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Feature Article of Thursday, 15 March 2012

Columnist: Tanko, Atibodu Mohammed

Turning Disabilities To Currency.

You see them on the streets everyday hawking their disabilities. The acid-bath victim with folds of taut flesh hanging over his head like a cobra’s hood, the amputee ambling on broken crutches, blind men ‘’starring’’ at you with empty eye-sockets, the ‘’damp and dump’’, the deformed wielding gnarled limbs at you like a headmaster’s rod; all daring you not to show some pity. At the traffic light near the Accra Central Police Station, a lady is constantly wheeled through traffic, begging for alms. She has been in that state for years, and today, she looks better fed and clothed than most of those who ‘’dash’’ her money. Yet, she begs still! Not to mention the itinerant professionals and their under aged guides, as well as ‘’refugees’’ from other neighbouring countries such as Mali, Chad or wherever who throng the Kwame Nkrumah Circle and firmly grasp the hand of any by-passer and cunningly beg for money (the sight of able-bodied men of this group sitting in shades having tea whilst the children and pubescent girls hustle barefoot in the burning sun, draping bony arms around strangers in exchange for alms is as nauseating as any).

A growing army of hard-working wretches throng our cities, turning misery into currency. Whether Cape Coast, Kumasi, Takoradi, Accra, Tamale, or wherever, it’s all the same – they are everywhere. The sheer size of the beggars’ congregation makes one wonder if some of these disabilities are not self-inflicted – wares of a perverse trade. Why are there so many beggars in our cities? Not just the beggars, why are there so many destitute? Under bridges, on pedestrian flyovers, in refuse dumps, at street corner…….old men, young women, children, drug addicts, human scavengers, area boys, the insane, the wretched……….and it quite looks as if the headquarters of all these groups is found in Tamale, as they’ve virtually taken permanent positions stretching from the frontal of the taxi rank, adjacent the Zenith bank to the traffic lights opposite the Filla Fm building. They impede the free flow of traffic and cause unnecessary congestion on this stretch of the pavement. It looks as if they ‘’paid’’ for that strategic portion of the road, and the authorities seem helpless in solving this menace – an illegitimate approval from city authorities. A few weeks ago, they threatened a citywide demonstration when some city pressure mounted a little on them! That pressure has since fizzled into thin air.

Then there are the neatly dressed young men and, yes, ladies. You can hardly stop at a bus stop without being approached by one. Either he/she is a traveler surprised that the uncle he/she came all the way from Sefwi to visit has moved from his apartment without leaving a forwarding address, or she/he lost a wallet to ‘’pickpocketers’’ and need some coins to get to another cousins residence. Sometimes, they even fake stories about how a doctor at Korle-Bu has billed them for the treatment of an ailment. Good stories, except that if you are observant, you would find them another day, at another bus stop, telling another story to yet another sucker. A young man stalls the pavement between the Ghana Commercial Bank building and the traffic light just before the Odawna gutter at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle and tells about how a cruel uncle at Gomoa Potsin tries to traffic him to Yeji for onward delivery to his new masters but has managed to escape and now solicit for financial assistance to enable him continue with his education at a school in Accra. At, the same location every day,he tells the same story to the different ears that lend themselves. Occasionally, these people even find their way to Churches and Mosques, seeking funds to complete a journey or a course in school. A sorry way to make a living.

There seem to be no organization that considers their situation worthy of attention. Don’t we, as a state, need to put structures in place that prevent or discourage the greedy from begging for a living? What if we consider imposing taxes on determined daily gains of beggars? Is there no initiative that aims to rehabilitate (not merely feed) these people? Would it be out of place or a waste of time to educate them, to teach them (as Islam and Christianity teaches us) that begging has no virtue but merely leads to permanent misery? What future do we see for the army of beggars’ guides – children without education, without training, and without joy? They will share the future with our own children! You hear of this coalition against child-trafficking, that aggregation against prostitution, those associations for the protection of witchcrafts and witchery, etc. but none for the beggar. All the NGOs and even the entire state, are busily begging for funds themselves and as such, they see this canker as a ‘’normal’’ system of life.

Maybe the neglect of these so-called dregs of city life is deliberate. Maybe we need to have them around. It does feel good to purify foul income (as we erroneously believe) by handing a note or two to some miserable beggar. It feels good to give to beggars as a way of giving thanks to God that we are not like them! It must be necessary to have them around; after all, who’ll accept the sacrifices (otherwise called alms) given after long prayer sessions to either ward off evil or bring multiple goods. Imagine what will happen if the beggars clear off the streets.

‘The Beggars Strike’ by Aminata Sow Fall gave a fictional account of such a situation. Wanting to impress a visiting dignitary with the sanitary condition of his city, a government official cleared the beggars off the streets. He soon discovers that his job is threatened and his spiritual advisor mandated him to give alms to beggars to facilitate the acceptance of his prayer. The beggars saw through the desperation and refused to accept the alms from him (and other desperate do-gooders) until they were restored to the streets – on their own terms.

After all, how different is this institution of begging from that where self-styled Reverend Ministers of God mount the biggest and yet, noisiest loudspeakers, wield the most powerful microphones, dress in the most fashionable suits and take centre stage in market places, interchanges, lorry parks, bus terminals, etc. and usually preach around the popular biblical quotations of “Blessed is the Hand that Giveth” and “Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters”. They keep a big box in one corner whereas the preacher man urges pedestrians and other listeners to drop in whatever they have and the Lord would double it for the cheerful donor. At the Kumasi Kejetia, one of such groups has taken permanent stage along the pedestrian walkway and cause huge volumes of noise pollution as well as slow traffic flow. This is beggary, done in modern style in God’s name, and it shall continue forever and ever, Amen. Is this probably why the Clergy is soft and quiet on beggars?

If only beggars in Ghana would strike for better conditions of beggary! That strike though, should be for them to regain their human dignity and quit the streets!

BY: atibodu mohammed tanko

USAID/Abt Associates inc., 32A Gumani New Road, P. O. Box TL2277 Tamale. Telephone: 0241 583 773/0208 388 212 Email: aatibodu@yahoo.com

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