Endemic unlimited stealing became the norm in Ghana | Opinions 2018-08-09
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Opinions of Thursday, 9 August 2018

Columnist: Nico van Staalduinen

Endemic unlimited stealing became the norm in Ghana

Are we, my wife and I, the only Ghanaians who are getting tired of everything getting stolen?

Last week a burglar broke into an apartment I am renting out, luckily nothing much was stolen, because the caretaker woke up and the thief managed to jump the wall with “only” a laptop this time.

About 10 years ago when we lived in Accra, we saw someone walking off with the bicycle of our 12 year old son, he told us he found it, but we knew it was in our garden and he must have jumped the wall. Several weeks after that our generator, behind the same wall was stolen.

A few months ago, my sister-in law, woke up in her house, to find out that her kitchen window stood open and found out that her handbag was stolen with her daily sales of the previous day of almost 2,000 Cedis whilst she was asleep.

My brother-in law, living in the same house, lost his shirts which were hanging on the dry lines in the garden around the same time.

Some time ago our houseboy resigned and after we paid him his last salary I dropped him at the tro-tro station. The next day I needed to take my motorbike for repair and I was searching for my spare chain and guess what, my GHS 200 chain was gone, later on his brother who recommended him told us his brother had sold it already.

A few days later I needed a clamp to glue some pieces of wood together and I discovered that all my clamps were missing from my garage and the same day I discovered that a few angle valve I had in my garage also had “walked” out without my help.

I can continue with small and bigger events for days but let me just give you some more examples what disappeared from our house, workplace and other locations:

Onions, tomatoes rice, cutlery and a pair of shoes from our house.

Cement, trowels, square and levels from our construction place.

Eggs, cheese, bread, jam, towels, pillow sheets disappeared from our guesthouse.

During the renovation of our guesthouse a flat screen TV which was already in use and hanging on the wall in one of the rooms on the first floor disappeared.

What is normal to many workers, but to us still stealing is: eating fruits and vegetables from our garden without asking.

A friend of mine had a house girl who he fully trusted because she was very good to his 2 kids and after almost one year she asked a month off to go back to her parents in the northern part of Ghana. But several days before leaving she started to behave “suspiciously” and my friend asked me for advice.

I told him: “let your wife search her belongings before you let her go”.

He, a white guy didn’t want to do that because she had always been good, she was honest and it would make him look very bad and he would feel guilty if she didn’t steal anything.

To cut a long story short, his wife searched the girl on the day she was supposed to leave and they found: 250 Euro, almost 200 USD (600 GHS), in her panties and brazier and when they searched her suitcase (the one they bought for her to travel) it was full of toys belonging to their children as well as clothes and underwear of his wife.

Needless to say that the girl didn’t need to come back, but their experiences with house girls after that were not much better.

Some other friends went to the beach for a swim to discover upon their return, his wallet has disappeared from his beach bag, after accepting their loss, they decided not to let it spoil their day at the beach only to find out when leaving that his shoes had also disappeared.

Another brother in law, also a Ghanaian living close to me in Aburi had changed his houseboys several times but all of them managed to steal at least a TV every time he went back to the UK. In March he left again, he had installed new barbered wire all around the house changed locks and decided not to tell anyone that he was leaving.

Last week he came back to find out that this time not only his TV but also all his clothes, shoes and all furniture had disappeared when he entered his completely emptied house.

It reminded me of the first time thieves entered my house when my wife went to pickup our daughter from school. She returned an hour later to the house and clothes, shoes, under wear, laptop, Ipad, aftershave, perfumes, her watch and many other things were missing including 2 suitcases the thieves used to transport their loot in.

Twelve years ago a Dutch couple we hired to run our hotel resigned after 10 months and the reason given was: “we are sorry but we can’t stand the way everything gets stolen here”.

During their 10 months in our employment the following items (I still have the list) 12 bed sheets, 15 pillow cases, 31 large bath towels, 49 small bath towels, 80 knives, 64 forks, 69 spoons, 23 small plates, 17 large plates,19 mugs and a micro-wave got stolen, most of it during the first 3 months when they were still “naïve” about our staff. I am sure this was only what they were able to trace and in reality there must have been much more.

After the Dutch couple left I traced who signed off for the microwave that went for repairs. Together with the police we raided her house (our deputy head of security) and found that almost everything in her chamber and hall came from the hotel.

Petty theft has become so much and an everyday thing in many people’s life that you can’t even talk about petty, because it has become a massive problem.

I know some people will say yes but that’s only your personal experience, but I know for a fact that this has become everybody’s daily problem, if not the stealing alone also how to constantly improve securing our goods and our self.

Thieves are all over the world, and anybody stating that there are no thieves and nothing gets stolen is his country, I can confidently call a liar.

But I found out that in many countries even thieves have what they call a “thief’s honor”. They don’t steal from friends and family, they don’t steal from churches and what I also noted is that in most other countries thieves celebrate their weekend, holidays and any other time they are relaxing and enjoying life without stealing (with or without their looted goods and money). It looks like in Ghana thieves are 24/7 on high alert grabbing any chance to steal.

My wife’s handbag once got stolen inside the State Banquet Hall at an invite only event where several Ministers and ex-President Rawlings attended the award night.

Most of the blame of our limitless stealing can go to all adults being teachers, Priests uncles, aunties and parents who are simply not doing enough to turn the tide against stealing.

Somebody mailed me a letter written by a death row inmate awaiting execution to be sent to his mother. The letter went as follows:

“Mother, if there was more justice in this world we would both be executed and not just me. You’re as guilty as I am for the life I led.

Remind yourself when I stole and brought home the bicycle of a boy like me?

You helped me to hide the bicycle for my father did not see it.

Do you remember the time I stole money from the neighbor’s wallet? You went with me to the mall to spend it.

Do you remember when I argued with my father and he’s gone? He just wanted to correct me because I stole the final result of the competition and for that I had been expelled.

Mom, I was just a child, shortly after I became a troubled teenager and now I’m a pretty malformed man.

Mom, I was just a child in need of correction, and not an approval. But I forgive you!

I just want this letter to reach the greatest number of parents in the world, so they can know that what makes all people, good or bad …is education.

Thank you mother for giving me life and also helping me to lose it. Your child offender”.

The last but most worrying fact that burglary is growing into armed robbery, where very violent (mostly youth) is using machetes, locally produced guns and other weapons.

Tragically even my wife’s construction workers, my own guesthouse staff who I am 99% sure they also steal complain about being stolen from.

So this definitely is not a high class, perceived rich people’s problem only.

High-class, middle-class and working class (as it’s called in the UK) rich and poor everybody in Ghana are victims of this unlimited stealing going on and we need to do something about it urgently.