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Is life in Ghana better now or worse than before?

– A Case Study for Civic Education

By Kwesi Atta Sakyi

12th December 2013

A butterfly is not born a fully fledged butterfly as it goes through the stages of metamorphosis as larva, pupa, and imago before developing wings and colours as a fully grown adult. At a stage, a snake has to slough its skin. At birth, a cub lion does not roar. Rome was not built in a day. Fable has it that Remus and Romulus started it in 756B.C. on River Tiber in the era of the Etruscans.

It is chronicled that before the Great Depression and the Wall Street crash in October 1929, Americans had reveled in the good life and they lived with greater expectations of a better tomorrow, hence investing heavily in shares. When the bubble burst, everything went cascading down hill like a pack of cards as shares plummeted to their abysmal level. It is said that it is not the dog in the fight that matters, but the fight in the dog which is of utmost interest and essence. It is also said that when a man falls, he does not get glued to the ground but gets up and despite gravity, he dusters himself and moves on. When Mandela went to prison in 1964, he did not give up hope. MHSRIEP.

In retrospect, I think we saw how Americans rallied round their presidents Truman and Roosevelt, and started rebuilding their country under the New Deal. They built railways, dams and many public works. They had to make great sacrifices amidst unprecedented levels of joblessness, hopelessness, drought, hunger and social deprivation. Their leaders and planners provided a vision for a better tomorrow. In the same vein, the Better Ghana Agenda is a vision of a better tomorrow which required laying the foundation now for a better future.

Whether it is NDC or NPP or CPP in power, we should become less partisan and more patriotic because the Agenda Ghana is not a zero sum game of winners and losers, but a win-win situation of non-partisan endeavour. Unemployment, hunger, despondency, poverty and the like do not come wearing party colours. It is too absurd for Ghanaians to interpret every wee bit of issue in Ghana under parochial partisan microscope. It is very weird and sad indeed that the so-called educated people in Ghana who should shed light on Ghana’s predicament of poverty, do cry wolf and make political capital out of issues through propaganda and dirty politicking.

What sort of education did we get? We would rather empower ourselves only to disable ourselves by shooting ourselves in the foot to remain politically challenged, fiscally emaciated and socially disabled. Yet we need to act as one happy family. Can’t we agree to disagree in more urbane, refined and civil manner instead of name calling and finger pointing? Can’t we use our levels of education to throw more light on creative entrepreneurial ventures? Why can’t we come up with social intervention schemes to help a lot of people in the rural areas to know how to read and write? Why can’t we organize our rural people to show them how to improve agricultural yield, conserve the environment, improve sanitation, purify water using simple cost- effective technology, or how to produce cheap electricity from biogas or biomass? Since when did Ghanaians take serial calling on radio as a vocation or profession? Ghanaians need rethinking.

We are free to debate our pressing issues publicly. Why can’t we apply some of the simple rules of engagement which require us to use parliamentary language and to exercise self restraint even under great provocation? These rules can be found in Robert’s Rules of Meetings which can be assessed online. Having said that let me get down to business. Is life in Ghana better now or worse than before? This is a case study for Civic Education. Readers will recall that it is dangerous to make assumptions and form perceptions which are unproven and based on hearsay.

It is this Ghanaian proclivity for rumour-mongering and being too gullible of the junk fed them by the pseudo-journalists and media people from the grapevine that Ghana has now become a nation of angry and impatient people. We are now ranked 63 out of 177 corrupt countries. However, Transparency International used their own criteria and metrics to arrive at their conclusions. We do ourselves injustice and a great deal of disservice by stereotyping certain people in power, and believing everything thrown at us or slapped on us as gospel truth. I am sure our painting ourselves black in the media explains the Tl’s ranking of Ghana.

Many people today have given up on our government because they have developed closed minds and they wear tainted glasses. Many woolly articles are written and posted online and debated on radio. Some of them border on perceived massive corruption in the government. Even if they are backed by statistics, some of them are cooked up or fabricated. Some weeks ago, one reader of my article entitled, ‘General Nunoo Mensah is perfectly right’ (see Ghanaweb 24 November 2013) sent me an email. The chap told me in his email that he is a teacher and that in the late 70s when he started teaching in Northern Ghana, he could not afford a new set of furniture so he decided to buy a second-hand.

Even then when he found a willing seller, he could not afford to buy the accompanying foams or cushions, so he let go them and bought the naked shell of the wooden structures. This guy in his email wonders why currently teachers and nurses complain bitterly and loudly that life in Ghana is now harsh whilst in reality, some of them can boast of posh cars, plush mansions, sleek cell phones like Galaxy 4, courtesy of loans from the banks and cooperatives.

Where lies their own perceived Bitter Ghana Agenda instead of the noble Better Ghana Agenda? Since Adam in the bible and Adam Smith in Economics, man has never been satiated. Satiation or happiness lies within. Poverty is relative. So also is opulence or riches. Let us be exceedingly glad for small mercies and little things we take for granted these days. I read in one Economics textbook (Principles of Economics by Case & Fair) that John Rockefeller’s worth in today’s terms is about 200 billion dollars, more than any American has ever owned.

Yet since he was born in 1837, he never used the TV, cell phone, modern aircraft, internet, among others. Today, even those in rural areas have colour TVs advanced cell phones, fridges, four plate electric gas cookers, internet connectivity, among others. In 1970 when I graduated from a 4 year teacher training course, my net pay awaiting results was 34 cedis 35 pesewas. I remember in 1966 when I entered teacher training college, I received an untrained (pupil) teacher’s salary of 12 cedis as my monthly allowance. Then in 1972 when I obtained 4A levels through self tuition, I received a hefty boost in my salary as I was promoted to a Senior Teacher on a monthly salary of 144 Cedis.

I was earning more than some head teachers at the time. Food was cheap. Beer too was cheap. I remember a six yard piece of Dumas wax print cost about 12 Cedis. Under General Kutu Acheampong’s government, economic hardships started staring us in the face in Ghana, hence his introduction of Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) agricultural revolution in 1974. By 1977, while I was at the University of Ghana, Legon, the economy of Ghana started going down hill, amidst many demonstrations by university students.

1977 was a very tough year for Ghana as there was a poor harvest and kenkey became an issue. Even before then, from 1969 to late 1971, Busia’s government had fared badly as a ball of kenkey was once taken to parliament to be placed in the dock to face charges on why it had allowed itself to shrink beyond recognition. Ignatius Kutu Acheampong’s Unigov, (Union Government or Nkabom Aban) coupled with allegations of corruption, led to the Palace Coup staged by Brigadier General F.W.K. Akuffo in 1978.

In the 1977 famine and economic austerity, common ‘agbaa’ or ‘akpeteshie’ was hard to come by. That was the era of yellow maize which a lot of Ghanaians detested as it made very bad ken- key because it was not sticky and it was very coarse, even when ground or milled. 1977 was the year the term ‘pipe apai’ (there is a burst pipe) came into being whenever some one discovered a source where ‘agbaa or’akpet’ (local gin) could be found.

This local gin has many sobriquets such as ‘kawanopaado’ , Ogogoro, VC 10, Kill me quick, ogyaho, Bu bra, Ma ka a maka, Womf3re wo ase etc In the mid 60s, before Nkrumah’s overthrow in the February 1966 military coup d’etat, Ghanaians went through a lot of deprivation, as some imported luxury food items became scarce as a result of myriad projects which Nkrumah initiated under his 5 year and 7 year development plans.

Those were the days we had jobs galore for every school leaver in Ghana, either in the parastatals or in the ministries. Nkrumah was accused of deficit financing. It was the era of heavy construction works such as the Tema Harbour, Tema Motorway, Tema Steeelworks, Job 600, University of Cape Coast, GET secondary Schools, Akosombo Dam, Tema townships, factories, state farms, among others. In the late 50s and early 60s, Ghanaians enjoyed high standards of living because of Nkrumah’s socialist policy of free education and free medical care.

That is popularly known in Economics parlance as eleemosynary economics. Those were the days schoolboys used the term otwas3n (off-the-peg school uniform), ropopo (low grade clothing material), obey the wind, Wo da so bo (are you still sporting it – ladies’ headscarf), Nea ewu o, broni wo ewu, garbadin, Adjoa Yankey, face-the-wall, black akak, Afro Moses, Patapata etc.

I remember that my late mother used to buy iced fish in cartons for smoking which she took to sell in the hinterland places such as Akim Oda, Agona Swedru, Edwumako, Brakwa, among others. My late father loathed smoked iced fish. We all cherished the fresh fish which our fishermen caught from their traversing, plundering and trawling the Atlantic Ocean. We used to see great bumper harvests of mackerel and herrings in those days.

Sometimes, the imported iced fish (mostly mackerels and herrings) in khaki-coloured cartons looked so stiff and red-eyed, so much so that people shook their heads in disdain of consuming such double dead fish. They would rather have it sent to the ‘habanasefo’ (hinterland dwellers who would not discriminate between fresh fish and iced fish).

I remember times without number when my late father and I went to the Muni Lagoon near Winneba to fish, using the throw net. After about 3 or 4 hours, we would arrive home in the night with enough fish for my mother to grill for food the next day. Even to buy charcoal was a problem, and I used to pick some small charcoal pieces from the place where we incinerated our refuse. Such abject poverty for a large family of 10, with extended family members! My mother and some of our elder sisters were itinerant fishmongers. They travelled out from Winneba to go and vend their fish in the hinterland, where I believe some engaged in some form of barter trade.

They would come back from their business trips laden with a lot of farm produce such as plantains, cassava, cocoyam, gari, vegetables, fruits, among others. Those were the days when soup for the family (including extended family members) was cooked in a big-earthenware pot (kwans3n). If it was palm nut soup (ab3nkwan), it would teem with imported salted fish (kako or abombadzi, snails, pig trotters, salted beef, okra, garden eggs, very dry smoked fish (adwene) or catfish, and of course, momoni.

Sometimes, we fed well; sometimes too we had boiled cassava and roasted groundnuts for supper when we were on hard times. Our mothers used to travel in groups, and after smoking fish all day, they would sleep late and get up at dawn around 4 o’clock to go to the lorry station to board the big wooden mummy trucks, mostly Bedford and Austin and Morris brands. The Morris brand in the 50s and 60s were common in the Eastern Region where I was born. They were called Awuna Patu or Ohwentar. Life then was simple, natural and some- times hazardous.

Some of the worst times in Ghana were the few years before Nkrumah’s overthrow in February 1966. Essential commodities were in short supply and many Ghanaians lived in fear because of the PDA (Prevention Detention Act) which gagged the press and sent many opposition members to gaol at the Nsawam Maximum Security Prison. I remember one huge, brown scholarly gentleman from near my grandfather’s house, who became a victim. He was a learned person, who was a self-made scholar and pocket lawyer.

The man later set up a trading shop after his release at the overthrow of Nkrumah. He knew my parents very well and I learnt he also admired me, young as I was. Life has never been easy in Ghana or anywhere else in the world. Ghanaians today are far better off today with a lot of freedom to express themselves or move about or join any political party of their choice. What is more than this? Now we have Marco Polo luxury buses and Kufuor buses criss-crossing the whole length and breadth of Ghana.

People travel in comfort with sleek bags instead of the straw bags called ‘many3 yie bag’ or ‘Agege bag’. The years of General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong started on a good note with a lot of euphoria and great expectations, but soon, it degenerated into an era of epicurean orgy of greed and plutocracy for the oligarchy. It was an oligarchy of top brass military men with their young consorts in VW Golf cars. Essential commodities from the GNTC and department stores were hoarded by consorts and bootlickers, and sold to only known friends and relatives.

But there was an upside of the launch of the Green Revolution or Operation Feed the Nation in 1974. The downside culminated in the floating of the idea of Union Government (Unigov or ‘Nkabom Aban’), which many Ghanaians pooh-poohed, because it was an idea whose time had not yet arrived. I remember I supported Unigov, though many Ghanaians saw it as a ruse of the military to entrench themselves in power. Of course, iron and clay cannot mix together.

In 1983, under J.J. Rawlings, there was natural disaster of extreme drought in Ghana which was an act of God beyond blaming any government of misgovernance. That was a make or break year for Ghanaians. Rawlings’ 19 year reign saw a vast improvement in infrastructure development in Ghana, as Accra took on a new look and caught up with the rest of the world. Three American Presidents visited Ghana during the tenure of Rawlings, Kufuor and late Prof John Atta Mills.

were made of Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama. Is Ghana a worse place for American Presidents to make it their preferred destination in Africa? It is ourselves as Ghanaians who do not cherish what we have and we deride and decry our blessings. During Kufuour’s reign, we had a shot in the arm when freedom of speech gained unfettered reign under the Gentle Giant (GG). That was in sharp contrast to the press gag under JJ. Kufuor’s low point was the massive youth unemployment which surged and reached a crescendo under his tenure.

Some observers also note that under Kufuor, the current spate of tribalism and lack of inclusiveness developed tap roots. Kufour opened the floodgate of trade liberalization in Ghana, with our markets being swamped with assortment of imported goods which are dumped on our markets, thus killing infant industries, taking away local jobs, worsening our balance of payments position, weakening the exchanges rate of the cedi, and creating room for corruption at the ports of entry where massive duties ad tariffs are slapped on imports, apart from the unofficial leakages in bribes.

In the 50s, 60s and 70s, we used to be carried away in joyous abandon by original tuneful highlife hits by the likes of the Ramblers, Broadway, Black Beats, Uhuru, Cooler Lobitos, Kofi Ani Johnson, Wulomei etc There were many concert parties touring the towns and villages of Ghana such as Kaakeiku, F. Micah, E.K. Nyame, Kwabena Onyina, Bob Cole, Akwaboa, F. Kenya, Ashanti Brothers, among others.

People enjoyed going to the movies in Accra, Swedru, Takoradi, Kumasi etc. Some popular tunes which keep ringing in my ears include Kofi Ani Johnson’s ‘Madamfo pa beko agya me na may3 no s3n ni’ or ‘s3 molasses in wiase yi mu a anka y3b3y3 den, mboborowa a a a a a’ or ‘Ekoo tse borofo a, nananom mo mfr3 yie’.

In the 50s and 70s, Ghana did not do badly in many sports disciplines such as table tennis, boxing, athletics and football. Our Black Stars and Real Republicans locked horns with global giants such as Vasco Da Gama, Flamingoes and Real Madrid. In life, everything is relative, and we should enjoy life in moderation and temperance. In His external presence, time along a continuum of then, now and tomorrow means nothing, because to the Great one above, everything is in an instantaneous instant. Therefore, to man, life then, life now and perhaps life to come, measured by life today, may look the same.

Only humans see the discernible changes. It all depends on who is involved, here, when and how. The story of man is work in progress. Therefore, I conclude that life in Ghana now is no better nor worse than before. It all depends whether you are seeking inner peace or external material things. Time is said to be a very difficult concept to conceive, measure and understand. We should not waste it too much debating whether life today or yesterday is or was better.

We shall be wasting time doing that. Rather, let us make the most of the time that we have to better our lot and improve our country from our different levels of endeavour. Some will say that when NPP was in power, Ghanaians were better off. Others say it is always better under NDC. How can they jump to those conclusions? Our current government is yet to complete its tenure by 2016. I am aware some readers will lambast me as pro NDC or pro NPP. I do not care. All I care is the betterment of Ghana.

Time has not stood still. Let us forge ahead and stop complaining. Adam Smith in 1776 in his epic book, The Wealth of Nations, philosophized that whenever any man went in pursuit of his own selfish motive of wealth maximization, it eventually ended up maximizing the general well-being of the entire society. However, this capitalist thesis needs revision in the face of the serious global economic recessions, market failures and the era of globalization.

Besides, globalization and great changes in the way we live now have changed our perspectives. Perhaps we need a new economic model in the 21st century, which will take into consideration concepts such as Islamic banking of zero interest rate charges, state capitalism in China, social relationship insurance and investment in Africa, among many other variables. Ghanaians ought to study our own rich cultures, microcosms and circumstances to be able to extricate ourselves from poverty. The Ashantiman will say, ‘so wo tuo mu’, handle your own gun. The Fante will say, ‘ Hw3 wo boa mu’. In short, let us mind our own business and the business of Ghana will take care of itself. No condition is permanent. Let us emulate Mandela who stood for forgiveness, unity, freedom, justice, peace and reconciliation.

Contact: kwesiattasakyi449@gmail.com

Columnist: Sakyi, Kwesi Atta

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