The Day I Gave Up on Ghana

When we look at the economic hardship coupled with the lack of decency in our national politics, we are forced to ask where the towering figures capable of liberating us from the darkness that has taken over our motherland are.  Good leadership has always been a scarce commodity in Ghana, but looking at the undesirable alternatives we currently have, what we urgently need are leaders who will be true and faithful to themselves and to the people they are called upon to guide and lead. What Ghana urgently needs are men and women who will be willing to  put themselves at the service of Ghana so unreservedly that their egos become identical with the basic needs of the general populace; leaders who are ethically and intellectually worthy of imitation by the masses. However enough has been written on the subject of failed leadership in Africa as a whole, thus I do not have to dwell on this issue. We must, however, bear in mind that until Ghana gets leaders characterized by courage, justice, courtesy, practical wisdom, dignity, generosity, we have to, as a nation, look elsewhere for solutions to our problems. We must look to the general public. One of the advantages of democracy is that, under a democratic society, leaders should be able to obtain their fellow citizens’ cooperation to implement policies to the benefit of all. Let us ignore the failure of our leaders and scrutinize the activities of our countrymen that allow unaccountable leadership to go unpunished in Ghana. From October 2009 to August 2010, I stayed in Ghana (Kumasi, Accra, and Sunyani) working for a publication house as part of an internship program. I saw things that forced me to reconsider whether Ghanaians were sincerely interested in the development of their country.   Unless some of the things I am going to talk about are addressed and rectified, any hope of realizing authentic progress in Ghana must deservedly be identified as a popular delusion. Before we continue, I will like to point out that the content of this writing is entirely informed by my own experience and observation during my ten-month stay in Ghana. In my dreams, I have pictured a nation in which as a unified society, we will be able to live in peace, prosperity and intellectual development. I have dreamed about a Ghana characterized by progress– in knowledge, technology, economic,  politics, and morality– in every level of our society. Regrettably, I am forced each morning to wake up from my dreams and ask if we really value these ideals. How long are we going to allow our short-sightedness to annihilate our long-term benefits? What is an effective and realistic approach towards our national predicaments?  What are some of the problems we face that calls for transformation of our collective psychology? A few months leading to the 2010 World Cup, I witnessed a nationwide (at least in Kumasi) all-night prayer rally for Michael Essien to get well for the coming world cup. Among the fervent prayer warriors were leading men of God and high profile gospel singers.  Without intending to ridicule people’s sincere faith in prayers, I reflected and thought, “So if God were willing to grant us a wish as a nation, is that the kind of prayers we will be imploring?” If people had this unwavering assurance in the effectiveness of their prayers then why were these prayers not rather directed towards the leaders of the country to grow in wisdom and become adequately equipped in a world where it is necessary for developing countries to depend upon intelligence to function effectively?  In the case of Essien, it appeared God had better things to do; he didn’t heal him in time for the world cup. We cannot continue to do everything wrong and expect God to bail us out. If these prayers worked, should they not be focused on combating corruption, negligence, injustice, ignorance and incompetence? A nation in which a sizable number of its citizens could be organized by the media to pray all night for a single football player who contributes little or nothing to the intellectual, economical or social welfare of Ghana, tells us what we value and consider important. However this was not the only incident. Here is an overview of some of the nationwide accepted practices that would in the long-run thwart the development of our nation regardless of the vast quantity and quality of our resources. In three universities, I witnessed how student’s elections were characterized by fighting, bribery and the buying of votes. I was later informed that it is common on all our campuses. I did not know what was worse: the national parties taking over student politics or the undemocratic and uncritical behavior of our students who are the future leaders of our country. Another disturbing observation was the uncivil practice of a friend who did his National Service at a regional VAT Office. He talked about how workers would go to companies who had not paid their taxes and demand money from them in order to cover up their tax evasion. I understand that as service personnel, he did not have the means to alter the operation of the office but I could not help giving up on Ghana when at the end of his day’s activity, he would meet us and relate how much money he made on that day.  Perhaps we can forgive him for his greediness since he bribed the national service organizers for appointment to the VAT office. Bribing officials to acquire desirable places for national service is actually an acceptable and honorable activity in Ghana. Talking about tax evasion, I observed how officials from Ghana Customs Excise and Preventive Service frequented the office of a very wealthy importer of fruit juices. When I inquired into the matter, it appeared that he had a deal with them. They allow him to import and clear his goods without much hassle, in addition to foregoing his taxation obligations. He did the minimum paperwork at the port with the rest going to the pockets of the officials who visited him at his office. We wonder why about 50% of our annual budget has to be supplemented with foreign grants and loans. Going back to the topic of national service, I witnessed how many former students who should at least know the benefit of education, never stepped foot to the schools they had been posted. Obviously they did not care about the school children but when I asked how all this was possible since they were still getting their allowances at the end of the month, they honestly without any sense of shame confessed that they had struck deals with the headmasters who covered up for them when inspectors came around, i.e., if they were not bribed themselves. Another bizarre observation I made was the number of sexual harassment incidences in the workplace. In return for employment, young ladies who are well-qualified cannot hope to land job if they are unwilling to sleep their way into a job. A female friend shared with me that even if you managed to acquire a job based on merit, the big men, and now increasingly women, still demanded sex from you. Do I even need to touch upon the lecturers who distribute first-class degrees in exchange for sex from their students?  That has become such a common practice on Ghanaian campuses that it has ceased to warrant any attention. One of my favorite observations was when at an event, a reporter complained about the 20 cedis the organizer had given each reporter for transportation. He blatantly told the organizer that if he was interested in getting the story published, he was best advised to pay more because he, the reporter, would need to give his regional editor a fraction of the amount and depending on how soon they wanted the story to be published, the editor at the national headquarters had to be given something as well to promote the publication of the article when written.  But then I had witnessed so many reporters taking money to write stories that I become resistant to this shock. The level of materialism that has invaded Ghana is beyond comparison. I used to think one could always escape Western materialism by going back home to enjoy authentic human relationship. But I erred. I witnessed how one man had Jaguar, Porsche (Cayman and Cayenne), Benz, Ferrari, Audi Q7, Aston Martin in his garage.  When I asked what he did, I was informed he owned a clinic, herbal pharmacy shops, a church and other businesses. I understand that it is his hard-earned money but since in Europe, wealthy people pay up to 50% of their income tax in support of the public welfare, I asked how much this guy was paying in taxes. I was told that in Ghana, the rich only need to fund political parties and finance men and women in public offices and in return are offered massive tax exemptions. When their rich counterparts elsewhere are setting up scholarships and offering grants for research purposes, the rich man in Ghana does not think he has any obligation to the system he has helped to undermine by buying off its leaders. I recently read about a German millionaire club that commits its members to the well-being of society. Their argument was that even though they are taxed heavily, they felt like they could still offer more. So out of a sense of social obligation, they initiated the club to offer help to those less privileged and social institutions that needed their help. How I wish the same could be said of the rich in Ghana. I, of course, have no idealized view of how people ought to behave or spend their money, but in view of survival and welfare of our nation, we can no longer afford to legalize and/or legitimize our individual selfish interest at the expense of the general welfare. I am appealing to our collective rational that we need a new societal arrangement that will allow for the fulfillment of our  basic needs. How do we equip our government to guarantee our basic social goods when we in turn sabotage the resources and revenues that the state needs in order to minister its responsibility? Can we in all sincerity rely on our government to protect our lives and properties when our selfish activities prevent our national government from becoming strong and intelligent enough to manage the affairs of our Motherland? In my silence, I have been forced to remind myself that with the kind of mass psychology that dominates our national discourse, we are all at fault and stand accused if we dare complain about our standard of living, ghastliness of our infrastructure and power failure. I left Ghana with these three tested sets of knowledge: 1. Those with the political mandates appear to be ignorant, indifferent and corrupt; the ignorance that plagues our policies should not be underestimated. 2. Those with the power (media) to inform , instruct and remind those in power of their responsibilities couldn’t care less. Our media feed the uninformed and ill-informed public with sensational absurdities. It appears they are as corrupt as the politicians; hence they work hand in hand. 3. It will take an informed and educated public to alter the two above. The citizenry of Ghana seems only to be interested in entertainment. Every single day, new TV programs and locations are started/opened to engage their entertaining spirits. Hardly anything in our media appeals to the intellectual faculty of the masses.   In 2002, my cousin was the Chairman for Legon’s 50th Anniversary Seminar Committee. He told me of how even though, the Speaker of Parliament, Right Hon. P.Ala Adjetey, Minority Leader in Parliament Hon. Bagbin, the Attorney General & Minister. of Justice Nana Akufo-Addo, etc., had all given the assurance of attendance, he had to sweat to finally get sponsorship from Coca-Cola. However, Miss Legon, Beach Trips and so on, never lack sponsorships. Multinational Companies operating in Ghana seemed satisfied in solely sponsoring beauty pageants and other entertainment oriented events.  Most of these Multinational Companies Pay less tax than Ghanaian owned companies. Unquestionably, one doesn’t have to be a genius to predict why we cannot hope for good governance in Ghana when the general population is distracted by trivialities, when cultural life is now redefined as perpetual round of entertainments, and serious public discourse has become a form of baby-talk in the media. Who is going to give the public the means to detect their civic responsibilities and as a result determine rationally who is best to lead our Mother Ghana? The reality is that we cannot expect good governance without an informed society. When will we as a nation learn to free ourselves from such trivialities and folly that make authentic progress in Ghana so difficult?  We definitely have to struggle with corruption, poor leadership, poverty and disease in Ghana but there is still hope. Mass education is the way out of the chaos and misery. That means the educator has a moral duty to fulfill here. But he can only do so with the right training and tools. Can we as a nation wise up and come together to form a commonwealth towards impartial administration of our resources? Ghana, as it stands, is currently slave to a thousand unfavorable circumstances but there is hope. The right thinking and approach will lift us from our current predicament to a higher life. My hope is that thoughtful women and men in all fields of endeavor will consider my plea and together join forces in bringing new ideas, new analyses and new approaches to our social issues to the attention of those who have been given the political mandate to direct the course of our country. Ghana can only be revived when a number of ethical individuals come together in creating a new tone of mind independent of the one customary among the crowd. Without this ethical approach towards solving our national issues, Ghana might progress materially, but a collective enjoyment of our progress won’t be possible. Whilst holding the individuals responsible, let us all together saturated in a cooperative spirit, strive in creating an authentic progress manifested in both material and spiritual (ethical and intellectual) progress, on the part of the individuals as well as of the masses. Until this happens, common sense dictates that I have to give up on a universal progress of Ghana.
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Dominic Mensah

A young man who is chiefly passionate about the big questions of life. Philosophical ideas give my life meaning. The joy of thinking, the challenge of understanding, the inspiration as well as the consolations of philosophy- welcome to my world! On Africa, knowledge is prerequisite to its liberation and survival. The progress of Africa must be sought by improving the intelligence of every African soul. I seek to serve Africa through critical thinking. Therefore I became a thinker to serve Mama Africa.

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