By Emmanuel Quarshie and Gloria Makafui Dovoh
“Kayayei work has been in the system for so long a time from our older sisters and mothers who for instance came to the big cities to work and made some money, bought utensils and other items and returned home. Upon seeing these items, other mothers also encouraged their children to go find work in the big cities so they could get money as well. In comparing the living conditions of those in the North with those in Madina, I can say the city life is better even though I still travel back home occasionally. I still believed the young ones could have stayed in school a little longer. I believe kayayei are many in Madina because most of the girls who migrate to Madina are unwilling to help their families, if the situation were different, the kayayei would have been just a few. I also think that there are a lot of children because older kayayei who are nursing mothers bring younger girls to help them cater for their babies and these younger ones end up one way or the other becoming kayayei as well.”
Madam Rakiya, the leader of the Mamprusi kayayei.
Kayayei is a Ghanaian term made up of two languages; Hausa and Ga where ‘kaya’ means load in Hausa and ‘yei’ means women in Ga. Kayayei (female head load porters) are usually found with head pans in market places. They carry goods for a living and most of them migrate from the three Northern regions of Ghana; Upper West, Upper East, and Northern Regions. The main ethnic group that kayayei belong to is the Mamprusi, followed by the Mole-Dagbani.
The Municipal Co-ordinating Director of La-Nkwantanang Madina Municipal Assembly, Alhaji Saaka Dramani, said in an interview that as at 2013, there were approximately 9,000 kayayei living in Madina and they stay at seven main areas; Zongo, Nkwantanang, Areas around Redco Flats, Madina Number One Park, Dzifanco, Adenta Powerland and Riss Junction. They often live in slum-like conditions.
From one-on-one interviews and focus group discussions with 50 kayayei in Madina Market, we heard more about the reasons that they migrated, the patterns of their daily lives, and how their conditions could be improved.
Reasons for migration
Some kayayei moved to Madina because they wanted to live in the big city and others migrated to Madina because there are far more kayayei in Kumasi leading to competition for customers. A lot of the kayayei in Madina Market were direct migrants who travelled straight from their towns of origin to Madina without making stops in other towns to work before continuing down south.
According to the Ghana Statistical Service Report, 2015, the poverty incidence in Upper West region of Ghana is 59.0 % representing the highest in the country followed by 51.9% in the Upper East region and 40.9% in the Northern region. In recent times, north-south migration in Ghana among women has become very significant, with more women on the move. The 2010 census conducted by Ghana Statistical Service indicated that almost 50% of all internal migrants were women, which outweighs majority of African countries. Some scholars in the migration field refer to this as the ‘feminization of migration’ in Ghana.
Most of these kayayei we spoke to migrated due to the seasonal variations in the weather affecting their crop yields. A survey conducted on kayayei by the Ghana Federation of the Urban Poor in 2010 reported that 58% of the girls were engaged in farming prior to their migration from the northern part of Ghana to Accra. Changes in their ability to support the household has meant male heads are no longer the main breadwinners. To assist in financing the household women resort to migration as the most convenient strategy for future economic gain in order to smoothen the household consumption level. This accounts for the recent prevalence of women on the move from the northern part of Ghana to the south which is the capital city.
“Back home in Tamprusi, I used to weed groundnut farm virtually from dawn to dusk every day which yielded very little money and also there was no other job available so I told my parents about my desire to come and work in Accra. I came all alone on a bus, even though I was scared and knew nobody in Accra, but I was bent on getting money to learn a trade, help my seven siblings and mother. Upon my arrival, I found out where my colleagues were staying, I joined them and immediately made a couple of friends. From there, I started wandering around the market in search of customers, however, with this kayayei work, I have decided that if it does not help me, I will go back home.” Ruth, a 20-year-old kayayei
Long days chasing work
In the week, most kayayei begin their days between 4 am and 6 am to join Islamic prayers since the majority of them are practicing Muslims and then prepare for the market. The younger ones are usually responsible for the house chores of sweeping and cleaning while the older ones take their bath and head for the market. The kayayei of La-Nkwantanang Madina live in housing units based on their ethnic background in order to have that sense of belonging as well as to avoid ethnic clashes. The younger ones consider the older kayayei from their ethnic groups as their older sisters hence they are responsible for the daily house chores while the older ones play the nurturing roles by providing the younger ones with protection and security and also give account to their parents back in the North.
As Abigail puts it:
“I usually wake up at 4 am to sweep and take my bath then I head to the market around 5 am. During the day, I eat as and when I get hungry and sometimes based on the amount of money available. Kayayei business is my main source of income so I try to work very hard to make ends meet from this work even though it is difficult because I do not make enough money from it after combing most parts of the Madina Market in the scorching sun.”
Most kayayei said that it was difficult to get work and that when they did, their patrons were reluctant to pay the full amount.
Amina narrated that;
“On some days, I manage to get customers and on other days, I do not get even one person and even when I found a customer, he or she was unwilling to pay the amount I charge them. At the end of the day, I manage to make about Gh20 to Gh30.”
Many kayayei said that they faced challenges in making their rent and earning enough for food, clothing, and water. Abigail explained:
"I pay a rent of Gh5 per week and share a room with about ten other kayayei, both young and old, at Nkwantanang. I also save some money with my friends for future use like purchasing rice or groundnut and retailing in my community when I return."
Fatima told us:
Fatima told us:
“When I do not have money to pay immediately, I tell the landlord about my inability to pay so he gives me a week to pay in addition to the following week’s rent. And for feeding and water, I sometimes borrow money from my close friends to acquire them, with respect to money, there is very little I can do when I face such challenges.”
Even though they do not make the kind of money they speculated they would, and people take advantage of their vulnerability, the kayayei we spoke to still perceived migration as the only solution to the challenges that they faced at home.
How can the kayayei be supported?
Over the years rhetoric around migration has tended to be negative, sideling the benefits that migration brings to individual migrants and their households.
To improve development policies, we need an in-depth understanding of the capabilities and strategies of poor people, from their own perspective.
The problem of mass migration of kayayei must be tackled from the source region. Em Ekong, the director of Urban Inclusion, a consultancy which specializes in community-based economic development, rightly posited at the New African Woman Forum that, "the key fact remains that a lot of women and girls are making their way into cities because they are not making enough money and they don’t see opportunities for themselves in Ghana’s rural north.” One of the many ways in which we can work around this is through meaningful financial inclusion.
Women need to be given the chance to develop businesses in sectors such as agriculture. This must go beyond the subsistence farming by providing them with affordable and accessible financial solutions in rural areas to expand their capacity.
Also, the source regions should also see the migration of many young women as a challenge to the region and engage them in non-agricultural activities like vocational education, learning a trade, or encouraging them to stay in school much longer than they do. Since many of them migrate due to limited job opportunities, it would be prudent if either governmental and non-governmental organizations provide start-up capital or credit facilities to these young women in the North to engage in stable employment which could also serve as a qualification for future employment. Attempts to do this will ensure that the future flow of individuals will account for relatively more skilled migrants which possess positively heavier trickle-down effect on the economy.
Dovoh, G. M. (2017). “Assessing the livelihood conditions of kayayei in the La-Nkwantanang Madina Municipality”, Bachelor’s Dissertation, Department of Geography and Resource Development, University of Ghana, Legon.