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Opinions of Monday, 17 July 2006

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

The Cost Of Trust In Ghana's Dev't: Who Are The Monsters?

A reverend I know in Ghana mentioned that 65% of Ghanaians are Christians. A whopping 65% of Ghanaians are Christians? What type of Christians are they? Practicing or pretending Christians? I don’t know the source of the reverend’s number but let us assume it is correct or close to the truth. I have heard similar numbers by other folks as well. That leaves us with 35% of the population. Of the remaining 35%, we can impute a level of Moslems, traditional religion worshippers and other persuasions. So, let us assume that half of the 35% account for other religions. One can, I mean with a level of comfort, say that, 80% of Ghanaians succumb to some form of religion. Fair enough? No? Here is my unbridled curiousity, do all these religions teach the concept of trust or honesty? In other words, are there any religions on earth that do not teach trust or honesty? If indeed they do, I hope they all do, how have we translated this values into our daily lives and business dealings? I trust that even Atheist have a sense of fairness and proportion. Trust is a delicate, complex and sensitive issue so let us thread gently.

If the above hypothesis holds true, and religion teaches all the virtues that we need to be successful in life, why is trust so short in supply? Why is cleanliness so short in supply? Why is cheating so rife in Ghana? Why is indiscipline so rampant? From the castle right down to the family unit, trust is sorely lacking. We can’t believe our leaders, friends, family and of course our own selves. Why is it so? Why do we take the issue of trust so lightly? Is trust a subjective issue? If soldiers should come knocking on your door in search of a friend you know they are going to kill, will you lie that he or she is not in there? If you do, can the soldiers trust you? Of course your friend will trust you forever huh? So where do our loyalties? Will you lie to protect family or tribe against the interest of the nation? Who really cares about Aban (government)? We are not here to carry Aban shoulder high but rather, drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the tub. Is the latter not typical Ghanaian mentality? Yet, we want government to truthfully answer our questions and do all the right things? Guess who make up government? Is the dog wagging the tail or the tail wagging the dog? Do you see yourself in there? Think about this, will a saint with the best intentions ever be elected president of Ghana? Will politics ever be for the straight and narrow? They claim to believe in God but their actions stinks!

The inverse correlation between the erection of churches and the upswing of oomph around moral decadence and bald face robbery is mind blasting if not bending. The mosques are filled with Moslems all the time but how is that helping to change anything? How is that changing the illegal currency trade at cow lane? Will the lesson of the Koran ever bring out the fat bottles of whiskey that hide helplessly under the dark beds of our much revered Alhajis? Read the Koran and then act contrary to its dictates huh? For those of you who go to shrines like Antoa Nyamaa, is truthfulness not a value of such contraptions? Is it not true that if you lie to Tigare you will die? So what kind of lie did you tell before you handed your own kid, relative or friend to the lying fetish crook for more money (sika duro)?

Not too long ago, I tongue-in-cheek asked friends (economic professors) of mine to quantify, cost wise, the lack of trust to the nation of Ghana’s development effort. They’ve not produced the formula yet but there is no doubt in their minds and indeed it is obvious, that, the lack of trust is impacting our national development adversely. If you can’t trust your government, will you buy bonds from them? If you can’t trust the police to enforce the laws, will you obey them? If you can’t trust your government, will you volunteer to work for or with it? How is the lack of trust in our government affecting our attitude within and outside the country? If you think trust in not a big deal, look at the ROPAB or ROPAA debate. Here is an idea that is good. However, a lack of trust has turned it into another wedge issue. Are trust and apathy cousins? Most conflict starts with a lack of trust. Often, the dialogue to establish trust is not even contemplated, let alone actualized. The lack of trust is hurting us big time and the earlier we realize its debilitating effect, the better off we are. A lot of the endemic problems that we wrestle with stems from a lack of trust.

The issue of trust brings a sore point in the relationship between diasporans and our stay at home siblings. Have you ever tried to run a business from outside Ghana? Can you share your experience with us? If I had time on my hands, I will set up a website just to document experiences of Ghanaians trying to do business in their own country. I know for a fact that people have lost all sorts of monies and other valuables in attempts to establish businesses in Ghana. Perhaps, they bought into the hype or invested in the wrong sector. No matter what reasons we adduce, there is always a pinch of deception, ineptitude, mismanagement and bald face rip off involved. When such happens, trust is menacingly eroded, sometimes, never to be replaced. How is this kind of situation influencing or impacting our ability to do business that will lift our country up? Are we at a point where you have to live in Ghana to do business there? Are we not concerned that some have written off Ghana because trust is lacking?

Some of us are not rich. However, we’ve worked hard to build some credit where we live. Credit, as we have painfully learnt, is built on a system of trust. Trust that the creditor will get his or her money back. As it stands, we dare not tap into our credit to start a business in Ghana. The fear is that your investment might vaporize like a puff of powder is enough to shackle your dreams. I remember talking to my sister a few days ago about starting a taxi business. Her first words were this, “no not taxi”. She maintains it is a waste of time! Now, if you want to help create jobs by starting a taxi business, what can you do? If and when you complain about situations in Ghana, some are quick to tell you to help and stop squawking. So why can’t we help from where we live? Must we live physically in Ghana to help? If all Ghanaians in the diaspora can create just one job, will it not help? Will it not have a multiplier effect? Yet, is a lack of trust not in the way? How many investors in the US economy live in America? The Saudis have almost all their nest eggs in the US or the West right? Just think about this, without trust, will the US economy function? How do we change this eerie climate of distrust in Ghana? Where do we start and end? Why would a bank in Ghana not want your house as collateral for a loan? At least a house is not the first charm of most bankers in Ghana when it comes to loans. Why is it so?

Now, to Ghanaians in the diaspora! Folks, trust among Ghanaians in the diaspora is just as bad, if not worse, than what we see in Ghana. Of course we came from Ghana so one can rationalize why some of us live crookedly. The lack of trust is preventing us from coming together to fight the causes that we believe in. Trust my friends, comes way before competence. Have we really tried to assay how much trust is costing us in our effort to make a difference in Ghana? Can we be trusted by our brothers and sisters at home? Have we stood by our words in the past? How many times have we made fat promises to those at home and not delivered? Do you know why our brothers and sisters at home dismiss us with a wave of hand? Have we not cheated each other enough in the diaspora? How many of us have started organizations and run off with the monies of others? How many of us have found creative ways to rob our brothers and sisters in the diaspora? Why are some of us notorious for taking advantage of our own people? Yet we are quick to talk about racism and capitalism and all the isms that we can regurgitate? Try getting Ghanaians together to raise funds for a just cause in Ghana and the response is abysmal.

Is trust something that can be taught? Does one come into this world with trust already wired into his or her system? If trust can be taught, what are the parents teaching their kids these days? What were the parents themselves taught? What are the Madrasas and churches teaching our kids? How can we regain trust amongst ourselves? What will it take? Perhaps, the fastest way to getting to the issue of trust is self-examination. If we can all ask ourselves about our stand and practices on trust, we just might begin to peel the onion. As we go on about this self examination, let us keep in mind the knowing and doing gap. It is not so much what we espouse, but what we actually do, that define us. Examining yourself based on what you cherish will not do the trick. Examine yourself on what you practically do and think, especially, when no one is watching. It is there and than that you’ll begin to see your real character. No one knows you better than yourself. So, be honest with yourself.

Unless we all mend our ways and become trustworthy, our burden of national development will be a lot more difficult than it should. No one said it will be easy! Even begging for handouts or attracting investors has become much more difficult because we can’t be trusted to do the right thing. We bitch about loans with strings attached but are these strings not partly because of distrust? Look what humiliation we took before the $547 million MCA dash was released. My friends, if you’ve given anyone reason to distrust you, now is the time to start making amends. Trust must be earned the hard way. It must never be conferred on a silver platter. I don’t have all the answers but I believe strongly that if we build trust, a lot of the ills that we face will melt away. Folks, I am not asking for or seeking perfection here. No one can be perfect but we definitely need to up the ante. Ills like tribalism, corruption, deception, that weigh heavily on our development efforts will take a back seat if we can build a level of trust. Let us first make a vow to turn a new leaf. All it takes is a few good men and women and we can turn this thing around. We need the trust of our own people to makes the changes that we need. I hope these religious institutions will not just preach trust but find ways to help their followers lead trustworthy lives. I am off to go pray!

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