Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Facing Our Demons

It is a fact that every country has its own problems. Be it humanitarian, unemployment, job losses, accidents, rush-hour, murders, developing countries are not alone and so definitely Ghana is not alone. However, what make ours a topic to discuss are the causes of the problems. I definitely am not going to assume the role of an omniscient investigator, neither am I going to pretend to wield within my hand or have in my mind or heart the answers to our numerous problems. However, it is my believe that if we should all dig deep into ourselves as human beings, search every interstice, every nook and cranny (forget the cliché), every orifice, every artery, every nerve and neuron, we will find the causes of our problems with its solution locked somewhere. After all, is not said that identifying of the problem is the first step towards solving it?

Though as a country we are faced with numerous and diverse problems, the root causes are common. Hence, identifying one cause could help in rectifying or solving most of our problems. There is no magic formula or panacea to these problems, what is required is for us to have the mental fortitude, the will and the zeal to solve these problems.

Egotism (or the 'I' Syndrome)
Egotism is defined as:
  • inflated sense of self-importance: the possession of an exaggerated sense of self-importance and superiority to other people
  • preoccupation with self: the tendency to speak or write too much about yourself
  • selfishness: selfishness or self-centeredness
From these definitions it is not difficult to see why this seven-letter word is the major cause of our problems. However, there are other positive sides to this as Adam Smith (the acclaimed father of Economics) put it. According to this great personality, it is only when individuals pursue their self-interest that the market gets cleared through the efficient allocation of resources. But this same self-interest when carried beyond the boundaries of reason into folly metamorphosed into something so strange and dangerous as selfishness.

Let us tackle this by presenting a scene that met my sight yesterday (6th July). On my home along the Tetteh Quarshie road leading from Legon to Spanner, I witnessed something that forced me to re-examine our psyche: are we sane or are we becoming psychotic zombies, moved by a hidden hand that knows no patience and sympathy? It was just before Shangrila that I saw these two cars, an Audi and a BMW 3 series (the very old model, the early 80s type), speeding as if they were chasing a Formula 1 title in an Australian Grand Prix. The Audi suddenly switched lanes without any warning, swerving into a tiny space in front of a speeding long-truck and from nowhere the BMW followed suit, in the same style. The truck did all it could to slow down and whilst doing so honked its horn to alert the others and to force those idiots not slow down, because if they did they would have been mangled. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately) nothing happened. I am sure you have been a witness to such a similar scene before. If not then you do not live in Ghana.

What is the 'I' syndrome here?
As a people we only think of ourselves. It is 'us' and on one else. I am in a hurry; I am late; I must be there at this time; I have to eat; I must listen to this call... Do we really care about others as we have been touted to be? Are we really 'hospitable'? I ask this simple question because it is the self-centredness of these drivers, their feeling that they have the right-of-way, which definitely wasn't the case, that nearly spelt their demise. Wasn't the truck driver also entitled to the use of the lane? Couldn't they have signalled to the others their intention to join the lane? The degree to which lives would be saved if we have a little patience and respect for the other person is so profound. Let's not in our search of fulfillment leave out the other person.

Crossing the Road
Have you tried crossing the road when the traffic lights are off? I have most of the time been the pedestrian and I know this very well. Woe betides you if you should find yourself crossing a road whose traffic lights are off, even from a zebra crossing. It is almost impossible to get a driver to stop for you to cross. I always watch this with fascination. If you are lucky and one driver stops, you are bound to see many others speeding past him hooting their horns and putting the lives of pedestrians in grave danger. Do they really care? Have they sat down to think that their friends, relatives, loved ones, colleagues, acquaintances, could be among the lot crossing the road? So far as it is not them, it is safe.

There was a story of a nurse whose negligence led to the death of her own husband. It was during one of those rampant strikes by health-workers that her outfit received an emergency case. Instead of thinking of the patient, she was thinking of the money the government wasn't giving them. So she delayed in her attendance and subsequent treatment and lo and behold it was her husband, whose life she has horrendously taken. Did she think of him? No! But she had promised the whole world that she would do that, didn't she?

Traffic Jam
We all do complain of traffic jams, bumper to bumper, congestion, yet we are the cause. Like crabs in a bowl with a small opening we all want to use that very lane at the same time because we are in a hurry. Whereas if we form a queue and allow the cars to move one after the other we definitely would get to our destination early and easy. But will I do it? Why should I allow him to go, when I am late for work? And with similar thoughts running through each person's mind we choke that tiny junction, which in the first place is not an approved route, leading to a traffic jam at the distal end of the road and then come back to complain of traffic. That's the power of 'I'.

Even if you decide to use the approved route and lane, you would see many others using the shoulders of the road in an attempt to overtake you. This leads to traffic and then again everybody begin to complain.

Shoddy Works
When contracts are awarded, most contractors scarcely think of how well they are going to execute the project. All their thinking rush to how best they can cut cost and increase the profit margin, which had already been factored into the project cost. Consequently, shoddy works are produced; roads that cannot stand a two-hour rainfall, buildings that cannot stand stress. Thank God that we aren't as earthquake prone as say China or even tornado and hurricane friendly as the Americas and the Caribbeans. We again spend more money to renovate them or build a new ones.

Even before contracts are awarded many 'I' have taken their commissions, knowing very well that it would lead to shoddy works being produced. The commission takers and kickback recipients don't envisage that their actions could and perhaps would, in the course of time, lead to the demise of their family members, loved ones or someone close to them. This may sound farfetched but if pot-holed roads lead to road accidents and road accidents is quickly becoming the number cause of death in the country, and the cause of these bad roads is the result of 'corner-cutting' by contractors who in turn blame it on the amount of kickbacks they have to pay to win the contract then who really kill these people. It definitely isn't the bad road! It is the very people who 'cut' the corners: the contractors and the kickback recipients. So next time you are cutting corners, think earnestly of the consequences of your actions.

Street Shopping
Do those who have made the streets and pavements their shops, ever think of you my dear pedestrian or driver? All their concerns lie at the bottom of their pockets: how much are they going to earn? How much customers are they going to attract? They only think of where trading would be profitable for them and not how easy it would be for others to use the pavements and streets. Yet what do we see? Instead of moving into the main marketing centres to purchase our produce, we think only of how we can reduce time and energy and not the traffic we are causing ourselves and others and so purchase from them--The Tragedy of the Commons. In this way we encourage them to stay, don't we?

Similarly, we patronise the wares of street vendors and hawkers along major highways in the country and sometimes other drivers have to hoot to alert the 'trading' driver that the traffic is flowing. Yet we are the same people who would come complaining of the effects of streetism on the society and its corresponding armed robbery. Have you heard of armed robbery in traffic, people pretending to be selling something to you and robbing you?

Sometimes I wonder had Bill Gates been a Ghanaian, would he have donated such huge sums of money to all the projects being carried out in Africa and Asia? In Ghana alone there are numerous NGOs implementing one Gate project or the other. At least I know of five institutions implementing a Gate project on cocoa and others on postharvest losses. Yet, the Ghanaian would concentrate only on stuffing his belly first, then his family next and then wait till he dies. Let's consider Mobutu Sesesseko, who was reputed to have been richer than his country, or even Sani Abacha...These billions of dollars they steal could they ever use everything in their entire lifetime? Sometimes I wonder what kind of humans we are. It is the same in Ghana, my beloved reader. Politicians and individuals grabbing the nation's properties left right and centre. Did you ever hear of Kutu Acheampong's nickname 'fa woto begye Golf' (come and exchange your booty with a Golf car)? I don't want to infuriate people hence I would not name names now (in both the NDC and the NPP) but we have not forgotten the pampers and the Ghana @ 50 projects.

The Rains and our Buildings
The Meteo people have announced more rains and I am glad. At least there would be food for the masses. Yet there are a lot of people who are dreading this forecast, which should have been a blessing. To them it portends doom, a premonition of an impending destruction. How could it be? Except that people have decided to make waterways their property on which to develop their dream homes. It belongs to them. They neither care about what their actions would cause the majority of people at the other end of the city.

Food for Profit
I once watched a TV3 news item, which showed how common foods have become recipes for death. Palm-oils are no longer what they must be, they are now mixed with colours and other mixtures; honey are mixed with melted foam; roasted yams are more yellow than the oil in which they are fried. All these for the sake of making more profits for ourselves, "the self". Thus, we care not if we kill for our self-interest. People have collected disposed pig feet from the dump and sold it before. A lot of products on the market are fake because the sellers want to earn supernormal profit. Petrol stations adulterate the purity of their products.

This is us. These are the demons we must face if we intend to progress as a nation; if we are to see the light of development.

Next time when thinking about any problem in Ghana, try thinking about it in this direction and you would realise how much our selfishness is causing the nation. To surmise, let me quote what Culture (the Reggae musician) once said: "You better share your riches with the poor, before they share their poverty with you".


  1. Wow, it's like you're describing Kenya! Most of Africa is so similar i guess. Every country has its problems but Africa is on another plane altogether. Our brothers and sisters actually die of hunger to date. Good analysis here, that it starts from the I. But it also has something to do with our values, our history, our culture, our economic systems...... i hope that one day Africa gets well out of this quagmire.

  2. Thanks Kingwa for your insightful comments. I hope one day we would come out of this...I am glad you took time to read this...


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