Feature Article of Friday, 25 January 2013

Columnist: Twumasi-Fofie, Kwame

From Indiscipline, Lawlessness Into Uncivility

By: Kwame Twumasi-Fofie

I was surprised how long it took me trying to convince a friend that it’s not entirely correct to say that Ghanaians are lawless at birth. I also tried without much success to convince him that the widely held belief in Ghana that by nature, the Whiteman is more law-abiding than the Blackman is not entirely correct. My point in this argument has always been that if indeed the ‘Whiteman’ was so law-abiding by nature and could be relied on to do the right thing for what use would they need law enforcement agencies in their country?

Having lived a greater part of my adult life in one of the most orderly countries in the world, Switzerland, I believe I know what I’m talking about. What I learnt through my almost three decades of stay in that country is that if there’s one institution or person Swiss people would want to avoid having confrontation with at any given time it is the Police whose presence, meanwhile, is visible everywhere and all the time. Paradoxically they feel so secure in their normal life thanks to the same Police they would want to avoid. This is because they can always count on the police to ensure that order prevails. In short, we in Ghana appear to be a lawless bunch of people not because we were created as such but rather because institutions established to maintain law and order cannot always be relied upon. And this is evidenced in the fact that Ghanaians living outside their country are known to be among the best behaved people wherever they live.

Nurturing Indiscipline Into Lawlessness

There’s an Akan saying that a human being is like a roasted plantain; if you don’t take the pains to turn it when it is in the fire it will get burnt. With time we’ve all got burnt almost to ashes because we haven’t got anyone to ensure we don’t. Again, as happens in many human endeavours once you do something over and over again, with no one discouraging you from doing it, it becomes part of your character and eventually part of your culture. So we have graduated from indiscipline into lawlessness not by default but by practice. Most of our road accidents are caused not by carelessness but rather as a result of lawlessness. For example, knowingly driving through red light has nothing to do with carelessness but everything to do with lawlessness.

Now let’s take a look at the most recent attempt by the Accra Mayor to rid the city of street hawkers and unauthorised traders. How many times haven’t we heard this before, and how many times have they succeeded? I do wish them well but I can bet with my last Cedi that the end result isn’t going to be any different from what we have always seen over the years. Or if there should be any miracle at all this time around we can only expect it to last till the approach of the next election year and we shall be back to square one. After all didn’t we recently hear the National Organiser of the NDC publicly rebuke this same Mayor for making the government unpopular with his earlier attempt to bring sanity to the same areas? I even remember a remark he made about the Mayor’s trademark beard which I thought was unexpected of a ‘comrade’. And indeed after that the exercise stopped. Go to the main Central Business District of Kumasi and you’ll see the efforts drivers have to make so as not to drive over wares and limbs.

Law and order have to be enforced and maintained. So why are our institutions set up for the purpose not doing their job? We live in a country where it is not unusual to see a uniformed policeman riding a motor-bike with a rifle over his shoulder, a passenger behind and both of them not wearing crash helmets. In fact the sight of a family of four on motor-bikes is very common and apparently quite ‘acceptable’ in some parts of the country. So who cares about crash helmet? We live in a country where in spite of all the beautiful site plans we have in Town & Country Planning offices people continue to build anywhere including even encroaching on parts of airport land. All over the country, day in and day out, we see structures in unauthorised areas with a ‘graffiti’ instruction: “STOP WORK, PRODUCE PERMIT – BY ORDER”. But what do we see later? They are the same buildings people are living in now. We nurture illegalities and lawlessness only to turn round later and pretend we want to stop them. I recall that during the Acheampong era, a site in Abeka was demarcated to be developed into a new Sports Stadium for Accra. What happened to that?

From Lawlessness Into Incivility

Whether it’s because we are so short-sighted we can’t see beyond our noses or we rather prefer to underestimate it there’s a possible threat of serious proportions ahead of us if nothing is done about it immediately. Unfortunately, from indiscipline and lawlessness we are now gradually moving into a state of incivility. Of course it’s only in a lawless society that people can openly destroy public property without fear of being punished. But how do you describe a bunch of people who take it upon themselves to destroy sections of national highways as a means, by their own logic, of slowing down traffic? Anybody who has travelled on the Kumasi-Sunyani-Dormaa Ahenkro road in recent times cannot fail to notice the agony drivers have to encounter to drive through some of the villages along the way as a result of the crude, unauthorised structures erected by unscrupulous persons and which cause damage to the under part of most saloon cars. But personally, it was seeing these townspeople enjoying themselves at the sight of drivers struggling to drive over the embankments they have created across national roads in their towns that left me with no better word to describe them than ‘uncivilised’. I hope such people never ever find themselves in a situation where they have to be rushed to hospital.

That townspeople, with or without the support of their chief or Assembly member, will have the courage to lay wooden slabs across a national HIGHWAY and fill it with sand and gravels thick enough to plant yams cannot be seen anywhere but in a very uncivilised society. The Kumasi-Sunyani road is part of the highway linking Ghana to the northern part of Cote d’Ivoire on one side as well as Burkina Faso and further north to Mali on another. Thanks to these unscrupulous people travelling from Kumasi to Dormaa-Ahenkro nowadays takes almost the same time it took to travel from Accra to Kumasi some time ago. Perhaps because our parliamentarians, MCEs and DCEs use high-standing chauffeur-driven four-wheel drives those in Brong-Ahafo and parts of Ashanti Region don’t experience the difficulties other private road users driving normal saloon cars encounter on these roads. Or perhaps they don’t even travel by road but by air so they don’t see.

Unacceptable Excuses

The usual excuse people give when they take the law in their own hands to make roads virtually impossible to use is that speeding cars knock down people. Of course it’s sad for anyone to lose a loved one through any road accident and I sympathise with anyone who has suffered this fate. But just as the remedy to ensure that trains don’t crush people does not lie in erecting unauthorised barriers on railway lines it cannot be right to erect mounds on highways. That is a way of creating another danger for road users in the first place. Secondly road accidents resulting in pedestrian deaths do occur all over the world. And the irony is that in Ghana with all the obvious dangers of having highways pass through populated areas it is a fact that people do all they can to lobby authorities to let highways pass through their towns and villages. Even where by-passes are created outside the town centre for their own safety they themselves run to embrace the danger by going to trade at roadsides.

They Will Pretend to Act Only When It is Too Late

As I’ve stated above, human beings all over the world will do whatever pleases them unless they are taught to understand why they shouldn’t do it. And it is because people cannot always be persuaded to do what is right that institutions are established to enforce laws. Unfortunately in Ghana, decisions are made with politics in mind, and our politicians care more about what they believe will win them votes than what will benefit the society as a whole. The result is the state of lawlessness we see all over the place. In the case of people taking the law into their own hands and erecting unauthorised structures across roads however, I can see some danger hanging over it which apparently our authorities either do not see or prefer to ignore for reasons best known to themselves. Supposing someone – some ‘concerned citizen’ – takes it upon himself to mobilise people to remove all or any of these unauthorised structures what do you think will happen? Civil unrest, wouldn’t it? But when that happens, I can bet that our currently sleeping law enforcing agencies will suddenly wake up and come out with a statement part of which will read: “We are not going to sit unconcerned for people to take the law into their own hands”. Amen!

Kwame Twumasi-Fofie

Sunyani, Ghana