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Opinions of Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Columnist: Antobam, Kobina

Admit It, Your Nice Home Is A Prison

By: Kobina Antobam

A clear indication that there is a steady decline of civility, orderliness, and respect for life and property in Ghana is evidenced in the decision made a couple of days ago by an Accra attorney, George Asumani, not to defend any more armed robbers after his own family members became victims of violent armed robbery. It is also evidenced in the recent incidents in Kumasi where armed gangs roamed the city streets brandishing AK47s and high caliber handguns, shooting in the air, threatening terrified residents, and conducting open naked holdups without immediate police response or intervention, without fear of arrest, and unafraid of citizen vigilante retaliation. And all that police could eventually do long after the tension In Kumasi had subsided was to proudly pat themselves on the back that they have been “successful” in driving the criminals underground. What a pity!

This also shows clearly that corrupt leadership, out-gunned ill-equipped law enforcement and ineffective judiciary have contributed to the rapidly growing disregard for common courtesy in many urban areas of the country. Widespread lawlessness is fast creeping into our social fabric. Yet, toothless laws sit useless on the books while lazy politicians engage in wasteful partisan bickering. In the meantime, hardened criminals are increasingly becoming emboldened and are taking control of the country.

At the professional level, civil service crooks are busy in their offices, at the ports, and checkpoints, exacting huge amounts of graft, bribes, boodle, tips, “gifts,” or anyway you want to call it, from desperate Ghanaians who are obligingly set up to be trapped in a maze of wieldy economically destructive red tape; and the only solution is to pay your way out of the entangled entrapment. At the sophisticated level, ministers and high level politicians regularly negotiate million-dollar governmental contracts at 10 to 50%, and sometimes 100%, higher than market prices and demand that the padded extras be deposited in their foreign accounts far away from the eyes and detection of ordinary Ghanaians.

Both the hungry crude street thief, armed or not, and the well-dressed well educated politician robbers and the bullying uniformed public servant pirates wake up each morning with the same opportunistic thieving agendas. In the meantime, we live “cheerfully” in our victimhood, in our victim-land, inside our self-imposed prisons, and with our armed street criminals and evil uncaring heartless ministers and civil servants who continue to prey on the vulnerable hardworking everyday Ghanaian.

And life goes on! And the thievery goes on! Halleluiah!

All I am trying to say is that the country that I grew up in is gone for good. Crime is everywhere. Incidences of narcotic drug abuse and trade, rapes, murder, domestic violence, and other criminal behaviors have become unsurprising mainstream news. Neighborhoods that I used to roam and frolic in care-free miles away from home without fear at all hours of the day have disappeared. Urban areas in major cities in Ghana are now overcrowded, filthy, aesthetically starved, crime-ridden, polluted, and very unsafe. Some blighted areas in all cities in Ghana are totally out of bounds and are too dangerous to enter. Strange foreign African faces are everywhere. Mean-looking unemployed young men are fearlessly ready to pounce on your personal belongings in a split second if you momentarily become distracted for any reason at all. Cellular phones, I-pads, laptops, and all personal belongings not bolted down are easy pickings for urban thieves. Even bolted down items are susceptible to overnight disappearance. So-called Ghanaian hospitality and God-fearing honesty is almost a fantasy and good neighborliness does not exist anymore. It’s now almost a dog-eat-dog world in most hardcore urban areas.

Yeah, my brothers and sisters, welcome to dirty chaotic democracy, so-called rule of law administered by incompetent legal practitioners, and the Western way of life! We asked for it and we’ve got it, together with its imperfections!

Ghana was once a peaceful quiet country and it was praiseworthy and almost prideful to extol its excellent qualities to outsiders, particularly the nonviolent nature of Ghanaians. I yearn for the good old quiet respectable neighborly days I spent growing up in Tarkwa New Town, Takoradi Esikafo-Amba-Ntem, and the serene middle class Accra Awudome Estates a few years back when those areas were really livable quiet residential areas.

Now, safe suburban residential neighborhoods do not even exist in Ghana anymore; and if there are, they are conspicuously blended with the disorganized chaotic crowded run down seedy areas of the city. Residential areas are now conjoined so tightly to the ever-bustling central trading and business districts and invaded by petty traders, street hawkers, hustlers, pickpockets, and faceless professional criminals that there is no real escape from the tempestuous tense commercial areas for peace, quiet, and personal safety expected of suburban neighborhoods. Just one good example is the sad demoralizing enclave of ramshackle wooden shacks in the belly of Accra called Sodom and Gomorrah that harbors hardened Ghanaians and criminal elements and surrounded by immaculate offices, showrooms, shops, factories, and even residential houses.

So, in order to feel secure in our homes in most urban areas in Ghana these days, we need to literally barricade ourselves and our families inside razor-sharp barb-wired seven-foot or higher concrete walls and go to sleep at night restlessly and always with one eye open. To snore your way blissfully to hog heaven each night, the houses inside the tall concrete walls have to have additional reinforcements in the form of impenetrable metal grills either outside or inside glass windows that, of course, encages residents in an effort to keep out unwanted dangerous burglaries. Doors by themselves are no longer adequate barriers to keep out intruders and trespassers who will not hesitate to snuff out your life for your possessions. So, in addition to the barbed-wires, it has become the norm now to install metal barriers behind doors of all front and side entrances into the house. Doors inside your single family homes without additional metal barriers are not enough to keep you and your family safe and secure, not even in your bedrooms and the sleeping quarters of your barricaded homes.

Because of the fact that all fortifications can eventually be breached, some single family home owners, who can afford it, acquire some mixture of further security reinforcement options of at least day and night guards (watchmen), registered guns, security cameras, wild watch dogs, video monitors, and elaborate electronic alarm systems in addition to the barbed-wires and the metal barriers. In spite of all that, Ghanaians who believe they have made it do not still feel entirely secure in or outside their homes.

But how long can we hold on to this shaky peace that Ghana enjoys now with an ever-widening gap between the very few who have acquired a lot and the huge hungry struggling masses who keep gawking and pleading and banging on our gates and peeking through our windows for a share of our belongings. How long can we keep them out? And can we perpetually keep them away and still be able to hold on to our possessions?

We should know by now that enforcing the law and cracking down on criminals and hardcore perpetrators alone have made no dent in criminal behavior. Other additional methods, such as an equitable wealth distribution, need serious consideration by the state. At the same time, we should be careful how we approach and implement socio-economic solutions, in addition to law enforcement, to curb the ever-expanding criminal behaviors in the country.

If history has it right, income and resource redistribution, through higher taxation and state social programs, or state initiated macro-economic policies, or by force, may transcend generations but is always an eventual certainty. Forced resource and wealth redistribution may often be short-lived and unproductive, say, through coups-d’état or mass revolutions, but it ultimately happens. Ghana has numerous coups-d’état to attest to the attempts to get rid of the arrogant power-drunk “me only” resource-grabbing selfish elites. But efforts to normalize economic disparities by militaristic methods like forced imposition of price controls and Robin Hood methods of wealth redistribution in order to alleviate poverty have always been ephemeral and have crumbled soon after their implementation.

As an alternative, the state may avoid mass uprisings or abate the current onslaught of violent robberies by implementing social programs for equitable income and wealth distribution. However, it is also understandably an unpalatable idea to swallow because of its socialist connotations and its resultant disincentive to individual risk taking.

Or the state may incentivize the expansion of a solid middle class by creating conditions for rapid job growth with an affordable living wage structure. A bloated middle class in an African country like Ghana may be considered to be unachievable now but it is the more palatable solution to the current powder keg we live in filled with a few who have a lot and the overwhelming rest who have little or nothing. In other words, sink or float, the few rich are stuck in the same rocky boat with the ever bulging number of poor Ghanaians! Until then, the home barricaded few who have prospered either honestly or through illicit means will continue to feel insecure and always concerned with the threat of break-ins or sudden spontaneous burst of mass revolt by the staggering number of the constantly peeping needy Toms.

Ghanaians be warned, the resource-starved needy citizens out there know that you have something in your fortified homes that they would like to have and they do not discriminate between political and government crooks on one side and those, like yours truly, who have prospered the old-fashioned way, that is, earned what we own honestly through hard work, sweat, with our own brawn, and by our own bootstraps. When they knock down your doors in the middle of the night and yank you out of your bed with guns blazing and brandishing scary well-sharpened cutlasses, looking for money and your valuable possessions, they never ask about your integrity or profession. From what we know about many of the violent incidents that continue to plague the country, armed robbers and home invaders do not discriminate in their choice of their victims, their national origin, nor their race. Every vulnerable resident is now a fair game.

Now, those who believe that Ghana is a problem-free paradise and that I have painted a fantastic non-existent picture of gloom and doom may just be the exceptions who have never been victims of pilferage, burglary, daylight highway robbery, or any armed robbery. They may be Ghanaians who live in a well-insulated world completely their own where they may have minimal or zero exposure to crime or little or no discomfiture in their interactions with the struggling citizens.

For everyone else who lives in the midst of the ever-growing social deterioration, it is incumbent upon us to encourage, or rather pressure, our government to develop incentives, through free enterprise mechanisms, to grow and empower a large middle class society. Until that happens, we are going to continue building our beautiful mansions and nice single-family homes and hide them behind heavily fortified tall walls in order to keep out our dispossessed brothers and sisters. And until the over pressurized powder keg is diffused and the pressure substantially released, we will continue go to sleep with one eye always open filled with fear and paranoia about whether we will be the next armed robbery victims in our self-constructed fortified residential penitentiaries.

Good day.