04.02.2004 Feature Article

Letter From The President: Of pigs, vultures and rats

Letter From The President: Of pigs, vultures and rats
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Countrymen and women, loyalists and opponents, I have just recovered from a sudden bout of presidential schizophrenia. Mama Tess was very worried about my inability to catch some sleep. All through my distress, she kept asking all sorts of wifely questions in an attempt to investigate the cause of my sudden bout of presidential schizophrenia. She used some of her long-forgotten nursing skills, all to no avail. I knew what was bothering me but I couldn’t bring myself to tell her. As she kept pestering me, seeking answers to her questions about what I was brooding over, I retorted that she’d better get a better hairstyle as the one she was wearing looked more like a bird’s nest. I just couldn’t bring myself to tell her what was actually bothering me. But not for long. I got home one evening so famished that I wanted to eat whatever was available. My lovely wife was not at home at the time and I was told that she had not taken kindly to my remarks and had gone to consult a friend for advise on whether or not to maintain her bird’s nest hairstyle. Well, what I saw when I opened the soup dish sent shock waves through my nerves. Mama Tess had prepared what should have been a sumptuous meal of fufu and chicken soup. I gazed into the soup bowl and I felt like throwing up. Can you imagine that? An excellent one throwing up! Yuck! Some days before this episode I had become so nauseated when I read in the newspapers that a gang of young en in Kumasi had been passing off very well dressed vultures as poultry to some ‘chopbar’ keepers, who unwittingly use the abominably unhealthy animals to prepare soup for their customers. My sleepless nights began when I read that newspaper report. You see, being a humble Excellent One who desires to keep in touch with the grassroots, I occasionally like to eat some chop bar food. In Accra, I send my PAs to make the purchase for me but when I travel to Kumasi, I like to sneak into my favourite chop bar for a sumptuous bowl of fufu and soup, all without the knowledge of Mama Tess. She has been warning me about the dangers of eating “outside food”, as she describes food sold on the street or in chopbars and restaurants. But you know, the man in me likes to defy the woman in her and so since we got married I have been eating a lot of “outside food” without her knowing. Oftentimes, when I get home after eating some “outside food” I am forced to eat the meals she’s prepared and get my stomach overfilled. It’s torture but the joy of having indulged in some boyish defiance makes up for the discomfort. After reading the ‘vulture as chicken’ stories, it dawned on me, not for the first time, that Mama Tess is almost always right. When I got home that evening to the fufu and chicken soup meal, I decided to come clean and tell Mama Tess about what was bothering me. It’s amazing how the human spirit feels after telling the truth. That night, I slept like a baby and I woke up very refreshed to ponder over a few things. Do you think it was a mere coincidence that the ‘vulture as chicken’ story broke out in the same week as there was an outbreak of African Swine Fever in some regions of the country at a time when some Asian countries were struggling to contain a Bird Flu epidemic, with the National Health Service launching a campaign to promote healthy eating habits? Well, I don’t think so and I feel obliged to feel sorry about the types of meat my people eat, where the get it from and whether or not it has been subjected to scrupulous examination to ensure that it meets the minimum health standards. It’s amazing how governments outside our continent seriously attend to disease outbreaks in animals and the measures they take to ensure that animal diseases are not transferred to humans. Immediately the bird flu outbreak in Asia hit the headlines, it took the authorities in the Europe less than 24 hours to ban poultry imports from the countries where outbreaks had been reported. It took our Trade and Agricultural Ministries almost four days to make up their minds for a similar move. While they were busily being indecisive others were seriously killing and dressing vultures and passing their carcasses off as chicken to chopbar keepers. Now, I am not so sure whether Mama Tess’s chicken is real chicken infested with bird flu or it is a well-dressed carcass of a vulture. So I have decided not to eat chicken again – not in my house, a chopbar or restaurant – until further notice. Just when I was going to place an order for a carton of pork, the Agricultural Ministry announced a ban on the movement of pigs and pork within some three regions because of an outbreak of African swine fever. Looking at the time it took them to decide on poultry imports from the Asian countries, I believe that the announcement of the ban on pig movements came a few weeks too late. Following the detection of mad cow disease in the US and Canada in December, I decided to suspend my consumption of beef for a while and I was depending heavily on chicken, pork and goat. With the recent developments the only meaty option available to me is goat/sheep. But do you think I should really eat mutton? I suspect that a lot of our goats and sheep are walking around with their own version of malaria or tuberculosis which can easily be transferred to me. I think that eating meat in our country has become as risky as ‘going raw’ with a prostitute. Now I know why we think the way we do sometimes. A lot of us are walking around with mad cow disease, bird flu, swine fever, goat headache, sheep tuberculosis, cat’s AIDS etc. because we have been eating meat from butchers who have refused to use modern abattoirs, preferring instead to slaughter their animals, which are not subjected to any veterinary testing, at the beaches or near refuse dumps. Quite a sizeable portion of our number has also been eating vultures passed off as chicken and fat mice passed off as ‘okusie’. I think we need to take urgent steps to control livestock production, sale and distribution. Otherwise, we will all wake up one day to see ourselves behaving and working like swine, goats, sheep, rats, vultures and pigs. I don’t really know what to do but I have instructed Quarsh G to come up with some workable ideas. If what I know about my ministers is anything to go by, you can be sure that he cannot come up with any useful proposals to save us from the threat of being turned into animals. I have never thought of becoming a vegetarian and I have never understood why people declare themselves as such. But now, I think, we should all toy with the vegetarian idea a bit – unless, of course, we want to conduct a national experiment to know how it feels like to be infected with one of those animal diseases. Afraid of animal diseases, J. A. Fukuor [email protected]

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