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Opinions of Friday, 7 March 2008

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie/Daily Dispatch

THE OUTSIDER: We are not that bad, are we?

It’s hard to celebrate Independence Day in this country, isn’t it? What is there to do, really, apart from just staying home and watching crappy TV? I know the sequence of the documentary they usually show on how Kwame Nkrumah led our nation to independence and I think I’m craving for a change to the old gymnastics routines, which mark our nation’s birth. All those kids, jumping over each other doesn’t appeal to me any longer. It is boring. Countries like South Korea and Malaysia which won independence at the about the same time we did have better independence celebrations. I like to follow their exploits sometimes. To mark Malaysia@50, they put an aviation exhibition, displaying aircraft made in Malaysia.

I like to read and watch any news about Malaysia and Singapore. It’s usually an exercise to familiarise myself with the possibilities for advancement. Even if your grey matter has some shades of black and blue, you will know that these two countries are far ahead of us. And when on Independence Day I think about what could have, would have and should have been I get angry. I get angry with our leaders for taking us nowhere (literally). Usually anger turns into depression and when I can’t take it anymore, I just go to bed with a very heavy heart. In times like these I wish I knew how to get drunk.

This year, though, I decided to give myself a break from the misery. Yesterday, instead of reading about Malaysia and Singapore and how messed up we are, I decided to do something different. Well, I read. What I read had nothing to do with the South East Asians. It was mainly about other screwed up African countries like Somalia, Niger, Liberia, Mali and the Ivory Coast. It’s such a good feeling to know that there are others on the rungs below you. We don’t have high speed motorways like they do in Singapore but our roads are definitely better than Liberia’s or Mali’s. Our potholes are big but they are not that big. Go to Liberia and the potholes are like swimming pools. Fill them up with water and you can take a plunge anytime.

Korle Bu Teaching Hospital might not even qualify for a temporary village health post in South Korea but at least it’s better than all the hospitals in Niger. If you think Korle Bu is merely a transit point to the ‘other world’, think about the hospitals in Niger and Somalia. They are like execution camps. You could just as well come along with your coffin.

We also complain that our hospitals are understaffed. It’s true. But compared to places like Djibouti, we are better off. At least, when we fall sick we have hospitals without doctors to go to. In some parts of Africa, there are people who do not even know who a doctor (a real doctor is). The only one they can go to for a cure is the dirty village witch doctor who often looks as sickly as any. We are also not happy that our doctors are leaving our shores, seeking career fulfilment, better pay and higher educational qualifications. If only Sudan had doctors who will want to leave the country, the government would use the brain drain as a bargaining chip in its numerous standoffs with western countries and the United Nations.

Another major issue of concern to most Ghanaians is the state of our educational system. According to the Ghana Education Service, almost half of Ghanaian basic school pupils study under trees. We should be thankful that at least they are studying. There are millions of children in several African countries who will never set foot in a classroom. Others have been forced out of their classrooms, innocence snuffed out of them and given guns to play with. And by playing I mean using their mothers and fathers as well as other kith and kin for target practise.

Comrades, we are a nation at peace with itself. At least that’s how it seems on the surface. We are not hacking ourselves to death – except in the north, where for some strange reasons one tribe has no qualms about staging a pre-emptive strike on another to save a guinea fowl or two. But there is good news, even here. If the conflicts between the Kusasis and the Mamprusis, the Konkombas and Nanumbas and the Andanis and Abudus have not made it to CNN and Christian Amanpour has not been sent over to cover the hostilities, it’s a clear indication that the situation is not that bad. So generally speaking, we are living in peace and that’s something to cheer about as we celebrate Independence Day. The people of Somalia (especially those who not are too busy firing at each other) really envy us.

To cap it all, my friends, our democracy is growing. We are not ‘there’ yet and things are not like they are in Denmark or the US. But at least we know that every four years we are given a chance to kick some ‘political butt’. What we have is way better than what they have in the Gambia where they have a dim-witted president who also claims to be a herbalist and will deal ruthlessly with anyone ignorant or stupid enough to even misspell his name. To cut a long story short, I’m saying that we have it good in this country. Things look so good when we compare ourselves to retrogressive, war-ravaged countries like Djibouti, Niger, Somalia and Liberia. But are these the people we should be comparing ourselves to? Nope. So even though I feel very good comparing our country with Mali and I get depressed when I do a similar comparison with Singapore, I think I prefer the latter. In other words, I’d rather face reality and be depressed than delude myself and get a high.

It’s alright for us to think that we are better off than Liberia or Somalia. But we are not THAT better off. They are behind us but we are not that far ahead of them. In fact, we are often bunched together with them as a collective of underdeveloped African countries who are either retrogressing or just marking time... 1-2, 1-2....1-2...

This is not what our forebears had in mind when they fought for independence. Perhaps colonialism did us a lot of damage. Maybe our forebears didn’t lay good foundations for us (I think Kwame Nkrumah’s dictatorship actually didn’t do us much good). But now is not the time to curse our stars and blame others for our woes.

Now is the time to act and really take rewrite our destinies. We can do better do and we should do better. We need to move and fast. Mediocrity, past glories and prolonged celebrations of petty achievements will do us no good. I don’t remember Ghana achieving anything of great significance recently but these days we are told that our country has a very good international image. Fine. But people harp on that too much. Does that image put food on the tables of the millions who can’t afford three decent meals a day? Does that image translate into better health and education for our people? I don’t think so.

We also like to bask too much in the fact that we are a peaceful nation. Peace is very important, of course. But if we do not move fast to improve our lot, we will lose the one thing we are so proud of: peace. Just get on the streets of Accra and you’d see people kicking each other in the face just for a gallon of water. People have reportedly gone to war over a guinea fowl. As has been seen in places like Kenya and the Ivory Coast, peace can be a limited resource in a land of poverty and despair. That exactly is what our nation is.

But we can do better. If we tell ourselves that we are going to lift ourselves out of the situation we find ourselves in, we can. It’s all starts with leadership.

This being an election year, we have a chance to take an important step forward – electing a new leader and giving democracy new roots. Let’s choose wise, selfless committed leaders who are courageous enough to face the reality of our stagnation and bold enough to put Ghana and its people first. What we’ve had so far over the past five decades has not been nearly as good enough. If we’ve had better leaders we could have been closer to Singapore and much farther away from those African countries in the rungs below us.

So we are not that bad, are we? Oh yes we are!