In the latter part of the twentieth century, one poem which was introduced to me at the college and had an indelible imprint on my sociological thing, was Building the Nation written by Ugandan Henry Barlow.
Though the poem was written during one of the worst dictatorial regimes in Uganda, the content and message is applicable to all forms of governments in Africa, be they democracies, autocracies or monarchies.
A government official went for a cabinet meeting. At the meeting, he did nothing but ate buffet dinner plus cold beer, fried chicken, had wine to cover the hollowness of the laughs and coffee to keep him awake on his return journey.
Whilst the cabinet minister was feasting his driver was fasting. And when his chauffer drove the cabinet minister home, he developed stomach upset.
The driver also developed an ulcer as a result of the fasting throughout the whole day. The minister remarked 'the pains we suffer in building the nation.'
The import of this poem is all about corruption and decay in the corridors of power. Whilst the tax payer is fasting to death, some public officials are feasting with the tax payer's money. Oh God, have mercy!
More than five decades ago, colonialism started to disintegrate from the African soil. Ghana was the first nation south of the Sahara to get its independent. The black man started to take his destiny into his own hands and to build his own nation.
At the time most nations were exiting from colonialism, hopes were high for the liberated masses. Today prosperity seems to elude Africans more than ever before. Clear vision has become like a mirage on the motorway under the scotching heat of the sun. I do not want to sound too academic in this article but will try and be as practicable as possible.
There are missing ingredients in our efforts at building a better nation. I would like to enumerate a few of them.
One of the reasons why we have not been able to build a secured nation is what Thomas Jefferson would call 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness'.
Our leaders have not been faithful with whatever that has been entrusted in them.
I do not want to limit corruption only to those in political office, but also any level where the canker is manifested. Everybody in public life wants to take what belongs to the public whether it is public money, working hours or property for himself. Because we have lived with this for quite a long time, we see nothing wrong with this.
If we want to build a nation which would be similar to what the Europeans, Americans, Japanese and Australians have built, where we all dream of going, whether to work for money, medical treatment or further studies, then we would need to learn from them things which have made them reach far.
ETHICS AS NATIONAL PRINCIPLE
Recently, I did an article on the topic: “Are Ghanaians Lazy”? Whilst answers to this question would be varied, it does not eliminate the inconvenient truth that our working ethics, especially for those in the public service is not great.
It might be difficult as Martin Luther King Jr. once said that morality cannot be legislated but behaviour can be regulated.
The law can control the external effects of bad internal attitudes. Until we improve our ethics in everything we do this country, from the way we work, drive on the roads, talk to our neighbours, handle public property, to how we handle the new cedi, we will always find ourselves on the outskirts of the metropolis of a better nation.
People in this part of the world do not want to be responsible for their actions and inactions. Even when a public official has messed up things and there is condemnation from all angles calling for his resignation, he would still be in office carrying on his irresponsible deeds.
Vehicles break down on the highways which lead to accidents yet it appears no one is paid to prevent these.
Sometimes when you walk in the cities and towns, you would be amazed as to the number of trenches which have been left open for months and those responsible for them see it daily and pass by like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the good Samaritan.
RESPECT FOR THE RULE OF LAW
There are some aspects of our lives where rule of law has gone bankrupt. On the roads, there seems to be no respect for the law. No wonder road accidents are on the ascendancy on our roads.
Even people in authority who should know better also break laws because they seem to be 'untouchable'. This is not peculiar to any particular political party.
There is speculation that even some police officers connive with drug barons to get narcotics into the country.
Sometimes we blame the police for not doing their best in fighting crime and prosecuting offenders. Whenever a police officer arrests someone for an offence, almost immediately he gets a call from either a chief or top government official requesting that the case should be withdrawn and the offender be freed.
There is a lot to talk about if we want to build a better nation. We do not necessarily have to have great natural resources to build a better nation. Nigeria has oil but they line up to buy oil all the time. We can also get to Maslow's point of 'self actualization'.
God will not bring marching armies from heaven nor will thunder strike from the clouds to fix things for us. We would need to do it ourselves.
And until we change our attitudes, we would always end up with explanations that do not explain solutions that do not solve and answers that do not answer.