Feature Article of Saturday, 5 August 2006
Columnist: Hayford, Kwesi Atta-Krufi
Day 1- I have arrived. Home sweet home. I have just passed through immigration. The immigration officer in the small enclosure reminds m of the airport scene in the film “Dogs of War”. He carefully examines my landing card. He probably thinks my address in Ghana is fake. Of course it was because there are no verifiable addresses in Ghana. He gives me a broad smile and says “welcome home”. I have collected my luggage on to a brand new trolley, better looking than the one I used a Heathrow. The custom officer smiles at me “where is your passport?” he demands through the smile. “Eh, I put it to you”, he jokes with my profession. “What have you got in your bags“. “Personal effects” is my reply. “So you have nothing to declare”. This is a revelation. It has taken me less than 30minutes to go through the airport, two-thirds of which was spent waiting for my luggage to emerge from the conveyor belt. No bribes, no delays, no opening of luggage and rummaging through it, and all service with a smile.
Day 2 - Cedi House Accra- A young girl selling biros approaches me. “Papa, I want you to buy some of my pens, 3 for 10,000 because I like you” I smile at her persistent [this smile is becoming infectious] and buy the pens. “How old are you?” I inquired. “15”, she replied. “And why are you not in school?” Papa m’awie JSS” this reminded me of my old mantra THIS JSS SYSTEM IS FAILING OUR CHILDREN. A cripple selling Kiwi polish looks at my shoes with a smile. “These shoes are clean so you need Kiwi to maintain it” I am buying everything thrust at me because it is sold with a smile. A truly mixed day.
Day 3- I am in a taxi from Transport yard towards Kwame Nkrumah Circle. Boys and girls as usual selling wares from extension cables to gym equipment. Significantly there is a strong sense of camaraderie among them, calling each other names, smiling at potential customers. Who says customer care is not in Ghana. It speaks the language of smiles. I have just driven past an “evangelist” with a microphone but no amplifier. I did not hear him but if I am a good lip reader it was about “repent, for the Kingdom of God is a hand”. we have arrived at Circle and I ask the driver how much I should pay. “Oh, master, anytin you go fit give me”. the phone call I received in the taxi had given me away as JJC. I give him 40,000, he thanks me and he drives away with a smile.
Day 4 - At home listening to “Kokrokoo” on Peace FM. News items - President Kufour escapes fire in Liberia; police officers caught in cocaine bribery; VRA experts introduce electricity to parts of Liberia for the first time since their independence over a century ago; President Kufour about to leave Ghana for USA to sign for the release of $574m MCA fund [good news]. A caller calls in to ask the presenter to tell the President to visit Ghana too [all smiles and laughter in the studio, after all we do have a sense of humour]. 8am- I am listening to a new song which criticizes football pundits saying “if you think you are good, there is the football pitch, play and let us see”
Day 5- Today I intend to sample public viewpoints. Where can I do this? Perhaps on board tso-lorry or tro-tro. Oh yes, I remember I will join the metro mass buses. What a wonderful initiative by President Kufour‘s government. Lord Denning once said to ascertain a true objective viewpoint look towards the views of the person on the Clapham Omnibus. Today is looking promising. 8am: still stuck in traffic on Teshie-Nungua road. “What can we do to improve on this traffic in Teshie?” I broke into conversation with one of the passengers. “Oh [smile] it is the people of Teshie who are making politics, they have collected the money from the government but they do not want the roads expanded because they say the lorry will kill their children. But this is politics. The best thing to do is to make this side one-way towards Accra and create another road one way from Teshie barracks”. I intentionally stayed quiet to let this person carry on advising on the best way to ease the traffic in one of the worst spots in Accra. This is a fantastic idea but I do not know if the Ministry of Roads has plans for it. The man on the Teshie-Accra metro bus has the most progressive idea but how can he move his idea forward. 11am- Doing my usual rounds in Accra- I am still thinking of the views of the person on the Teshie-Accra tro-tro. I am sure this is only the tip of the ice-berg. All over the country the so called ordinary people have ideas that can solve the nation’s perennial problems like the traffic at Teshie. I have to find means to speak to the Minister of Roads and Transport about this. No smiles today, but I am sure there are smiles elsewhere…
Day 6- News headlines- Petrol price increases, the people are not smiling. The Parliament is rising today and rumours indicate that they may do something about it. The Police are knee deep in cocaine scandal. I am in taxi and ACP Kofi Boakye is being interviewed because his name has been mentioned. It seems the accuser is a disgruntled policeman, but who do you believe. It is 8am and I am still looking for my first smile. Another news item breaks- the tro-tro drivers are not happy with the metro bus drivers. Why, because the buses are cheaper because they have not increased their fares and bigger, therefore they are picking all their passengers. The buses are not good business for the tro-tro drivers. The first smile has come from me. Kudos to the government. At last the people of Ghana have a choice in public transportation and the tro-tros [and of course taxis] are being forced by market demands to reduce fairs. This concern of the tro-tro drivers will not win any public sympathies, I am sure, but this is a democratic society so you never know.
11am, I am in Parliament House, trying to locate the Minister of Roads and Transport [Remember yesterday on the bus from Teshie?]. It is very busy here. I learn it is the last day before they go on vacation. I have managed to talk my way through security to the lobby. I have come by a “news scoop”. Parliament is locked in serious debate to reduce the petrol prices. The arguments against is hinged on the dangers of U-turn. The argument for is hinged on the positive tag of a “listening government”. I was right there is price reduction but I was wrong because it is not the substantive price that has been reduced but the tax on it. 6pm. The news has hit the headlines- The ad-valorem tax [popularly known as the NDC tax on petrol] has been abolished. This means the revenue coming to the government from this price increase is slashed. Petrol prices are therefore down by 2000 cedis and diesel, by 1500 cedis. There are smiles in Ghana again. Kudos to the government. Tomorrow I will find out how effective this will be. Will lorry fares actually come down? We live to see. At least we have gone to bed with SMILES AGAIN.
Day 7- “It’s coming home, it’s coming home, MCA’s coming home” At long last the President flies out to USA to bring the money home. Smiles greet our day. One caller says this is the most important of the President’s travels. Another caller thinks this is another loan but he is quickly corrected “This is free money- a bonus for having a good government” I like that simple explanation. I will sign off day 7 with these infectious smiles from Ghana.