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Opinions Wed, 11 Sep 2019

Corruption in Ghana – Our culture is the problem

Since independence in 1957 every government, from Kwame Nkrumah to Akuffo Addo have been accused of being corrupt. I believe there is some level of corruption in every man, some are able to tame it others don’t really care.

Corruption is not a Ghanaian thing, neither is it an African canker but the brazen form it takes here with governments subtly supporting it while rhetorically claiming to be fighting is what make our case very bad. In Europe and America the laws of the state works, public institutions have that liberty and autonomy to work, so even though there are corruption cases, public institutions deal with the perpetrators.

Culture is defined as the way of life of a group of people. This means that the state of our country is a reflection of our culture.

Travelling around Ghana, one will realize that our tribal cultures have influenced each other and blended so well that it is only in some isolated cases that you will notice sharp differences in cultures.

Take our Chieftaincy institutions for example, this is the height and the guardian institution of culture in this country, and they are very influential. Visit a chief’s palace and you will be told that you don’t come to the palace with empty hands, you need to bring cola and pour libation. While in the past actual cola is what is presented, the chiefs have modernized it to cash. Cola was used for many things in the olden days of our ancestors, for example, a piece of cola is broken and shared by two individuals to settle their dispute. It is believed that chewing a piece of the bitter fruit is a sign of consent to let go of the differences or accept the outcome of the resolution and therefore the ancestors will strike one down if he fails to abide by the peace accord.

In modern-day, however, most palaces or chiefdoms have become begging institutions, if you visit the palace daily for whatever reason, you are expected to ‘buy cola/schnapps’ before or after you are done with your mission.

I remember I bought a piece of land from a chief in Accra and I was to come to his house for the documentation. Anytime I went, he will engage me on many issues that were of no concern to me and then when I finally asked for the document so I can leave, he would tell me to come tomorrow. Each day I visited I paid for cola until he realized that I had lost respect for him because the tone of my voice in our discussions has changed.

Our culture demands that we appreciate the efforts of people, so somebody who is doing/rendering a particular job/service for which your tax is being used to pay him is expecting you to appreciate him/her by giving them money. You’re either a stranger or a hypocrite to think these things don’t happen in Ghana. It is so bad that people even demand for it before public services are rendered.

We celebrate riches irrespective of how it is made, you can see a poor man struggling to make ends meet become a super-rich man overnight and everybody is celebrating his ingenuity. Elsewhere, he will be under the radar of the law enforcement agencies, he might either be engaging in drugs or being used as a conduit for money laundering. No sooner than becoming filthy rich like that, he becomes the toast of politicians and chiefs, even academia hurriedly honouring them with a PhD.

I know of a hooker (professional prostitute) who was selling her wares in the top hotels in Accra, one day ‘her luck shined’ and she landed a rich expatriate customer. She stayed with the client in a luxurious hotel for three days and at the dawn of the third day; she stole the man’s briefcase full of foreign cash and bolted to her village. Her trade mates knew about it but were lip tight. After lying low for a while, she established a big supermarket in her community. Six months down the lane, she was made a queenmother!

Go to a church today, begin to make fat donations/offertory, in less than three months you will be made an elder of the church! We have witnessed a number of cases where church and community elders who were seen as angels were arrested by the police for armed robbery. I remember a landlord who collapsed upon hearing that his beloved tenant was an armed robber.

Get a good job, say you’re the one who handles finance or procurement in your company, your families and friends will be expecting you to be stealing from your employers, they will usually say you have to be ‘wild’ because if not you won’t make it in life because ‘obiara didi w? ne dwuma mu’ to wit everyone eat from their workplace! Choosing to be loyal and play by one’s own principles and organizational rules is seen as being stupid!

There was a time this old man about 60+years came to my office with a proposal and telling me he wanted me to be rich, how simple. He will supply most of our pharmaceuticals and in return he will let me put my own mark-up on the unit price so that when he is paid he will refund the difference to me! He was that bold and straightforward.

Politicians are in the limelight so they are always under scrutiny but the public/civil servants are the actual custodians of corrupt practices in this country. They actually introduce the rookie politician to how to do gymnastics with contracts and what have you to make money. I am sure that word gymnastics remind you of that politician who pretended to be fighting the public course but behind the scene was demanding for one million cedis so he will just go and do legal gymnastics in court and the case will be dismissed.

So many people walk to me and ask why I don’t have a car, when I told them I could not afford one, the expression on their face is like are you that dumb? Can’t you be smart? It goes like this: Ah, a whole you …..( mentioned my job title) and you don’t have a car, how? So people are cool with you being corrupt because culturally, obiara didi w? ne dwuma mu, we only pretend to be angry when one is caught publicly.

We were doing a community help program and as health professionals were just providing technical know-how to the community, they were to own the program. The chief and his elders deliberated and called upon us to help. On the day we launched the program, the chief got angry and was about to leave even though he was the chairman of the program, the anger was because we were serving school children with biscuits and drinks and he expected that he being a chief should be served first with the lions share. We had a parcel for him which was to be given to him after all the hungry eyes were served but we had to present it in the open.

We are reforming many aspects of our society but the ugly side of our culture is very intact and the apostles of respect our culture will fight tooth and nail to defend it. How will you feel if you are visiting the Buckingham Palace and you’re told that Queen Elizabeth cannot see you unless you paid 500 pounds? Your reaction will be oh, is the queen’s presence for sale? But you won’t feel bad when you visit a paramount chief here in Ghana and you’re asked to pay for cola, irrespective of the amount.

The cola practice has descended heavily into our churches where you’re brainwashed to think that Jesus will not bless you unless you bribe him, literally. The gospel of seed sowing is the order of the day, it doesn’t matter which topic they’re preaching, and even salvation is tied to seed sowing. 2 Corinthians 9:7 (NIV) reads:7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. But you’re virtually cajoled, battered with the fear of curses if you don’t give your last by faith.

When I was a child whenever someone dies, adults would not eat; at best they drank koko (poridge) in the evening. Nobody cook for anyone during funerals, what is served is a mixture of roasted corn flour with sugar and water. The reason is that alcohol is always served to welcome sympathizers and anyone who came to the funeral; because people don’t eat when mourning, in order to prevent hypoglyceamia which make people collapse, the mixture known in E?e as ew?tsi (ewortsi) is served.

These days, however, because of our entitlement culture, we don’t mourn the dead anymore, we celebrate. So instead of a notice of funeral on posters, one will see the celebration of life or if the person is young, What a Shock! People attend funerals mostly because there will be free booze and food. Romans 12:15 reads: Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. So why do we put burdens on people who have lost their beloved ones and are mourning to spend money to provide us free food and booze?

The funeral economy has become so big that most people have to go for bank loans in order to organize a ‘befitting’ burial for their dead. Are we a people without conscience? We spend a fortune to bury people than a penny to take care of the sick; of course, death profits us more than life. In certain parts of the country, funeral dinner is even organized, can you imagine?

This article cannot be complete if mention is not made of weddings in Ghana. We pretend to be guarding our culture yet when it comes to marriage, we marry twice; our own cultural marriage first then the European one. So many burdens are put on young people to marry in a certain way that they cannot even afford. Apart from the huge demand the lady’s family make on the man, he is expected to live a lie that he is wealthy! The saying goes: you should show the public that you are capable of taking care of my daughter, meaning extravagant wedding even though his take-home salary is at best ¢2000.

Young men are going through hell just to have a spouse and your parents don’t care because you’re going by our culture of entitlement. Salary levels in Ghana are ridiculously low, the politicians complain about wage bill but it is not the average worker’s wage that is the problem, it is the article 71 officeholders, chief executives and boards of public companies that are the burden. Therefore to expect so much from a hard-working young man who earns so little could only lead to two things, go for a bank loan and pay through your nose or compromise on your principles and values to satisfy the society.

As a personal principle, I don’t eat at funerals and sometimes weddings. The aim of my going there is to support, not to increase their debt. If for acting this way makes me a fool, then I prefer to swim in this foolishness than become consciencelessly wise.

My dear clergymen, the bible didn’t give us a one size fits all standard procedure for marriage because our creator knows cultures differ. So stop telling your congregation that our traditional marriage is not recognized in the church! Make the enterprise of getting married extremely low cost for the body of Christ; otherwise, fornication will be rife in the church making it spiritually filthy and dead. I am not saying that should be an excuse for people to fornicate; 1 Thessalonians 4:4-5 (NIV) reads 4 that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, 5 not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God.

My dear young lady, there’s time for everything! Your youthful beauty, which you're flaunting; seeking the highest bidder is not going to remain like that forever; the force of gravity will surely prove its might. Humble yourself, build a life and a home with your husband, and drink from your own cistern! When you cause the young man to borrow to please the public at your wedding, it is you who will be tied in the palace of wailing and gnashing of teeth. Don’t sing the “had I known” chorus. Be wise!

For us to progress, chiefs most of whom are very educated these days should modify the ugly parts of our culture, just like many chiefs in the Volta region heeded to the call of former president Rawlings and civil society organizations to abolish Trokosi and take cattle and sheep instead of female slaves to serve in shrines.

As Ephraim Amu said; Denyigba ƒe nyonyo; denyigba ƒe gbegbl?, ale si miele ko la, sigbe k? woan?. (the state of our nation, development or retrogression is a reflection of us as a people) our values, ethics and ethos. Let’s change for a better Ghana.

Columnist: Sylvanus Akorsu
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