Reminiscence of a Patriot in the Diaspora
By Kwesi Atta Sakyi
13th January 2014
Ghana looked a lot more dramatically changed for the worse than the last time I had visited 18 months ago, since His Excellency President John Dramani Mahama got into the saddle to steer the affairs of state. The Akans of Ghana have a proverb that nobody worth his salt will use the left hand to point to his father’s house, no matter how run down or dilapidated it may look. The English close equivalent to that is that you do not wash your dirty linen in public. However, when it comes to matters of public interest and welfare of the people, we cannot do otherwise.
The use of the left hand is considered taboo among many Ghanaian tribes, and it may not be used in eating or writing in school. It, however, does not mean that southpaws are an endangered species in Ghana, unlike homosexuals and lesbians who are perceived as anathema, lost sheep, social deviants, and outcasts in many African societies.
The fact of the matter is that many critics, analysts and vigilant observers of the Ghana scene have compared and contrasted the current style and performance of the current government and concluded that the critical success factors and key socio-economic performance indicators are all pointing downwards.
A case in point is the downward trend in the foreign exchange value of the Ghanaian currency, the cedi. It is common knowledge of economics that the exchange rate of a currency is determined by the interaction of the market forces of demand and supply, what Adam Smith long ago termed the invisible hand of the market. Other non-performance indicators are non-completion of some major projects such as the Accra-Kumasi trunk road, the forecast GDP growth figure which hovered around 11 per cent a couple of years ago, is now down to a pitiable 8 per cent, among a legion and plethora of them. One is made to think aloud whether or not we have a caretaker government in place, more especially so as elections in 2016 loom large on the horizon. Are we witnessing a scenario of the J-Curve effect where it has to get worse before it gets better?
I was in Ghana from 16th December, 2013 to 12th January, 2014, and I was sad at heart to see the incipient decay which has set in, with no urgency whatsoever on the part of government to arrest the imbroglio and quagmire that have mired the Ghanaian economy. Arriving at Kotoka International Airport and seeing how fast the terminal building is deteriorating, you immediately have an inkling into the perilous and parlous state of the Ghanaian economy, and perhaps you begin to smell the rat of some perverse, perfidious goings-on.
Many people I talked to, point to the fact that a lot of the team governing the country are cronies and tribesmen of the President, and some of them have very little knowledge of governance. It seems they have been appointed to warm their benches and chairs. What with a large number of presidential staff, aids, ministers and deputies who, to say the least, are ‘chopping Ghana small’.
And I must say, the media have a field day in Ghana, talking themselves hoarse in exposing the incompetence of government appointees. The President seems content to lead from behind, and to allow a laissez-faire leadership style, where political featherweights take over the airwaves and make blundering pronouncements to try to cover up their incompetence. It was unenlightening for a minister to go on air and aver that the decline of the cedi is due to the high-rise buildings going up in Accra. Another lady minister boo-booed recently, by stating that dwarfs or druids, or some spirits are responsible for spiriting away foreign exchange earnings from the vaults of the banks, thus causing shortage of forex, and the decline of the cedi. What humongous ignorance in the 21st century!
Some time last year, yet another lady deputy minister who got dismissed, was allegedly secretly recorded as having opened her mouth wide enough and said that she would make a million dollars before leaving office. I wonder what the parliamentary vetting committee is up to in clearing such characters to be appointed as ministers of state. Are we seeing a circus in Ghana? Or is it a game of dancing chairs? Our President is most often airborne, attending conferences here and there, and hardly attending to his domestic chores. Is that what he termed ‘my second coup d’etat’? We have a declining educational system on our hands. Many school drop-outs are roaming the streets. We have no social welfare system to fall on as is done in most advanced countries.
The rate of youth unemployment has reached alarming proportions. Public utilities such as water and electricity are delivered with a lot of hiccups. The health delivery system leaves much to be desired, as doctors and nurses are always going on strike. Indeed, the quality of life in Ghana has descended badly into the doldrums, making many youth feel like fleeing or exiting into the diaspora to look for greener pastures. Ghana as a whole seems to be in shambles and deep waters. Has Ghana gone to the dogs?
My first few days at home in Winneba was greeted with 5 continuous days of dry taps, yet ironically, my house is a stone’s throw from the Winneba Waterworks. On the fifth day, early in the morning, my young daughter and I decided to do some studies, only to be greeted with a blackout, to add salt to injury. I got so much worked up and beside myself with rage, for the poor service delivery in Ghana. I decided to make some phone calls. I called one Assembly man for our area who explained that an electrical cable was down on the Winneba-Accra road, and that the ECG people were on site working hard to restore power. True to his word, power was restored about six hours later. On the water blues besieging residents, I heard many stories that the water level at the pumping station was low, and that the workers at the station did not care two hoots as they did what they liked, without proper supervision from their manager, one Mr Laryea.
The Winneba Waterworks was built with millions of dollars from the Dutch Government about a decade ago, to serve a vast area in the Winneba municipality. However, it seems the Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL) is not up to the task of looking after such valuable asset and huge investment. Eventually when the water started running in our taps, it was found out that the water quality left much to be desired as it seemed no chemicals like chlorine and alum had been put in, and besides, the water stained containers, as some brownish sediments formed at the bottom of containers when the water was stored.
A story doing the rounds in the vicinity was that some workers at the waterworks chose to pilfer the chemicals which they sold to private companies. That could not be verified but I heard the charge on some good authority. I started questioning the efficiency, integrity and prudence of the people we have put in place in Ghana to look after our welfare. How could one drink water from the tap and feel some decaying and nauseating sensation afterwards? Is everybody in Ghana rich enough to be able to afford bottled water every day of the year? What health risks do we expose ourselves to if we have such shoddy treatment from our utility service providers?
This is where I have often held on to the thesis that our local government system in Ghana is malfunctional and non-operable as it is heavily flawed, needing huge reforms and review of our Constitution. Local government, in the form of District Assemblies at the grassroots, is now a cooler for party cadres and foot-soldiers, majority of who know next to nothing about the intricate workings of local government and its remit.
I have nostalgic memories of those halcyon and bygone days in the 50s, 60s and 70s when our local authorities and native authorities used to deliver quality services to the people. We had the government outfit called PWD, Public Works Department (a valuable colonial legacy) which used to undertake civil works as well as maintenance of public infrastructure such as construction of drainages, repairing roads and constructing bridges and culverts. We had the Town Council sanitary inspectors doing their rounds and ensuring that people adhered scrupulously to high sanitary and hygienic conditions and standards.
Culprits were served with summonses to appear in the magistrate and local authority courts to exculpate themselves why they were found wanting on their insanitary conditions, and invariably they were punished with fines. Those were the days Hygiene was taught in schools, with the subject of Home Economics or Home Craft being taught to the girls, with the boys being taught various crafts such as kente weaving, basket weaving, carpentry, masonry, among others.
Then from nowhere, out of the roller-coaster revolutionary fervour, fomented and fermenting in the late 70s and 80s, Rawlings and his Bad Boys Bandwagon (BBB), came on the scene and terribly engineered our system for the worst, by buying into the current chaotic mosaic of governance, with the current District Assemblies and our current bedevilled JSS and SSS secondary school educational system (now JHS and SHS), being foisted on Ghanaians without much consultations with stakeholders. Many of the terrible hardships Ghanaians are currently undergoing have their genesis from that unfortunate era of the reign of terror, with the ‘les enfant terrible’ leading the charge and foray into the citadel of time-tested institutions.
When I was a youth in my early 20s in the beginning of the 70s, we used to hold free holiday classes for pupils about to write their Middle School Leaving Examinations (MSLC). Such volunteerism is lacking in our youth of today. We used to engage in town cleaning exercise when we were on holidays from college. I remember being Secretary of the Winneba Young People’s Union (WYPU) and liaising with the district administration to procure wheelbarrows, shovels and other accoutrements for undertaking town cleaning exercise. When I took some stroll into some parts of Accra and Winneba, my nostrils were assailed by some abominable miasma of putrid and decaying sewage which permanently hung on the air and made you feel like throwing up or retching.
Be on stand-bye for my third and final episode in this series of greetings from Ghana.