05.01.2004 Feature Article

"Ghana Style" is killing Ghana

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He opened the main gate of the house for us to drive out on a hot and sunny morning in Accra and then proceeded to the side of the front wall and started to urinate. I called him and asked why he did that. He answered “oh its Ghana Style” How do you give an excuse for such behavior when this act occurs in front of a house with two bathrooms and three water closets each less than 35 meters from the front wall. I guess you think this was the watchman or the garden boy who performed this act. Guess what, you are wrong!!! My recent visit to Ghana revealed some issues that I would like to share with you. One good thing we can sing home about is the business climate; much improvement since my visit in 2002 Customer Service: The term customer service does not exist in the vocabulary of most Ghanaian firms however those who deliver superior customer service are doing extremely well. An example is the Nandos fast food chain. The chain has been in the country for a very short time but keeps expanding its branches across the city/country. How do they do it? They add value to their services, which attracts repeat customers. The same cannot be said of other government agencies, Ghana Airways and the like. Go through Customs at our airport and see the service you receive. They forget our little contribution in the form of airport taxes; the money we spend when we visit Ghana form part of their paychecks. A receptionist of one computer school I visited in Osu, rather watch TV than answer my questions refusing to understand that the tuition I pay to the school for my brother to attend computer classes, contributes towards her paycheck. Most government workers are non-productive but always demand more money. The good news is that, the few civil servants I spoke with agree that something needs to be done about productivity. Why is the ordinary Ghanaian always at the mercy of these agencies when all we try to do is to contribute our quota to nation building? They will tell you it is “Ghana Style” Traffic Lights: One of the major problems in Accra is traffic. The first thing you hear people say is that there are too many cars on the road, this may be true but I see it differently. A major issue is as simple as timing of traffic lights. Other issues are the attitude of drivers especially the “min-van trotro” drivers and outdated roundabouts. The timing of the traffic lights in Accra reminds me of the “disco light.” Just like the “disco light,’ most of these traffic lights are programmed to blink but not to direct traffic flow. The little research my wife and I conducted driving around town revealed that a driver who is stopped by the traffic light(red) for the most part will not be able to reach the third gear before the light recycles from green and back to red. The other issue is the amount of time allotted to traffic lights at various intersections. A highway with higher volume of cars is normally allotted the same amount of time as a connecting road with lower volume. For example a highway with 100 cars is allotted say 30 seconds then a connecting road with 3 cars is allotted say 25 seconds. Now you do the math. This timing issue might be attributed to frequent power outages in Accra, which forces the lights to default to factory settings. If this is correct then the “memory” of traffic lights in congested areas should be fitted with built-in batteries or solar power backups. The impatient trotro driver aggravates the existing problem by disobeying these “disco lights" and most of the time makes a bad situation even worse by blocking the traffic flow and then having the audacity to tell you “Ghana Style” Street Hawkers and Traffic: The street hawkers in Accra can be unbearable at times and it is annoying to sit in traffic for hours only to see these guys bothering you over and over again. I was so upset during my visit in 2001 that I was going to suggest a radical idea to the AMA to designate no-hawking zones around town and “fine” or issue “tickets” to drivers who buy or allow their passengers to buy goods from hawkers in that zone. I believe the problem is not the street hawkers but rather the “buying driver/passenger” It is simple demand and supply. The hawkers will move to their stalls if there is no demand for their goods on the streets. My wife then countered my argument and said “You know what? I really admire the Ghanaian entrepreneurial spirit, these people are not beggars or thieves, they are just making a living and should be left alone till the government finds a suitable place for them to do business” I then told her there are places like that. She then said, “These people need a place where an atmosphere of demand and supply exists; they will come back to the streets if they are provided with a place that only has an atmosphere of supply” I backed-off my idea after my wife’s counter points and agreed with her but I still believe these hawkers will be on the streets even if they are given the best location in town. The only solution at this stage is to leave them alone and continue to improve traffic flow in congested intersections. Street hawkers always gravitate towards these areas so making sure traffic moves at a regular pace will serve as an “invisible hand” that will drive then away from the streets. Take a look at some of the areas in Accra where traffic flows at a steady pace, you don’t see street hawkers. Nation Building and Corruption: We should not continue to criticize every government that comes into office when we refuse to change our attitudes and mentality towards nation building and self-development and, until we stop behaving like my 26-year-old brother who blames everything on “Ghana Style.” We as a nation will not go anywhere. I believe the nation building process starts with our own self-development. Ghanaians complain about corruption/bribery but forget we all contribute to this cancer. (It takes two to tango) We condone and pay brides to government officials/workers instead of demanding services due and forget these workers are employed to serve the nation not vise versa. A friend told me on my way back to the United States that Ghana Customs might stall my check-in at the airport because of some art & crafts I purchased as gifts for friends in the States. He said “give the Customs guys something small and they will let you through” Why should I come to the country and spend money buying art & crafts which contribute to employment for the wood caver etc and yet still have to give “something small” to the ‘Customs guys”? Why am I being penalized for just contributing my quota to the nation? They say it is “Ghana Style” It is my prayer that our current leaders will be more forceful in eradicating this cancer from our communities. Corruption is just as serious as the most deadly disease in Ghana and I hope the president will make this topic part of every speech he gives to the nation until it is eradicated. It is also a social responsibility of the media in our country to devote time for this topic. What about a program that investigates corruption from the lowest to the highest level? I hope we do not say this is impossible because it is “Ghana Style” Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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