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22.01.2015 Opinion

Dumsor: Unity In Darkness  

By Daily Guide
Dumsor: Unity In Darkness     
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Most Ghanaians view or experience 'dumsor' as a personal inconvenience which robs them of the “few amenities” they were enjoying in the past, à la General “pugnacious” Ignatius of not so blessed memory. The real cost is of course to manufacturing and commerce and is reflected in the relatively tepid 4% growth rate of the economy this past year.

Failure to plan for the obvious by successive governments is at the root of our proverbial and real darkness. When government officials say there is “no money” for something or the other, one wonders if they believe this to be an intelligent or productive remark. As I pondered on my New Year reflections of the past year this month, knowing it also marked the half-way mark of Mr Mahama's presidency, I found it hard to grade him fairly. Much as the opposition would like to politicise every problem, many of our structural problems have their firm beginnings in their last tenure in office. This includes the trend of excessive government borrowing. Ghanaians need to understand that we have been borrowing money to pay interest on our debts effectively since 2006. This is not a political swipe at the NPP but an acknowledgment that carefully analysing our problems outside the scope of the political lens is very necessary. The NDC government though has not brought fresh innovative solutions to the table and has shown a distinct lack of political will to implement changes. It has largely been a transactional administration, not a transformative one.

A cold, objective, clinical analysis of how our cultural practices and values undermine our much desired search for sustained progress is vital at this point in our history. Not much positive attitudinal change has occurred in the two years Mr Mahama has been fully at the helm. If his leadership does not institute policies and sets of actions that effectively force attitudinal changes, it will not matter how many consulting firms come through town. In essence, that sort of input from the IMF is worth more than any trifling amount of money we will borrow from them to tide us over for another few months. We are simply lurching from one national credit card to another.

Culturally, Ghanaians are reputed to be nice, peaceful and hospitable people. But are we as disciplined, objective, truthful and driven enough to find our place again as leaders on our continent and in the world? Gone are the days when a child competed with another in his classroom. These days that child is competing with one in Taiwan, Sweden, Kenya or Brazil and so it is for the nation. Our competition is not in the neighbourhood, it's on the global stage. If investors find our processes cumbersome and our business practices abhorrent, they take their capital elsewhere and we lose potential jobs for our youth. Our inertia and complacency in this regard is astounding. The leadership of the country needs to grow up real fast. If we do not become more focused on efficiency, measurable results, quality of services and global competitiveness neither the NDC nor the NPP will be the answer. Our democracy is being undermined by our cultural attitudes and the ineptitude and sheer incompetence of many who come asking for our votes or are appointed as leaders. I'm not mentioning greed and corruption, which form the very underpinnings of the monument to failure which is now our nation. I am referring only to competence and integrity in serving the public and the nation at large.

Given our real economic circumstances, we would benefit from leadership devoid of promises but rich in pragmatic, transparent and truthful solutions to our problems. Let's not pretend that we can transform the economy without broadening the tax base and without serious austerity measures. The TUC needs to focus on seeking workplace resources which enhance worker productivity instead of simply asking for raises every year. Has the government shown the leadership and discipline to achieve this? There was little of this in the past year. For a president whose academic training is in communications, some of the few transformational steps he has taken have been reported with decided hesitancy and vagueness.

Let's take ghost names. We are told that these are being eliminated and that the cost of salaries will drop from roughly 70% to about 50% of annual government revenues. This suggests that there is a criminal mafia of public servants who have perpetrated this treasonous crime that has bled the country for years and stalled development. Must the government protect them as we solve the problem? That is the way it seems.

We love impressive labels and categories! 'Such and such will now be made an Authority from a Board'….. and this largely cosmetic change will magically solve the problem. First, we must critically define the problems in the particular sectors and find resources and solutions that address the issues directly. Following that appraisal and intervention, we must get the feedback needed to assess our work to determine objectively if we are meeting the mark. Instead, when persons in authority are challenged to prove that they are indeed achieving results, they take umbrage at being questioned by mere serfs (who now vote), get defensive and respond emotionally. They experience requests for accountability as personal attacks.

We need technical universities instead of polytechnics. It is the skill set and knowledge of the graduates and the quality of their work that matters. Let's focus on how many skilled workers in various fields we will need for the next 25 years and make plans to train and apprentice them in industry, not the name of the four walls within which they receive their education.

A certain woman brazenly smuggles cocaine through the VVIP lounge at the airport and immediately, the two major parties sling mud at each other. Lord have mercy (forgive my Catholic roots); this is a national security issue! It could have been a bomb that was smuggled through. Who knows what else has been spirited through this lounge. It is a symptom of systemic failure. It's not about cocaine; it is about discipline, professionalism and public safety. She is convicted in England but how hard are the authorities working to get to the bottom of this in Ghana? Who are her real accomplices?

National Sanitation Day
It's not a bad idea but after people clean up, the trash piles up. Maybe that's why they do not bother to clean up in the first place. How many places of public convenience are required per capita in Ghana for our current population? Do we know? Shri Narendra Modi of India has declared he needs to build 1 million toilets in short order. He can't solve every problem but he understands that a durable infrastructure is needed to transform India's sanitation and health problems and to this end, very clear targets that will have a lasting impact on the population and their behaviour have been set.

What other components of the National Sanitation plan exist? What education on waste management and environmental preservation is offered in first and second cycle schools and through local governments? There is more to this than cleaning up once a month. The current programme is not sustainable because it is presented without a meaningful context and is not based on community consultation. As a result there is no local ownership, hence the apathy already recorded. National Sanitation Day smacks of political expediency and cynicism, yet our sanitation problems beg for real solutions from the fields of engineering, public health and environmental sciences among others. We could reduce our health costs by 50% if this is addressed sensibly and honestly.

Parents in Kasoa are asking for public schools. Citizens are robbed of their rights by poor leadership and have to beg for schools for their children. What happened to population based planning at the local level? There is a political focus on building 200 SHS units. What needs based assessment is this rooted in?  All child development experts from the fields of psychology and education agree that enriched education in the first six years of life predicts future success. The transformation of our education should be rooted in universally accepted academic findings in the field. Also, we need to understand that while English is our official language we should have children learn it along with literacy in our own native languages. Again, all evidence from the field of speech and language development points to the fact that multilingual children do better with critical thinking than unilingual children, so the anachronism of English-only Ghanaian born children may appeal to a disturbingly large segment of our population but it is not informed by scientific evidence. Our children are being stunted in their psychological and intellectual development by being discouraged from speaking their native languages.

That brings me to religion. If I may be permitted, God is for the whole world but Ghanaians definitely make him (or her) work overtime. For all the resources and talents we have received, we have failed our maker and become a beggar country. A loud and shrill segment of the worship community has perverted Christian teachings. I have more recently heard about a concept like God making sure one got his or her portion. I thought the Christian ethos focused more on giving to one's community and expecting nothing in return. We should spend more time in honest pursuits with our God-given talents for the nation. We should do God's work instead of constantly praying to God for more gifts. God has been more than generous to our beautiful land. He created us in light and we have chosen to live in darkness.

T. P. Manus Ulzen is Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at the University of Alabama and Author of Java Hill: An African Journey - A historiography of Ghana

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January 20, 2015
By Prof T. P. Manus Ulzen

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