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Opinions of Friday, 31 October 2014

Columnist: Baafi, Alex Bossman

Is Protest the Answer to Our Economic Challenges?

By Alex Bossman Baafi
As I write there is nationwide strike of 12 Labour Unions due to disagreement between them and the government over tier two pensions. Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT) who is part of the 12 unions had also declared strike within the strike for overdue unpaid allowances. The Alliance for Accountable Governance (AFAG) has also filed notice and penciled down November 6, 2014 to gather their members and Ghanaians to demonstrate against government on corrupt practices in the country. Various forms of protests against this very government had been unprecedented in our country’s history.
During our Republic Day, for example, a non-partisan group calling itself Concerned Ghanaians for Responsible Governance (CGRG) marched to send a petition to the President, John Mahama on what they said has been Worsening Economic Conditions in the country. Perhaps to get more attention, the organizers timed it to coincide with the celebration of our country’s 54th Republic Day, July 1, 1960 the fateful day the country totally weaned itself from British colonial governance. Prior to this, there had been several of such demonstrations already. The ‘Ya Ye Den’ (what have we done) Demonstration that happened in Kumasi in Ashanti Region some few months back was one of those.
Indications are that there are more to come so long as our economic situation continues to deteriorate with no hope in sight. Also cross sections of Ghanaian people mistrust the government due to unfulfilled promises and wanton dissipation of our country’s resources.
The truth of the matter is that, the high utility tariffs, high taxes, high cost of credit, high cost of materials, high cost of doing business, high cost of living and the declining fortunes of our national currency in our country today have contributed to the severe economic hardships of our people. The majority of our people are weeping because it has become notoriously difficult for them to make a living under Mahama Administration.
We live in a miserable country with power crises because of persistent power outages. That is killing businesses and compounding the mass unemployment situation. There is regular shortage of fuel in major cities and towns across the country. In the midst of no money, no water, no jobs, no petrol is the widespread corruption that led to no World Cup Success. Indeed, everywhere one looks, one can perceive corruption in this government. What is more worrying is the government lackadaisical attitude towards taking draconian measures to curb corruption. Nothing hopeful had come from those implicated in the GYEEDA, SUBA, SADA and other scandals reported in this country
We live in a miserable country where filth had taken better part of our cities with its concomitant diseases such as cholera and malaria killing scores of people. All our institutions and social infrastructure are at the verge of collapsing for lack of adequate financial support. There are widespread-armed robbery cases involving our unskilled youth in addition to what others describe as contract killing in our society of late that calls for immediate attention of the authorities. . Out of these hopelessness and frustrations, many have resorted to demonstrations and strikes to bring home their legitimate concerns to the government. As said, the ‘Occupy Flagstaff House’ protest, the “Ya Ye Den”, in Kumasi, the Ghana Union Traders association, GUTA, closure of shops recently were among others, ample testimonies that our country is facing serious economic crisis.
The question is, is protest the answer to all these economic cum political crisis? Are there other alternatives to our political and economic failures that can cushion the untold hardships on our people?
Proponents of protests argue that it is a powerful tool to get grievances paid attention to by the authorities which I agree to some extent. Throughout history, demonstrations or protests have provided relief for the poor in many societies.
To buttress this point, cast your mind back to the 26-year old street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi of Tunisia. He protested against economic hardships and inhuman treatment by dousing himself with a flammable liquid and set himself ablaze. He died of his burns less than three weeks later. Many believed that Mohammed Bouazizi’s desperate protest resonated with people in Tunisia and beyond. This December 17, 2010 incident triggered an uprising that toppled the country’s regime and protest that soon spread to Arab countries including Egypt and Libya.
During the Great depression, in 1930’s in Chicago, Illinois in U.S.A., protests enabled the city officials to suspend evictions whilst at the same time the officials arranged for some of the rioters to secure jobs. Similar protests in New York restored about 77,000 evicted families to their homes.
In 1955/1956, serious protest resulted to boycott of city buses in Montgomery, Alabama, in U.S.A. That stopped the injustice by overturning the laws of segregated seating in buses. Again in December 2011, in China tens of thousands of people protested against the construction of a coal-fired power plant near Hong-Kong because of concerns about pollution and the project was cancelled.
Coming back home, a mere treat of protest by Unionised Labour of TUC led to the suspension of increases in utility tariffs sometime past and the quite recent controversial Value Added Tax (VAT) on certain financial services in our country.
I must however hasten to caution that, protestors do not always get what they want. In many places, leaders may decide to crack down rather than give in to demands as was seen recently in other parts of the Arab world where Protests had been faced squarely with iron fists and thousands have died as a result. Nevertheless, I am convinced beyond reasonable doubt that in peaceful societies such as ours where people do not have guns and do not want to harm others, protests should be employed as a legitimate force to fight against oppression, injustice and corruption. Moreover, my appeal to our citizens is that, in addition to peaceful demonstrations, they should also get a large heart to stomach “nonsense” and resort to peaceful democratic means to remove visionless authorities from office through the ballot box.