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24.12.2004 Feature Article

The Ghanaian Problem; A Genetic Predisposition?

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In his famous I Speak of Freedom: A Statement of African Ideology, Kwame Nkrumah wrote and I quote “The emergence of such a mighty stabilising force in this strife-worn world should be regarded not as the shadowy dream of a visionary, but as a practical proposition, which the peoples of Africa can, and should, translate into reality. There is a tide in the affairs of every people when the moment strikes for political action. Such was the moment in the history of the United States of America when the Founding Fathers saw beyond the petty wrangling of the separate states and created a Union. This is our chance. We must act now. Tomorrow may be too late and the opportunity will have passed, and with it the hope of free Africa's survival” (emphasis mine).

The elections are over. Thank god for the general atmosphere of tranquillity that prevailed during this period albeit a few incidents. The vicious lies and malicious propaganda machinery adopted by some politicians have all come to a natural end at least for now. The campaign of calumny, mud-slinging, cat-calls and insinuations have all come to an end. For some, this is a time to celebrate the victory. And yet for others, it is a time to reflect; to reflect on where they faltered and come out with some diagnosis to deal with this malady.

Having witnessed it a couple of years ago, I know the euphoria is high and some are going to celebrate this victory in pomp and pageantry. This is especially true given the fact that both the ruling government and the opposition knew each other's strengths and capabilities. It is obvious that there was a feeling of uneasiness on both sides of the political divide. Hence even as the people have expressed their will, it may look (even for the victors) as a pyrrhic victory in that all the arsenals had had to be used. Whatever it may be, it is obvious that it is a time to work than to celebrate.

From the results, some fundamental issues readily come to mind. One is the fact that even though President Kuffuor has won a second term, it is crystal clear that a good percentage of Ghanaians would have wished that Professor Mills were president. Forty-five per cent (45%) is not a number to be belittled or ignored. It is obvious that out of the forty-five per cent who voted for Mills, some would have voted for him anyway. For such people, it doesn't matter whether Mills has something up his sleeves for Ghana or not; it doesn't matter whether the Professor has the expertise or not. For them as long as the man belongs to a particular political persuasion, they would vote for him. However among the same forty-five per cent who voted for Mills, there are some who believe that the man is the right person for the job perhaps given his manifesto and the leadership qualities he might have manifested. Basically for this group of voters, the deciding factor is the content of his manifesto. In the interest of this group, won't it be a great thing if the NPP government could take a second look at the manifestoes of the other political parties and pick and choose those elements of their manifestoes which are realistic and achievable? The fact is that, politics aside there are people at the other political camps whose intellect will be acknowledged even by the most chauvinistic of supporters. So if these brains have sat together to come out with a document whose aim is to help solve some of the problems of our motherland, wont it be wrong to sweep this document under the carpet?

Whilst celebrating the victory, it must be pointed out that we must not lose sight of the daunting task that lie ahead of us. We have an avalanche of problems confronting our nation today. From corruption in both high and low places, to the gnawing problem of brain-drain; from deplorable roads to incessant power outages; from disease and malnutrition to the obnoxious phenomenon of press prattle. All these and several countless others are the ones we have to ponder over even as we are celebrating the victory of our democracy.

Let me start with the issue of corruption. It is commendable that the President made it the cornerstone of his campaign during the last electioneering season. Obviously to achieve zero-tolerance for corruption in four years in a “decadent society” like ours, looks a little bit of an over-zealous ambition if not utopian given our circumstances. This is because the phenomenon of corruption has permeated every facet of the Ghanaian psyche so much as to become a rule rather than an exception. It has become so endemic and it may be hard to unearth its roots within four years. Realistically, if the government has not been able to remove corruption completely, I think it is understandable. What is not acceptable though is for anyone to justify any act of malfeasance with the wrongs of the past. Afterall ours is not to perpetuate the evils of the past but to do something in our own small way to correct the errors of the past. Then can we say we are moving forward as a nation.

Perhaps the second reason why corruption cannot be booted out completely is because of its ramifications. For example, all the MPs who have either won or lost in these elections will tell you that they have had to put in a lot of money. They did that with the intention of recouping their investment after their success. In most cases they, either wittingly or unwittingly, have had to grease people's palms. For example you go to campaign (say in a village) and the chief of the village requests for a motor bike. You know too well that the resources provided by your party are limited and cannot cater for that. You also know that you need the goodwill of the chief in order to win the zeal and enthusiasm of the people. What do you do in the face of this conundrum? Do you say that “hey, I am Alhaji and my religion doesn't allow bribery” and walk away or you squeeze the motor bike from somewhere for him? Even though it is a wrong thing to do, most people are inclined to the latter choice. If you have a friend selling these motor bikes in say Allah Bar, the tendency is for you to go and get it (on credit), knowing that when you win you will be “able to pay him”. Your friend in Allah Bar knows too well that you are not credit-worthy. He knows that the only thing worthy of credit about you is the potential of you helping him to gain a visa abroad when you win. Now, that is where the chain process begins. He gives you the motor bike and when you win he expects you to pay him not only his money for the bike but other favours in the form of visas and contracts.

And when you win woe betides you if you ignore this man. He will tell the whole world of what transpired. So in a bid to save your face, you will be cajoled into joining the bandwagon of the corrupt. You enter parliament. With your meagre salary, how will you be able to pay this debt which is hanging on your neck like an albatross? Perchance the President sees the resilience and hard work in you and reciprocates you with an appointment as the Minister for Roads and Highways. The Bole-Bamboi road is to be awarded on contract. You know too well that the best man for the contract is “LAMDSA CONTACTORS” given their track experience in road construction. But because you are indebted to Ofori (the motor bike seller in Allah bar), you quickly inform him about it. In a rush he forms a construction company and the contract is subsequently awarded to him. He constructs the road and the next moment gullies are seen across the road; the result of Ofori's shoddy work emanating from inexperience. The resources of the state, the tax-payers money have been wasted because of an unscrupulous chief who should have known better. Don't forget that you (the MP) are indebted not only to the bike seller. Your nephew who was running around shouting at the top of his voice campaigning for you did not do that for fun. Even if he had nothing doing, he could have used the time playing “dame” or attending to his girlfriend. So by campaigning for you he knows that now that you have won, you will reciprocate his gesture with “something”; never mind what that something is.

So who is to blame for this “fission reaction”? The chief, Ofori or you the MP? It may look like it is the chief who started the whole chain. But tarry a little! What do you expect the chief to do when, out of nothing, he saw Mensah (the predecessor MP) driving the latest model of land cruiser. The chief knows that before Mensah became the MP, he was a “mere” Teacher who couldn't boast of a bicycle. So there must be something (something more like a goldmine) in parliament that makes people rich out of the blue. Now, the chief knows that the only time he can get his demands met is when you need him. So he will make the most outrageous of demands. How you meet those demands is not his problem. So there we are. Who do we blame? What is the way out of this quagmire? A scenario akin to an interlocking spur isn't it?

It is quite obvious that no one can take us out under the shackles of corruption or any of our problems. John F Kennedy once observed that “Our problems are man-made; therefore they may be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings”. Following from this, it can be said that it is the collective will of the Ghanaian people that will rid us of this canker. Unfortunately we are not rich enough to afford the cameras and CCTVs to monitor the conduct of people. That notwithstanding we can create a liberalised police state in which everyone will be a potential informant. This system has worked in several other countries. For example in the United States of America, after the rise of terrorists a law was enacted “To deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world, to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools, and for other purposes”. The Act-THE USA PATRIOT ACT, seeks to, as some critics say, create a police state. This antiterrorism bill accords an increased ability of the federal government to commit surveillance on all Americans without proper search warrants. We could try something similar can't we? If a policeman knows that you could potentially report him to the powers-that-be for taking bribe, I believe he will not make any attempt to take one. He will make sure that he does the job the way it should be done.

To deal with corruption, the judiciary must be independent so as to bolster the efficiency of our courts in the dispensation of justice. A lot of people have lost faith in the judicial system and will do anything within their power to deal with their own problems. This state of despondency obviously doesn't speak well of our efforts towards “zero tolerance of corruption”. For example, there are close to 60,000 cases of land litigation in our courts all emanating from the gnawing problems of land racketeering and gazumping. Some of these cases have been in the courts for well over 20 years. Consequently the affected parties have had to take the bull by its horns and deal with their cases their own way.

On brain drain the least said about it the better. A lot of brothers have written brilliant articles on this subject. It is a phenomenon which has the potential of stifling our developmental efforts. That is why it is commendable that the government is doing everything possible to stop it. I have heard in the grapevine that the government is working hand in hand with the embassies to make it difficult for people to travel abroad. I don't know how true that is but on the face of it that may sound like a solution but I beg to differ on this methodology. It is obvious that a lot of Ghanaians living abroad don't really enjoy it. So why are they still there? Like I said in one of my articles it is because it is perceived as the better of the two evils. There are brothers and sisters back home who finished their degrees and what have you but cannot still get jobs. Put yourself in the shoes of these brethren and you will appreciate the gravity of the situation. Sometimes what the person needs is something that can keep him going but even that, he cannot get. If such a person has the opportunity to travel abroad, he will definitely not procrastinate. Back home the thinking is that you are sent to school so that after completion you can help lessen the burden of the family. That is why your mum will go to any length to make sure that she gets you the school fees. Sometimes they go to the extent of selling a sentimental family treasure just to make sure that they see you through school. So where lies the justification if after completion, you become more of a liability than an asset? I think what we should be seen to be doing is to put in place mechanisms to ensure that people have jobs to do. I must admit that it is an arduous task and it will certainly take time. But what we can do is to lay the foundations. Of course projects like the President's Special Initiatives must be encouraged.

I have realised to my delight that many Ghanaians have embraced the concept of Information Technology. Hitherto the computer was seen as something for the privileged few but as one advertisement has it “you don't need to be posh to be privileged”. The computer was for the “Dada bas”. To the extent that an “Egya ba” like me can have my way round computers, is commendable. That is why the government must be seen to be encouraging the concept of outsourcing. India has embraced it and it is working wonders for them. We can also do it if we hold on to the right end of the rope.

In England here, the British people have embraced Zimbabwe and it is constantly on their lips. Sometimes some of us Ghanaians tend to ask what it is about this country that makes it the eye of these tourists. We have gold, we have cocoa, and we have a buoyant human resource base. If it is game reserves we have them. At least I have been to the Mole National Park and I have seen countless numbers of elephants and other animals that fascinate tourists. So why is Ghana not on the lips of tourists? I don't want to go into the nitty-gritty's of this problem, but suffice it to say that we are not doing enough to attract these foreigners. For example the road to the Mole National Park is in such a deplorable state that no tourist seeking the sun will want to ply on it. It is an eyesore. The essence of holidays is for one to take off the day to day drudgery of one's working life. I believe no tourist will want to go through the hustle of having to ply on that road for that will take the joy off him and worsen his state. For the first time yes, he may, but he will not the second time.

Let us come down south to Obuasi. I know that Ghana is one of the leading producers of gold in the world. Today, prices of landed property (which have proven to be a good hedge against inflation) have slumped. So attention has been turned to gold as a store of value making its price to rise to an all-time high since 1984. One would therefore expect that ceteris paribus, Obuasi will be one of the most beautiful towns in Ghana. But nay! The first time I went to Obuasi, I was taken aback. It has one of the worse infrastructure I have ever seen in my entire life. Compare that to our sister nation- South Africa. The story in Johannesburg is entirely different. And I know you know that better than I do. So where did we get it all wrong?

You see the problem in Ghana today is one of a piecemeal attitude. We tend to want to satisfy the whims and caprices of our supporters or our so-called political parties. We get blinded by these trivilialities much to the detriment of the fundamental issues which require urgent attention. In the western world, the story is very different. Take for example the British Rail System. The archives have it that the whole construction system started way back in 1830. Yes well over 170 years. Successive governments continued from where predecessor governments left off. The concomitant effect is the magnificent work we are seeing today; the pride of the British people. And even today, they continue to work on the bits and pieces. What were we doing? When someone's grandfather was laying the foundations of the national rail, my grandfather was clandestinely thinking of how to sell his fellow brother for a bottle of schnapps. When someone's great grandfather was out there in the cold digging trenches for the construction of the rail tracks and motorways, my great grandfather was in the comfort of his thatch-roofed hut making babies. When someone's great grandfather was boasting of the strong foundation laid for his progeny, my great grandfather was in the courtyard of his house with cloth wrapped around his waist boasting of the uncountable number of children he has. And so today I have no option than to go and queue for a visa to come and do menial jobs even though I was thought to use the brain not brute.

And what am I doing today? Today as Tony Blair is thinking of how to decongest the M25 (MOTORWAY), we are in Ghana thinking about what package should be given to ex-parliamentarians. As Gordon Brown is thinking of reducing the inflation rate further down, we are obsessed with how much we should go begging for on bended knees. We are in a race of buying cars; we want to ride in the Lamborghinis and porches; we compete in buying the big cars much to the detriment of our national priorities. Is it greed or a lack of foresight? To be honest until I came to the west, I never appreciated the value of cars like Grand Cherokee and the likes. Hardly do you find them on the streets of England. Yet go to Ghana and see. Within every 200 metres on the streets of Accra, you are bound to see two or three of these cars being driven by people who supposedly should be serving the ordinary man on the street.

Let us not lose sight of the fact that our brethren in the Caribbeans and the Americans begrudge us because they think (and justifiably so) we have betrayed them by selling them to the Whiteman. Do we want posterity to blame us for not laying the foundations for them?

Even as we are celebrating the victory of our democracy, let us ponder over these issues. Even as we are celebrating the victory of our democracy, let us see visionaries in action. People who will think, not only for the present but also for generations unborn. We want to see visionaries who will sit down and map out a plan of how Ghana should look like say a hundred years hence. We want to see leaders who, against all odds will map out a plan of how our national rail system should be 100 years hence. Then can we say we are making a forward thrust. Nkrumah started it and we can take it up from there. Governments must be seen to be making such projections like the Vision 2020. That we don't want to see frequent power outages is obvious. Government must be seen to be mapping out a strategy to arrest this situation. Even if it takes 100 years to eliminate this problem, for me and many despondent Ghanaian brethren, it is commendable. After all the heights great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flights.

Come 2008 when Mr Kuffuor shall be giving an account of his stewardship, I and many compatriots, will want to hear him say “I have designed the national rail system, the underground. I can't finish it given that I have only four years. But I believe whoever takes over from me will continue from where I left off”. Only then can we say we have seen a real change in the status quo. Only then can we say we are making a forward thrust in our developmental efforts. Only then can some of us say “that was a messiah for the Ghanaian course”.

In conclusion, let me remind myself and fellow Ghanaians who are celebrating the victory of our democracy of the words of an Indian poet –KALIDASA; “Listen to the Exhortation of the Dawn! Look to this Day! For it is Life, the very Life of Life. In its brief course lie all the Verities and Realities of your Existence. The Bliss of Growth, The Glory of Action, The Splendour of Beauty; For Yesterday is but a Dream, And To-morrow is only a Vision; But To-day well lived makes Every Yesterday a Dream of Happiness, And every Tomorrow a Vision of Hope. Look well therefore to this Day! Such is the Salutation of the Dawn!”

GOD BLESS GHANA!!!! ALHAJI YAHAYA IDDI MANCHESTER Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Adams Sheriff Yakubu
Adams Sheriff Yakubu, © 2004

The author has 8 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: AdamsSheriffYakubu

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