The Underachieving Republic
University of Cape Coast—Cape Coast.
4th July, 2012
On Monday, most workers took the day off to celebrate Republic day. Like most Ghanaians, I appreciated the long week-end. However, I wondered what we were celebrating. Should we be celebrating or seriously reflecting on why we have underachieved so gargantuanly? My worry is that those who believe what we have endured in the last fifty years are worth celebrating, will wish us more of the same. As Bacon once said, “He that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils.”
Before you start getting emotional and upset with me for spoiling this beautiful celebration, let me put things in context. Since we became a Republic, a lot has happened around the world.
Then, China was a third world backwater under Mao Zedong. Since then, inspired by Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese have lifted over three hundred million people out of poverty.
Then, no man had ever been to the moon but since then, America has sent men to the moon.
Then, most British homes had no indoor toilets but now, virtually all of them do.
Then, Singapore was a backwater city port. Now it is an ultra-modern city-state that inspires awe around the world.
Then, the word “Toyota” was a term of derision. Now it represents excellence in the automobile industry.
Then, Brazil had won only one World Cup but now, they have won five.
You get the picture. If we have little to show, it is not because the time was too short—it is because we have fallen short.
The evidence of our underachievement or, if you will, our failure is littered all across our country and our history.
Our cities are dirty and smelly and our traffic lights often do not work.
Our roads are bad and our driving bears little resemblance to how people drive in more civilized places.
We still import most of our needs, including toothpicks and tomatoes.
Most of our citizens are unemployed or underemployed. Indeed, most of us, including our relevant Ministers have no idea how many of us—including graduates are unemployed.
Our healthcare system is bad and getting worse. Indeed, none of our leaders who can help it will be caught dead here. They are always leaving for healthcare abroad.
Most of our public institutions are riddled with corruption.
We are a major transit point for drugs moving from production points to consumption points.
Our public discourse is dominated by insults and spin. Indeed, today, children are more apt to repeat insults and threats from our politicians than brilliant and inspiring phrases. You know the popular examples.
Our leadership has dropped from Nkrumah’s “can-doism” manifested by his soaring rhetoric, vision and bold deeds before the world to President Mills’ talk of school uniforms and school-feeding before the United Nations.
In short, the nation whose founder used to brag about doing in “a decade what others had done in a century” has stalled. Despite our braggadocio, we know we have been whipped by time and circumstances. We know this is not the nation Danquah and Nkrumah dreamt of together.
In the years around the declaration of our Republican status, Ghanaians were heading home in droves—to be part of the exciting new nation. Today, the return is a trickle. To illustrate how much luster we have lost, think of the European Soccer Championship that just ended. Then think of Jerome Boateng, Danny Welbeck and Mario Ballotelli. All three are Ghanaians and they were playing—for Germany, England and Italy respectively. Imagine for a moment the current Black Stars facing any nation on earth with these three as well as Boateng’s brother in our line-up. Ha!! That other team would smell pepper. And yet that will never happen. We are not welcoming to most of our own. Indeed Kevin Prince Boateng, if he had it to do all over again, might never play for Ghana. Did you see how Ballotelli wept for Italy after their defeat by Spain? When was the last time you saw a Ghanaian sportsman weep like that after a defeat?
The other side of the coin is that last week or so, perhaps one of our greatest footballers and winingest coaches of all time was the beneficiary of a belated and inadequate charity match to help support him. He is Jones Attuquayefio. Our cavalier attitude towards our talent is not just limited to our soccer stars. All around the world, thousands of Ghanaian Doctors, Engineers, Professors and people with other talents toil in the service of other nations because they know they will not be appreciated here. And to make the picture complete, here at home, thousands more toil in unremitting sadness because they have realized that they are part of a system that lacks appreciation for sacrifice and compassion for those who have fallen on hard times. If you doubt this, think of how Prof. Frimpong Boateng was fired.
After our glorious start as a nation, how did we get here?
We did so by getting our priorities wrong. For those in doubt, here are a few examples.
We staged coups instead of building institutions.
We celebrated money regardless of how it was earned.
We promoted devious people ahead of dedicated people.
We put our individual interests ahead of our national interest.
Today, we have become the society we set out to build; a coarse, money-minded, valueless society where each one and at best his family are for themselves and God is for us all.
Indeed, even the bonds of family are fraying and the ambitious will betray family without hesitation to get ahead.
We happily pay judgment debts of tens of millions of dollars while we cannot afford to complete the Accra-Kumasi road or pay workers on time.
We pay ex-gratia amounts of 80 thousand Ghana cedis per Parliamentary term to MP’s while teachers on pension after thirty years of service get less than one hundred Ghana cedis a month.
We buy buses for hospitals so that staff can attend funerals and weddings while the same hospitals lack mobile X-rays and other basic equipment that would cost far less and save lives.
We brag about National Health Insurance while it disintegrates right before our eyes. For instance, in many hospitals, insured patients on admission are unable to take some of their scheduled medications because they are given food only twice a day.
While these institutional and collective failures are worrying, on the individual level, we manifest this same baffling misplacement of priorities.
Family members of the sick who knows you, will not approach you when a relative is admitted to your hospital but will approach you for help in releasing the body quickly for burial. The classic of such mis-placed priorities was when a family was informed that a relative on admission at a Psychiatric hospital had recovered and was ready to go home. The family did not show up for a couple of months. However, when informed that the same patient was dead, the family was there to collect the body in a matter of days!
We march in indignant protest when politicians are arrested but sit by idly while year after year, about half of our children fail BECE exams.
What then is the way forward?
First, we must honour honest labour—not mindless wealth.
Second, we must educate our children—not just in academics but in morals as well.
Third, our religious leaders must preach more about salvation than economic empowerment.
Fourth, we must align our politics to principles and our leadership to enduring values. There must be more ideas and fewer insults; more conciliation and less confrontation.
Fifth, we must love our country and celebrate its heroes. Indeed, while the citizens of a great republic must not die for individuals, they must be willing to die for the country and its defining values. We must be prepared to die to protect Ghana and our democracy.
Sixth, we must build an accountable society. We must hold ourselves and one another accountable for our work, our attitudes, our politics and our wealth. When young nurses and teachers starting work have to wait for a year to be paid while those who are supposed to pay them get paid, it is wrong.
When we do all these things, guided by our motto, Freedom and Justice, by the time the centenary of our republic comes around, our children and grandchildren can proudly celebrate a Ghana closer to the vision of our founders. It will be a clean, law-abiding, compassionate nation with a vibrant economy creating jobs at a brisk pace, a World Cup and a politics centered on enduring principles and values.
Let us build that nation—together.
Arthur Kobina Kennedy