The gradual normalization of the abnormal in Ghana

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It appears that a good number of Ghanaians have resigned themselves to a broken system and a life of perpetual suffering and indiscipline. They have conditioned themselves (or have been forced to do so) to believe, for example, that suffering, inefficiency, corruption, poverty, or poor (or lack of) access to healthcare is normal. This new normal has made them distant observers of their own suffering and misdeeds, but also less reactive to a dysfunctional system.

Two reasons account for this state of affairs:

  • Our political leaders, over the years, have created and presided over a poor governance system characterized by periods of inaction and mismanagement. Standards have been so low that people expect almost nothing from their leaders anymore. Put in another way, people have become so used to inaction that they have become immune to the status quo.
  • The citizenry has legitimized indiscipline and misbehavior. Collectively, we are a people who directly or indirectly support the abnormality that has become a mainstay of our governance system. Among many, we encourage greed and corruption, destroy government business at the civil service level, and simply have a poor attitude to work.

Regrettably, while we clearly have a broken system at many levels of our governance system, which is bad in itself, the normalization of this reality is dangerous. Why? This posturing creates the unfortunate impression that a poor socio-political system or indiscipline almost automatically represents the new reality for the Ghanaian. Thus, the real tragedy of the Ghanaian is no longer that nothing seems to work anymore, or things that work are destroyed, but that everything abnormal and anything nonsensical has become the new normal—and it is quite unfortunate!

Recently, I followed, with some interest, the activities of the #FixTheCountry campaigners. Although the campaign is a progressive step towards demanding some accountability, I have wondered about how much of a grassroots appeal the campaign may have. Does the average person really believe that the efforts would lead to some results? To the ordinary Ghanaian, this type of activity is irregular and fleeting, so there’s no real belief that the campaign or its efforts will get anywhere. History suggests that there will be a meeting here and there, and the flame will be doused in no time Relatedly, I was not surprised by the response from Kaaka’s family (re: Enjura) to the invitation from the Ejura Committee of Inquiry. When committees of inquiry have been constituted by governments in Ghana, they have mostly been used to calm tensions than to provide any real results in the form of justice.  ‘Normal’ is when systems work, when spectators become citizens, and when the governance structure creates opportunities for all.

Whenever I have had an opportunity to interact with people or complain about some systems, the typical response is “Oh, this is Ghana!” or “It’s been like this for many years, so we are used to it.” Unfortunately, this is and should not be the Ghana way. There should be a better way in which systems work and where we all become part of the solution rather than the problem. Ghanaians should expect better than they currently have or have had.

Look, sending kids as young as four years old to beg for alms on the streets and in traffic is not normal; urinating indiscriminately is not normal; a poor healthcare system is not normal; stopping motorists, threatening them, and extorting money from them is not normal; poor road access anywhere, and especially to businesses that bring in huge sums of money to the economy is not normal; insecurity is not normal; corruption is not normal; and it is not normal that the Accra-Tema Motorway, which makes so much money daily has a poor lighting system as well as potholes that have become a death trap. These are abnormal events and systems, and we should not get used to them.  Immunity to suffering and poor systems is the ultimate wish of the political class, and we must not allow that to become our reality.

To be clear, there is no perfect system anywhere, but there’s a basic expectation of all governance systems: make life less difficult for the citizenry, by putting in place the basic systems to facilitate human survival and prosperity. Unfortunately, over the years, the political class has failed the Ghanaian people. They promise so much during elections and deliver very little to nothing. It has become so bad that many Ghanaians do not even know what a better life is anymore. Sadly, this is the perfect situation for the political class because the people expect almost nothing, ask few questions, and basically give their leaders a free pass for their (in)actions. Today, our political leadership has conditioned the average person to rejoice over basic needs such as roads, toilet facilities, and water. Yet, these are the most basic of the responsibilities of any government.

Following, I share some observations about our system that require some attention:

  • Our Healthcare System: Recently, a friend took his mother to a major hospital in Accra for surgery; she survived it, but there were issues with her blood pressure. For three days, there was no blood pressure monitor to read and record her pressure. The solution? He was asked to go and buy a blood pressure monitor out of pocket. Really? Meanwhile, there was still some uncertainty surrounding his mother’s condition. Another example: I personally visited another government hospital in Accra. The process went like this: first, you go to an area called Medical Records to create or give your card; second, you go to the cash office to “clear yourself”; third, you join a long line to “check your vitals”; fourth, you join another long line to see a doctor. If you get to the facility at 8 a.m. you would be lucky to leave by 3 p.m. At this facility, emergency cases are brought to the out-patient department, and health personnel are under so much pressure. I reckon there are many stories of negligence, fraud, broken equipment, and lack of resources that too often impact lives.
  • Kids and Alms/Hawking on the Streets and in Traffic: Why should anyone allow kids as young as 3 or 4 (or just any child) to be hawking or begging for alms on the streets and in traffic? Elsewhere, everyone involved in this—parents, guardians, kids, etc.—would be picked up. The argument has always been that this type of activity is socially and economically necessary to mediate poverty and livelihood challenges, but we cannot, in search of livelihood, leave these children on the streets. The Children’s Act (Act 560), including many international conventions, criminalize begging; begging on the streets, more so by kids, is unacceptable, and endangers the life of the child. These kids are too young to be exposed to the vagaries of life at this level.
  • Our Roads: A friend recently remarked: “Why is it that every government seeking power promises to fix our roads and yet we continue to have serious problems with our roads?” Our roads are bad, and that is an understatement! I am unsure how you can have an economy with such poor road networks. When I talk to rideshare drivers, they typically bemoan maintenance costs from the effects of bad roads. At a minimum, these drivers have a sales target of about GHC 400 every week, much of which goes into maintenance costs resulting from poor road systems. Needless to say, an effective road infrastructure facilitates the free movement of goods and people, enhances access to education and healthcare services, and supports economic growth and development. About four years ago, I was shocked to drive on the road in front of the Tema Oil Refinery (TOR), which also leads to the Kpone Municipality. Just about a week ago, I used that same road and it was worse than I experienced four years ago. Surprisingly, there are a number of “big” companies along this stretch that bring in huge revenue to the nation. What is keeping us from fixing the road?
  • Giving and Taking Bribe: It is almost certain that you have to spend some money when you are stopped by a police officer. This is an open secret of which we are not ashamed. The police officers expect it, and the divers are ready to pay. What is just needed, it appears, is a national legislation to formalize this practice. I understand police officers are poorly paid, but so are others in the public sector—so this is no license to legitimize bribery. Elsewhere, banks claim to close at 4 p.m., but that’s not entirely true.  One can still have access to the banking hall, but only if the security (wo)man allows you—and only if you pay. As Patrick Lumumba says, “Africans are in the business of canonizing thieves.” We are becoming a nation of thieves.
  • Cost of Living: The cost of living in Ghana, well mostly in Accra, is very high. The 2019 Mercy Cost of Living Survey, for example, ranked Accra as the 63rd most expensive place to visit and live out of 209 cities in the world—higher than in Munich, Seattle, Atlanta, Frankfurt, Berlin, Madrid, and other famous cities. Anyone who lives comfortably here in Ghana is a magician. We have an economy with almost no price regulation. Everyone does what s/he wants. The prices of houses, land, rent, and hotel stays are just ridiculous.  A night’s stay at Holiday Inn in Ghana is about 3 times the cost of a Holiday Inn in the nicest parts of New York. Time will not permit me to discuss the prices of food and clothing items—they change with the weather!
  • Customer Service: We still have a “favor mentality” in our approach to customer service. Customer service is at the core of every business. When you render a service, a patron of your service does you a favor when s/he asks for your service or buys your product. As a seller or service provider, you are not doing any major favors to the receiver of the service. The basic element should be a reciprocal display of respect between the service provider and the recipient of the service.
  • Urinating by the Roadside: Almost everyone does this! What is the excuse? No toilet facilities? This is an unacceptable and unconscionable phenomenon that impacts both environment and public health.
  • People Living with (Visible and Invisible) Disabilities: It beggars belief that in 2021 (yes, in this day and age), there are still public buildings with no elevators. I say this to make a larger point that our policies regarding and actions towards people living with disabilities are very poor. Not only do we not have effective policies to protect them, but we also have a poor social acceptance of this community. This is not normal.

Housing and Toilet Facilities: Who regulates rent issues in Ghana? How is it that in this day and age people build apartments with no toilet facilities, a disproportionate number of them, or facilities detached from the apartments? This is not normal.

To reiterate an earlier point, perfection is not the quality of any governance system, but systems work elsewhere to provide the minimum amount of comfort for the citizenry. More so, governance is a collaborative effort between government and the citizens. Government sets the agenda and the citizens respond to the items on the agenda.  Presently, much of what we are used to is not normal. We cannot normalize the status quo.

 

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