Opinions Tue, 13 Nov 2007

A call for change, Oboshie, Ahomka, Kwaw Kese, and Ampofo

When history of twenty- first century Ghana is compiled there are some names that must be given a respectable place.

Their place in history is justified, because presently they are doing “something excellent” in the midst of the entire hullabaloo, as Ghanaians continue to criticize public officials, describing some of them as“ square pecks in round holes” , in addition to corrupt name-tags.

This characterization contributes to increase the national scale of mistrust, a level of dissatisfaction that stands tall in the minds of the people.

People are also not happy about how some of their compatriots are failing to fulfil social responsibilities, complaining further, that public service is not all that attractive to induce committment, though reforms are underway.

This way of thinking is fast gaining grounds in Ghana, the reason being that the disenchanted lot feel they are just referring to the limitations that affect their quest to see Ghana change for the better.

The people's belief is that, political bias and corruption have become part of the overall national work delivery system, a phenomenon which gives them more room to criticize these public officials to the bones.

The most controversial is the issue of corruption, and I do agree with a portion of the people's concern, especially on perceived and real corrupt practices.

As I keep restraining myself from sharing a personal experience, the more what has been internalized for fear of being "cremated" ( though I am still alive), forces its way into the public arena.

That fear was recently reduced to a low level alert, paving the way for a true account of the past, not a "Kwaku Ananse" story.

On December 15th 2006 , I was going through departure formalities at the Kotoka International Airport in Accra, when natural cocoa products in my “carry-on bag” labeled “Royale” were seized by Customs and Excise officers.

I bought four cans of this “Royale Cocoa” in Accra, motivated by a strong desire to patronize “Made in Ghana” goods, and for that matter our own cocoa in its pure form.

The flip side of that motivation is that, when I visit the homeland, sometimes I buy things which I do not even have use for.

Such has become the situation, because when young boys and girls who fight over the control of our roads with cars explain to you that they have not eaten breakfast when the time is 2pm, it hits you at the wrong side of reality, an African reality.

When a young mother of two pleads, re-emphasizing that she has children, and begs you to buy "something from her", you cannot in your best Ghanaian self ignore such a humble request, it shakens your DNA, a reminder that a "true likeness" of you needs help.

People are, indeed, going through hard times in our country, the same as most developing , and even some developed countries around the world. But I get confused why monies that can used to re-train or assist these people are circulated amongst people whose "bellies are already full".

I bought these cocoa products in fufillment of a concern for the local retailer.

"You have violated Ghana Customs law, I was told, after which Customs officers explained that I cannot send these cocoa products out of Ghana, a statement which struck me like a hurricane.

Thereafter, the usual tricks followed without any sense of shame.

After a well-rehearsed style of consultation , they came out with a bad decision - “massa, you have to wash your hands a little bit” , that was what a Lady customs officer said in a coded language.

Why the woman amongst them was asked to do the “dirty work” still unsettles my imagination, and makes a mockery of the proverbial "ideal woman".

I had an instant feeling that the woman was not interested in this senseless enterprise, for research even shows that men are more corrupt than women.

Later, when the message was decoded, it confirmed my suspicion. Simply put , these customs officers wanted a bribe.

I insisted on not paying a “pesewa”, but before I could turn around to check another luggage, my younger sister had given Ghana Customs and Excise officials 100,000 cedis ( a little over $10) as a bribe to enable me travel with cocoa products I bought for only 68,000 cedis (a little over $7).

When questioned, my sister explained , that "this is Ghana, and this is the way to go, you cannot fight a corrupt system alone".

Both the "giver" and the "collector" disgraced our country, but my sister insisted that she was right under the circumstances because customs officers would frustrate the traveler if he/she refuses to respond to their demands. She was right.

“Lo and Behold”, the "tone" of these Customs officers changed for the better, eventually allowing me to leave Ghana with the cocoa products.

For the bribe offered, my other luggage was not even examined, whether I had an extra “contraband” became a non-issue, with a little over $10 serving as the "magic wand" that opened Ghana's departure gate to legally acquired "Royale cocoa".

Three Ghana Customs and Excise officers lost their reasoning power on that day, replacing it with a craving for ill-gotten cash .

Comparison based on nationality/race does not serve anybody's cause well, especially in a country where developing tourism is facing many challenges. And it has never been my intention to demand special treatment from any customs officer in Ghana. Rules and regulations should be applicable to all.

But on that faithful day another traveler who had a "container" full of “Shito” (a preparation of hot chili, fish, shrimps, and oil) was not even questioned. He was encouraged to leave Ghana with the product.

Listen to what a Ghana Customs and Excise official told his "partners in crime" when they saw "Shito" in “Kwesi Broni's" suitcase – “Obroni a ode Shito, ma no mfa ko, ma no nko nso hwe”, literally translated - “a Whiteman who eats Shito, let him go and try it”.

I do not bear the customs officer any grudge, may be, that was another way of promoting Ghana's "shito" business in another country. As for "Kwesi Broni", his "Twi" was even better than mine, he holds a Hungarian passport, once worked as an engineer at the Ghana National Manganese Company at Nsuta-Wassa, and visits Ghana every year, he revealed this to me at the waiting area.

But why should I be treated differently ? Can't I try a cocoa product from my homeland?

This is an isolated incident, but it represents part of the larger problem at Ghana’s national airport in Accra.

Why should someone be mistreated in his own country of birth, only to be saved by a bribe? Is this not a corrupt practice?

This, among other examples should remind us, that corruption is on the increase in every sphere of public life in Ghana. The underlining fact being that, corruption should not be seen as the preserve of politicians and civil servants alone.

That a day would surely come, when Ghanaians would find out that many politicians are not all that corrupt as perceived, and that may be, journalists, nurses, and other professionals are more corrupt than we thought.

As the saying goes :"no institution washes its dirty linen in public".

The number two corruption center is the Effia-Nkwanta Hospital near Takoradi.

At this hospital, a first time visitor would witness how daylight robbery of poor patients is spearheaded by nurses and their assistants.

The doctors are more professional , and would not even ask for a cedi from patients who are already poor.

Being a holder of the National Health Insurance card does not help matters at this hospital, it can rather be a "death warrant", as nurses demand bribes from the right, with their assistants demanding from the left.

Did I pay bribe at this hospital? Yes, and I do accept my guilt , but why should I wait for a friend's son to die when money can save his life?.Are all the nurses here corrupt? No. The maternity and children’s ward nurses are the worse offenders.

For goodness sake, I do not look forward to the sacking of these customs and health workers, neither do I want them to be prosecuted because I would be asked to provide proof/evidence, which I can.

Rather, I would prefer that they purge themselves of these shameful acts. The onus, in my estimation, also falls on these nurses to redeem themselves, treat people humanely, and change for the good of our country by borrowing some of the attributes of this great woman- Florence Nightingale.

I have also not forgotten, that in a typical Ghanaian fashion, their families would forever curse me “till thy kingdom come”. They would curse me in the name of anything that comes for mention. They would even call on the "gods" of the most powerful shrine to facilitate my demise.

But should this stop us from exposing vexatious practices? No. These wrongs should rather strengthen us, because our hope lies in the fact that we have our God Almighty whose power supersedes all these 'Kanka Nyame" threats.

How long can we sympathize with those consumed by mischief, and do not even sympathize with people who are already poor?

I cannot explain, but ask, whether we have been culturally blindfolded not to expose bad practices in our society?.

Until that perception also changes, this evolving system of chaos confronting us , this unjustified harassment we have to endure in our own country of birth , the fight against this vicious cycle of corruption would remain a " fleeting illusion, and we cannot win".

That notwithstanding, it is equally important that customs and other public service workers in Ghana be retrained (or is it re-orientation?) to serve the people better. These workers can also help themselves by emulating the good works of other Ghanaians who are already serving the people better.

I have relied on a personal experience to remind all and sundry, how people placed at positions of trust are damaging the image of Ghana’s public service.

But to those moving through the right lane, a monument befits you, you are the genuine people with great examples that we can all copy to transform our dear country into an "African Mecca”.

A good example is how the Ministry of Information and National Orientation has re-position itself to lead the crusade for change.

Through Oboshie Sai Cofie, for instance, the work of a public officer has been re-defined, her approach to work typified by an all-embracing strategy to reach all Ghanaians minus partisan politics.

Mathematicians in Ghana should solve this equation , Kwamena Bartels + inactivity/inadequate propaganda, (Shirley and Ayittey Sam) = Oboshie and Agyekum.

I have not doubted Oboshie's sense of mission, and steadfastness.

I met Oboshie for the first time many years ago when her father- Prof.Sai, launched the “Obodai Sai Memorial Fund” (named after his brother) which among others, was aimed at promoting medical research into diseases at Ghana’s premier medical school, Korle-Bu. Prof. Sai provided the seed money for the Fund.

Obodai Sai’s death was a great loss , and that might have guided the family's decision to institute the Fund in his memory.

At the inaugural ceremony, Prof. Sai also introduced Oboshie and her sister (whose name I cannot recollect) as the “brains behind” another innovation in Ghana – a dog food labeled “dog chow”, an initiative animal rights groups around the world applauded.

At that gathering, a mordant journalist whispered a question into my ears–“who buys food for dogs in Ghana?”. I “shortened” that sentence for him, explaining that it is still an innovation through a Ghanaian for Ghanaians, the journalist's comment an example of how Ghanaians can condemn a good initiative without thinking through its viability, especially when it is a novelty.

It is not nonsensical for Ghanaians to buy food for dogs, I explained, though I knew the premise upon which that comment was made. That was a period in our history when we had to queue to buy what was known as “essential commodities”, let alone feed a dog with a balanced diet.

That was when soldiers could come to your kitchen uninvited to seize a box of St. Louis sugar, under the banner of a bogus revolutionary slogan “hoarding and profiteering”, a slogan which later faded naturally when so-called “social democrats” decided to re-examine the forces of demand and supply, the import licence regime/ restrictions, and smuggling of these items along Ghana's frontiers.

Oboshie Sai Cofie’s determination as it was in the beginning, and now, exemplifies a woman whose commitment to change, and progress for her country have not been in doubt, she continues to inject quality into public service. The same shows in her private initiatives.

It is, therefore, not a shocking revelation when she was seen at “Radio Gold”- a platform increasingly used for bashing the ruling government, interacting with the staff honestly to promote partnership for change through "media dialogue" .

At another occasion, she was at a market, interacting with our hardworking traders/retailers, to know their concerns, and how to address them.

She has already visited Western Ghana as part of the "media walk" initiative, and plans are far advanced for more of such visits to other parts of the country.

Recently, a critic questioned what Kwamena Bartels did whilst in charge of the Ministry of Information and National Orientation, adding jokingly, that may be, "he was staying sweet". I did not understand the joke.

But my response was that , I do not want to be caught wandering on the blasphemous super highway with the "trouble kid" of journalism in Ghana, Raymond Archer (who is rumoured to be on the payroll of the Rawlingses'), on one hand, and Uncle Kwamena Bartels, on the other. That ended the conversation.

People have questioned whether Mr. Bartels was serious about the “orientation” part of the information ministry, or it was just a background noise that could not stand the louder workings of his administration?

On television screens in Ghana today, “national orientation” messages are frequently aired, serving as educational (or reminder?) tools .

With Oboshie in charge of the orientation drive, I know with the help of Ghanaians willing to change, the campaign to reorient the people would record some level of success.

Will all Ghanaians change for the better? No.

The reality is that many people have vowed not to change their attitude, though they act swiftly to blame others for their woes - public institutions, politicians, and even pastors , as they shelve their inability to act responsibly.

Recently, during Joy FM's newspaper review on the super morning show hosted by Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, the reviewer - Ato Kwamina Dadzie, said President Kufour once stated that he would learn how to speak French, and that since he has cause to believe that the President of Ghana is not learning the language, he (Ato Dadzie, not the former chief of staff at the castle), decided not to learn French.

What an illogical conclusion from Joy FM's newspaper reviewer !

My good old friend and classmate, Kofi Owusu, Joy FM's Director of Programs, should find out if it was just a joke, due to the fact that the statement constitutes a big disgrace to JoyFM , a radio station touted to be the second best in Africa, with Owusu, being one of the best journalists in Africa.

Is this an example of how a newspaper reviewer serves his personal agenda? Moreso, making a statement without due recourse to its merits and demerits, granted that he was, indeed, not learning French due to the President of Ghana's apathy.

Reorientation must start now to remind all Ghanaians, that there is a system in place that promotes timeliness, ethnic cohesion, excellent customer service, unity, volunteerism, charity, words of encouragement ( likened to what is presented by Uncle Ebo Whyte of JoyFM), respect for the elderly and the developmentally-challenged, patriotism, and hard work.

At the Ghana Investment Promotion Center (GIPC), the chief executive officer, Robert Ahomka-Lindsey is another Ghanaian demonstrating excellent qualities, a true son of the land who epitomizes professionalism, and sincerely guides Ghanaian investors to capitalize on opportunities embedded in the hospitality industry, as well as other sectors of the economy.

Ahomka’s professional acumen, and business ethical skills are par-excellence. He helps enterpreneurs through time-tested modules and strategies based on the economic truth (no sugar-coating), well- tailored to impact business growth.

I do agree with Ghanaians who say, he is one of the hardworking executives in Ghana, working according to sound managerial practices you can find anywhere in the world.

“Ahomka-Lindsey knows his stuff, we urge the Ghanaian people to listen to him , imitate his managerial style , and use it as the basis for efficient work delivery in the West-African country”, -"Southern Forum", an academic think-tank based in Atlanta, Georgia , recently concluded.

In Kwaw Kese, a hip-life artiste famous for that witty song “Mbaa no wonyim asaw” – (our women do not know how to dance), is gradually showing Ghanaians the better side of musicians, and how to re-kindle the charitable spirit.

Kese's gesture reminds me of ex-President Bill Clinton of the United States who once stated : that " there are some people in this world who have not done anything to benefit humanity, but they are the loudest". I do agree with him.

Recently, in a laudable partnership with Grace Omaboe, a popular Ghanaian actress, Kwaw Kese donated items valued millions of cedis to an orphanage in Ghana, and shared with the children some joyous moments that cannot be quantified in monetary terms- Love, affection, generosity, and care for those who needed it most.

In a country where hip-life music and profanity are classified as bedfellows rather than an example of Ghanaian creativity, Kwaw Kese leads the way, presenting to the world an appearance of biblical significance- giving to the poor, and the extension of help to those in need of basic necessities of life - food, clothing , shelter, and happiness.

Kwaw Kese's gesture re-awakens a new sense of "giving to the needy". And as many Ghanaians still waste no effort to criticize these hip-life artistes for all the wrong reasons, the so-called professor emiritus, very reverend doctors, bishop apostles , country directors, and top chief executives, continue to count their "dimes", thinking about when to buy the next posh car, or which neighborhood to build the third house.

As an American would say - “Kwaw Kese got these orphans covered”.

He has been on the media scene for many years, but television host-David Ampofo, the former St. John’s School talent , continues to dazzle media watchers through his unbiased program on Ghana television – “Time with David”.

I refer to him as "David Letterman" of Ghana television, but Ampofo has his own style.

“Time with David” does not have a partisan color, while the qualitative nature of the presentation speaks volumes of David Ampofo as one of the intelligent examples in the industry.

His excellent oratory puts him in the "driving seat", driving guests and listeners to the highest level of understanding complex issues , no “name-calling” and insults, no animated "phone-ins" - (an invisible podium which many Ghanaians now use to overly criticize others).

Above all these, if it is true that there are many Ghanaians, both home and abroad who are contributing in diverse ways to benefit humanity in a more functional way, either unknown , or known to others, or there are Ghanaians who just love to remain silent after extending a benevolent arm , they still fit into the profile of “ the choosen few dedicated to making the world a better place”. Dr. Nii Moi Thompson, a smart Ghanaian economist, falls under this category.

But for those attached to the destructive trend, and encouraging others to remain same as we march towards change, the bad news is that, as our society and others transform, "these people are gradually disengaging themselves from a process that would ultimately generate sincere dedication to change and human advancement in Ghana".

If we continue to operate as stumbling blocks to attitudinal change, and identify ourselves with such social constructs that ignite conflicts, envy, disunity, exploitation/corruption, laziness, and lack of respect for leadership, the rest of the world would surely leave us behind to swim in that pool of disorder, moaning, ignorance, and underdevelopment.

That commitment to change resides in each one of us, but the crusade for a better Ghana is a collective responsibility that must not be left in hands of the Oboshies, Ahomkas, Kwaw Keses, Nii Mois, and the Ampofos.

While admitting that the list is long, and that many people have already joined the bandwagon for a better Ghana, we cannot, but also agree, that the complexities embedded in the overall national psyche ,indeed, makes it extremely difficult any effort to change the people of Ghana .

But something inspires , that the “height which great men and women reached and kept" was achieved through an unwavering dedication to a cause.

As we continue to disagree on petty issues, we also become averse to change, and as complecency thrives year after year, that desire to "go to sleep", expecting that somebody would solve our problems for us becomes dominant in our thought-process. We become architects of our own problems, and our "value" remains the same.

That way, no one should cry again for change, our source of reference being that , once upon a revolutionary time a movement swore that "they no go sit down make them cheat us everyday".

But when the slogan outlived its usefulness, "they sat down to re-think about the future", changing a line of thought to accept principles linked to democratic governance, and a new reality of life, of change, and civility. The zombie philosophy diminished.

The lessons are that, we are being urged to reconstruct our resolve to facilitate that change, clothed with that recognition, that "it's only fools who do not change".

Many Ghanaians can complicate matters for you.

But when they decide not to engage in foolishness, they show determination to achieve greatness for their country and themselves.

That zeal cannot be overshadowed by the workings of a "coalition of the unwilling", a prognostic that would forever knock our doors until change is effected.

"He, who has ears...................."

Author- Ato Aidoo, was a former assistant at the features desk, Daily Graphic, Accra, Ghana.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Aidoo, Ato