(This was written and published some years ago. It was reworked after my visit to Chorkor in Accra on Saturday, October 26, 2013, which revealed to me the shocking conditions many compatriots are still forced to live in. The current abysmal economic situation in the country prompted this republishing.
Why do we still allow some of our people to live in these types of poor conditions despite the vast mineral wealth under our soil which, if properly harnessed could very, easily, banish hunger, poverty, and poverty from our midst?
I find it unconscionable that our leaders, who will not keep even their pests in these appalling conditions, seem not to see anything wrong in seeing their fellow human beings existing in these pitiful and dehumanizing conditions.
There are schools scattered around Chorkor and, as part of their curriculum must study Environmental Science.
The question is beggared: Rather than force these children to cram tons of useless theories on hygiene, why can’t they be given marks for how they clean and beautify their residences?
—- end of soap
“Look at that, Trench Town rock
I say don’t watch that, Trench Town rock
If you big fish or sprat, Trench Town rock
You reap what you sow, Trench Town rock
And everyone know now, Trench Town rock
Don’t turn your back, Trench Town rock
Give the slum a try, Trench Town rock
Never let the children cry, Trench Town rock
Cause you got to tell Jah, Jah why
Grooving, grooving, grooving, grooving.” – Bob Marley
Alhaji Abdullahi Walatakiki has a presence. Tall, urbane, elegant, and dressed in an English upper-class suit, he cut the image of a top banker or a diplomat at the highest echelon of his profession.
Alhaji is the Assistant Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Finance.
I ran into him at a newspaper’s office recently, he was busy defending his government’s policies.
In the end, I managed to swindle a few minutes of Alhaji’s expensive time.
“Could it be true that the government wanted to borrow US$5 million to study poverty?” I wanted to know.
Alhaji cleared his throat the way only the upper class knew how. “The whole thing has been blown out of all proportions. There’s nothing wrong with borrowing, per se. Every businessperson knows that. Every government in the world has had to borrow money to finance one project or the other. There’s nothing wrong in government borrowing.”
“But is studying poverty a viable project for which to take a loan? Is that not akin to a business taking up a loan to study why it is making a loss?”
The Minister gave me a condescending look. “What’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with a failing business hiring a business consultant to come and help it fix its problems?”
“With borrowed money?” I asked skeptically.
The Minister was obviously in a combative mood. Giving me a withering look, the one you gave an errant servant, he mused, “I guess you missed your Economics 101.”
“No sir, I didn’t miss my classes. It is just that I fail to see the logic in your argument. Why does an already highly indebted, poverty-ridden, and virtually bankrupt third-world country need a loan to find out why it is poor?”
“The reasons should be self-evident except to those for whom thinking is an encumbrance.” The Minister countered with sniggering contempt. “Do you know the number one problem we have in this country?”
“That’s not my department, sir.”
“I will tell you our biggest problem in this country. It is that there are too many experts. We have too many lazybones masquerading as experts. The biggest wahala in Ghana is the profusion of armchair critics. Take it from me that is our biggest problem. Look at yourself, for instance, all criticism and none of them constructive.”
“I am sorry you felt that way about me, sir. But we still haven’t answered the question of why we need a loan to study why we are poor. Couldn’t part of our problems be the lack of articulation of policy intents and frameworks by those in power?”
“You’re right to an extent. This government has always been responsive. The idea was jettisoned right when it was discovered that the people are against it.”
“I think the people were simply stupefied by the sheer effrontery of the idea. They have seen all the Poverty Alleviation programs lining only the pockets of our moneybags. They see that the only people who would benefit from the loan would be our deep pockets who will shuttle from one conference to another in their multimillion-cedis Pajeros. In the name of fighting poverty, our cash-oozers will wine and dine at restaurants where food prices look like telephone numbers…”
The Minister cut in, “You certainly have fancy phrases. ‘Moneybags,’ ‘deep pockets,’ ‘cash-oozers.’ Do you see what I mean by armchair critics? You see only the Pajeros and food bills, but what about the anguish our delegates to those conferences have to go through?”
“Anguish, sir. What anguish.”
“Conferences don’t come cheap. That’s what we have to understand in this country. We should also jettison the idea that we could get something for nothing. Every good thing costs money. Part of our problem also is that we are too much in a hurry to get to the Promised Land. How do you solve a problem without understudying the underpinning theoretical basis? You see we live in a scientific era, information superhighway, globalization, computers, mobile smartphones phones, and things. We cannot continue to tackle our problems in traditional and old superstitious ways.”
“Hmm. Don’t you think that part of our problem could also be that there is this yawning inequitable distribution of our scanty resources?”
“It is incredible that you could still be pantomiming discredited socialist ideas in this age and time. The idea that we could improve the lots of the poor by impoverishing the rich has been discredited.”
“I am not talking EQUAL distribution of wealth. I am simply talking about the EQUITABLE distribution of the little resources we have. We cannot continue to maintain the fiction that our poverty stemmed from a lack of resources. It did not. We have the resources; the problems come from the way we are allocating them. Don’t you think that we could do with a little bit of egalitarianism?”
“There we go again with armchair criticism. In your case, the criticism is wide and far off the mark. What specifically is your gripe?”
“I could give specifics like granting our legislators cars and housing loans. It should not be the business of the government to grant loans. A legislator who wants to buy a car or a house should go to his bank. It should strictly be the business of himself and his bank manager. We are a poor country and those that purport to serve us should not impose upon us financial burdens that do not exist even in the richest of the developed countries. In the Netherlands, for instance, I know legislators who take the trains from Amsterdam to The Hague to go and represent their people. Holland can afford to buy cars for her lawmakers, but she would not. Why should an MP representing a poor constituency tools around town in a big jeep? What’s he trying to portray? We can take the case of our ministers. Why should they get free cars, free phones, and free houses from the government? Those from whom we are running to borrow the money do not give their ministers free cars, free telephones, and free housing. I say it is only in Africa that the poverty of the poor is not reflected in the opulent lifestyles of those who govern them. We are going to take a loan to study poverty while our president travels around in a cavalcade of expensive cars. Do we think that those from whom we’re borrowing are unaware that our president goes around in a multi-billion cedis motorcade? And we pretend not to understand why they are reluctant to ease our debt burden. They are no fools. If those who govern us want to know why we are poor, let them come to our rat-infested, mosquito-overwhelmed ghost towns (ghost towns are ghettos within ghettos) their policies have consigned us. If they are serious about tackling poverty, let all our legislators come and spend a week at Alajo. Let our president spend a few days in the gigantic slum of Sahara. Let our ministers stop pontificating and experience the wretched lives they have foisted upon us by spending just a few days at Chorkor. Let our sick leaders stop rushing to London and Paris for treatment; let them go to the blood-plastered slaughterhouses that they call hospitals. Let them withdraw their children from their expensive international schools and send them to the rickety building they call schools. Let our rulers abandon their jeeps for one week only, and experience the joys of traveling in the medieval contraption we call trotros. Let those who are ruling us give the slum a try. That is all the education they need to understand poverty.”
November 16, 2023