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Opinions of Sunday, 18 May 2008

Columnist: Adu-Gyamfi, Kwaku

Ordinary Things in Ghana Are Extraordinary Else where.

…..And That’s why We Sleep in Darkness.

WHAT A DIFFERENT WORLD! What is normal for us might seem absurd to others…?

Our environment determines our perceptions and distortions.

This much is known: Extraordinary issues in Ghana are less than ordinary elsewhere……..

One day over a cold Star beer I had a discussion about life in America with some friends in Ghana. Our discussion was on how American Basic School Curricula teaches kids as young as 10 on how to arm themselves against sex behaviors---- “sex education”.

I knew something was wrong when I brought up the topic. Everyone was acting very weird and uncomfortable. The trend of their remarks indicated that they were discouraged and disappointed about the topic. I felt like I had broken a taboo or ventured into a strange topic that should not be discussed in Ghana. By their actions I felt very humiliated and continued to ask myself what could have been my sin, for talking about issues that affect us as people.

In Ghana, we hardly talk about sex, death, responsibility, accountability, infertility and sexual impotence. They are off- limit subjects in normal conversations.

Why is that?

It’s simple. Sometimes, what seems extraordinary in Ghana will look ordinary elsewhere around the world and vice versa.

Things that will occupy the headlines in major news papers in the Western World will never make it in the last page of the Daily Graphic or The Ghanaian Times.

Who celebrates death more than Ghanaians? We seem to put so many premiums on its celebration but we don’t want to have anything to do with it by way of planning and discussion. How often do we talk about estate planning or updating a Will?

In United States as well as many European countries, when people renew their driver’s license, they also decide whether they want to donate their vital organs should they die out of accident. In other words, they want individuals to approve in advance—before they die--- what to do with their body parts. I’m not kidding, it is true!

You want to see a tribal and civil war? Try that in Ghana. Obviously, that kind of request will never, never happen in a million years in Ghana. It’s out of the ordinary. Human organs for spare parts? I beg your pardon!

But, ordinary things happen in America all the time. Case in point: On April 8th, 2008, the U.S Federal Aviation Administration Inspectors grounded 300 of America Airline’s jets from flying. The reason given was that the Aviation Authorities (FAA) thinks the aircrafts have failed to pass inspection test. What an achievement, I thought!

What are the chances of that happening in our part of the world? Your guess is as good as mine, folks!

Now, this explains why we do what we do and live the way we live. One’s environment has a very big impact on one’s perception and distortion and how much electricity or water is available for one’s consumption.

Interestingly, reading something like that from the news makes me wonder what happened in our part of the world.

Now get the load of this one: Supposed the National Road Safety Commission conducted an annual random inspection of vehicles on our roads; how many will pass the inspection and how many would be allowed on the road the next day, with no question asked? That was a tough one, huh?

I guess you are laughing! I know what you’re thinking about. That’s exactly the point I’m trying to make---an ordinary things in Ghana are extraordinary else- where; otherwise we won’t be experiencing the senseless, alarming car accidents on our roads.

In the states, to ensure that doctors prescribe best medication for patients instead of what’s best for the drug companies and to prevent doctors’ judgments from being influenced by drug companies and makers and sellers of medical devices, they’re restricted not to accept personal gifts, food and meal, free travel and any other form of “expression of gratitude” from these companies.. In Ghana this law will be considered as a joke because the “gifts” will be demanded and if the demand is not met nothing moves. In short, it will be too odd and ordinary in our part of the world to refuse any “gift”.

We live in a different world, indeed! Suppose you tell several of your friends with greatest sincerity, “Someday I’m going to come up with a school to train our chiefs and community leadership in Public administration and how to manage our towns and villages better” What will happen? They will probably think you’re joking. And, if they believe you mean it, chances are they will say, “you poor, guy”. But, behind your back they may even question whether you have all your marbles or whether your head is screwed on right. You see, hope and big dreams are in short supply in our part of the world.

You want more examples? Let’s take a trip to our slaughterhouses, restaurants’ kitchen, “pure –water” processing plants, way side “chop bars”, the bread bakers’ den and other food vendors’ parlors. How many of these establishments will pass the Health Inspector’s standard inspection or that of Food and Drug Board? By the way, does anyone care about the conditions in which these food items or water are processed or produced? What about the cooking utensils and serving bowls, how hygienic are they?

Is there any honest inspector around who won’t create a financial empire out of these establishments, if he was given the chance to inspect?

Does any one remember the days when “town -kass” (town- council’s) health inspectors inspected water containers, kitchen, cooking utensils and the back yard “atonko” toilet and gutters? It’s still fresh in my memory the day my mom made us dump a barrel full of water; just to pass sanitation inspection. What happened to our “civilization”? Oops! Pardon me; I forgot we live in a global village.

Why bother with sanitation issues when we have a national health Insurance to take care of all our health needs and much more?

Regrettably, we’re yet to read or see any news item on health and hygiene from the Ghanaian media; particularly on these establishments. How can we be assured of the safety of the food we consume at these places? Is there any correlation between our health problems and the kind of food or conditions under which our food items are prepared and sold in public? I wonder how much money and how many lives we can save.

Does the health ministry think about these issues at all? Or maybe they’re not part of the Primary health- care equation. ” what primary health- care”?

In Ghana we don’t talk about social responsibility and accountability. The two are too extraordinary subjects to discuss. We will rather talk about a funeral than how to prevent death. We want small stuff, which doesn’t require too much mental work.

Would you like to have something to keep you vexed for the rest of your day? Hear these:

Fact: Do you know that one can not use his/her National Health Insurance card outside one’s locality? For example, using Kwaebibrim district issued health Insurance ID card at Korle-Bu hospital is not permitted. So if you’re from Akwatia; in the kwaebibrim district and get sick at Tema you will have to go back to Akwatia in order to be able to use the card for medical treatment. What a brilliant idea! The architect of that idea should be nominated for the national Best Citizen award.

Fact: It’s one thing to have a health insurance card, it’s another thing to be able to use it when you need it the most .Why do we stop there? What about requiring all Ghanaian drivers who got their licenses from Koforidua only to drive in Koforidua?

Fact: The National Health insurance is not “portable”, and absolutely no one has the audacity to question that insidious restriction being placed on the card holders.

Fact: It seems there is no limit to how much the public’s money the politicians will steal, misuse, waste and abuse, if we don’t check on them.

Facts: The Ghanaian Presidency wants a personal jet plane so bad than anything else.

Fact: Presidential Jet is not a national priority.

Fact: Ghana doesn’t have a single Helicopter for medical emergencies and evacuation of accident victims on our accident –prone roads.

Fact: The purchase of the presidential plane will leave a very bad taste in the mouths of the voters especially those who can hardly make the two ends meet, not to mention owing a bicycle.

Fact: The politicians can’t meet the electorates in the eye and tell them why they need a presidential jet while they sleep in darkness even when the rains are still falling.

Fact: The politicians can’t tell the Ghanaians face to face the actual cost of the plane and why it’s must-have-item on the nation’s shopping list.

Fact: Ghana is not Kuwait or Saudi Arabia and the oil money is not pouring in yet.

Fact: Some politicians are already spending the oil money which we don’t have in the bank yet.

Fact: Our policy makers are very arrogant and narrow- minded.

Fact: No one has the courage to have town –meetings across the land and discuss this issue and other future spending with the electorate.

Fact: Some of our leaders believe themselves to be divinely selected therefore they don’t see the need to be accountable to the people who elected them.

Fact: There are inspectors from U.S Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), in China to check the safety of U.S bound food products. A similar program has been initiated in India to make certain that “safety is built into every product, along every step of the supply chain”. And, since Ghanaian consumers depend heavily on Chinese imports doesn’t it make moral and socio-economic sense to have our inspectors stationed in China? Oh, what am I thinking?

The only thing the Ghanaian inspectors will inspect is their bank accounts .They will create their own money making industry and forget the nation’s interest. Only in Ghana!

These are all “extraordinary” facts, in the eyes of the average Ghanaian, but somewhere in the other part of the world they won’t make the headlines. So Ghanaians have no choice, but walk around with surgically implanted smiles to camouflage their frustrations and distrust.

Historically, Ghanaians don’t trust their politicians and our politicians also do everything possible to live up to that expectation.

Ghanaians also hate their politicians –ouch! I wonder if the politicians know that. That is not an ordinary thing to say, is it? Well, it depends who has the power and one’s party affiliation.

By the way, how is the campaign without debates going? And, why is the Ghanaian media sleeping on the wheel of our infant democracy? Are the politicians getting off the hook by the media establishment?

Just fill me in if you can, when you wake up!

Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi NJ, USA

* The writer is a social commentator, the founder of Adu-Gyamfi Youth Empowerment, Educational and Apprenticeship, non-profit foundation to fulfill the promise to the citizens of Asuom.


Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.