By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D. Garden City, New York
The characteristically brief news item was captioned "Patient Dies After Waving at Mahama" (The Chronicle / Ghanaweb.com 9/1/14). On first blush, the reader is tempted to speculate whether the President of Ghana, who was reportedly touring one of the major hospitals in the country's capital, to get a first-hand appreciation of how cholera-infected patients were being treated, had jinxed the unfortunate victim who had been, allegedly, queuing for hours in order to see a doctor or even a nurse practitioner.
You see, in Third-World countries like Ghana where even the best-schooled citizens still believe in the potent powers of voodoo/juju or personal magic, even the simple wave of the hand to an ordinary citizen is believed to be heavily charged with talismanic/hypnotic powers that can have both positive and negative effects on the target of such telepathic-contact. And the believers have good reason to harbor such beliefs. Many politicians, like the people they are publicly sworn to serve, actually do visit shamans or "fetish" priests and actually pay remarkable sums of hard currency for paranormal powers and charms that are supposed to enable them to defeat their enemies at the polls, for example.
Sometimes when the targeted political rival or opponent appears to be too popular with voters, their challengers may even opt for charms that could, supposedly, cause these people who are perceived to be stumbling blocks to their chances for wealth and fame to be involved in fatal motor accidents. Nevertheless, I found the caption of the aforementioned news article to be rather weird. His widely decried gross incompetence and all, one does not often associate the smiley wave of the most powerful elected official of the land to his people in terms of the eerily baneful and downright destructive.
My nearly three decades of intimate familiarity with tabloid journalism readily informed me of the fact that the primary objective of the news story was not to inform the reader of actually what the real news was, or the real human-interest angle of the same clearly needed to be. It was just a matter of dollars and cents; or in the case of a fast-dollarizing Ghana, cedis and pesewas. The President is a prominent personality whose every move and action is closely watched by the people. With this sort of media mindset, the story of the abject neglect of the underprivileged Ghanaian citizen, gets relegated to the margins of newsworthiness.
Among the Akan, there is a rather tired perennial maxim that runs variously as follows: "The poor person is a beast." It is not the actual belief of Akan-language speakers that, indeed, the impecunious person is a quadruped. It is simply that poor people often tend to be treated like animals, in much the same way that some of my white-American colleagues, outside of faculty meetings, treat me almost as if I do not exist. You get even with this sort of treatment by reciprocally pretending as if that disrespectful white colleague is rather too white, or pale, to be readily visible to your naked eyes.
I suppose, somehow, that The Chronicle story of the poor woman who collapsed and died at the La(badi) Hospital shortly after President Mahama had visited and left, was meant to bring attention to the country's most prominent and powerful leader what rampantly goes on at many of the flagship health centers in the country, but which his standout stature does not allow him to see on a daily basis.
Like his recent house-cleaning campaign, aimed at drastically reducing the epidemic level of cholera, President Mahama may well need to launch a broad national campaign on patient-sensitivity among our nation's healthcare workers. After all, does an otherwise benign presidential wave of the hand at a patient have to callously result in the demise of the latter?