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06.05.2006 Feature Article

Anti-social behavior of Ghanaians—an attitude or systems problem?

The recent addition of National Orientation to the Information ministry is alleged to be motivated by a drive to change Ghanaian attitude to the environment, work, maintenance, etc. But is the so-called anti-social behavior of Ghanaians really an attitudinal problem or a systems problem?

Ghanaians are known to be very hardworking when they leave the shores of Ghana. You can find them in very responsible positions across the globe where they are known to excel in their work. Inside Ghana, however, Ghanaian workers are generally known to be lazy, to report to work late and rush out of the door at the end of the day, and are generally unproductive. So what explains this difference? It can only be a difference in systems. Outside, in most countries, workers are rated per hour and will not be paid for unworked hours without good excuse like sickness. Moreover, they are given specific assignments and closely supervised. Promotions are based on laid down criteria and incentives are offered for hard work in terms of augmentation of pay or grade. With these systems in place, the Ghanaian, like anybody else, can only work hard. In Ghana, on the other hand, workers are paid mostly fixed monthly salaries whether they report for work or not. People do not normally have specific assignments to complete daily or weekly or whatever period. Moreover, lax supervision allows loitering and absenteeism. Furthermore, promotion is often based on arbitrary criteria and used to favor friends, relations, and tribesmen. I think if we want to change Ghanaians' attitude to work, we should focus more on changing systems rather than attitudes.

Regarding attitude to the environment, outside Ghana there are strict laws about littering with stringent fines for infringements. Refuse containers are provided at convenient points and refuse are disposed of regularly. So, nobody, including Ghanaians, has an excuse to litter. In every public building—restaurant, shop, bank, courthouse, sports venue, market—there are bathrooms for convenient use of the public. And of course, all private houses have bathrooms too. So, you will never see anybody attending to nature's call outside. In Ghana, on the other hand, there are no laws about littering, or if they are, nobody enforces them. Moreover, there are very few refuse containers for public use. And where they exist, they overflow and remain unemptied for weeks and months. In the circumstances, what do you expect the public to do? They throw litter about indiscriminately. If we want to change this behavior, we need to try and replicate the systems outside. Furthermore, there are limited places of convenience in public buildings and even private houses. So, what do people do? They do their own thing in public. Again, if we want to change this unwelcome behavior, we should try and change the system by promoting more places of convenience in public places and private homes. Without proper systems in place, the Ghanaian will behave like any other person in resorting to the most convenient means available to him.

Regards a lack of maintenance culture in Ghana, this is both a public as well as private problem. Official attitude to maintenance and care of public buildings and facilities is often lax. There is widespread official misuse and abuse of public property. And private individuals follow suit in not taking good care of official property and facilities. I am sure individuals take better care of their own property, if they can afford it, than they do of public property. Here again, we need to introduce systems of maintenance and good care of property and facilities buttressed by close supervision and sanctions for infractions to make people conform.

I do not believe Ghanaians are a different breed of people than you can find else when it comes to social behavior. My little travel experience tells me that Ghanaians are one of the most docile, friendly, peaceful, and well-behaved individuals. It would take the right systems to get them to conform as they do elsewhere outside Ghana. It also pays for public officials to show the way, to live by example. Demonstrating more concern for peoples' welfare also often goes a long way in getting them to give of their best and in building support and respect for laws and regulations.

Dr. John K. Kwakye
Rockville, Maryland USA

John K. Kwakye, Dr.
John K. Kwakye, Dr., © 2006

This author has authored 1 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: JohnKKwakye

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