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Opinions of Monday, 17 February 2020

Columnist: Isaac Ato Mensah

A short history of Gaso

Gaso is tomato gravy with spices; it was not soup, but so much water was added and some other ingredients that gave it the appearance/look of gas oil, hence Gaso.

At the Presbyterian Boys Secondary School, Legon, Accra, Gaso was often served on boiled rice or with Ga kenkey.

Choco Milo; these were chunks of corned beef about the size of a small match box which did not feature everyday in the Gaso, had a queer taste and boys often wondered whether it had expired.

And when we complained, the message often got to the headmaster, Mr. Andrews Asare Akuoko, who would take the opportunity at assembly to explain.

“Thanks to PAMSCAD…,” he would begin.

Now PAMSCAD was an acronym for Program of Action to Mitigate the Social Cost of Adjustment.

It was an IMF/World Bank mitigation programme to assist countries undergoing the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) which was introduced about 1983 whereby state-run corporations were sold to private businesses.

Since the SAP led to jobs losses, food aid was given to schools just in case a parent who had been retrenched from his/her job had a child in some secondary school.

This PAMSCAD food aid was served to all of us because as the headmaster kept explaining, “Your school fees cannot run the boarding house. And we have to go and buy corn on credit”.

Then he would pause, his concerned eyes scanning the so called “New Dining Hall” which we used as assembly hall, with his trademark silver hair perched at his temples, his mouth slightly open as if to continue, but Akuoko did not like to talk much.

A real gentleman steeled in Prussian/Presbyterian discipline; the old guard – the real deal.

He was always in well fitted shirt and trousers, with a flying tie and his jacket on hand. When he put the jacket on, then the formality had reached a crescendo.

“You’re lucky,” he would finally say. “Some schools don’t even get the PAMSCAD. We have to go and beg every time. You have no idea the places we have to go to.”

Pause. Silence.

And then he would leave the lectern, go back to his chair, pick up his items, and as he walked away from the silent assembly hall, the teachers followed him quietly in single file; brisk pace each with chest out, chin up.

We waited quietly till they had all left.

Those who had the means would head to Mangoase and buy food quietly at the appropriate time.

Gaso was not unique to Presec, virtually every government assisted secondary school had it, some call it gas.

Last December, at Abetifi Presby Senior High School (APSEC), some students told us: “We will have rice with gas for lunch. Those with the means often go Black Market aka B-Mart”.

Gaso and independence appear to be on the same trajectory.

Sixty-three years after independence, we have sold over 300 state-owned enterprises; and now we want to build one factory in each of the 216 and counting districts whilst the Kumasi Shoe Factory is operating at a tenth of its 800K shoes a year installed capacity.

Twenty-five years after the O- and A-Level system has ended, we go back to our secondary schools and see Gaso is not gone from the menu.

Meanwhile, the Presec old students are financing a project to give Mangoase, the eaterie under the mango tree, a facelift.

Now under our current touted free senior high school project, Gaso and PAMSCAD have not only been practically reintroduced, they have been formalised and every school has a thriving Mangoase.

Gaso for lunch anyone?

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