Ghana, My Beloved Mother
It was almost mid-day when the Ethiopian aircraft landed at the Accra International Airport. It was a kiss landing that even the best pilot in the world would have been proud of.
After the plane had come to a complete stop, I made my way to the arrival lounge. After some years of not having seen Mother Ghana, I was finally face-to-face with her. To my amazement, it took exactly five minutes to go through immigration formalities, in contrast to the five and three hours in São Paulo, Brazil, and Cape Town, South Africa, respectively, some months earlier. Here are some of the observations I made during my one month stay in our dear capital.
“What a metamorphosis Accra has undergone!” I soliloquized, as I left the Airport in a taxi. Driving along the Independence Avenue towards the Ako Adjei Interchange and going past a beautiful building, which I thought was the residence of the Head of State, was a source of great joy. The streets were clean and pot-hole free, a far-cry from the days when pot-holes were the order of the day in that area. I must say that I was impressed by the state of the roads.
To convince myself that my first impression of the roads was not a mirage, I decided, one fine morning, to take a walk from the Kwame Nkrumah Circle to the Osu Cemetery and later to Makola numbers one and two. It was gratifying to walk past ´´Forever Living Products”, the ´´Calvary Baptist Church”, the ´´Niagara Hotel”, the ´´First Church of Christ Scientist”, ´´Trust Towers”, ´´Habitat For Humanity”, the Catholic Cathedral, the Psychiatric Hospital, the Ridge Hospital, the African Union Circle and finally to the Osu Cemetery, without seeing a single pothole. To give the devil his due, I would like to say that on the whole, there has been a tremendous improvement in the state of our roads, although there are some roads in areas like Korle Gorno, North Kaneshie, Odorkor, Madina, Fadama, Bubiiashie, Nungua, Abossey Okai,etc that are in a terrible state of disrepair. Kudos not only to those who had the vision to commence the rehabilitation of our roads, but also to all those who were wise enough to continue from where their predecessors had left off. Some of the roads, as I have already intimated, are in a sorry state and need to be rehabilitated as a matter of urgency.
A cursory look at streets in Accra will show that pavements are very few and far-between.The few that are worth their name, like the one from the Kwame Nkrumah Circle to the Niagara Hotel, the Hotel President, the Psychiatric Hospital, African Union Circle, the Accra Stadium, the Arts Centre and beyond and the pavement from the Kwame Nkrumah Circle to ´´Kingsway” and a few others, can be counted in one minute. People and vehicles seem to be competing for space on the streets while kiosks and “don´t mind your wife”mini “chop bars” occupy the pavements. It is my hope and prayer that our leaders will soon come round to the idea that pavements—good and durable ones, for that matter—are an essential part of road construction. In addition to this, the culture of maintenance should be taken more seriously by the relevant authorities. It makes no sense to construct a pavement or road and leave it to rot. Periodic maintenance is absolutely essential. A lush exemplar of an African country where the maintenance of roads and pavements is taken seriously is South Africa. Ghanaians who have been to Cape Town, for example, will attest to this. A lot of pavements in Accra are an eyesore, to put it mildly and charitably. The one near the Opera Cinema on Glamour Road, for example, is in such a horrendous state of disrepair that nobody should be blamed for describing it as something highly unpleasant to look at. Broken concrete slabs are scattered all over the place, making it look like a tomb vandalized by unconscionable bandits.
Now, to the vomit-provoking gutters in Accra. The infinite number of gutters filled to the brim with all the filth imaginable should make all Ghanaians worth their salt bow their heads in unfathomable shame. My heart missed several beats whenever I saw gutters replete with innumerable pieces of paper, plastic waste, polythene bags, silty soils, used tyres and faeces of all shapes, sizes, hues and odour. In fact the smell was so strong and unpleasant that it sometimes made me wonder whether people at the fulcrum of power were worthy of their name. It is simply inconceivable for human beings created in the image and likeness of the Almighty God to live cheek by jowl with so much filth. Can’t we picture in our mind’s eye the number of people who would die should there be an outbreak of cholera? Are we so visually impaired that we cannot see the millions of insects in their larval stage dancing with glee in the green, fetid, malodorous water in our gutters? Do we have to be university professors of science to realize that the filth in our gutters is an environmental and health time bomb on a short fuse? Are the eardrums of the relevant authorities so welded in a mixture of titanium and concrete that the clamour of the citizenry, to a man, to be spared the horrendous sight of rubbish in the gutters and the stench therein, always falls on deaf ears? What moral credibility would people in authority have to bemoan the outbreak of cholera when they seem not to care two hoots about the filth in our gutters? Do we need to have a PH.D in waste management before we can master the art and chemistry of removing from our gutters filth that stinks to high heaven, filth that makes even the devil bow his or her head in utter shame? Do we need a special microscope manufactured in the best medical laboratory in the world to help us see the mountain of rubbish in our gutters? Would I be holding the wrong end of the Ghanaian political stick if I said that our leaders are an excrescence on the Ghanaian health and environmental landscape?
Gutters can be found in every nook and cranny of Accra—Osu, Kokomlele, Bubiiashie, La, North Kaneshie, to mention just a few, all filled with filth. Gutters from Master Lawson’s House at Abossey Okai that go up to the Fan Milk Limited Sales Depot, also at Abossey Okai, as well as those from the Saint Andrews Anglican Church to the Mamprobi “Tro-tro” Station at Kaneshie, are a delicious recipe for cholera and malaria of epidemic proportions. The area around the National Technical Engineering College(popularly known as NATECO) and the National Commercial College(popularly known as NACOCO),both at Abossey Okai, is a real eyesore and I keep wondering whether the MP for that area is not suffering from an acute form of sleeping sickness and amnesia at the same time. Even a kindergarten pupil will not find it hard to realize that we are heading, inexorably, towards an environmental and health hazard. We really have to sit up and do something about our filthy gutters, otherwise we shall be stoking up the fire of cholera in our country. There is a billboard near the Fan Milk Limited Sales Depot at Abossey Okai that reads “Country Links:Travel Tours”;a gutter very close to it contains all types of rubbish and the very sight of it would make any sane human being suffer from an instant loss of appetite. From that billboard, there is a street that leads to “Ama Serwaa’s Fashion”, very near the Kaneshie-Odorkor main road.Walking along that street is like a throwback to the atavistic, palaeolithic era.That area is a microcosm of what Abossey Okai has become.It has been “kokompelized” and reduced to the status of a rubbish dump. Smelly gutters and horrible roads are the order of the day.
I saw gutters of all sizes in Accra, some measuring about a foot in width, like the one on Angola Street, near the Osu Cemetery, others measuring about two feet in width like the ones in front of the Fan Milk Limited Sales Depot at Abossey Okai or the ones near the Holy Trinity Medical Centre, not far from the Meridian Chemists, at North Kaneshie and other places. When I saw a small gutter –about a foot wide, near the Osu Pentecostal Church, I wondered what it was for. How much water can such a gutter hold when it rains? Is the construction of such a gutter not an exercise in extreme futility? To add insult to injury, that small gutter is already filled to the brim with sand.
One morning I was invited to a ceremony at “Agege”.I had never been there before, and I decided to kill two birds with one stone, i.e attend the ceremony and look at the state of gutters there. There is a fairly huge gutter there which looks like the younger brother or sister of the gutter that “houses” the Odaw River. In addition to the thousands of empty plastic bottles, polythene bags and faeces that look like mini mountains in the gutter, a mini forest has started growing in it, and I will not be surprised if it becomes a mini rain forest in the not too distant future. It must be said that in terms of stench and content, the big and small gutters are identical twins.
One cannot talk of gutters in Accra without making mention of the Odaw River.The huge ugly gutter that plays host, so to speak, to the Odaw River, seen in all its ugly nudity from the Kwame Nkrumah Circle to Agbobloshie, should make us Ghanaians wonder whether we are qualified to be regarded as members of the enlightened human race. The river is filled with so much weed and all manner of rubbish that it has become motionless. It is also the unwilling recipient of tons and tons of human faeces. It is not uncommon to see a man, in full possession of his mental faculties, publicly and gleefully emptying his bowels into the river in broad daylight and cleaning his “extremity´´ with a piece of dirty paper lying nearby and shamelessly adding it to the tons of pieces of paper already in the river. It is very sad that in the twenty-first century, we have gutters that can best be described as antedilivium and we should do away with them or find a way of constantly removing the mountainous rubbish with such horrendous excremental properties.
Any noise we make about improving health services in Mother Ghana will come to nought if we just sit down, fold our arms and look at the mount Afadzato of rubbish in our gutters with the nonchalance of an impotent man, in the raw, gazing at a scantily dressed woman. We should all work in concert to remove the rubbish from our gutters and improve our environment. The relevant authorities should ensure that those responsible for the removal of rubbish from the gutters do their work. Nice, pontifical professorial, sanctimonious speeches will not clean our gutters for us. We are free to talk the talk, but we should also walk the walk. The citizenry at large should also be made aware of the fact that it is the ultimate in incivility to drink “pure water” and throw the empty sachet anywhere they please. At this juncture, I would like to say that one fine afternoon I felt as if someone had hit my “motorway” with a huge sledgehammer when someone repeated, rather unabashedly, what seems to be the mantra of a lot of our compatriots: ´´If we don’t make the city dirty Zoomlion will not have any work to do,” The recent outbreak of cholera was, I feel, just an appetizer. The mother of all choleras is knocking on our door and as soon as the time is ripe for her entry, she will walk in majestically, sit down, cross her legs and refuse to leave. All hands should be on deck; every Tom, Dick and Harry should play their part so that our capital city will be rid of filth forever. Preachers who hold aloft the Bible, and preach near stinking rubbish-filled gutters, with a huge box near them to collect hard-earned Cedis from passers-by, would do well to remind not only the relevant authorities, but also Ghanaians at large, of what the Bible says about cleanliness. The thousands of churches, pastors, bishops, prophets can lead a “clean Accra campaign” by mobilizing their millions of followers not only to remove the rubbish near their churches, but also where they live. It is high time churches stopped laying so much emphasis on esoteric things, and started living their beliefs in the actualities of life.
It is high time we brought the shutters down on our filthy behaviour—urinating anywhere, spitting on buses and “tro-tros”, selling food near latrines and gutters overflowing with excreta and all manner of filth. I found it heartrending to see people selling food at the entrance to the Agbobloshie public latrine. I saw huge flies entering the latrine as fast as their wings could carry them, no doubt to commune with some fresh, malodorous, shapeless faeces which had just seen the light of day, and dashing out to dance what looked like “kpanlogo” on the food while some customers ate with relish a few metres away.I have no doubt that the goddess of love bows her head in utter shame and disgust whenever she sees delicious ´´kelewele´´,´´akara´´,´´koko´´, fried chicken, rice and stew, fried sausages etc, in a romantic embrace with filthy gutters that reek of a year-old urine.It is interesting to see people urinating very near billboards with the stark warning ´´do not urinate here, by A.M.A Fine 50 GHC.”One thing the authorities have to look into is the question of urinals in Accra. As long as there are no public urinals, people will have excuses to urinate anywhere. A taxi driver got out of his car one day, with the speed of a bullet, unzipped his trousers and started urinating into a gutter nearby. The poor man was so relieved that he was oblivious of the presence of quite a number of people. He took his time, emptied his bladder and, the most interesting part of the whole episode, shook his whale-like manhood vigorously in a north south direction to make sure that he had got rid of all the liquid waste.This should not happen in a civilized city. Urinals are essential in any civilized city or town.
It is so disheartening to stand by a gutter in Accra and look at the amount of rubbish in it. A walk from the Abossey Okai Post Office, popularly known as Peregrino Aryee House will give any Ghanaian a very good idea of what I am driving at. It is so horrible that I am tempted to wonder what stuff our minds are made of. Sometimes I feel we should remove our brains and dip them into hyssop for purification. Anybody who can look at the filth in the gutters and still have a voracious appetite for food must have an appetite that is not of this world.
Finally, on the question of gutters, I would like to ask the relevant authorities the following questions, without mincing words, without skirting around the truth, without dancing “Kpanlogo” or “Agbadza” around the truth. Who is responsible for removing the rubbish from our gutters? Can you put your hands on your hearts and say that you have never seen the filth in our gutters or had your nostrils filled with the special stench that only our gutters are capable of producing and on which only our beloved capital seems to hold the copyright? Have you never had the displeasure of having your nostrils commune with the stench that emanates from our gutters? I would like to ask you once again, dearly beloved, are you so visually impaired that you cannot see the well-fed mosquitoes and their children yet unborn, otherwise known as larvae, doing some wonderful dance steps in the green, dirty water, that has made our gutters its final resting place? Have you knowingly condemned us to live cheek by jowl with fetid gutters? What heinous crimes have we committed to be subjected to water-boarding by those at the helm of affairs, using that green water in the horrendous gutters? How long will the worm-infested water in the gutters be our bedfellows? How long will our noses be glued to that horrible stench whose chemical properties will take an aeon to be analyzed even by the best scientists in the world? Do you not realize that such a treatment is tantamount to forcing us to breathe with all the strength at our command while a smelly armpit is glued to our nostrils? Will Ghanaians not agree with me that the smelly, ugly gutters make our capital city look like a beautiful face with rotten teeth or a mouth that is always in pole position in a halitosis championship race? Do you not think that the onus to lift our capital city from the danger zone of the African Dirty City League Table is on you? I pause for an answer.
On the question of the culture of maintenance, I would like to exhort the relevant authorities to embrace it wholeheartedly. The Kaneshie market overpass, for example, is gradually falling apart. Anyone who uses it does not have to slog through volumes and volumes of architectural verities to know that it is a matter of time before a tragedy occurs if no maintenance work is carried out. The wear and tear is there for all to see. If this plea is not heeded and an accident occurs, resulting in the loss of lives, any government official who sheds crocodile tears should be told, in no uncertain terms, that he or she is a hypocrite in the widest sense of the word. Still on the question of the culture of maintenance, it is interesting to recall that many years ago I went to the General Post Office in Accra, at 10.30 am, but it was 5.30 by the General Post Office clock. A week ago I went to the same place at 9.30 am, but it was still 5.30 by the same clock.To make assurance double sure, I went to the same place for the third time, and lo and behold it was still 5.30.The Kaneshie Police quarters near the Kaneshie Police Station is one of the numerous places in Accra clamouring for maintenance. The barbed wire fence is on the ground and the whole place is dirty.The walls look as if they have suffered the same fate as walls in a public latrine, i.e as if they have been used as toilet paper. All this clearly indicates that the culture of maintenance has been relegated to the limbo of forgotten things. The word ´´maintenance´´ should be our mantra if we are serious about developing our country in a sustainable manner. The maintenance of pavements, roads, buildings, overpasses etc should be an integral part of development.
Another eyesore in Acca is the Korle Lagoon which, curiously enough, seems to have maintained all the chemical properties of its horrible stench over the years. Although the current stench has moved up several notches in intensity, it is basically the same as the one that filled my nostrils whenever I went to sit by it more than half a century ago to read my “Lacombes” and “See Me Lacayana With My Spear”.It has now become a vomit-provoking dustbin into which faeces of all origins,shapes, colours,textures as well as old computers and other used equipment are dumped, thus making it an environmental time-bomb.What a pity that all the promises given to Ghanaians in days of yore that the Lagoon would be dredged and converted into a kind of holiday resort have proved to be vain.The very stench of the Lagoon makes me empty my bowels with so much ease. Anybody suffering from an acute constipation would be well advised to go near it, have a good look at it and inhale deeply. The constipation will be over in a matter of minutes.
Anything written about the Korle Lagoon would not be complete without any reference being made to the Township called Sodom and Gomorrah.I have been to Kamandi, Kaelisha and Gugulethu Townships in Cape Town ,but this Township, right in the middle of the Korle Lagoon, buffeted by the stench of the Lagoon, really takes the biscuit. It makes all the Townships I have seen in South Africa look like beauty queens. It is an eyesore of eyesores, and a damning indictment of those on the corridors of power. It is inexplicable that Ghana, a nation that was ahead of South Korea in 1957, has been reduced to an invisible dot on the world stage.
Ever so ingenious, Ghanaians have given a new lexical twist to what used to be known as “OBITUARY”.It is now known as TRANSITION,CELEBRATION OF LIFE,CALL TO GLORY,CALLED TO GLORY,HOME CALL,CROSS OVER,AT REST,GONE SO SOON, just to mention a few, accompanied by two pictures of the deceased, one taken when he or she was in the twilight years and another in the prime of life. Another novelty is that the biography of the deceased is accompanied by pictures of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, if any. Sometimes the biography of men with penchant for having children in every nook and cranny looks like a mini-thesis. Culinary habits at funerals and outdoorings have also undergone a drastic change. Food served these days includes specially spiced fried sausages, mouth-watering “joloff” rice,´´watse”,´´gari-foto”,fried fish, salad, banku, kenkey, okro stew, fried chicken parts, black pepper etc, all accompanied by generous amounts of beer, malt, and soft drinks. At some funerals it is not uncommon to see people pounding ´´fufu’’ at mid-night while the sweet smell of ´´nkrakra´´,groundnut soup or palm nut soup perfumes the atmosphere.
Ghana is awash with churches and religious ministries with interesting names like Ghana oil Fields Authority Church, The Holy Sacred Ministry, Sound Heaven Chapel International, House Of Praise Chapel, Fountain Gate Chapel Solution Centre, Power In The Word Ministry, House Of Peace Ministry, Crowning Day Gospel Ministry, Miracle Global Ministry, Mountain Movers Ministry, Alive Church International, Global Grace International, Divine Builders Church, Kingdom Word Chapel International, Victory Bible Church International, Jesus Connection Prayer Ministry, Open Heaven Royal Ministry International, Royal Redemption Prayer Ministry and the list goes on and on.
I would like to end on a lighter note by sharing with readers some interesting things I read in Accra:´´My Redemer is alife´´ on a North Kaneshie bound tro-tro.´´Two Wrong makes No Right´´ on a taxi at Makola.´´For Hiring:Temporal Lights´´,on a billboard at Odorkor.´´Dependerble God´´ on a ´´tro´tro´´ near Makola ,´´Jewellery and Watches: Breclets, Nceklets 18K Gold´´ at a jewellery shop near the Accra Central Library.´´Barbaring shop´´ on the door of a tiny structure where some young men were having a hair cut near a stinking gutter full of rubbish at the Mamprobi Trotro station at Kaneshie.
As passengers were going on board, I stepped aside and gave my beloved Mother an invisible embrace, planted a plethora of sweet kisses on her beautiful face and whispered into her ear-drum, ´´My beloved Mother, your face is so beautiful, so supernal but it is my hope and prayer that a good dentist will soon be found to clean your rotten teeth and make your mouth halitosis-free.”
By Tete Cobblah