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Opinions of Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

The “Obroni Waa Wu” Underpants Conundrum

The “Obroni Waa Wu” Underpants Conundrum: We are not using our heads!!

I read with hilarity, the news item on the ban of used underwear by the Ghana Standard Board. Bravo some said!! Really? Indeed, it’s sad that in this day and age, our folks continue to wear used clothing. OB as we used to call it, is better than nothing, I must painfully admit. Here, I am not blaming those who have to use it because it is cheaper and make them belong. I am full tilt blaming the wicked system that create jobs overseas and denies our people the opportunity to develop. Walk and bear with me as we take this trudge.

The more debilitating part of the used clothes dilemma is the psychological aspect of it. Hidden in the message, is the implied notion that we are only good for second best. Though some pass on these clothes with good intentions, we cannot bottle the symbolism and psychological aspect of this bustling trade. In my day in Ghana, you better not be caught by a classmate at Tema Station checking out some used clothes (“foes”). Back then, there was humiliation and stigma to wearing used clothing. Now, it is a loved staple like no other. The fact that we ship nothing used to the west and elsewhere but readily take in used items is an admission that we have serious developmental work to do. At the same time as this swivet persist, our so called leaders wear Armani suits and continue to frolic in the lap of luxury. They patronize everything non-Ghanaian even as they preach culture, chieftaincy and tradition.

I am not too sure if I understand the reasoning behind the ban on underwear in particular. If we allow shirts, trousers, shorts and beddings, why are we banning underwear? If communicable diseases can be passed on through the used clothes business, why are we only worried about underpants? Skin diseases for example, can be passed on through any of the items outside the ban. So what really is the point? If this ban is to carry its weight in gold, it must be extended to all used clothing. We are either going to rigorously put in place stiff sanitizing program or stop picking and choosing what clothing we’ll allow. How is the underpant different from any other used clothing? This is absolutely ridiculous and certainly not based on any informed reasoning. Surely, the underpants could offend some sensibilities but so are the other pieces of clothing involved in the used clothes trade.

I think the logic is flawed. Any part of the body has the ability to transmit communicable disease and we should not dilute the truth or create any false impressions. What really is the thinking behind this move by the Standard Board? If we are going to use second hand clothing, then we must impose a stiff sanitizing regime for all clothes. I mean from head to toe!! If we believe used clothing pose a health risk, then we must ban the practice. This is one of those deals that require an all or nothing approach. Let us not fool the public with gimmicks and stunts under the guise of some half baked nationalism rooted in phoniness, instead of scientific facts.

Now and onto a more provocative proposal! Ghana has very high unemployment right? Why not just ban used clothing if it is a source concern? This way, we can create local jobs by making our own clothes at home? For once, we can make a statement to the world that we are serious about developing from within. Build a few clothing factories throughout the country, and start making pants, shirts, underwear, socks and all kinds of accessories. Start making clothes for the local Ghanaian market and then take it to the whole of Africa and the world. Ghana already has a local vibrant clothes making business. All we have to do now is kick up a notch higher. Create economies of large scale and reduce cost so we can effectively compete. We must start somewhere and build on it. It makes no sense to continue our clothing import binge vis-à-vis unemployment and a restive youth. This is one sure way to create jobs and make us self reliant.

If the poorest country in the world, Bangladesh, can make clothes and export to places like the US, why can’t Ghana do it? Why? Think about this carefully! We buy made in China, Vietnam, Korea, and Singapore shirts overseas right? Then, we pay high container and custom fees, to ship them to our loved ones in Ghana. Why can’t we just send the money to our folks in Ghana to buy made in Ghana clothes? Are we admitting that we can’t train designers in Ghana? What is wrong with us? Where is the leadership my gawd!! How can this be so hard to do? It looks as if no one wants to try making Ghana self-reliant. Why can’t we have a private-public partnership to get this started? Then wean it off to a fully fledged private initiative? We keep short changing ourselves with bad self hating policies.

Let all the politicians take a pledge that they will not buy Amani suits or any clothes for that matter, from overseas. This would probably represent the most remarkable statement of our desire to solve problems from within. Let Atta Mills and all presidents, past and future, vow to wear made in Ghana clothes all the time just as Mao did for China! Part of our development is contingent on self pride. Our leaders must show confidence in our people and find ways to showcase their talent. In places like Mexico, used clothes peddlers are arrested because of the effect of their trade on the local apparel industry. Where is our local apparel industry? What happened to AGOA? We need bold leadership in Ghana. Unfortunately, the people have been conned to believe half-truths and bad policies that work against their very interest. Somebody has to wake our people up! Enough!

Nii Lantey Okunka Bannerman (Akyere@aol.com)

(Also known as Da Double Edge Sword.)

I don’t give them hell, I just tell the truth and they think it is hell. – Harry Truman