide arose.
Establishing a home address is a significant issue.
Despite appearances, it is one of the most challenging in urban living. The issue is important since a person’s place of residence defines them just as much as their height, hair colour, or eye colour.
Moreover, a person’s home address is now a crucial component of their personal identifying information; it can be found on their social security card and voter identification.
That said, the concept of street, housing identification or naming that dates back to as early as the 18th century in Mannheim, Germany, is considered the prototype of American cities in the 19th century.
However, the first street-addressing initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa were in the early 1990s. Despite this backdrop, in Ghana, all initiatives to correctly identify and number houses from the 2000s to as late as 2015 all relatively failed.
Till recently, largely even still in use, to identify buildings, people use landmarks regardless of formal street names:
“Make a right at the mango tree next to the uncompleted building and look for the petty trader selling on the table top. He will tell you where to go”.
There are some obvious problems with this system. The tree may have been cut down. The trader might no longer be at their regular spot.
Many communities in Ghana, including Accra, are so fast-growing that getting lost is becoming increasingly easy. Urban navigation is even harder for visitors and tourists. These are only the everyday issues.
At the extreme end, taxing via real estate can be challenging for local governments in cities without addresses, and the implication on local micro and macroeconomics is huge (Osabutey, 2014).
But, on the contrary, and in different countries where their street and housing address systems work effectively, the immersive benefit for individual business owners and local authorities has been unprecedented.
Take, for instance, the case of Amazon: a multinational technology business with headquarters in the United States that focuses on artificial intelligence, cloud computing, online advertising, digital streaming, and e-commerce.
One of the most valuable brands in the world, it has been called “one of the most significant economic and cultural forces in the globe.”
How did Amazon get there: they took advantage of a working digital housing system that could identify and deliver goods to customers anywhere they find themselves.
Moving on, and away from the history lessons, currently in Ghana, in the wake of the digitisation agenda, Ghana Post and the Government have devised a housing numbering system, cutely dubbed “Jack Where Are You”, to divide every single plot of Ghana into sections and give each a unique digital address.
This is an attempt to improve the housing system. What is this new system about, and how different is it from all the other “failed attempts”? If appropriately utilised, what is its implication for the average Ghanaian?
The system is location-based and is intended to provide an efficient way of assigning an address to every site and place in the nation, even undeveloped parcels of land, using an information technology application (app).
Using the Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, the software generates a unique code for each building or place in Ghana.
In addition, a national address registry is integrated into the system to allow users to verify their residential and commercial locations for simple navigation and identification (Bokpe 2017).
Demuyakor (2021), in a study titled Ghana’s Digitization Initiatives: A Survey of Citizens’ Perceptions on the Benefits and Challenges to the Utilization of Digital Governance Services, set out to find out the impact of the addressing system four years on since its implementation.
As a result, it was discovered that; a more significant number of respondents believe the initiatives are convenient and reduce the everyday stress of locating a landmark.
Also, house numbering has made banks-client relationships more straightforward. Thus, notably, the Digital Address System ensures that people and small enterprises can fulfil the prerequisite (to an extent) for obtaining credit.
According to a 2015 financial inclusion survey by the World Bank Group’s Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), almost a quarter of Ghanaians is eligible for financial services.
Moreover, although 10% of adults borrow, 67% save, and 40% invest, very few of these financial transactions are made through banks; instead, most people choose to borrow money informally from friends and family.
Banks can modernise their credit rating systems and better manage risk, allowing them to transfer funds more rapidly and increase loan recovery.
They will also be able to verify the locations of firms and their owners instantly. As banks can follow up on clients and quickly discover assets used as security, the cost of obtaining a loan may also decrease. (Oxford Business Group, 2017)
Of course, all these are easier said than done. Don’t shoot the messenger.
Again, the Ghana Water Company will be able to launch its e-billing system thanks to the new address database. Data from the app will be used to track water usage and help identify strategic locations for network expansion.
By formalising more of the economy, the new approach might assist the government in expanding the tax base. According to the most recent census of the labour force conducted by the Ghana Statistical Service, 90% of those working in 2015 and older worked in the informal sector.
To summarise, street and housing numbering systems have been the backbone of most formalised economies.
The concept is not new; it has constantly revolved around the back of the internet of things (IoTs). Many developing nations, such as Ghana, need a proper and functioning addressing system.
We must try to actualise the benefits from our very own “Jack Where Are You”, the much-anticipated digital address system that was finally implemented in 2017, regardless of political affiliation.
The addressing system is expected to formalise the Ghanaian economy and make service delivery relatively easier.
Five years after its implementation, there are reports of improved banking services. There are, however, there are reports of peculiar challenges that have to do with internet accessibility, amongst others.
Nonetheless, this is an excellent opportunity for Ghana and Ghanaians because a functioning address system is a common and necessary factor that is present in every developed nation on Earth.
I hope you enjoyed the read. Hit me up, and let’s keep the conversation going! I read all the feedback you send. Also, feel free to throw at me topics you’d like to read or hear my thoughts on. You can always head to my Calendly at calendly.com/maxwellampong or connect with me your own way through my Linktree: https://linktr.ee/themax.
By Dr Maxwell Ampong
He is the CEO at Maxwell Investments Group, a leading agro-commodities trading firm, an Honorary Curator at the Ghana National Museum, member and Official Business Advisor with Ghana’s largest agricultural trade union under the nation’s Trade Union Congress (TUC), Executive Ambassador at the Zongo & Inner-Cities Development Secretariat (ZICDS), and an avid writer about relevant economic topics and general perspective pieces.