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04.05.2007 General News

A Weapon Code-Named ‘News’

It is now a hackneyed treatise about development planning gone all wrong, but our national electrical power crisis remains on the public agenda nonetheless. Life here is almost a galloping nightmare.

Every single second of the day, someone somewhere is busily working with one electrical or industrial machine or another, when power goes off abruptly, pfft . . .! March and April register the highest atmospheric temperatures in Ghana and without power to operate electrical air-cooling systems, we are literally roasting alive.

We flee offices and homes for a whiff of air in the open spaces and flee back indoors from the blazing sun, and there is no respite.

Buried in heavy suits and choking from neckties in all this heat, I wonder how lawyers, politicians and the corporate executive are coping, Jomo.

The severity of the progressively worsening crisis which promises to be the longest and most debilitating in the history of this country, makes rank nonsense of a national power rationing schedule published in the newspapers every fortnight since August last year.

People go to sleep in darkness, stoically enduring the inconvenience, and trusting that power will be restored in the morning as indicated in the published power rationing schedule.

Morning comes, Jomo, and there is no such luck! We gather the Volta River Authority owes our “Oui, Oui” brothers a fortune and the Ivorians have declined our request for continued supply. It is only a rumour, though.

What do you make of rumours, Jomo? I have noted that they are often totally false, perfectly true, or only partially true. A common thing about them is that they are difficult to verify.

I have often wondered how an individual or corporate entity might appropriately deal with a rumour affecting their interest or image. Some say deny a rumour in the media straightaway and provide evidence that it is false.

Others say you fuel and aid the spread of a rumour by repeating it in the media. I wonder what the corporate policy of Bank of Ghana (BOG) is on such matters. BOG staff recently went on a street demonstration in demand of higher pay. Barely hours later, an individual or a group of individuals alleged in a posting on the Internet that Bank of Ghana Governor, Dr Paul Acquah, was being paid a monthly salary of US$15,000 and his two deputies US$5,000 each.

Sounds curious, does it not, Jomo? If this rumour is true and this reincarnation thing is also true, Jomo, I would rather be a BOG governor or one of his two deputies my next life around, but wait a second . . .

I would raise hell with a great battle cry if I were paid a miserly third of the governor's monthly salary. When the guy is out of town I take the hot seat and do the hot job, don't I?

Anyway that is beside the point, Jomo. The point is that some have asked what is wrong with paying the governor nearly ¢150 million if it is commensurate with his qualification and responsibilities?

Nothing, I dare say, if we are talking about a governor elsewhere. In Ghana, wages are so low that labour strikes have become a weekly affair these days. In such circumstances you would expect the government to say something, wouldn't you?

Many rumours are usually of such a nature as to make normally level-headed people believe in the most ludicrous and the outrageous.

This week Ghanaians woke up to a frightening rumour that people were dying all over the place after answering mobile phone calls with unusually long numbers which appeared on the screen in fiery red colour. The phone rings. The owner picks it up. “Hello,” he says into it, and bang, he drops dead. Very dead.

This is one of the cases which excite curiosity about the reason why people start rumours. Is a rumour like this cooked up out of mischief intended to cause widespread panic or for sheer sport, do you think? Could it be that rumours are becoming secret weapons for destabilising society, inflicting injury on individuals, businesses and other interest groups?

If anyone was a victim of this rumour it was the mobile phone companies in town. For days many subscribers refused to answer phone calls.

Once a rumour with the potential to frighten people is rife, many psychologically susceptible people walk around in such panic that their actions and responses to situations are influenced by the fear.

In the Central Business District of Accra, an apparently very normal bloke stands in the street, screaming and pausing to mutter incomprehensibly about something. Passers-by try to find out what is up with the chap. He claims a stranger who was passing by touched him and he felt a strange sensation.

He reached down his crouch for a quick anatomical check and discovered to his horror that Long John Thomas was gone!

Less than an hour later, a similar scenario plays out in a different part of Accra:

A lady clutches desperately at her chest screaming that her mammary glands have plain disappeared from inside her bra. This happened after a stranger touched her as he passed by.

People begin looking over the shoulder as they walk along. Gradually fear turns into mass hysteria, and soon innocent and hapless people are being lynched all over the place on suspicion that they are responsible for the vanishing body parts.

These are mentally visual pictures of real events which occurred in Accra years ago and which I am repainting in words. It all means rumours are becoming a serious challenge to security and enforcement of law and order, don't you think?

A huge crowd besieged a police station in Accra the other day, after it had been rumoured that the police had taken a rather unusual complainant into protective custody — a fowl! Physiologically, the fowl had been a woman complete with all reasoning faculties. A stranger deliberately dropped a banknote on the ground and when she picked it up she turned into a fowl.

The police spent eternity trying to explain that they had not taken any human fowl into custody. Pick-pockets had a good day. They may have started the rumour in the first place.

Methinks rumours are actually “news” improvised or manufactured by people to help them make sense out of very confusing situations and events which no one seems able or willing to explain to them. How do you propose we deal with them then, Jomo?

Article by George Sydney Abugri