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Opinions of Thursday, 5 December 2019

Columnist: Eric Bawah

The President’s dream and Rawlings’ proposal on 'sanitation brigade'

They say curative medicine is often bitter. That is why bitter medicine is used to cure inveterate diseases. When almost everyone is overwhelmed by a problem which seems insurmountable, it sometimes takes one person to come out with an idea that could save the situation. Haven ruled this country for close to two decades, the voice of Mr. Rawlings must be heard, particularly when it comes to issues that concern the entire nation. That is why the Akans say “Se woni panin a due” (Woe betides he who has no elder at home).

As at the time of independence, the population of Ghana was barely five million. We used to have the towns and city councils. Their duties were similar to what we see at the MMDAs. The difference was that because the population was small, the issue of sanitation was not a problem. In fact, we had sanitation officers (Saman Saman) and laborers who manned the refuse dumping sites on daily basis. In those days some of these laborers were sent to weed around towns

In the nostalgic days gone by, we did not know what we now call plastic bags. We were using paper bags for shopping. These paper bags were easily disposable because when you dump them at the dumping sites, the ‘tangas’ laborers only have to set fire on them. In those days, for fear of contracting any disease, we did not eat any carcass, when a goat, chicken or sheep died we carried them to the ‘bola’ and dumped them there. Oh those happy days! Times have change and today it looks as though goats and sheep etc do not die again.

When plastic bags started coming to the shores of Ghana, we closed our eyes, not knowing that in due time it will become a problem for us. So here we are, face to face with plastic garbage which has choked our gutters and creating nuisance even in the small towns. I remember as a child growing up in Accra, we used to go to the Odaw river banks to play. Sometimes we go with bread which we throw into the river so that fishes would pop up to eat them. That gave us a delight. Today, because of our recklessness, the Odaw River is virtually dead and no amount of bread thrown into the river will attract a single fish. When a population jumps from five million to a whopping thirty million in a matter of sixty two years you must expect the environment to face challenges. If we fail to tackle the sanitation problem today like what the Rwandans have done, generations yet unborn will refer to us as fools. They will say, “Our forefathers did not think beyond their noses hence the problems we are facing today.”

Ex-president Kufuor tried something which would have saved the situation but sadly our attitude killed the initiative. He appointed a minister to take charge of the beautification of the capital city but much as the minister tried, the bad behavior, irresponsibility and character of the dwellers of the capital town did not help matters. In the run-up to the 2008 general election, the NDC promised Ghanaians that when they came to power, they would use 100 days to rid the city of filth. Those were the days when Madam Ama Benyiwa visited market places to promise traders that it was unacceptable for women to sit near refuse dumps and sell and that when the NDC held the reins of power, they will make the situation a thing of the past. For eight years, the illusive solution was still illusive.

President Nana Akufo Addo has pledged that he is going to make Accra the cleanest city in the West Africa Sub-region. That to me is a bold statement but it will be realistic if all hands are brought on board. We should do away with politics because when an epidemic breaks out in Accra, the disease will not be able to distinguish an NPP supporter or NDC supporter. We will all be at risk. When cholera broke out in Accra, killing many people, the deaths included members of the NPP and NDC.

On countless occasions, Mr. Rawlings had cause to speak about the way we litter around “by heart’. Recently the old man has proposed the idea of establishing a “Sanitation Brigade” to tackle the sanitation problem in the country and I fully support him. Sadly, Ghanaians do not listen to Rawlings anytime he makes such pronouncements. People always wait to listen attentively to Rawlings when he goes ‘boom”. Our current president saw the need to make sure the sanitation problem is tackled so he established a ministry to take charge of sanitation but unfortunately it seems the situation has overwhelmed the ministry.

If we take the proposal of Rawlings seriously, half of the problem would be solved. The military should be brought on board in the formation of the proposed “Sanitation Brigade”. The fact that we are in a democratic dispensation does not mean we cannot use the military to tackle problems like sanitation. It is an undeniable fact that the typical Ghanaian fears soldiers who are particularly armed. Just send 10 armed soldiers to Agbobloshie and see how the fear of God will enter the minds of those who destroy the environment. In other jurisdictions, the military are used to solve problems like flooding and other disasters. Apart from going on peace keeping missions, I sincerely do not know what else the soldiers are doing at the various barracks.

That is why I wrote above that bitter medicine is often used to cure inveterate disease. If force is the language the people of the capital city understands, we must speak that language to them. After all, no one can say we have not used persuasive words to whip people into line but to no avail. We also have ex-service men who are still strong and kicking, these people can also join the battle. Our chiefs, elder statesmen, church leaders and Muslim clerics should add their voices to this impending ‘battle royal’.

The media has a role to play in this fight to make the city clean. That is why I always commend Joynews for being at the forefront of the fight against filth. If the dozens of FM stations operating in the capital city use only five minutes every day to harmer on the need to keep the city clean, there will be change. The typical Ghanaian has a hard heart like that of Pharaoh Ramsey. We need a Moses to tame him. Anyone who will not join the fight to make the city clean should remember that there is a special place in hell for him or her.