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Opinions of Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Columnist: Solomon Mensah

Nkrumah Circle: A ‘Monkey’ Being Decorated!

After we had closed from lectures, a friend sat me and other friends down over some bottles of drinks.

Don’t hold your breath, I took a bottle of Malta Guinness! This was Sunday, February 27, 2016.

Our gathering was very successful. We discussed almost every trending issue concerning Ghana – from the Vodafone Ghana Music Awards disqualifying Shatta Wale from its 2016 edition to President Mahama’s 2016 State of the Nation Address.

There at the Ghana Institute of Journalism’s cafeteria were five passionate young men poised to see Ghana rise. We all had at least one concern about the nation that we wished changed for the better.

My concern had to do with the hawkers still taking over the Kwame Nkrumah Circle even when the construction of the interchange is ongoing.

True to my Nkrumah Circle worry, at 7:53 pm on the very day I complained to my friends, I watched a trailer when I got to Circle. The trailer, rather a horrifying tale starred a young thief who whisked a lady’s phone.

The victim, sitting at the front seat of a four-wheel drive, held her phone in her hands as a pupil does to an excellent terminal report in the air. She was presumably on WhatsApp.

I saw the young man approaching the said car. Within a split of a second, the thief had annex ‘his’ phone from the lady, turned, doubled his steps while the lady shouted “thief, thief!”

The thief waned into the thick crowd. Just like that. Although that was my first time witnessing a theft case at Nkrumah Circle, I have heard gory accounts told by many other victims.

Three years ago, a lady friend cried her heart out when she realized in a bus that her laptop had been stolen. While jostling for a bus at the Nkrumah Circle, after work, the cunning and unsuspecting thieves cut-open her bag on her blind side and took away the laptop.

If we were to call on the general public to render an account on their Nkrumah Circle experience, I am sure it will take the father of history, Herodotus, to document such accounts.

But thievery is not the only problem at Nkrumah Circle. What annoys the most is the hawkers taking over the streets as a market place. If you mean to walk through this part of Accra and you do not have the heart of a class one teacher, then be prepared to fight always.

“Yes, boss. Hello madam …” the phone-in-hand sellers would beckon. As if that is not enough, when you decide not to give them attention, they hold you by whichever part of your body they get hold to.

These hawkers are the very reason for which the Odawna Pedestrian Shopping Mall was built. Once a reporter with The Finder Newspaper, I did a story on the shopping mall where the head-trader of the place told me that the few traders who had occupied the Mall may go back to the streets.

His explanation was so simple and reasonable that bombarding him with questions, I thought, was unnecessary. “My son [the head-trader addressed me], we were on the streets but were convinced to occupy this place. The idea was that (we) all the traders will move to these shops so the market stays here. But, the authorities could not enforce the other traders to come here. They are on the streets selling and they are having all the sales.”

Indeed, why would I begrudge the head-trader when we only make cacophony of noises about policies and bylaws for two weeks and then go back to sleep? When after a hoax made Ghanaians wake up at dawn, stood on football fields with many saying their last prayer because an earthquake was about striking us, we made bylaws.

That bylaw said that Ghanaians must register their SIM cards to make it easy to arrest anyone who peddled falsehood using his or her phone. This law worked but only for two weeks. Now, SIM card vendors sell registered cards using either their own identification cards or that of unsuspecting innocent persons.

As it stands, one can easily buy a SIM card today, commit a heinous crime with it and cause the police to arrest an innocent man whose ID card a SIM vendor may have used to register the culprit’s new phone number.

However, since our elders say that a frog does not jump backwards, I thought our leaders have learnt their lessons well. But a year and some months into the Nkrumah Circle interchange makes me understand that the average black politician thinks about the next election and not the next generation.

In the first place, it is not a coincidence that the government of the day timed the construction of the interchange for its completion to meet Election 2016. This, however, is pardonable. But I find it sickening that the contractor of the interchange having to move the hawkers to one side then to another in order to get the interchange constructed.

Since 2014 that I acquired a passport, I have not yet travelled beyond the borders of Ghana. Frankly, I have never seen a plane on a tarmac except the ones that fly above my head. That notwithstanding, I can say without fear of contradiction that nowhere in Europe or America would people sell right under a constructed interchange.

A Zimbabwean proverb teaches that an ox hide must be folded to a shape one wants while it is still fresh. Was this not the right time to have kicked off the hawkers at Nkrumah Circle and forced them to stick to selling at the Odawna shopping mall and at other markets?

We could not sack them before the construction. Will we be able to do so after the interchange has been constructed considering the fact that Election 2016 is just few months away? Certainly, the fear of losing the hawkers’ votes will not make that ‘a prudent political decision.’

In his book “Dark Days In Ghana,” Dr. Kwame Nkrumah cited a letter a white man by Name Richard Wright wrote him.

“I say to you publicly and frankly: The burden of suffering that must be borne, impose it upon one generation! … Be merciful by being stern!” said Mr. Wright.

I look up to a president, who would impose the burden of suffering in kicking off these hawkers from our streets on one generation. A president who will not listen to the mantra ‘this is where we get our daily bread.’ A president who would sacrifice winning the next election to winning the good of the larger society. A president who will be merciful by being stern.

Until then, Nkrumah Circle may have all the good looks with its monumental facelift and upgrade but a decorated monkey will still be a monkey.

The writer is a journalist and a cultural activist.

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