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Opinions of Thursday, 4 January 2007

Columnist: Amankwa, Kwame

Amanfuo – The Ghanaian with an attitude

They say attitude is a small thing but can make a big difference. This difference can be positive or negative and many a time can also have far reaching consequences. Ghanaians over the years have been known to be respectful, accommodating and well mannered. You need to see this rich attitude on display when you visit the foreign embassies in Accra.

“Eh Mr. So so and so or madam Ka ka and Ka, did you say that you will spend 40 years in London before you return to your village?

“No sir madam sir, honestly speaking I will only spend 40 days. God knows my heart madam and I can even swear on my great great grandmother’s chamber pot that that is the whole truth. Look I use to sell plantain and cassava, kenkey, wakye at Tiekuta central market. Who will manage my store whilst I am away?”

The show of innocence, humility, gentle talk, respect for persons (and that may not be fake) is often enough to make others give us what we want. That is why we are the most peaceful nation in Africa.

Two years ago I went to visit a friend on admission in a hospital. Then something struck me. I saw a whiteman reading a book titled “Rawlings – my pain and suffering” written by one Agyei. I asked this man what connections he had with the motherland and his reply was that he was a security operative in the 1970’s and 1980’s in Ghana, advising and selling ammunitions to the Ghanaian governments. That anytime the plane landed at Kotoka, a special motorcade will come for him. He was treated like a king he said and could speak directly to the head of state man –to – man. That when he was departing they will bring diamonds, gold etc to fill his brief case. He showed me his diamond teeth and gold rings as proof. He concluded that Ghanaians were respectful, humble and had a good attitude, obviously because his belly was always full.

I will normally categorize attitudes along the following lines; developed attitudes (those exhibited in the developed countries) and developing attitudes. There may also be the Ghanaian attitudes and non-Ghanaian attitudes (as in that displayed by the Syrians, Lebanese etc towards their Ghanaian employees when they engage their services in their shops – the constant screaming, beating, bullying etc).

There may also be others which are my own creation - social attitudes (I am or not my neighbour’s keeper), political attitudes (you are either with us or against us), economic attitudes (you have it or not – the wahala circle) and psychological attitudes (I want my food on the table at 6 o’clock everyday or else, give me something for something, you will never become rich because your uncle has sold you to the gutters – please continue to live in fear). The totality of these attitudes in my view broadly defines an individual and the way they behave or are likely to behave in society.

When I was growing up there was a strong pervasion of the Ghanaian type of attitude throughout the land. Yes the British say “thank you” after every human interaction. The Akans will normally say “medase”, “mepau kyew” and the other tribes have their version too. All this led to the creation of harmonious relationships in our society, but they seem to be disappearing.

The trouble for some people is that as soon we board a plane to abrokyire and successfully go through immigration formalities, everything in us dramatically changes. For some of us this abrokyire experience unleashes all sorts of devilish and notorious forces that were hitherto hidden in us back in Ghana. In particular our attitude to the whole planet.

For some the attitude is different when we don’t have it and another when we have it. Some have become so challenging to the point of destruction.

In Ghana there is hardly anything like consumer complaints procedures. They turn off your electricity and damage your appliances at any time but you cannot complaint. You go to hospital to have your bottom stitched up and then you end up with your leg cut off, yet you cannot complain. You go to the chemist to buy paracetamol for your headaches and get sold fake ones from Nigeria made up of konkonte yet you have no recourse to a refund or redress. You get fired from your job unfairly but you have no where to turn. You get the powerful politician stealing your wife or girlfriend but have no say in that.

Look at our public services. Electricity, water, health, criminal and justice, housing, energy, local government, transport etc and the substandard services that are mostly on offer. Consumers often pay dearly for these but cannot or do not complain when they get a bad deal.

It is the same overseas. You can get a very bad deal from both private and public bodies but you normally have recourse to justice and some kind of fair play. It is well documented that many consumers from ethnic backgrounds do not complain when they encounter poor services. The irony is that most ethnic customers, Ghanaians included, are more likely to complain against a black or an ethnic staff member of these bodies delivering bad service than a white person.

Amanfuo, I have heard about complaints from society that all the professionals are leaving the motherland for greener pastures. Yes that may be bad but it has also had an unintended effect. These days in the UK, USA, and Bahrain or elsewhere on the planet you are likely to be cared for by a Ghanaian health care professional. Your children are likely to be taught by a Ghanaian. Your bank manager or advisor is likely to be Ghanaian, your Pastor is most likely to be Ghanaian and I consider all these a blessing in disguise. Isn’t it nice and cool to be met by a familiar name or voice that you can associate with in a foreign land? One positive outcome was a Ghanaian who was admitted to hospital. The doctors (all oyibo) struggled to manage his condition. In the end they met “secretly” and decided to try a new “potentially toxic” drug which had never been used on this patient. A Ghanaian nurse who overhead the conversation quickly alerted this guy. He immediately sneaked out of the ward before this “poison” could be injected into him. Black and other ethnic minority patients face racism and discrimination in medical care abroad, so it makes sense to have an “insider” inside.

Mind you a couple of years ago I went to one of the leading banks to borrow money to complete the road in my village in Ghana - Kimkim. I was allocated to a Ghanaian advisor who was so nice, except that I later found out this person had sold me or put my loan on the most expensive rate of interest with a very high commission to him. Oyibo would probably have been a bit honest. Thank goodness I have since complained to the bank and they have refunded the interest and commission to me.

And so it was that recently a Ghanaian healthcare professional friend of mine who lives and works in a developed country (name cannot be disclosed for legal reasons) was reported to management by a Ghanaian patient who was admitted to their medical ward, because he had told this person and other 5 male patients within the same ward area to discontinue the loud conversation (Konkonsa (gossiping) they were having on the ward (in twi) in the dead of night when most of the patients (very ill) were asleep. Actually on day one when he realized they were Ghanaians, he sought to familiarize himself with them by greeting them in the local dialect. But that polite request to “turn down” their voices turned nasty when this individual said to my friend the worker “I will teach you a lesson. You are not even a properly qualified health worker. Some illiterate who trained in a village in Ghana coming to tell me what to do. I will make sure your professional registration is taken away from you”. The insults continued for three more days as four of them continued to also “gossip” about the 5th person who was also Ghanaian, but from another part of the country. They thought this person could not understand twi, not knowing the person was “fifty-fifty”. By the 3rd day this “outsider” had had enough and so confronted the lot and you can imagine the scene in the ward dear reader. Bad attitude I call it. This one individual has since gone ahead to put in a big unfounded complaint against this friend who is now facing disciplinary charges. I am convinced he will be exonerated but it is just the stress of it all.

One day I went into a shop to buy groceries. There was a Ghanaian girl at the till who appeared to be acting in a “disinterested” manner whilst the queue was building up. The manager, who is from somewhere in Southern Africa, was busy in another part of the store. He called out to this girl to “speed up”. This akiti burger squeezed her face and remarked insultingly in her local Ghanaian language which fortunately only I could understand “look at him too. Do you think I am a machine? I will not “chele” that nonsense”. I quickly corrected her that the manager was not wrong to ask her to hurry up a bit and there was no need for her comment. I have visited the store a few times recently and have not seen her. Presumably she has been fired because of her attitude.

We need to rethink our attitudes because it is letting us down in so many ways. Rude counter sale assistants, rude travelers, rude type of dressing, rude in everything. For some of us, taflatse, we definitely need a change of heart. Fortunately the majority do possess good attitudes which often serve as a moderating factor.

May God bless Ghana, the most peaceful place on earth.



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