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Opinions of Thursday, 4 June 2015

Columnist: Gyan-Apenteng, Kwasi

Let’s think about acid, shall we?

The very sound of the word “acid” captures its essence; it is sharp, hard and short. It means many different things. This is how the dictionary defines the word: “a chemical substance that neutralises alkalis, dissolves some metals, and turns litmus red; typically, a corrosive or sour-tasting liquid of this kind.
Here is another definition: “bitter or cutting remarks or tone of voice”; and another: “sharp-tasting or sour”. There are other meanings in chemistry, geology and the like but let us concentrate on the following synonyms of the word as an adjective: acidic, sour, tart, bitter, sharp, acrid, pungent, acerbic, vinegary, acetic. In this particular usage, the opposite of acidic is “sweet”.
Let us think of acid, shall we? Obviously there is a lot of acid in our nation, and not just at Bolgatanga. Not even only in our politics. But let us start from what we know. Here is a selection of headlines from last week Monday’s Daily Graphic front page: ALHAJI MAHAMA BURIED; NPP REGIONAL CHAIRMEN PLANNING COUP AGAINST LEADERSHIP?; ARABA TAGOE’S ATTACKER ARRESTED. That is just on the front page of the Daily Graphic.
Most of the news for the past two weeks has been about the murder of the Upper East Regional Chairman of the NPP, Alhaji Adams Mahama who has since been buried, and the fallout from the heinous crime. Most Ghanaians, as would any right-thinking people anywhere, were disgusted by what happened. Apart from the horrible idea of killing a person apparently over political disagreement or power struggle, the nature of Mr. Mahama’s killing was especially horrific. It was designed, at the very least, to cause him very painful distress and permanent harm. In the olden days, we may even have described this horror as un-Ghanaian, but that was before acid poured on us from everywhere.
The essentials of the attack on Alhaji Mahama are especially gruesome not only because of the horrible outcome but because it was so coldly calculated and originated in someone’s brain. Just think about it: that another human being considered that for whatever reason he or she would take the several steps that would lead to the late Chairman’s cruel death.
This death is a metaphor of what is happening in our country, and worse, a prophecy of what may yet befall us. How did we get here? Let us think about acid. I visited a distinguished Ghanaian in her seventies two weeks ago and she said something that cut as sharply as acid. “I have lived in this country for a long time and I know we have seen some rough times but it has never been as bad as this”. That was before the murder by acid in Bolgatanga. But the acidity in our national life is there for all who have eyes to see.
In the turbulence of our hotly contested political space, perhaps it is not surprising that there is not a lot of agreement on most issues, but for once, the whole country agreed that things had taken a particularly bad turn. But does this mean there will be a concerted effort to move in a better direction? The answer is hell no. The truth is that we may not even agree on which is the better direction.
So let us think about acid and get back to the basics. What happened at Bolgatanga has been described as “political murder”. It is not the first death to be so described, and unfortunately when things are described as “political” they are never properly resolved because that adjective allows people to take positions that are not consistent with morality or even commonsense.
Therefore, here are two thoughts. One, what we are witnessing in Ghana today has not just happened; it has been developing over a long period in tandem with our tolerance for bad behaviour. Secondly, what is wrong with our politics is merely the echo of what is wrong in our society. It has been a long time coming. I remember a particular incident as a kind of awakening for me.
Many years ago, I met a former student of mine on a flight going out of Ghana. She had been a bright student of whom greater academic achievements had been expected. I asked her which university she attended. She looked at me coldly for a moment and said she had passed up the opportunity for further study. She said she had decided to be a market trader doing “buying and selling”. Nothing wrong with that but her next statement got me fixed to my spot. It is all about money, she said. No it is not, I wanted to scream but before I could do so she had returned to her seat in the business class while I went to be squeezed in economy. Maybe it is all about money!
The idea of money as the prime motivation for everything we do in this country has been the bane of our public life for a long time. Now, material rewards mean everything and are the only measure of success or failure. The idea of doing something good for society, which animated so many people in the past, is gone and in its place we have acid and all its synonyms. Our society has become so tolerant of bad behaviour that we have stood ordinary morality on its head. Are we surprised to harvest acid rain? We have sown the wind and should not be surprised to reap the whirlwind.
The President has pledged justice for Alhaji Mahama and promised to bring the perpetrators to book. The police have vowed to conduct thorough investigations; the NPP has decided to do its own internal scrutiny while Nana Akuffo Addo is reported to have said the party will take care of the bereaved family. These are important police and political steps but they do not address the matter of the acid in our society.
To do that, we need to go beyond the singular event and look at the bigger picture. Alhaji Mahama’s death is horrific and sad but it is just as painful as the death of three year old Tiffany Ampoma who was knocked down by a convoy of DCEs and high government officials on their way to a funeral. Where is the promise of justice for Tiffany? Where is the justice for the many voiceless victims of indiscipline and reckless behaviour? Sadly, Alhaji Mahama is not alone; acid rain is falling everywhere.
The indiscipline that has engulfed this nation is both the product and producer of the acid running in the veins of our body politics. It is the ruination of our natural environment on the altar of money. Corruption is the acid that has corroded our nation’s ability to act for the most vulnerable; acid is putting more resources in the hands of those whose mouths are full. Where there is acid there can be no justice. Yes, acid is stealing from the poor to feed the rich. What is more acidic than young working people sleeping rough because they cannot find three years “advance rent”, in effect giving interest-free loans to house owners without any legal protection from the state?
Acid is all about money. The scrambling for positions of power and wealth is the undisguised oil well of acid in the system. It is not just politicians but preachers and prophets who are spreading the acid of fear on people seeking redemption. Acid is public servants stealing time and resources from the public purse. Acid is sexual exploitation of vulnerable people; acid is unmerited positions granted on partisan, ethnic or religious grounds; acid is tolerating injustice and keeping silent out of fear of losing position. Acid is the idea of money being everything.
Acid is us.