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Opinions of Thursday, 21 November 2013

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

The Two faces of Ghana

By George Sydney Abugri

You would think our small West Africa nation has somehow suddenly become the very center of the vast universe. They keep trooping in here by the score, by the day, these days: Cross bor¬der car thieves, swindlers and robbers from among our neighbours, camera--wielding, beach¬-bound tourists and post-cold war spies with undying econom¬ic and political inter¬ests in Africa.

Then there are the investors: A fair frac¬tion of these are really jokers who come in with a few wads of bank notes in foreign currency and packs of condoms in briefcases to fool around awhile. Some of them get involved in shady businesses and get well and properly conned. Once in a while one of them comes along and man¬ages to con an unwary indigene for a change.

There are the con¬ference participants too: Ghana has become a daily venue for all manner of sub-¬regional, regional and international confer¬ences, seminars, workshops, and trade fairs. You would think there was nowhere else to hold a meeting on this planet. Counting air trans¬port fares, hotel accommodation and other expenses, I dare say enough money is spent monthly on regional and interna¬tional meetings in Ghana to have solved some of the problems these seminars and conferences discuss: They talk and talk and talk and break off to drink some tea and resume their seats to talk some more!

The lure of this place must have something to do with our much publicized, peace, stability and hospitality to a dis¬turbing fault. The universally accepted version among the many per-ceived concepts of democracy is also very much alive and kick¬ing and robustly growing in a rather interesting way around here.

These days, free¬dom of speech and expression come fair¬ly plenty and some¬times quite cheap. You can get on an FM radio station here and do what political and civil rights activists, charlatans, cranks and madmen did in London's famous Hyde Park at the height of the culture of loud political agitation in the UK. Scream out the steam and con¬tribute to free speech.

I once drove into town from the Kotoka Inter¬national Airport with a Ghanaian couple who had lived in the United States for nearly three decades without visiting home. This inexplicably over¬whelming magic that always comes with early dawn enhanced the sleeping beauty of the airport residential area as we drove through. Tiny streaks of the natural light of still distant morning combined with light from electric bulbs to bathe the sprawling estate in a faint cloud of extra-terrestrial splendour.

Our man inspected the estate with an approving eye. Some of the roads recently reconstructed in the city center seemed to impress him even more: "Things have all kinda changed around here huh?" he declared.

As we drove under the flyover near Sankara Circle, he whistled softy "Jeeze, man....!" His is a short visit. In the next few days our man wills in all likelihood drive around, admiring the first class roads in the city center, watch peo¬ple driving around in big gleaming cars, one hand to the wheel the other clutching a mobile phone to one ear.

He will admire the new high rise buildings and upmarket apartments adorning the skyline. He will get to dine in top class restaurants and go to sleep in a three-star hotel and when he leaves, he will say the World Bank, the Internation¬al Monetary Fund and the Ghana Govern¬ment are right after all, Ghana is sitting right in the back porch of paradise.

What he may not see is the other side of ¬our existence. The overcrowding, envi¬ronmental filth, pover¬ty and the desperation of the depressed sub¬urbs around the city center - Sukura, Russia, Mamobi, Nima, South Odorkor, etc. The sub-human exis¬tence of the inhabi¬tants of our go-called Sodom and Gomorrah, a slum on the banks of the foul, murky dying Korle Lagoon where people are literally swimming in a sea of filth, poverty, crime and all manner of immorality.

There is poverty in the most advanced nations of the world, and developing adequate socio-economic infrastructure in the heart of every national capital is absolutely necessary. This is what you must be murmuring to yourself. Poverty is a giant re-¬enforced steel barrier to our agenda for national progress.

Poverty is a brutally violent and obscene assault on the divinely sanctioned dignity of the God-made-¬being. If you are poor, your opinions fly in the wind, which can't be healthy for democracy. If you are poor the wicked and proud among the priv¬ileged hold you in con¬tempt, ill-bred chil¬dren target you for disrespect and thiev¬ing rogues and cranks get to lecture you on personal resource con¬servation and the saving habit, and your children could end up as gangsters and prostitutes.

I once heard in the news that heard in the news that Ghana’s Parliament would pass a law which will prescribe sanctions against parents who fail to give their children an education. This joke cannot get any more hilarious I wonder what sanctions the proposed law would prescribe if it were passed: Lecture such parents on their parental responsibilities and then proceed to give them decent wage paying jobs or simply ship the lot of them out to the sea and dump them in the Atlantic?

Can you imagine Par¬liament passing a law which says throw a hungry man in jail instead of giving him some kenkey and fish to eat? On second thought, we cannot be too sure about Parlia¬ment on this score. We do not have the slightest idea how much our elected rep-resentatives in Parlia¬ment are paid in salaries. Our honorable representatives have not been grumbling about their pay or threatening every day to go on strike in demand of higher remuneration like the rest of us.

How the hell do you expect someone in quite comfortable footwear to appreciate the discomfort of a fel¬low in grossly under¬sized shoes? A law¬maker on a salary of GHc 10, 000 a month may not appreciate the financial difficulties encountered by some¬one on a salary of GHc 500 a month.

The irresponsible parent is quite real and it would be dis¬honest to try ruling him out but this much I am dead certain about: For every par¬ent who willfully and callously throws his children out into the street or the illegal child labour market to fend for themselves, there are 10 other par¬ents whose children are not in school for the very simple reason that the parents are poor.

The real culprits are unemployment, dismally low wages and an incredibly high cost of education which are inevitably turning a basic human right into an exclusive privilege of the wealthy. That cen¬tral government bud¬getary constraints make it difficult to pay workers higher remuneration by no means makes existing salaries and wages realistic.

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