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Jun 11, 2009 | Editorial



The response to my article on President Barack Obama 's proposed visit to Ghana , has been beyond my wildest expectations. People have actually telephoned me to discuss the issue with me. I am grateful for their encouragement.

Not all of those who responded were in agreement with me. Some made it clear that in their view,

since we have lived with the filth and smell in our open drains for so long, it would be hypocritical to pretend that we can do anything really serious about them in the short time we've got before Obama and his media circus arrive.

Others even thought it was sort of 'belittling' to wait until Obama was coming, before we think of doing something that we should obviously be doing in the course of our ordinary lives.

I empathise with the sheer frustration that make people say things like that. Our priorities are all askew. Our rulers like to have air-conditioned cars so that they can shut the windows, as they drive around town, to avoid the smell and the dust. Yet the money they spend on those [official] cars -- and the taxes they collect on the [privately-owned] vehicles -- could, in one year, be used to cover our drains and rid our capital of smells. Or at any rate, make a start at doing that.

One fried pointed out to me that there are plans that have been developed, with the co-operation of international lending agencies, for the construction of a drainage system for Accra and other towns. So, rather than go about it in fits and starts, we should wait until we are ready and then implement it systematically, in accordance with the plans that already exist.

My answer to that is, yes, fair enough -- that is the best thing to do. But we haven't done it yet. When our country achieved its independence in 1957, we spruced up our capital (on the surface) in order to impress the visitors who came to celebrate our independence with us. These included President Richard M Nixon, who was then Vice-President of the USA. It wasn't such a bad thing having him as a friend of Ghana in the White House . For shortly after his visit, Ghana was asking his leader, President Dwight Eisenhower, for the assistance without which the Akosombo Dam would not have been built.

Nixon came and went. Then in 1958, we had all the independent African States to entertain. We put up flags and bunting. But our drains remained their old self.

After they had gone home, we hosted the All-African People's Conference, at which almost all the freedom fighters in Africa congregated in Accra. Again, we put up a brave face.

And the visitors didn't forget us. Wherever you go in Africa, if you mention that you come from Ghana, someone somewhere will tell you that he knows about your country, and that Ghana inspired the leaders of his own country to fight for their freedom.

That name is our heritage. And we should protect it.

No-one on earth should be allowed to hold his nose when Ghana is spoken of. Protecting that name entails using any means necessary. If the adrenalin of a foreign visit is what we need to use as a catalyst to get rid of our smelly gutters and dirty markets, let's use it. Or, as I keep emphasising, start using it.

The point is, we would have done it by now, if we had wanted to do it. But we didn't. And now that we have reached this stage, we cannot suddenly pretend that we “know better”, but were waiting. Waiting for what? The visitor can only judge you by what he sees, not what is in your files, marked “Development Projects” and

ribboned in red to show how urgently you view it.
What at all would be the right time, if not now? How many OAU summits have we held in Accra? Did we use the opportunity well? No! For the first conference in 1965, we spent a huge sum of money building “Job 600”. But out gutters remained uncovered. Now we have the new Flagstaff House . And our drains are still as open-mouthed as ever. So the argument that “we know better” doesn't cut any ice with me.

I don't think we can afford to be “absolutists”. Just because we know we can do “A” -- which is the ideal -- but haven't been able to do it, it doesn't mean we shouldn't attempt to do “B” or even “C”. If we do “C”, we can go back to do “B” and “A”. That is, if we are serious.

“Phased” development is so popular in the literature of social transformation that one doesn't need to go over all the grounds again. It also accords with the tenets of common sense: we have a proverb that says, “When you start climbing a tree well, it is then that others come and help to push you to the top”. On the other hand, if you hesitate in your climbing, others are only too ready to laugh at you and hand you a 'PhD' degree (in this instance, it means “Pull Him Down!”)

One friend of mine even suggests that we try a method that is being used in Rwanda , whereby compulsion is used to make everyone take part in cleaning projects at specified times. But I don't think compulsion is necessary. As I said in my first article, if the markets, for instance, are parcelled out to groups of women, who are encouraged to compete to keep their areas clean, the “territorial imperative” that's always present in group mentality can be kindled and they will do it better than any compulsive methods could. The same thing applies to streets.

I am sorry to be so elemental, but do you remember that when we were in school, some of the teachers used to divide us into “Sections” -- Red, Blue, Green and Gold. My, did we or did we not try and outshine other sections in any task assigned to us! Be it in athletics, or football, or weeding, or gardening: we all followed our section leaders to the hilt and did what they told us, even if we didn't like doing it. And do you remember the excitement and anxiety with which we awaited our teacher's verdicts, when they came to inspect tasks assigned to our sections? What total elation suffused us if we came first. And oh, what shame --if we had to hang our heads because we has come last!

The same psychology which existed in us as kids is still in us; it just needs a bit of prodding to be tapped to the surface and bring out wonders in us.

In he past, we used to run boat races on our beaches. We can organise the same fishermen who used to do that, into teams that will police the beaches and ensure that no fouling takes place on the sands.

Furthermore, we still have our sectional chiefs and family chiefs, as well as our Paramount Chiefs. They can all be organised by the Central and Municipal Governments and provided with cash assistance, as well as materials, to compete with other neighbourhoods for prizes, which will go to the whole community when won.

We owe it to ourselves not to be disgraced when foreigners storm into our country. It isn't the two days that Obama & Co. will spend here that matter. What matters is our ability to prove ourselves to be worthy of what we can do as Ghanaians . We are like a couple whose in-laws from both sides are coming to spend the weekend with them. One side or the other will be looking for faults which, will, of course, be put at the door, not of their own son/daughter, but of the offspring of the other couple.

The best way to beat both couples is for the man and wife to work together. And, of course, their marriage will be the stronger, as they sit down and compare notes and laugh over their anxieties and their triumphs -- after the two pairs of visitors have both  left!

Source: Cameron Duodu -

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