Last week, Ghana celebrated its 56th year of independent rule from Britain. Reactions on social media were varied, but there was one dominant theme: disappointment. The usual hand wringing over the lack of basic utilities (like a dependable supply of water and electricity) and public amenities (like roads and safe, affordable transportation) were at the top of list. If you’re a Ghanaian – or hail from any African country for that matter – you’ve heard it all before.
There are some people who take issue with those complaints.
“We should be grateful,” they say. “At least Ghana is not at war like some of our neighboring countries! By the grace of God, we are a nation that enjoys peace!”
Now, in the past, I could passively nod my head and agree to some extent. Indeed, we have managed to skirt an outright civil war. But as I have gotten older and done more reflection, I have come to see the danger in such thinking. I ended up in a social media battle with one woman because I refused to nod and agree with her platitudes about the absence of war in our native country.
Most of the MOM Squad knows that I grew up rather unconventionally in Ghana. I came of age in a time when there was no “middle class”. There were the very rich, and there were the very poor. My family existed a small host of citizens that was somewhere in between, but not large enough to make up a “class”. I have seen life on both sides of the coin. We lived in a huge rented house in Labone, but for a year we ate noting but different variations of rice because that’s all we could afford. My parents made sure that we went to the finest schools in the city: Soul Clinic International School, GIS (in my case) and finally boarding school at HGIC. For the first 3 months I was at Soul Clinic none of my siblings or I had a uniform because my parents couldn’t afford one. I’ve suffered the humiliation of being sacked for not paying my school fees at every school I’ve ever attended. I know what it’s like to go to school hungry because you don’t have lunch money or food at home to pack lunch for the week. Through wit and will, we overcame our circumstances in various ways. While I was declaring that it was “cool” to eat plantain and beans every day in GIS’ cantina “because I’m a Ghanaian”, my brother was doing coin tricks on his secondary school campus to earn his lunch money.
Now, I do recognize that this hardly constitutes as hard living by any stretch of the imagination. What I am saying is that I have tasted just enough hardship to empathize with people living at the bottom of Ghanaian society’s echelons. The fact that there is no war in Ghana will not serve as consolation forever. I know what a desperate person is capable of doing. Desperation is a dangerous thing, and I fear that ordinary Ghanaians are becoming more desperate as the years roll on.
The woman with whom I had an 8-hour social media battle clung to her belief that the absence of civil war in Ghana serves as panacea for its failing infrastructure.
“I can walk from Cantonments to Labone Junction without fear of getting my hand chopped off,” she said (and I’m paraphrasing.)
Well, isn’t that fortunate? To live a life of such privilege and fortune. To put it in perspective for my American readers, it’s the equivalent of taking a carefree stroll down Rodeo Drive. This particular young woman, who is actually a good friend of the family, has always lived in cloistered life of comfort and power. Of course she’d be grateful that there is no war. It’s actually the worse thing she can imagine. She admonished me because I’ve never been to Liberia – as she has; seen the children with their limbs cut off by rebels – as she has; and seen the deprivation the survivors of war live under – as she has.
To that, I say I don’t have to live next to a sewer to know it stinks. Of course I can imagine the horrors of war! But I wonder if have she and others of like mind have ever sat down to consider what led Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cote D’Ivoire to war? Corruption is what led these promising, thriving countries down a dark path, and if Ghana doesn’t solve its corruption problems, we won’t be able to rely on the grace of God to keep it safe forever.
When people say “corruption”, there is an automatic image of government minsters siphoning off millions of dollars into Swiss bank accounts and flying around the world in private jets. But corruption is an ugly, multifaceted monster that doesn’t always manifest as greed. nepotism, neglect and laziness are all part of the beast we know as corruption.
Every Ghanaian is corrupt at some level. It’s the only way to survive and do business in the country.
When the queue at the driver’s license office is too long, what do you if you have a “guy” who works there? Throw him a few cedis and get yourself ahead of the line: corruption.
When you buy three plantain chips in traffic from a seller and demand an extra bag from her as ‘dash’ that’s corruption.
When you know that your neighbor is keeping their elderly grandparent chained up in a room without food because some pastor or elder divined that they are a ‘witch’ and don’t report it, that’s corruption!
When government officials do not fear the media’s reportage of their misdeeds, that’s a clear sign of corruption. In fact, every political party has a media house lapdog to do its bidding, and is not afraid for the public to know it.
When 40 children die from lead poisoning because their chief allowed their farming lands to become an e-waste dump site in exchange for a kickback, that’s corruption!
Corruption is knowing the right thing to do and not doing it anyway.
Ghana’s state of affairs as it stands today has everything to do with a mindset that we’ve slowly allowed to creep in. When my father first came back from living in the States, he came with numerous ideas. His friends shot them all down.
“Oh Kwasi. That won’t work in Ghana ooo. You? You’ve been outside for too long!”
Eventually, he began to believe it, and that has become his mantra too. “This” won’t work in Ghana.
Why don’t we have safety standards for how people in villages and towns purchase fuel? Why is it, at this very moment, a 3-year-old child is probably ingesting kerosene and imbibing his doom? Because the government allows people to buy and sell petroleum products in used Fanta and water bottles. “This” is Ghana, and we can do that.
Why hasn’t the Ministry of Health halted the practice of referring critically injured patients from one hospital to another instead of bringing qualified physicians into the facility to perform an operation? Because “this” is Ghana, and we can’t inconvenience our doctors. A recent acquaintance of mine just died because he was sent to three different area hospitals following an automobile accident before he got treatment. He had just moved back to Ghana, brimming with capital and new ideas to help improve his country and his country killed him!
Armed robbery is becoming more prevalent in the country and thieves are getting bolder. A Dutch citizen was just robbed and killed in broad daylight this past week. Ghanaians like to blame outside forces for these attacks. “Oh, it’s the Nigerians bringing these things in. Oh, it’s those guys from the North.” We forget that we are raising our own little terrorists in our backyards. When an uncle comes to sell his 8-year-old nephew to a fisherman in Keta – a man who beats him, doesn’t educate him, feeds him two small meals a day, and forces him to do the dangerous work of diving under his canoe to untie tangled fishing nets – do you think such a boy will grow up to become an office manager? No! As an adult, he will do what he can to survive! He will become a thief, a male prostitute, or indulge in some other vice. And then Christians will sit in church and disparage him, forgetting it was their Christian duty to care for the least of these in the first place.
I could go on, but I think you get the point.
Some people back home like to say that because I only visit Ghana once a year, my views are invalid. I don’t live there. I don’t know what I’m talking about. They are living in it. They are the “experts”. If I lived there, I would understand that “this is Ghana”. I wish I could conjure an analogy to explain how absurd this line of thinking is, but I’ve drawn a blank.
So why do I say Ghana doesn’t need me? Simply because I don’t have the skill set Ghana needs for advancement. Ghana needs IT professionals, city planners, honest MPs, and health professionals of all disciplines. It needs engineers to design and build apparatus to harness solar and wind energy. It needs manufacturing gurus so we can build our own cars and trains. I’m a writer. Sending me to Ghana to further the cause of development is like sending a mural artist to an empty construction site. It’s pointless and foolish.
Above all things, Ghana needs to get its head examined and work on decentralizing wealth from the hands of a privileged few. I’m not proposing that we merely take from the rich and give to the poor. That’s not a permanent solution. But it does need to give the masses the basic hope…J.J. Rawlings has already shown us what one motivated mofo with a gun and no hope in his government can do to a country.
A version of this article was originally posted on the author's blog