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Opinions of Friday, 11 September 2015

Columnist: The Mirror

Whatever happened to our passion for Ghana?

Opinion Opinion

Something drastic has happened to Ghana on the way here. This country has changed in a way that few could have imagined even a decade ago. Or maybe something has happened to the people on the way here.

There appears to be a disconnection between the notion of the nation and the people who constitute it. Let me give an example to explain what I am saying.

As most people perhaps were not aware the Black Stars played a football match last week. It was in the qualifying series for the next African Cup of Nations or AFCON.

It has been my custom on Black Stars match days to wear my Ghana shirts, usually a Black Stars replica shirt or something with Ghana colours. Last week, I picked up the shirt but changed my mind. I lost my nerve.
This story must rewind back to the last World Cup when I wore my Ghana stuff in anticipation of a Ghana victory in the opening match against the USA. The somber attitude in town contrasted with the more boisterous atmosphere four years before in the previous World Cup. This time, there were no flags or buntings to show support for the “boys” who were defending our colours in faraway Brazil.

Of course we lost that first match and the recriminations began. Things went downhill from then on as we lost to Portugal and only managed a draw against Germany. The rest, as they say is history.

By the end of the tournament, even the few people who had hung flags on their cars or identified with the boys in any shape or form had disassociated themselves from the team. We were later to learn a lot more of events in Brazil; much of that information was not good for our collective health. Obviously, we have not recovered.

Fast forward to last week. I took out my shirt, ironed and hung it ready to make a splash on the town in my national colours, but as I said, I lost my nerve. I remembered the nasty looks I got in town the last time I wore the Ghana shirt.

I had gone to the Accra Mall and people looked at me as if I was out of my mind. There were stares and questioning looks.
I was out of place as if I had worn the Swastika or something really nasty. I think people feel ashamed to be associated with their nation.
I think this little personal embarrassment captures a lot of what is going on in Ghana today. We used to be passionate about football, especially the Black Stars.

Even people who were not normally enthusiastic about football were glad to support the Black Stars; some decked their cars and homes in the national flag and people selling replica shirts and paraphernalia did brisk business at street corners all over the country. Now, apart from one or two scratchy radio commentaries, you would struggle to notice when the Black Stars play at all.

Readers of this column would know that the national football team is a sometime barometer for this Republic. As the Black Stars travel, so do we fare. Think about the Black Stars, think about Ghana. Thus, today, this nation has no fans.

However, if you feel a pity for the Black Stars who are struggling without much love, spare a thought for our athletes for whom the last big international event, the IAAF World Championships in Beijing turned out to be a no-go. Ghana did not present a single athlete at the competition.
That is not as strange as it sounds these days although I cannot imagine how the nation would have reacted some years ago if our illustrious runners, jumpers, throwers and boxers had been denied the opportunity to compete at the highest levels.

What is stranger than the no-show is that there was very little public reaction. Of course, a bit of noise was made on radio but this was mostly from the sports journalists themselves; Ghanaians did not just seem to care whether we had 50, 20 or zero athletes in Beijing. I doubt that most people would care or even notice even if we had sent 100 athletes.

It appears that nothing worries Ghanaians much except when it touches a raw personal or party-political nerve. Politics and politicians have so seduced the Ghanaian to the extent that political parties have become an end in themselves. They are divorced from our reality and exist or a parallel universe that traverses its own orbit in its own time.

The other day, there was a huge procession in a town that must remain nameless. In any case, the name of the town is unnecessary because what happened has been replicated in many places on Planet NDC/NPP.
The procession was led by a brass band followed by about 200 mostly young people ululating along the main road in broad daylight. Upon further enquiry, I learnt that the local MP had “picked forms”. I didn’t get it initially so I asked again, has picked what? The uniform response shot back: FORMS.

To the uninitiated, this is a strange Only-in-Ghana ritual that takes place every four years. The political parties have decided to expand the writ of democracy by inviting all those who wish to stand for Parliament on their tickets to fill application forms. The practice of picking up an application form has been turned into an art form that involves music, dance, eating and drinking on a massive scale.

Prospective aspirants try to undo one another in the delights of picking a form. Thus, an activity that ought to be performed within minutes without fanfare has been turned into an all-day orgy of merrymaking orchestrated by those who wish to SERVE us as a nation.

Given that the procession I saw was taking place during working hours, I wondered whether all the people were genuinely unemployed or whether the brass band music had lured people from their work places. Brass bands, you might say, are the opium of the people.

You have to understand, dear reader that all the brouhaha was for PICKING a form. There is worse to come in the form of SUBMITTING the form. That calls for bigger jubilation, more exotic ululation and multiform manifestations of merriment that add not a jot to the sum of human happiness.
But remember that we are dealing with Planet Politics which has nothing to do with human development or happiness. It has everything to do with winning power as an end itself.

Politics ought to be about public service. The word “politics” itself comes from the Greek word which translates roughly as "affairs of the cities". Thus, politics is connected not with power but governance and government. In other words, politics must be a means to ensuring that we have good government, public safety and access to development.

Something has happened to Ghana on the way here. Once upon a time, people cared deeply about this country. Even non-Ghanaians claimed this land as their own. Now, people who have any passion reserve it for their political party or some sectarian cause; the things that divide us.

There has to be no doubt that we cannot go forward in this way and hope to succeed as a nation. We cannot hanker after peace and unity while exalting the practices that divide the nation. To paraphrase the immortal words of Jimi Hendrix, “we’ve got to find some kind of way out of this”