Street Lights and Potholes: Seek Ye First

Tue, 5 Jul 2011 Source: Casely-Hayford, Sydney

By Sydney Casely-Hayford, Sydney@bizghana.com

Every year, we have a party of sorts. The rains come down to stay for about two months and they invite their cousins, the potholes to join in the festivities. This year is no different. Everywhere in Accra there are roads with potholes of varying sizes, just waiting to destroy a shock absorber or two. We run rivulets of precious water all around Accra. Even the most visible parts, especially the most visible, like Nkrumah Circle are terrible spots of floods and debris floating around with no place to go except into choked gutters. And the citizens have no choice than to step cautiously around the mini dams of water to catch a Trotro to wherever they can. It is a pity to see so many pedestrians standing forlornly at roadsides or under awnings hoping for a lapse in the rain before they continue a journey home, which will take three if not four times as long as on any ordinary day.

I was speaking on CiTiFm’s “Point Blank” program on 1st of July. Republic day came too soon this year. The question I could not answer as confidently as I thought, was related to this proverbial conundrum. “How come Malaysia has done so much better then we have?”

I struggled with it because this question poses a double-suicide-edged answer. Are we struggling because we are black and not capable of handling our own affairs, contrary to what Kwame Nkrumah made us to think? Or are we struggling because we have tried to fix the politics first and left the economics in the wake?

I convinced myself many years ago that I am just as capable as the White man of looking after my affairs. I have worked competitively against White people and I have succeeded on many issues and proven that I am just as capable, if not better than some of them. I have lived and worked abroad for many years and I understand issues in my field just as well as any other accountant and financial analyst, be they black or white. Back home in Ghana now, I ask myself everyday. What is it? What is wrong? Why is it so difficult?

Why so many potholes all year round? Why can’t we collect the refuse we make ourselves? Why does the water not run everyday, all the time? What is it that the streetlights cannot come on? What is wrong with our traffic lights? Why does the Korle Lagoon stink so? Why is there so much traffic in Accra? How come the hawkers always return to the streets? Can I exhaust this list? And where is the electricity supply?

Or are we too smart for the White man, using their development aid money and pretending to be too stupid to cope? Show hostess Shamima Muslim asked me a point blank question. “Are we not capable of handling our affairs?” My Great Grandfather Joseph Ephraim Casely-Hayford was part of the lead in protecting the rights of the Aborigines in Ghana and West Africa. Those tumultuous days fighting British rule and preserving our heritage and culture surprised many colonialists around the table. If we could have taken the mantle then and recognized that even the British came as traders first, we might have dropped the largesse and political praise in latter years.

But the political kingdom is here. We have found it in democracy and the rule of law. I think we should have reversed the cart and resolved the economic issues first. Hindsight, I believe this would have been better. But without prejudice, I say we have fixed the political kingdom. Time to put politics on the back burner and start mending the economic chains.

If we accept that the political experiment has not worked, we will turn in the economic direction, which is where we should be. Clearly, the politicians have not provided answers to our woes. Every change of Government comes and leaves with lame excuses, blaming the opposition.

Self-government now or self-government in the shortest possible time has been debated and will never be resolved. There are die-hard politicians on both sides of the debate who would still like to carry this debate on as if there is no more an engaging pragmatic debate than this. My solution is that we have a team of serious and competent executive who will think and implement what must be done and not what is politically expedient to do. We must do this properly and quickly. We are too far behind others who started the race with us and those who missed the starter’s whistle have come past. Are we capable of running our own affairs? Look around Accra and tell me. Look at our institutions and tell me. Where do you want to start from? It is all a big mess. Do you realize we have been talking about decentralisation since 1993? Talking!

Columnist: Casely-Hayford, Sydney