Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fire on the Mountain

Today I read a submission by Craig Murray, a human rights activist, writer, former British Ambassador, and, in his own words, a friend of Ghana (Read the article here). Ever since the commercial-quantities-of-oil party began, I have been very worried about what we will actually do with this oil. Will actually improve the quality of the life of the people in Bereprow (literally: ripen and rot) who cannot transport their farm produce to the markets because there are no roads connecting them, while food prices increase in the city?

Before I proceed, here is one burning question: DID WE HAVE TO HEAR THIS FROM AN "OUTSIDER"?

There used to be a time when I firmly believed Ghana to be the country that would always demonstrate to the rest of West Africa, at least, that it was possible to handle economic/political issues in ways that would ultimately prevent political turmoil. It is still my hope that as far as our plans for oil production are concerned Ghana will emerge a shining example of the way to do it right in West Africa.

However, in recent times, if the crazy driving and the ease with which tempers rise in traffic jams are anything to go by, then Ghanaians are becoming less and less the peace-loving, hospitable and accommodating people that the textbooks and newspapers talk about. For this and other reasons, concern about a future of oil rigs and pollution is not unwarranted.

Earlier this year (in this article), the Deputy Minister of Energy discouraged Ghanaian youth from having high expectations about the improvement that the oil industry would bring to the country's economy. The idea was to point out to the youth that without skills, crude oil would not make a difference in their lives. I couldn't agree more. However, in a country where the idea of the "national cake" is still at the fore of most people's minds, how does one prevent people from getting disappointed and then rebellious five to ten years down the line?

There is the Ministry of Energy, the Energy Commission, the Energy Foundation (have I missed any others?) and all these are players on the oil fields. The real concern is whether all their mission statements will go beyond talk when the oil starts to flow. There's also the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology whose overall objective is "to ensure accelerated socio-economic development of the nation through the formulation of sound policies and a regulatory frame work to promote the use of appropriate environmentally friend, scientific and technological practices and techniques."

It will soon be time to put these objectives to the test again. Let's not have Asa say to us, "I told you so" when the river overflows and we find ourselves running, wishing we had put out the fire.

Image: Courtesy

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hit and Did Not Run

Today I killed a single mother and her children in broad daylight. Okay, let me be quick to say that this single mother happened to be a little white hen. I am still not sure whether I really killed the chicks as well but that is what I was told.

In rural Ghana, a "big shot" is expected to take responsibility in ways that one can only begin to imagine. For this reason, some minutes of the morning had to be spent on protecting my image so as not to become known as "the South African (or is it Jamaican) madam who lives in Sierra Leone House, speaks Mfantsi better than us anyway, and treats the small fry with disregard." Please do not think this far-fetched for the people would indeed have arrived at this conclusion. This is what happens in areas where there are many unemployed people with a lot of time on their hands to sit under trees and guess other residents' nationalities based on their hairstyles.

I was doing the 1.5-minute downhill drive when this family of birds decided to cross the road (why, again, did the chicken cross the road?). I tried to slow down to avoid any casualties but the result was a spray of feathers akin to that which occasionally results from pillow fights. My first instinct was to continue driving because that's what I would do elsewhere. However, I found myself slowing down, all the time observing, through the rearview mirror, the dancing hen and the pedestrians who had stopped in their tracks to observe the bloody scene.

I put the car in reverse, got back to the accident spot, stepped out, and asked the first person who looked like a stakeholder, "Me kaw ahi (How much do I owe you)?"

"Wo kaw dze bebree o. Ɔnye ne mba nyinara na anyam hɔn no o. (Your debt is huge. You just crushed the hen and all its offspring.)"

"Ntsi me kaw ahi (So how much do I owe you)?"

Just then, a passerby asked whose birds they were, and my recently acquired creditor mentioned another name. The lady had recently had a baby and was at another location in the village. It was then that said creditor decided to recall that the owner's husband was nearby and could be consulted. All this while, the hen, with its broken neck, was bleeding and rolling back home. I am still wondering whether it was by chance that, as it was dying, the hen "retraced its steps."

For the next three minutes I waited as someone was sent to bring Mr. Husband-of-owner-of-dying-hen. During this period, another passerby suggested that they quickly drain the blood out of the hen and make it suitable for consumption.

I still don't know if the husband was found but when the emmisary returned, I was politley asked to go and carry on with the day's business. Just to be sure, I asked whether the husband was not at home. The response was the same so I got in the car and drove off, thankful that a war had not erupted.

I strongly believe that later that evening, supper was extra special.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ignorance and Male Chauvinism: A Recipe for Disaster

One of the reasons why I love public transport in Ghana is because of what one gets to learn about people's attitudes and opinions within the short period that one shares that space and circumstance with them. I am often the silent observer, watching, listening, never joining in the general conversations that often come up among passengers.

This morning, en route to Kasoa from Achimota, the radio of my 33-seater-with-minimal-leg-room was tuned to (most Ghanaians can guess which frequency) 104.3 FM, and the subject of the discussion was the previous day's soccer match between Ghana and Egypt.

My attention kept drifting between John Grisham and everything else and at some point I heard a reporter seeking the thoughts of the public about the match. After a brief interview with one pedestrian or trader who just happened to be female, I heard the following comment from a male voice two or three rows behind me: "Na obaa nso diɛ, dɛn na onim fa futbɔl ho? Ghana paaa! (tr. What on earth could a woman know about football? This country!)"

Note that all the interviewee had said was that it seemed to be in the nature of the Black Stars to relax once they had scored a goal or two and were in the lead - a simple statement that one could choose to agree with or not.

My first instinct was to immediately let this man know that he had just won the Macho-Simpleton-Of-The-Moment award but when I turned around I realised it would not be worth the effort.

But the bigger issue for me was this - how many more people in Ghana, in 2009, think like my fellow passenger? Ghana has had female sports analysts for a while now and the country has women'snational football team which is, to whatever degree, recognised internationally.

I was somewhat consoled by the fact that none of the other passengers expressed any amusement whatsoever at the statement of this ignoramus. Usually, such an expression would mean that they shared his opinion. I still worry, though, that he is surely not the only one in his generation or any other, with such thoughts.

Is it a wonder, then, that the President will have a hard time achieving his manifesto's aim of a minimum 40 per cent representation of women at Conferences and Congresses of the Party and in government and public service; the promotion of increased female access to education, health, employment and other socio-economic infrastructure and services?

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Open Secret Ballot Concept

In the wake of Ghana's recent elections and the variety of accusations being thrown at various parties, individuals and organisations for election mis-this and election mis-that, I propose the idea of the Open Secret Ballot.

Picture this: It's 3.00 AM on Election Day and electoral officials are busy mounting as many teak poles (or galvanized iron ones depending on the vicinity) as there are presidential aspirants, at various polling stations. Each pole will fly the flag of the candidate that it represents.

With this done, voters will begin to trickle in starting 7.00 AM to queue up in front of the pole that represents the candidate of their choice. This will continue until 5.00PM (or noon if everyone wants to get it over with), at which time no one else will be able to join any of the queues. Then the officials begin a tally of the number of individuals lined up before a given pole.

What a waste of one's energy, you say? Bring a chair (someone did during the queuing for the secret ballot); bring your laptop; bring a novel; bring your lunch. So what if productivity in nearly zero on that day? Well, what about the net alleviation of the reduction in productivity that results after every secret ballot when workers spend hours lambasting this person or the other for causing an outcome that is not in their favour?

The Open Secret Ballot: Queue And Be Counted Or Have Yourself To Blame.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Responsibility or Unnecessary Risk?

A very dear friend of mine has told me often that everything we do in this world is ultimately for selfish reasons - that there is nothing that we do out of pure selflessness. As far as I am concerned we have not arrived at a conclusion on the subject.

A series of events that took place last Tuesday, December 23 brought this matter to the fore of my mind and I am yet to discuss them with my "selfishness theorist." That morning I was on my way to the village where I work, when I was slowed down by a road accident involving two articulated dump trucks carrying freshly excavated sand, and a taxi which had landed on its tires in a ditch.

As I passed slowly by I realised no one was dead or bleeding and all the drivers around seemed to have things under control. So, I decided to continue with my journey. However, a second thought made me turn the old Ford truck around to go find out what I could do to help.

This one change of plans led to the following: I took one of the passengers to the clinic at Senya-Bereku because her right hip was acting up and walking had become painful, got her some breakfast so she could take her meds, took her home to return the large basin of fish she had been taking to the market, and took her to Winneba Hospital to get an X-ray.

Now, at Winneba, I also got to renew the roadworthy certificate of the old truck. I had tried to do it in Accra the day before and thanks to the usual city traffic and the fact that it was close to the holiday season, DVLA had decided to close its gates to me at 3.00PM!

My accident victim did not mind waiting for a few more minutes while I got the checks on the vehicle done and couldn't stop thanking me when I brought her back home to Senya-Bereku with the knowledge that none of her hip bones had been broken, and that she was just terribly sore from the impact.

What an interesting turn of events. Support for "selfishness theory"?

DVLA = Driver and Vehicle Licencing Authority

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Friday, October 3, 2008

Chief Letter Writer

If you have ever seen the classic Ghanaian movie I Told You So you should be familiar with the term Chief Letter Writer. The term came to mind in a week when I was part of a panel interviewing applicants to fill an opening for a company driver. There were these two application letters that seemed strikingly similar in structure and content and would not have been considered for interviews but for the curiosity of the HRM.

Apparently there was (and still is) a "Chief Letter Writer" in the next town making a living from typing out letters for people who do not even care to read these letters before they send them out. Do we still have such a long way to go?

The template for the job application letter must necessarily contain the word "Youngman" irrespective of the age of the applicant. If you are lucky, your actual age is put in the letter, otherwise, as happened to one of the potential company drivers, you have to face a panel that believes you are thirty years old and explain why you just said you were forty-two. Since the letter must also contain the phrase "flying colours" at all costs, this applicant who had just said he did not finish high school, had to explain why his letter of application said he had passed his high school exams with flying colours.

I could go on and on but I stop here and hope to find an answer to why things must be so.