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Opinions of Thursday, 17 July 2014

Columnist: Adjei-Barwuah, B.

Where is the country?

Dr. Barfuor Adjei-Barwuah

As I drove down Prempeh1 Street on March 6 2011 on my way to catch a
flight to Accra, I noticed a detail of three young men taking down the
sprinkle of national flags that had been hung on some telephone poles as
bunting for the day. It was 9.45am and I wondered whether it meant the
official celebration of Ghana’s independence in Kumasi was over. At the airport
I observed some school children making their way to some corner of the tarmac; they had been bused there to observe the take-off and landing of aircraft. Interestingly enough, there was a similar group of ‘tourists’ at the domestic arrivals area of Kotoka Airport when our flight touched down. I wondered- ‘is that it?’ Vehicular traffic in both Kumasi and Accra did not indicate that March 6 was any different from March 5 or any of the previous days for that matter. ‘Where did the love for our country go?’ I asked myself. March 6 2012 did not strike me as being any different save for the intimidating goose stepping spectacle at Independence Square. What did we celebrate in 2013 and what did we celebrate this year?

I do not know how you figure it and I suspect your perspective will be influenced by a whole raft of considerations including the date and circumstances of your birth, life experiences, political persuasion, traditional affiliations etc. But I cannot help but think that our country is inching towards earning a place on the roll of countries that have no justifiable excuse to fail but are failing. The pain and the agony of it is that our current situation is still in the face of a proud history and an amazing natural endowment that few countries on this planet could match. In 1957 we promised ourselves the best any country could afford. And the promise was backed by our abundance in resources and the goodwill of most of the nations of the world.

At independence, just being Ghanaian was almost a passport to legitimate and appropriate opportunity here at home and across the globe. The world saw us as a people with the ability, resources and determination to succeed. We were considered a country that presented a genuine qualification for support. Some admired us for agreeing to allow a different political entity to join us as part of an independent Ghana even though Ghanaians were not formally consulted. You had to be proud to be Ghanaian. And we were proud to be Ghanaians. We all had a brighter future in our sights, irrespective of our backgrounds. All one needed then was being a child of the fatherland – a full-blooded Ghanaian – armed with an unshakeable determination to make a decent effort to succeed in whatever legitimate area of life one opted to operate in.

Why do we present ourselves these days as a desperate people taking handouts and contracting loans with the most gruesome of terms – terms that even the biblical Shylock would have considered unethical?
Why are so many of us very distrustful of our politicians and wonder as to what definition of ‘leadership’ they subscribe to?
Why do so many of us believe that our political leadership has largely reduced the quest for political office to a furtive access to the national exchequer to suck it dry?
Why do we as citizens now consider our legitimate expectations of our government’s performance as citizens’ supplications for favours?

One can understand many of us seeking to satisfy our wants and advance our private and very personal interests. Such tendency would generally be considered normal. But it should be by dint of honest hard work and not through varieties of unacceptable political manouvering including corruption and chiseling. The outcomes of this life-methodology are indexed by abuse of public office and hollow posturing, naked suspicion and character assassination, besides widespread disrespect for order and an unjustifiable distaste for decent discourse on relevant national issues.

We now give respectability to street crime, thuggery and political massaging. We are convincing the world on daily basis that our pristine persona as a country has generally been a façade. Our World Cup behavior and performances testify to this. Currently if a creature from another planet arrived and made the proverbial ‘take me to your leader’ request, we cannot honour the request with confidence. I believe that even if not as a paragon of virtue, we should be able to present someone we can accept and tout as an index of what we are trying to achieve as a country and a society.

And we used to be a country. We used to be a nation. We used to be a community. What we have now is a collection of interest groups, generally defined by geography, traditional affiliation and/or political connection and vying to push further our sectional advantages and causes to the detriment of national goals. In the process we have gradually perfected the art of making mischief as opposed to holding onto our culture of mutual respect and support. The notion of fairness and the pursuit of equal access for all have been abandoned and substituted with the doling out privileges and political sops to a select few. The one message we trumpet every second of our existence as a nation – ‘Freedom and Justice’ – is totally ignored. The Independence Arch may well be pulled down for it does not seem to mean anything to the majority of us anymore. It certainly is not reflective of the modus operandi of our administrative, political and judiciary set up.

We pander to the whims of the vocal few and succumb to the pressures of the calculatingly conniving groups and individuals who hide behind negative tribal sentiments and political thuggery. We have succeeded in developing phraseology that promotes assumed discrimination and use it very effectively to table undeserved claims to the commonweal. We have ignored the hopes, the dreams, the aspirations and even the frustrations of the majority of our citizens.

Regrettably, selfishness and unbridled individualism have become fashionable in our country and these negative traits have grown very intense since the early 1980s. There is a justifiable, though unfortunate, feeling among a large segment of our population that threats, foul language, insults and tirade, intimidation, sabotage, falsehood, cheating, hypocrisy, envy – call it what you may – are all enshrined in our national constitution as items on the list of citizens’ inalienable rights. Consequently, we are all in danger of losing the protection and the cloth of innocence until proven otherwise that our constitution should provide for each and all of us.

Our self-indulgence and our apathy as citizens have made it possible for a small band of people with questionable citizenship to intimidate our nation, compromise our sense of justice and fairness and ascribe ‘bullyboy’ tactics as an answer for political and other societal issues. I am on the verge of suspending my subscription to the belief that the only ‘tyranny’ acceptable in a democracy is the will of the majority. For we now practice the tyranny of the minority and endure the suppression of the arrogant and the conniving few.

What are the demonstrable indices of our advancement as a nation especially since 1980? - more and bigger churches, worship-sheds and mosques per capita than most nations; more spacious petrol stations; excessive congestion on our roads (most of which are obstacle courses, anyway); dangerous driving and lack of traffic courtesy and a penchant for the indiscriminate dumping of rubbish. And we have become a prime dumping ground for the garbage of the world because we lack confidence in our own efforts at producing consumer goods. We have a debilitating preference for ‘home use’ as against ‘made in Ghana’. We have even convinced ourselves that we cannot construct what we, as a nation, consider to be ‘affordable’ shelter for our population.

The number of tabloids parading as newspapers has shown considerable increase. Some of these publications do not essentially inform nor educate. Even in the throes of the struggle for independence our information industry did not make our national life revolve solely around politics. There were issues of economic development, community regeneration, education and training, as well as sports and health related matters. One would have expected that fifty-seven years down the road, our newspapers would be concentrating on third generation issues like science and technology, manufacturing and transportation efficiency, access to quality education and our competitive position in the comity of nations.

We have increased the number of radio stations and television channels. In their wake, we have developed an army of pundits, universal experts and sages most of whom instinctively pour insults on anyone they disagree with and defend the indefensible on the airwaves. Generally, radio station programming leaves one in no doubt that we inhale, eat and sleep politics. And politics of the worst kind where ‘Speaking your mind’ means pouring venom on anything and anybody at the drop of a hat.

Prime time on Ghana television channels is given over to dated foreign language soap operas and ‘comedy’ reruns. The left over spots are taken by apostles, prophets, evangelists, healers and other purveyors in the ‘religion industry’. And what passes as review of newspapers usually ends up as contests or ‘debates’ between ‘guests’ of opposing political views on topics which , most of the time, have hardly any significant import on national welfare and developmental issues. What we often end up with is a spectacle of live journalistic cannibalism without any attempt at building consensus or informing the viewing public.

We do need to ask ourselves some simple questions such as:
Why our railroads do not function any more?
Why we lack a decent and efficient system of public transportation;
Why we are unable to provide normal life sustainers like water and power and fuel for our population?
Why most of our city streets are no different from obstacle courses and garbage dumps and our drains have become smelly, mosquito-breeding trenches?
Why in the face of the massive increase in population numbers and professional training outlets, we cannot field enough teachers, nurses, doctors in our institutions?
Why our education system fails so many that institutions providing ‘remedial classes’ are the growth poles in our learning sector?
Why we have become a net importer of food when we have more land lying idle than the entire national territories of some of the countries we import food from?

In our public administration we spend so much energy disrespecting other peoples’ time and schedules because we do not respect our individual time. Most public officers do not accept punctuality and prompt attention to duty as requirements in the discharge of their schedules. Some seem to believe that their importance is directly related to the gravity of grief they can subject someone to. The prevailing feeling is that emoluments are not a function of the content of the job and the efficiency of delivery but rather on preferred lifestyles. And Ghanaians have decided they will not allow the state of the national economy to interfere with their individual lifestyles. Consequently, there has developed this protocol of ‘monetary appreciation’ before any service is rendered. And this is in the face of the ‘culture of impossibility’ that is now in vogue whereby officials manufacture rules and regulations that make the most ordinary of actions appear like insurmountable impediments.

The number of tertiary institutions – both private and public – has increased significantly while the standards and quality of our education and training provision, at all levels, have exponentially declined. The physical plant of most educational institutions, especially in the second cycle, is appalling. The number of children of school going age who are out of school is rather alarming and reports about schools that record zero success in national examinations year on year appear to be considered normal enough not to warrant comment nor debate.

Our current situation and our future prospects as a country must be of concern to all of us. I wonder whether most of us genuinely feel there was something to celebrate on our last independence anniversary. The questions raised earlier in this piece suggest that we have experienced a massive decline in the quality of our life as a nation. We have fallen behind pre-independence levels on almost all indices of advancement and growth - education and training; reliable public transportation system; dispassionate administration of justice, decent political behaviour and a dependable and generally non-discriminating and respectably incorruptible civil service.

I am just concerned; indeed afraid. And the fear emanates from two questions that keep dancing rather vigorously and menacingly on my mind:
– What and where is our common ground and who speaks for it?
- What are the ties that bind us and who is the custodian?
Perhaps in my own way, there are two questions I am asking myself:
–Where is the Ghanaian and why is s/he not defending the fatherland?
-Do we have a leader and where is s/he leading us to?

We have changed the Ghanaian character so much we have lost the most endearing aspects of the Ghanaian personality – hard working, respectful of the other person’s rights, community conscious and jealous enough of our heritage to protect it, improve on it and use it in pursuit of our national aspirations.

I believe our cardinal problem is that we have lost passion and respect for our country. Indeed, I have been wondering lately as to what is it about this country that will cause immediate and unreserved response from citizens should anyone unacceptably touch it. I can even suspect that if a foreigner or even a national denigrated our flag no one will raise a finger in protest. Is it that we simply do not care? What will it take to fire the Ghanaian to rush to the ramparts in defence of the fatherland?

As I waxed respect and nationalism to this ‘twenty something’ young man at a petrol station the other week, he politely said ‘excuse me Sir, I do not mean to be awkward but may I ask – ‘where is the country?
-we are unable to provide ourselves with basics like water, power and fuel;
- look at how foreigners are devastating our countryside in the name of mining for gold;
-look at foreigners indiscriminately grazing cattle on our farmlands and killing citizens in the process;
-we have made it possible for foreigners to even take over retailing including even petty trading;
-we have an association of unemployed graduates;
- our election results go before the courts and what we call our country, irrespective of one’s political hue, is in some state of comatose;
- I have to confess to you, Sir, that I despair.’

I caught this young man’s drift and I understood his frustration. I paused for a brief moment and said “young man I share your feeling. May I suggest that this conversation marks the day you and I decided that, as Ghanaians, we will take steps to claim our country back.”

And I submit that claiming our country back requires an urgent need to redefine our values and re-position our markers regarding what is useful, acceptable and imperative in our national interest. In effect, we need to develop a new generation of Ghanaians who are willing to uphold and improve on our existing traditions whilst developing new ones aimed at keeping the country at pace with the rest of the world. This should be the Mission for all true Ghanaians. There will be nothing easy about it. The important thing is that while acknowledging that it is not an easy mission, we should steel ourselves in the belief that it is not a mission impossible either. It is necessary for all of us to fully appreciate that if we refuse to make critical changes now, we may run into a cyclone in which all will be lost.

Dr. B. Adjei-Barwuah
(Former Ghana Ambassador to Japan,
and High Commissioner to Singapore)