Fact Is: We Never Even Tried!

Sun, 27 Dec 2009 Source: Okoampa-Ahoofe, Kwame

By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

I continue to have problems with the vastly unreflective nature of Ghanaian journalism in ways that often significantly affect my gut reaction to news events and reportage. For instance, the New Crusading Guide article captioned “Inside Ghana’s Mad House: We Have Failed – Prof. Attafuah” (MyJoyOnline.com 12/23/09) was supposed to be an analytical follow-up to a previous investigative piece titled “Undercover Inside Ghana’s Mad House” and composed by Mr. Anas Aremeyaw Anas, if memory serves this observer-commentator accurately. Interestingly, in a fit to promptly firing off the following observations and remarks, I had an extremely hard time trying to locate the name of the original author whose investigative series touched off this quite momentous and healthy national “multi-log(ue)” regarding the treatment, or woeful lack thereof, of the mentally handicapped among us.

In any case, it is not quite clear precisely what he means, when Prof. Kenneth Agyeman-Attafuah opines that as a nation, Ghana has “epically” failed to adequately protect and care for the mentally challenged and incapacitated among us. Actually, the renowned criminologist did not use exactly the term that this writer is attributing to him, although the sentiment encased in Prof. Attafuah’s observation is glaringly unmistakable. The problem here, though, as is also the case with the bulk of Ghanaian media fare, is that there is hardly any credible historical evidence indicating that, indeed, Ghana, as a nation, has at anytime in its postcolonial history accorded especial attention to either the protection or clinical treatment of the psychologically handicapped among us.

And the following is sad and utterly shameful to admit, but just about the only period in our collective national memory, as a sovereign polity or state, when the clinically insane among us could be comfortably said to have been accorded any semblance of decent treatment (at least those fortunate enough to have been admitted to any one of our “asylums” or psychiatric hospitals) was when the European “imperialists” (in Nkrumaist parlance) operated the physical facility of the Accra Mental Hospital (a. k. a. Asylum). To be certain, when I first toured the facility with my parents and a couple of my siblings during Christmas in either 1968 or 1969, Asylum creditably presented an enviably antiseptic and morally prepossessing milieu. Still, even as Dr. Lloyd Amoah, the development policy analyst of the Accra-based Ashesi University, aptly and poignantly points out, the current state of abject decadence that has come to personify Asylum is, indeed, also one that is metaphorically and inescapably symptomatic of the postcolonial Ghanaian polity at large.

Nonetheless, it may aptly be deemed to be rather much of a stretch when Prof. Attafuah characterizes the abject state of our nation’s mental health profession as one reflective of staggering failure, both in practical and moral terms, as well as an inexcusable embarrassment; for the truth of the matter is that as a people and a nation, we never really tried to make the well-being of the woefully incapacitated, particularly the mentally unsound, our topmost priority, as Americans are wont to say – the preceding, incidentally, may also account for the morally depressing fact of Ghana having more than its fair share of physicians (or medical doctors) opting, on the flimsiest of pretexts, to gun for the presidency, rather than distinguish themselves in the various sub-fields of their academic and professional training, beyond having garnered quite impressive “sheepskin” credentials, as it were. Not long ago, a well-meaning countryman even reckoned that, perhaps, Mr. Fidel Castro’s Cuba has produced more physicians for service in Ghana than any of our country’s medical schools.

Indeed, the problem may squarely be envisaged to be one of both culture and the economic exigencies of the times. Traditionally, the mentally indisposed have been routinely and flagrantly tagged with being willfully possessed of demons. This means that when any semblance of therapy has been assayed, particularly in the paranormal realm, it has almost invariably been to first and foremost identify these mentally ill patients for what they are most assuredly not – willful demonic contractors – and then self-righteously offer them “forgiveness” in prelude to “exorcising” them of whatever demonic spirits may be claimed to constitute the source and essence of their torment. And when they have not proven themselves to be amenable to the available/known traditional therapeutic regimens, these mentally handicapped citizens are then proscribed and virtually and literally consigned to oblivion.

In our heavily Westernized contemporary era, the issue tends to simply boil down to a visceral matter of cedis and pesewas. Still, there is also the “holistic” aspect of this process which is routinely and cavalierly ignored, and whose vestiges could be clearly seen from the New Crusading Guide’s article captioned “Inside Ghana’s Mad House.” And it is the fact that both spiritual and clinical therapy methods have a central role to play in the treatment of the psychologically impaired, which is primarily what being classified as “mad” implies.

Consequently, the myopic tendency of “Afropean” journalists to routinely, thoughtlessly and mordantly assault traditional means of treating the clinically insane must be promptly and critically reviewed. Such abject disdain for African culture is symptomatic of acute inferiority complex. The latter observation, however, is not to uncritically endorse, or even overlook, some of the clearly dubious and/or grossly deficient aspects of traditional therapeutic protocol. And here also, of course, it goes without saying that the Western approach to the treatment of the clinically insane, or handicapped, is not foolproof.

Anyway, the problem with the largely “unreflective” Ghanaian media fare can be seen from the curious fact that in not even a single passing comment did the author of “Inside Ghana’s Mad House” make an adequate reference to the gist of Mr. Anas Aremeyaw Anas’ original tinder of an exposé. Thus, for instance, those who did not read the previous article would not have, in anyway, known that some of the professionals entrusted with the delicate care of the clinically insane among us have actually taken up the at once bizarre and unsavory habit of dealing illegal drugs to these most vulnerable of our citizenry.

Maybe it is about time that Ghanaians started demanding that a niche – or special funding allocation – be created in our annual national budget for the especial benefit of our “Mad Ones.” For make no mistake, the clinically insane are actually those of us who continue to callously and regressively shirk our collective responsibility for the denizens of the various “Asylums” in the country. And while still on the foregoing subject, please, let us be sensitive and caring in our use of language, even as our parents and grandparents used to counsel and, indeed, also practice. Who is an “imbecile,” by the way?

*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is also a Governing Board Member of the Accra-based Danquah Institute (DI), the pro-democracy policy think tank, and the author of 21 books, including “Intimations of Love” (Atumpan Publications/Lulu.com, 2009). E-mail: okoampaahoofe@aol.com. ###

Columnist: Okoampa-Ahoofe, Kwame