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Betrayal of a Generation

Sat, 6 Jun 2009 Source: Opare-Asamoa, Yaw

Yaw Opare-Asamoa


The phenomenon of ‘kaya kaya’ and ‘streetism’ have been the bane of many a government for quite sometime now. Hawking has also become another challenge for the authorities. In fact, hawkers are looked upon as ‘pests’ in the society and should be gotten rid of at all cost. The hawkers themselves and others have argued, time and again, that there is some ‘economic relevance’ to their activities, and so they should be allowed to operate. Economic relevance? Yes! But that does not mean total disregard for the laws and bye-laws of the country. That is a debate that we can have as a country but this is what I know: that commercial activities will not come to a halt if we wake up one morning to find the streets and walkways free of hawkers and kayayei. Life will still go on. We have on our hands a whole generation of kayayei, shoeshine boys and other ‘drop-outs’. Some of them did not even start at all-I mean they never saw the ‘insides’ of a classroom. Others did but could not find the motivation to stay on. For others, the decision to stay out of the classroom was not theirs to make. Whatever the reasons are, the fact is we are now confronted with this big socio-economic challenge and the questions are why (did we let this happen) and how (do we solve it)? We have failed our young people. We have betrayed them. As a country, what has been our general attitude to education? I don’t mean the putting up of those structures we refer to as ‘six-classroom blocks’ and the attendant fanfare we display just to commission such buildings. I am referring to a serious meaningful education policy that truly affects every child in the country. Have we really challenged our young people?? As they grow up what national policy exist to instill into them the need to pursue education at all cost? What motivation do they have? What is the challenge we present before them? Did we go through education reforms only to send our youth to the streets, after JSS (JHS or whatever)? Let me give examples of what I mean. There is poverty in every country and we all know that. Every country has its own slums and that is also a fact. In spite of this, there are countries where one could ‘feel’ and appreciate the challenge to excel that is thrown to the younger generation. We can look at India, South Korea, Malaysia and others. In India, in one of the very poor areas, there is a street called ‘Learning Street’ (I stand corrected) or something like that. Because most of the residents are poor and there are no lights in their homes, or in some cases there are way too many people in the house, these children go out at night to study under street lights. Prime Minister Singh is a ‘product’ of one such ‘street light academy’. They have many of such streets. They actually walk some distance to go do this. Now tell me, what is it that pushes a young boy or girl to go to such lengths?? Yes, there is the motivation and the drive. The desire to make it, by education, is encouraged by all. In Singapore, when one’s child misses school, for whatever reason, the parents go to that child’s school to ask for study materials for the day, so they can teach the child at home. They do this because they are not ready for their child to even miss a day’s worth of schoolwork. The story is replicated in almost all the countries we refer to as ‘Asian Tigers’. These countries got to where they are now, primarily, because of their attitude to education. Is that what we have in Ghana?? In 2009, we are still fighting over the number of years of instruction that students should undergo at our high schools. We tell our young ones that one need not go to school to be successful. We send ‘chop bar’ operators (with no serious formal education) to Parliament and what message do we convey to our youth? Waakye sellers are appointed to the Council of State and that is praised as a wonderful thing. Yes I know there are people out there who would brand me as elitist for citing these examples. They are free to do so. In the complex world of contemporary politics and governance, it is VITAL and IMPERATIVE that we have people with the knowledge, skill and expertise placed in the right roles and positions. If this basic truth is too much for some people to accept, that is unfortunate for I would not apologize for this. The biggest source of betrayal is this thing about “adwuma biara ye adwuma” We sing this everyday even though we know very well it is not true. Let me first deal with the kayayei issue.

I believe I can safely state that many (if not most) of the kayayei come from the three Northern regions. We can also agree that many (if not most) shoeshine boys are from the Asante region. What is it in the Northern regions that put so many of their young girls into such menial ‘jobs’ when a policy of ‘free education’ has been in place since Kwame Nkrumah?? There is no such policy in the Asante region so I cannot ask the same question but I can still ask why do they have a lot of their boys as shoeshine boys?? By the way no region is exempt except perhaps the Volta region where there is a conscious effort to ‘ram’ the importance of education into their young ones. That ‘sub-culture’ (or whatever you want to call it) is very commendable and I wish the other regions would do likewise. I know all the other regions have similar problems with their youth. Recent studies show that the youth in the Central region have basically lost interest in school and in spite of the presence of such high quality educational facilities (secondary) in the region, indigenes of the region are nowhere to be found in these schools. This is the region that has contributed so much to education in Ghana!! How did we let this happen? They probably see better prospects in fishing or some other thing. If that is the case, isn’t it an indictment on us (the supposedly grown-up folk) who should know better and teach them better? ‘adwuma biara ye adwuma’, we proudly say and we leave them to their devices. We know all ‘work no bi work’ but we refuse to tell them the truth. Which of us hold our newborn babies in our hands and declare that we would like them to become ‘kayayei’ in future or shoeshine boys or become street hawkers? As I have already pointed out, I don’t want anybody to reduce discussions on this serious national ‘malady’ to arguments about whether kayayei and shoeshine boys are needed in the society or not. If we are serious with our desire to attaining a middle-income status by 2020, we better start the process of mental ‘overhauling’. We cannot get there with our present way of thinking!!!!

We now have a situation where parents attack teachers for ‘disciplining’ their children. Yes, it is true some teachers go too far, but shouldn’t the law be followed at all times? The deputy minister for the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs (MOWAC) had suggested that training and re-training programmes for kayayei should be focused in the three Northern regions so that once they go back home, they would be encouraged to stay. Well, I don’t know whether that is the solution but it is a new concept and we can try it to see how that goes. Obviously, policies implemented so far have not worked. MOWAC has also indicated their intention (?) to close down ‘soldier bar’ Why is that place still in operation anyway? And how did we allow it in the first place?? Nobody is going to stop anybody from having sex but we most definitely should not encourage brothels in our society; and more especially not when the ‘providers’ are young girls. Accra’s new mayor has given an ultimatum to hawkers. I hope he is serious and will not be like the last mayor we had, who promised ‘heaven’ but delivered ‘hell’ (or purgatory?). The usual argument that government should create alternative locations for them (hawkers) before they move should not be entertained this time. For the life of me, I do not understand why the previous government put up those structures at Odawna for them anyway; I bet we can all see the end result. IT DID NOT SOLVE THE PROBLEM. No government, as far as I can tell, has ever come up with a policy asking people to move to Accra and other big cities to become hawkers. No government allocates these sidewalks to them to trade. So why should it be government’s responsibility to reallocate them?? Every individual hawking on the streets of Accra (and elsewhere) has a home or hometown where they were before they moved to their present location. ‘Sodom and Gommorah’ is nobody’s hometown or home; it should not be allowed to exist. For those who have nowhere to go to, in Accra, they can always go back home and really they should. They shouldn’t wait for Dec, 24th (apologies to Kaakyire Kwame Appiah).

Let’s all hope that planned interventions by the various ministries and agencies would yield the much needed results. But a change in attitude and mindset should come first. Let us also endeavour to tell our young ones the truth, and challenge them to greater heights. We cannot continue doing the same old things, over and over, and expect different results!!

Written and submitted on June 2, 2009

Columnist: Opare-Asamoa, Yaw