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17.10.2005 Feature Article

Reflections on a recent trip to Ghana –Part I

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Corruption, Dishonesty and Con-Artists On my most recent four week trip to Ghana, I noted that behind a façade of a seemingly booming economy and unparalleled freedom of speech, lurked the age old Ghanaian disregard of the law. Ghana has become a country of lawlessness, con artists and crooks. The only new twist to the con artist is that they are mostly Nigerian 419 con men. There is dishonesty at every level and everybody wants to cheat you. Corruption is pervasive-from the civil servant to the average person on the street. Until there is a paradigm shift in the Ghana mindset the future will indeed remain bleak. We are our own worst enemy. You would think that with churches and mosques around every corner, the average Ghanaian would have abandoned his/her old ways. Not yet. During this trip I went in for the ride to see far people would go to cheat and be dishonest.

It started with my own extended family back home. Before the trip, I had persuaded my brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces here in the US to contribute money to be given to the family back home. I gave the money to my 70 year old brother, the only one left in Ghana. I had instructed how much he was to receive. Being a chief and in the full glare of his linguist, he could not take more than he was instructed to have. I deliberately gave the rest of the money to the oldest female in the house to be distributed among the people. Guess how lopsided the distribution was? It was from the high of 2 million cedis to the low 100,000 cedis. There was no reason to it other than greed. An older lady in the house whom I had instructed should be given 300,000 cedis, received nothing. I guess you are not safe from this ignominy of dishonesty, not even from your own family. I took taxi a couple of times on the same route to see how many of them will charge an honest fare. Of the ten drivers I took on the same route and distance; it was only one who charged me the prevailing fare. The correct fare is 1500 cedis. One driver changed me 10,000 cedis. I guess being a 'burger' is a danger in Ghana. The more things change the more they remain the same. Armed Robbers During my trip, armed robbery was in the news in Ghana. In fact, it hit close to home. My wife was attacked in Kumasi and when she called Ghana Police, she was told they had no guns to match the robbers. During this trip, a Methodist Minister was murdered in Kumasi during a home invasion and two Ivorians were killed on the Accra-Aflao road-all in the course of an armed robbery. Life is cheap in Ghana.

I also noticed another peculiarly Ghanaian phenomenon, blaming foreigners for the spate of armed robberies. When you speak to the average person on the street, he is quick to blame foreign elements as the villains. To the contrary, Ghana Police records indicate that the armed robbers were equal opportunity criminals. They spanned the whole tribal spectrum….Ewe, Ga, Asante, Dagomba, Hausa, Fante, Fulani etc. They are mostly Ghanaians. Some of the seasoned robbers are equipped with AK 47. The institutionalization of violence during the PNDC era through the so-called committees for the defense of the revolution has metastasized into a full-blown culture of armed robbery. Remember the glamorization of violence during the heady days of the discredited revolution? Coupled with the high unemployment rate among the youth today, you have a recipe for disaster. Pedestrian Sidewalks Most of the roads in the big city downtowns have pedestrian sidewalks. You would think that in a country where 95% of the population does not own private cars, pedestrian right of way on these sidewalks will be respected. For still inexplicable reasons, the Ghanaian mindset is diametrically opposed to the unimpeded flow of pedestrian traffic on the streets of our cities' downtowns. The hawkers and peddlers of cheap imports like PK chewing gum, handkerchiefs and dog chains hold sway on the sidewalks. It's happening all over the country, in Accra, Kumasi and Sekondi-Takoradi. The hawkers have turned the sidewalks into one gigantic bazaar with a jumble of cacophonous shouts to attract customers. Today, you see peddlers and hawkers average of age fifteen, but I see the next generation of armed robbers. How do we explain the fact that remittances from Ghanaians in the Diaspora amount to nearly $3 billion annually, yet we are unable to do anything with this money other than to support an insatiable national appetite for cheap Chinese imports? Until we all come up with new and innovative ways to create jobs, the country would continue to exist as a mendicant nation dependent on international handouts for survival. Here are some few observations.

During my student days in Legon, Professor Rothschild then a visiting professor from University of California, Berkeley spoke and wrote about this unusual Ghanaian phenomenon on the Nima-Maamobi Highway. With the motorists sharing this busy highway with pedestrians, the highway had the highest incident of pedestrian accidents in the country. You would think that three decades later, the Ghanaian would have matured and realized the necessity of sidewalks. No wonder we say Ghanaians are difficult people to rule. The more things change, the more they remain the same. The Plastic Menace The proliferation of plastics constitutes a major threat to our environment. There are more than 10,000 different kinds of plastic in the world. In Ghana the main culprits are Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) used mainly as water sachet, grocery bags, food wraps, bread bags, etc. and Polypropylene (PP) used as straws, shampoo bottles, diapers etc. These plastics are not biodegradable and the problem has been compounded by the Ghanaian recklessness in trash disposal. Currently, there is no program in place to contain the menace of plastics and the havoc it is wreaking on the eco-system. In the US, many companies have developed and commercialized innovative processes for sorting post consumer plastic containers. The question in Ghana is who has to fund the recycling and eco-friendly disposal of plastic trash? The government should put user fees (euphemism for tax) on plastics and let private enterprise recycle post consumer plastic containers. We need to halt the clogging of our landfills and drainage systems before it's too late. Public Health Hazards of Khebab During a trip to Ghana in 1992, I first noticed at a khebab joint in Kaneshie, Accra, another peculiarly Ghanaian phenomenon-using plastic (Low Density Polyethylene or LDPE) as brush to marinate khebab. The khebab makers tie plastic, cut from a plastic bag around a piece of stick and dip it into the marinating sauce and spread it on the meat on the grill. After a few spreads, the grill's fire melts the plastic which drips on to the khebab. The khebab cook then puts a new plastic on the stick and begins all over. I first reported this problem to the Accra Metropolitan Assembly in 1992. Guess what? In September 2005, the khebab cooks are still using plastic as brush to marinate meat on the grill. On my recent trip, we reported early at the airport on our way back to Washington. We decided to while away time at the open air spot near the airport in Accra. I believe it is called Aerospot. I ordered my favorite Ghanaian soda, Muscatela. From my seat, I could see the khebab cook busily grilling chicken and beef for his patrons. I went to him and asked to see his marinating brush. Lo and behold, it was plastic tied to a stick. The plastic was “cooked”. You could see the telltale signs. So the next time you go to Ghana, before you buy any grilled beef or chicken, ask to see the cook's marinating brush. You could save yourself a trip to the oncologist down the road. Ironically, in a report published in the Statesman, Dr. Daleth Agbodaze and his team of bacteriologists from Noguchi Memorial Institute of Medical Research confirmed that there was no improvement in 2005 in “the level of infectious microbes carried by khebabs sold in kiosks, street side and at drinking spots” compared to a similar study in 2001. The report attributed illness caused by the consumption of contaminated food to pathogenic organisms or from the presence of toxic chemicals. For the Ghanaian khebab, the toxic chemical is plastic (Low Density Polyethylene or LDPE). In Ghana, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Proliferation of Used Merchandise The second-hand industry is by far the largest sector of the Ghanaian economy. I think it's time we had a Ministry of Second Hand Affairs. I've always wondered where the remittances from Ghanaians in the Diaspora go. They go to support cheap imports from China and second hand imports from the US and Europe. Unfortunately, Ghana has become a dumping ground for western trash. On every corner, you see unserviceable refrigerators from Europe (euro carcass), cars that will not pass safety and emission tests in their countries of origin and used clothing (broni wawu). There has to be a ban on these out of service refrigerators. Since the phasing out of the use of Freon as a refrigerant in the western world, these nations have found Africa as a large landfill ready to accept their trash with no environmental safeguards. Please for goodness sake, will somebody stop the importation of used refrigerators into the country? Do we realize the damage we are causing the environment? We should not sacrifice the environmental safety of the country for a mess of pottage. We are our own worst enemy. The Hospitality Industry One noteworthy feature of the economic boom in Ghana is the increase in quality hotels in Accra. I wonder how the average Ghanaian can afford the exorbitant rates charged at these hotels. In the hospitality industry, I noted another peculiarly Ghanaian phenomenon. In economics 101 you learn that, increased competition drives down prices to the advantage of the consumer. Not in Ghana. In the US, I travel most often to Chicago on business to visit one of our vendors. I always sleep at the Lincolnshire Marriott Resort due to its proximity to this particular vendor's corporate offices. I pay $160 a night and also accumulate points for future free stay in any of the Marriott chains in the US. This is AAA 4-Diamond resort and the rate is between $160 and $200. So why should a hotel in Ghana be charging $120 a night when the minimum wage in Ghana is about a $1 day and the cost of doing business in Accra is nowhere close to that of doing business in Chicago? I stayed at Alisa Hotel in Accra for one night and the rate was $120. I also stayed at Mensvic Palace Hotel in East Legon for two nights. The rate was $75 a night for a total of $150. In terms of décor and ambience, I will select Mensvic over Alisa any time. So why will Alisa Hotel charge $120 a night and Mensvic only $75? I've no idea. An enterprising young man, Mr. Williams and his Japanese wife own Mensvic Palace Hotel. They should be commended for their superb work. They even have a functional website with online reservation. The only problem is that this 32-room hotel is always fully booked. Believe it or not, they have 100% occupancy rate, a rarity in Ghana. Freedom of Speech The NPP government should be commended for the independence of the press and unbridled freedom of speech in the country. With the increasing number of FM radio stations all across the country, senior civil servants can no longer hide behind the anonymity of the bureaucracy and do as they want. During my trip, there was a big snafu about the computerization of the SSS admissions systems. I was traveling to Accra one day. When we reached Nkawkaw, the driver tuned in to the local FM station. Guess who was on the air? It was a gentleman called Mr. Michael Nsowaah. He is the Acting Director of the Ghana Education Service. The FM station at Nkawkaw had called him in Accra and he was being grilled on the computerization snafu. The previous mentality of “how dare you call me” that pervaded the civil service of old is long gone. This gentleman, Mr. Nsowaah took his time to explain what went wrong and what was being done to ameliorate the situation and pre-empt a recurrence in the future. This is indeed peoples' power. The era when night soil was used as a weapon of mass intimidation to stiffle free speech and the independence of the press is indeed history.

Next- I will be writing on my experiences clearing goods from the Tema Harbor- a must read article for every Ghanaian in the Diaspora. Baffour Ennin Washington, DC Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Baffour Ennin
Baffour Ennin, © 2005

The author has 18 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: BaffourEnnin

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