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Opinions of Sunday, 18 February 2007

Columnist: Adu-Gyamfi, Kwaku

The Two Nations: The super-rich and abject poor

The Two Nations,( the super-rich and abject poor) separate and unequal ……. Misplaced priorities and our Achilles’ heel?

Ghana is a divided society, with a major social disparities. Pretending it is one country is a disservice to the poverty- ridden majority, which has more than its share of malnutrition and debilitating diseases .

Every country’s socio-economic stability depends on the growth and strength of its middle- class. So where is Ghana going, when its middle-class is shrinking at an alarming rate? The growth of the middle-class is bulwark under-development, ignorance and low aspirations. However, Ghana is a two- class nation. There are the super-rich and the super-poor. So there is a need to check this socio-economic unbalance .

Then again, what am I saying, when in a land where the mobile phone is gradually overtaking the Bible as a must- has personal possession among Christians? And, where one’s social value and status reflect not so much on what one can do to uplift one’s community or country, but whether one’s phone is envy of friends and colleagues and elicits oohs and aahs, with gotta-have-it-too reactions. Forget that a device like a cell phone, is primarily eye-catching, and will no doubt be obsolete a few months after it has been bought.

Who am I kidding, when in a country where a gallon of akpeteshie, a local gin, costs more than a gallon of petrol, and, where the middle-class has become an endangered species…. With the emergence of the super rich who are driving around in fancy expensive cars on pothole – strewn roads? I know that sounds a little harsh, but I mean no disrespect.

What am I thinking, when in a country where people are thought how to spend money, but not how to raise it and, a place where the old-fashioned ideals of thrift and delayed gratification is a bankrupt one? Instead, the way people envision growing rich in Ghana is through a ‘windfall’—the lottery, duping someone, entering into fake alliances or temporal relationships with the sole aim of personal benefit... It’s the new ’ Ghanaian dream’. In the age of quick-fix , instant gratification, nobody has time to wait for anything.

Where is my head,.... when in the land where children’s welfare is not a major part of the national agenda because they can’t vote and can’t demonstrate, and why should I dream of the possibility to put at least, a low-level medical personnel in every school district to take care of the students’ minor medical needs? Then again, why should one even expect the decline of the middle-class as a national security and stability issue, which requires an undivided attention of every Ghanaian in the castles, mansions and cottages ? .

What am I saying, when we live in a country with mixed up and misplaced priorities? Only God knows why wind and solar energies are not the major parts of our quest for cheap and renewable energy equation. Am I just a dreamer, who dreams of impossibilities for a nation full of potential and possibilities? As a concerned citizen, I’m always tempted to daydream about all the things Ghana could do, but I’m beginning to question myself and the status of my faculty. I don’t blame you for thinking that I’m smoking some crack. Sometimes, I I think so too ,especially when I dream of all the things the nation should do to claim its place on this planet.

Duh!, with the present political well filled with the water of hatred and witch hunt from both side of the aisle, I think I’m a target of pranks and ridicules ,to think of the plight of the middle –class. However, I’m not trying to be cynical or picky. But, can’t anybody do something about that?

Yes, I know I must be dreaming to even expect any help from our MPs, to fight this social battle, In the land when the minority MPs from NDC are embarking on an “indefinite boycott of the Parliament, in solidarity with their incarcerated colleague, Dan Abodakpi who was jailed 10yrs, for causing financial loss to the state.” Yeah, What a patriotic move !. “What?”. Never mind!

In a land where history is stored in our short memory archives, I don’t hold out too much hope that my suggestions and warnings will have any hearing, let alone impact in the corridors of the power and the minds and the energies of the policy makers. Nevertheless, I will continue to write down my vision, just to get it off my chest and clear my conscience, because if the middle- class is completely wiped out, Ghana’s security will rival Lebanon or Gaza and that make today’s armed robbers appear like saints . .

Speaking of protecting the middle-class(if any), I read it somewhere on the net, that Nigeria has entered into a software development agreement with India ,as part of its efforts to produce “critical mass” of IT professionals, for the country. The report goes on to mention that the country is making arrangements to send its high school and college graduates to undertake software development training for specific periods in India; in the areas of software development, web design, engineering design, software development in agriculture, banking, money transfer and meeting of top –level programs. My question is: what is holding us from pursuing a similar pact with India, so as to position the country to prosper from the Outsourcing of technical work for companies in the developed world? Not only that, the direct benefit of such endeavors is securing the future existence and development of the Ghanaian middle-class, which is fast becoming an endangered species.

To protect and promote the middle-class and ensure its growth and longevity the government (yes, I said the ‘government’) should set-up Credit Union banks to meet the financial needs of the public servants like: teachers, Police and Prison officers and nurses. Since we’re on the subject let’s add farmers to the list. With such banks in place, these individuals could by- pass the normal banking system, which is making huge profits out of the poor workers, by granting them with credit facilities with huge interest rates— that is even if they qualify at all.

In addition , these Credit Union banks could grant loans to teachers and other Public employees at minimum interest rate levels ,which would allow them to safely negotiate other financial activities, and plan for their children’s education. At the same time, it could also enhance their well-being and economic status. With such a system, respect will be brought to their professions and provide a collective boost to their images. Folks, respected professions go hand in hand with the attraction of good brains. And, that will be a win, win situation for the nation and its citizens.

For these Credit Union banks to function, something has to give. Yes, underpaid, undervalued civil servants are hardly a new story in Ghana. Teachers, police, nurses, and many other government’s workers are getting much less pay than they deserve. But, how can they be the clients of a banking system if their monthly income can barely hold them through the first week of the month? A police department is as good as its officers. So if we want good and honest police officers or dedicated teachers not only we should pay them appropriately, but also help them to be part of the main- stream economy.

Oh, what am I saying, when we can’t even groom dogs for every police station in Ghana, as a major part of the crime fighting arsenal? Please don’t ask me why. Your answer is as good as mine. It’s only in Ghana that we expect the police to fight crime, but we don’t give them the tools they deserve.

Ooops! Oh, by the way, I should have advised you readers not to expect this piece to end on an optimistic note. Neither should you look for a closing statement with proposals for ending the extinction of the Ghanaian middle- class. Far from that. I’m not equipped to do that. And, I hope I didn’t disappoint your readership’s expectations. I purposely left it to others to put forward measures they believe can break down barriers, and bring more equity and balance to the socio-economical sphere, because the well being of the super -rich is propositionally intertwined with the uplifting of the middle-class. If you don’t believe me, then check the last time you read about a poor person being attacked by an armed robber. So this year let’s not just wish for a happy new year, but let’s guarantee it.

I shake my head with exasperation at such social set-up, which is strangling the middle-classes. Come, dear reader, what is your take on this?

Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi
NJ, USA
*kwaku Adu-Gyamfi is a social commentator ,Chairman of Asuom Youth Club(AYC), and a founder of the Adu-Gyamfi Youth Empowerment and Educational Foundation, to help the youth of Asuom in the Eastern region of Ghana .


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