Saturday, 13 September 2014

Prof Alex Kwapong - A Great Ghanaian

The passing away of Professor Alexander Adum Kwapong a little over a month ago signals the gradual phasing out of the first generation of Ghanaian scholars and intellectuals who laid the foundation of university education in Ghana. He dedicated his entire life to public service, most of them in academia. It is fitting and proper that his funeral this weekend reflects this fact.

There was a vigil last night, Friday 12th September at the Forecourt of the Great Hall which is named after him and called the Alexander Adum Kwapong Quadrangle and the burial today Saturday will also be at the same venue with the two-hour viewing starting at 7.30 am. Funeral rites following the burial will also be at the same venue today at the University of Ghana, Legon. The Thanksgiving service will however be at the Ridge Church in Accra tomorrow.

The details of Professor Kwapong’s distinguished life are well known and should serve as an inspiration for the nation. After studying at Achimota College in Ghana, he was awarded a scholarship to continue his studies in Classics at Cambridge University, graduating with first class honours in 1951. He went on to become a lecturer and then full professor at the University of Ghana where he taught Greek, Latin and ancient history. Over time he was appointed to a number of senior posts with the University of Ghana, before becoming that university’s first Ghanaian Vice-Chancellor in 1966.

After serving in that capacity for ten years, Professor Kwapong moved to the United Nations University in Tokyo and took up the post of Vice-Rector for Institutional Planning and Resource Development. According to a tribute by the U.N University, Professor Kwapong “worked closely with the first rector, James H. Hester, to lay the foundations necessary for UNU as both a university and a part of the United Nations system, and to attract funding for the University. Working with UNU’s second rector, Dr. Soedjatmoko, he was instrumental in the establishment of the first UNU institute — the UNU World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER) — and the first institute established in Africa — the UNU Institute for Natural Resources in Africa (UNU-INRA), based in Accra, Ghana”.

 After leaving UNU, he was a Professor of International Development at Dalhousie University in Canada and the Director of Africa Programmes for the Commonwealth of Learning. He was awarded the 1981 Simba Prize for Scholarly Essays (Rome) and is the author of many articles in scholarly journals. Professor Kwapong  served on numerous boards, including the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies and the International Council for Educational Development, the Association of African Universities, the Association of Commonwealth Universities (President, 1971), the International Association of Universities, and the International Council for Philosophy and Humanistic Studies (Vice-President) and was Chairman of the Education Review Committee of Ghana.

 Retiring from academic work did not mean the end of his public service. He became the chairman of the Council of State from 2001 to 2005 where he played his role as one of the government’s principal advisors. In an interview looking back on his achievements Dr. Kwapong remarked that, “the minimum qualification to be a good leader is not intellectual capacity but the capability to work with people, the modesty to understand one’s own limitations and to do one’s homework”.


The nation has lost a great Ghanaian.

Sunday, 24 August 2014


Yes, you read it right; there is nothing wrong with the headline. Let me repeat the question for emphasis: how REDDY are you? If the laudable and ambitious plans by the Forestry Commission go according to plan, REDD+ (REDD Plus) will soon be a familiar expression in Ghana, and for all our sakes, it is important to get everyone on the REDD bandwagon from the word go.

What is REDD+? REDD stands for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation; the “plus” is the additional “conservation, sustainable forest management and enhancement of carbon stock. It is a mechanism that has been under negotiation by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) since 2005, with the twin objectives of mitigating climate change through reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and removing greenhouse gases through enhanced forest management in developing countries.

Greenhouse gas is a natural part of the atmosphere. It absorbs solar radiation and keeps the earth warm enough to support life. Human activities including burning fossil fuels for energy, land clearing and agriculture have increased the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

Ghana has signed up to this mechanism and the Forestry Commission is coordinating the Ghana effort known as Gh-REDD+, which will be Ghana’s contribution to making the world a better place for present and coming generations. As we all know, of all the creatures that live on planet earth, we humans have the primary responsibility to make it a better place for all. So far we have not done well.  As we produce the things that make life comfortable such as electricity, and operate vehicles and machines we produce gases that are harmful to the earth.

There is a shield that covers the earth and protects it from excessive heat from the sun. This umbrella is known as the ozone layer but when we burn the fuels that power our “civilized” lifestyles the gases that are emitted puncture holes in the ozone layer thus creating an imbalance in the earth’s atmosphere. It is this imbalanced, which when prolonged causes what is known as “climate change”.

The natural way to replenish or preserve the ozone layer is through the production of oxygen by plants. Plants absorb the carbon dioxide which is produced by vehicles and industrial fuels while producing oxygen, which all living things need to survive.

Logically, the more plants we have the more carbon dioxide is absorbed and the more oxygen produced. This is why forests, which are the biggest collection of plants, are so important in the fight against climate change.

Various studies have shown that about one-quarter of all global greenhouse gas emissions are due to land use change, including deforestation and forest degradation. This is why there has to be a global focus on reducing emissions from changes in the forest cover in the countries of the forest zone, including Ghana.

According to Ghana Forestry Commission analysis, climate change is becoming an increasing threat to secure livelihoods and social and economic development within Ghana. This is why the government “is fully committed to mitigating these effects, as well as preparing measures to adapt to these changes. As a tropical country with considerable forest reserves we recognise the significant contribution that improved policies and actions to reduce deforestation and degradation can play within both mitigation and adaptation”.

As a developing country that depends on agriculture for our exports and sustenance climate change has a huge impact on our lives. The causes of deforestation and forest degradation are linked to the many socio-economic challenges that we face in our economy and society. These include high population growth, rapid urbanization, unplanned “developments” and above all, inability to ensure that policies and regulations are enforced.

In the Gh-REDD framework, the Forestry Commission is leading a Steering Committee that includes various ministries and government agencies as well as civil society, the media and the private sector to implement initiatives within the broader national and international strategy.  The strategy is ready to go on the road and in the next one month the Forestry Commission and the Steering Committee will mount a “roadshow” designed to enlist the support of the general public for the REDD+ Scheme.

What are the elements of the scheme and how can ordinary Kofi and Amma get involved? Firstly, there has to be considerable public education because these issues are rather technical and the people who explain them usually go to bed and dream in the jargon of their profession. They need to break it down for the rest of us, which is why they are organising the roadshow. We need to understand what activities are involved in the strategy and how individuals and communities gain by participating in the initiatives.

The question is, what can ordinary folk do to play their part in this laudable enterprise? The first is to embrace the idea, as I have done. It did not take me a long time to agree to be REDDY, although I must confess that information on it is often dense and packed with jargon and acronyms. Secondly, everyone can and should become a REDD+ communicator; in other words, spread the word and let more people know about it.

There are many practical steps that we can all take in order to help in reducing the rate of climate change. Some are very simple, everyday changes we can make immediately, such as planting, nurturing and protecting trees on farms and lands. For many years now we have heard the tree-planting message; and it has gone down well in some areas. Schools, churches, mosques and other communities have planted trees in places that had none previously. We need to do more tree-planting, especially in our urban environments.

This message should become a central to the plans of all central and local government schemes and activities. The logic of REDD+ is that we must create an underlay of climate change consciousness in everything we do and this must begin with how policy is formulated and implemented at every level of government and society.

We must also, actively support sustainable forest management strategies. This means that we must stop illegal harvesting of trees, stop charcoal production in forests and rather plant and nurture trees, among many possible initiatives. Of course many people are already doing some of these things with remarkable enthusiasm, but we need to increase the number of people engaged with this concept. This is why the proposal by the Forestry Commission makes so much interesting sense.

The recommend that everyone gets at least five more people to join hands with you on whatever initiative you choose to work on.  In the next weeks, months and years we will all hear a lot about the REDD+, which has nothing to do with Kotoko or Manchester United. This REDD is the lifeline to a future for the earth. It is REDD by way of green.

Remember the saying: ‘when the last tree dies, the last man dies’. Let not the last tree die on your patch.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Why Akua is looking for Little Kwaku’s Father (07-06-13

Why Akua is looking for Little Kwaku’s Father (07-06-13)

Kwaku is five years old but that is not his real name. His mother is Akua and that is not her real name either but they are real people and their story is real. Kwaku’s father has effectively abducted the child, but Akua does not know what to do or where to turn for help. This is Akua’s story.

She has two children both with the same man. They lived as man and wife although the man had not performed any rites. They come from adjoining villages in the same district and had known each other “back home” but their relationship had been formed in the hard setting of Accra’s unfriendly suburbs. Let us call the man Emmanuel; he is a tradesman having learnt carpentry and other crafts at various apprenticeships since he left school.

Emmanuel came to Accra in 2003 or 2004 to join his cousin who had arrived two years earlier and stayed at Ashiaman. Akua also arrived a year or so later but the two met and developed their friendship sometime in 2005. They had a daughter in 2006 and little Kwaku followed two years later in 2008. Their daughter, Amma is seven and the boy who is at the centre of this story’s main sub-plot is five. After months of quarrelling, usually over money, the two drifted apart with Akua unofficially but firmly and inevitably retaining custody of the two children.

Emmanuel was an on-off father for a few months after the on-off relationship kind of ended; he paid money for the partial upkeep of the children as and when he was harassed by Akua, especially after he was rumoured to have taken up with another woman. One day, or so it appears,  Emmanuel vanished from the lives of Akua and the children and he made sure to consign his mobile phone number to the garbage heap of history. But Akua is a determined woman and managed after months of hard detective work to get her hands on Emmanuel’s new telephone number.

He said he was living in Kumasi after receiving Akua’s surprise call. He explained that he had left Ashiaman under considerable financial pressure but had now found employment in Kumasi and promised to do his fatherly duty. Meanwhile, Akua’s mother had taken Amma with her to the village, so Emmanuel came up with a suggestion: since Amma was struggling to look after the boy, would it not be better if he took little Kwaku to live with him in Kumasi? Akua said a firm no. Emmanuel used the new idea as a bargaining chip. He would stop looking after the children altogether unless he Akua agreed to given custody of Kwaku to him. She reluctantly agreed because she did not want the entire clan blaming her if Emmanuel used her refusal as the excuse for not looking after their children. One day Emmanuel suddenly came to Accra to take the boy to Kumasi. That was the last time Akua saw her son or his father.

Three months ago, Emmanuel played a cruel trick on Akua who had been pleading with him to allow her to pay a visit to her son. He agreed to let her see him so Akua bought some nice things for Kwaku and set off for Kumasi. She got there in the evening but by then Emmanuel had done it again; his mobile phone had gone stone dead and has stayed dead up to this minute. Akua stayed at the bus station overnight and continued her futile search for her son the next day until she realised that Emmanuel had pointedly punished her for wanting to see her son. What could Akua do? She returned to Accra a dejected figure. No amount of cajoling and pleading with Emmanuel’s relatives and friends has given her even a morsel of comfort.

On the face of it, Akua could have recourse to the law and this is what I suggested when I got to know of her case. But she has spoken to people who have tried the police route and they have persuaded her to the view that it would be a waste of both money and time. She told me poignantly that “in Ghana poor people have no rights”.

Akua is not alone in her predicament. Just by looking around my own circle of friends and acquaintances, I am astounded at the high number of women who have been left by their children’s fathers to look after the children on their own. What is worse, it appears that this is a taboo subject which is hardly addressed publicly. It is a question of family honour, someone has suggested; families do not want to wash their dirty linen in public and so while they try to support such women if they can, in reality most of them have no real support and are on their own.

Emmanuel is not alone. The one good read reason Akua thinks she was so badly treated in the Kumasi fiasco is that Emmanuel is living with another woman, who if his relatives are to be believed, is also not his wife. Emmanuel has moved on, at least in his own mind. As he sees it, he is looking after Kwaku while Akua’s mother is looking after Amma in the village. That for him is the end of the matter.

There are hundreds of thousands of children in such “domestic limbo” who are denied full parental care by both parents; more importantly they are left in the care of these young women who themselves are barely making a living. These women feel trapped and do not know where to go. The Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit of the Police Service is often recommended to such women to report their AWOL menfolk but this unit is probably not the most appropriate institution for resolving such difficulties.

In many ways the Ghanaian state has abdicated its responsibilities in the social sector as if to say that there should be no or minimum public interference in people’s private lives. However, part of the social contract by which we are governed expressly expects the state to protect people even from their own weaknesses and follies.

The problem of fatherless children is an epidemic in our society and we can no longer pretend the phenomenon does not exist. At the same time it is neither correct nor enough to treat this as a moral issue in which young mothers burdened with bringing up these children are cast in the role of villains who “brought it on themselves”. Obviously the problem relates to several other causative factors including unregulated rural to urban migration, lack of proper educational opportunities, the need for decent accommodation for young people, sex education and general solidarity and fellow-feeling for one another in society. There are many causes of this problem and the government would do well to commission a formal study into the many dimensions of this problem. 

In the meantime, somewhere in Kumasi, or more likely in one of its suburban badlands, is a man who has effectively abducted his own son and denied the child’s mother visiting rights. We have called him Emmanuel but we could call him a hundred other names all of which he would answer to because there are so many of such fathers. We have to find and HELP them to do their duty, but where encouragement fails they have to be compelled by law.



Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s Founding Fathers is credited with the famous quotation “Nothing in this world can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”. Mr. Franklin was a very clever man – scientist, inventor, editor, politician and more, but he did not know of one of life’s main permanent features: the incompetence of our very own Electricity Company of Ghana. This is probably a little harsh so let us look at it another way. Given that ECG does not produce any electricity itself and does not know how, when and how much of the stuff it markets and distributes is produced, the company ought to be made the Eighth Wonder of the World.

Or perhaps a better way to look at it is that in ECG’s failures we are only feeling the sharp and bitter end of national incompetence. To put this in perspective, there are said to be 24 million Ghanaians, although no-one can be sure of this because the last census was bungled, but let us accept that there are 24 million of us. Out of this 24 million Ghanaians some are very clever indeed. We have produced great teachers, stylish coffin makers, mathematical geniuses, farmers and fishermen, scientists and technologists, great mechanics, medical doctors (other doctors in various shapes and guises), pastors, evangelists and prophets, lawyers (you can find them examining pink sheets on any normal day), even journalists and politicians. And yet, despite this abundance of talent and genius we cannot PLAN how and when electric power may be put off and on!

This is a national disgrace; there is no other way to put it. We accept that there is not enough electricity to share among all of us; in any case we are short of everything you can think of: water, clean air, fuel, healthcare, teachers and money, to name a few, so being short of electricity is only a further and better illustration of what we have in a basket of goods and services in chronic shortfall. We accept that this shortfall will affect us in one way or another. But can’t we be spared the spontaneous and unplanned nature of our suffering? Or is it really as unplanned and spontaneous as we allege?

This was a question I put to a chap at one of ECG’s Call Centres in the middle of the night last Sunday. You can argue on humanitarian grounds that it was probably not fair to confront the man at one hour past midnight, but I was left with no choice. The power had been taken, as they say in Nigeria, two nights out of three, and this was the third night in 96 hours that we had been deprived of electricity. This was strange even if the power outages were occurring randomly. The law of averages states that over a period of time the occurrence of the same event will even out. This means that it is most unlikely that the same area would suffer DUMSO three times in a row even if it was occurring unplanned. The conclusion therefore was that our area was being unfairly targeted for power outages.

As a socialist I can mentally agree with the choice of our area for such execution, if the idea is driven by revolutionary principles. I live in an area where a small but powerful minority of residents (I am not in that group) can boast a disproportionate consumption of electricity because they have more of everything; fridges, air conditioners, lawnmowers, deep freezers, electric toys for Junior, electric fences and windows and perhaps electric shavers and Jacuzzis. Ironically, these same people own the biggest generators God has placed at the disposal of the Third World, so when the power goes they race to put on their gen sets and sleep to the sweet sound of wealth. The point is that when power is taken from my area the reduction in the power consumption may be so noticeable that the people who take the decision do not have to worry about anywhere else. This was my theory when I called the Call Centre.

Before I go on, let us look at the idea of the call centre, especially as it relates to our ECG. I have taken the trouble to check the Wikipedia definition of “call centre” and this is what it says: “A call centre is a centralised office used for the purpose of receiving or transmitting a large volume of requests by telephone. An inbound call centre is operated by a company to administer incoming product support or information inquiries from consumers…” It appears to me that a company that has no information or product support has no business setting up a call centre. Those who want to experience ECG’s rich provision of information and product support can call their call centres on 0302611611.

Let us give credit where credit is due. ECG has trained its call centre staff very well in how to mention their names and greet you courteously when they are responding to your call. That is the only thing they can provide; from there things go downhill very quickly. They cannot tell when the power is coming back because that is down to Gridco or someone else. Can we find out when next we will be taken off? The answer is no; that is down to Gridco… Their strategy is to wear you out without providing a single shred of information useful or otherwise. The only important information I got from the gentleman at the other was that the call centre staff had recommended to the bosses the need for a free telephone line for customers but the bosses had so far not agreed to do this.

My conversation with the call centre supervisor told me a number of things. The first is that the electricity problem is probably much bigger than the ECG and the authorities are making it out to be; that it is a management and political problem disguised as a technical one; that there is neither rhyme nor reason in the whole operation and therefore complacency could be the default position, and that ECG is wasting our money by setting up useless call centres.

However, there are 24 million of us. Someone somewhere can surely do a better job than what we are being offered at the moment. In simple and plain language, no matter the difficulty with producing electricity it should not be beyond our collective ability to plan it the way it was done in the Kufour period when we knew almost precisely when our power would go off and come back on. This, as they say, is not rocket science; talking of which we even have a rocket scientist at NASA.

It is just that whoever is “managing” this situation is taking us for granted and making life unnecessarily tedious for all of us.


Tomorrow June 2nd is a GAW Sunday at PAWA House, Roman Ridge in Accra. GAW Sunday is a literary and cultural entertainment event organised by the Ghana Association of Writers on the first Sunday of every month. Tomorrow’s activities include poetry, book readings, storytelling and a book launch. Admission is free and children and young people are especially welcome.


“All-things” Nkrumah Website to be Launched Wednesday (22-05-13)

“All-things” Nkrumah Website to be Launched Wednesday (22-05-13)

A website dedicated to “all things Kwame Nkrumah” will be launched at the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana, Legon on Thursday morning. The event will kick off the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now the African Union (AU). The Kwame Nkrumah “Infobank” is an outgrowth of the Nkrumah Centenary celebrations and its development has been has been overseen by the Centenary Planning Committee with Professor Akilagpa Sawyerr as Chairman; the Website Committee is chaired by Professor Esi Sutherland-Addy. The technical development of the site has been undertaken by Techcom Visions, a group of mainly young and dynamic IT and management specialists.

As explained by Professor Sutherland-Addy, the launch on Thursday May 23 will be the beginning of the website because this “website will be a dynamic space that will continue to grow as more materials are included. The website is more about the future than the past because it is aimed at preserving the legacy of Nkrumah and his times in order to present them to the coming generations”.

Indeed, the website design has made room for almost every possible permutation of information and circumstances linked to Nkrumah and his times but the opportunity to include new research material and “live events” reporting of events on Nkrumah-related topics makes this an exciting adventure into the long future. The website’s content revolves around five main headings and these include all the papers delivered during the colloquium and other events of the centenary celebrations as well as press reports and pictures. This is an excellent way of bringing the centenary to a wider public in an organised manner.

Naturally, such a website is an archive and already the site can boast of a good collection of archival material, including Kwame Nkrumah’s own writings and books, a selection of essays on Nkrumah’s life and times, Nkrumah and Culture, politics,  spotlight on women, the CPP, and his contribution to the fight for continental unity and pan-Africanism.


However, Professor Sutherland-Addy is quick to stress that the archive “will always be work in progress because we know that there is a vast Nkrumah archive still to be discovered or recovered, so with this website now in place we can only hope that a worldwide trawl for Nkrumah material will bring a good yield. There must be people who may have an Nkrumah letter or handwritten note or lectures in their possession and we will appeal to such people to get in touch with the administrators of the website”.

The website makes provision for interactive activities and it is the hope of the developers that the site will become a major space for broadcasting and webcasting major live events such as conferences, symposia, book launches and lectures related to the themes connected to Nkrumah such as pan-Africanism and African unity, international progressive politics and solidarity, non-alignment and the like. The interactive section will enable bloggers and writers to create their own spaces in order to generate opinion pieces, discussion and even controversy.

The website will also have multimedia functions such as video streaming, maps and virtual tours of “Nkrumah’s places”. The developers have explained that some of the multimedia features will be added as the website is further developed. Indeed, it is a feature of such heritage and archival websites to add new material and curate new concepts and shows all the time in order to keep the alive and fresh for new audiences and generations.

The launch will be held at the Kwabena Nketia Conference Room at the Institute of African Studies at 9.30 on Thursday May 23, 2013. Guests are expected to be seated by 9.00.


How many times we we not heard it said that Africans are not writing? Well Accra has been enjoying a sumptuous literary and cultural treat since Thursday. An important international symposium of women writers from Africa and its diaspora has been going in at the Physicians and Surgeons Hall in Accra since Thursday; it still has today and tomorrow to run and who have not yet savoured the heady steam of intellect and fun can still get their share before it closes tomorrow, Sunday evening.


The symposium is co-sponsored by New York University’s Institute of African American Affairs (IAAA), NYU Africa House, NYU Accra, and Africana Studies Program; it is hosted by Mbaasem Foundation founded and run by our own redoubtable literary icon Ama Ata Aidoo; and presented by the Organization of Women Writers of Africa Inc (OWWA) with partnership from the Women for Africa Foundation. Yari means the future in the Kuranko language of Sierra Leone, and Ntoaso means understanding and agreement in the Akan language of Ghana, thus the subtheme of the conference – Continuing the Dialogue.


The symposium includes panels, readings, performances, and film screenings. Yari Yari Ntoaso is a gathering devoted to the study, criticism, and celebration of the creativity and diversity of women writers of African descent. The conference is paying tribute to the co-founder and president of the Organization of Women Writers of Africa, Inc. (OWWA), poet Jayne Cortez, who recently made her transition. One of Cortez's many important contributions was the many conferences she helped organize at New York University with IAAA. She was working with IAAA on this third Yari Yari conference in Ghana, which is now being held in her honour.


The symposium is based on this thought eloquently expressed on the organisation’s website: “The 21stcentury has witnessed the creation or reestablishment of women’s and writers’ organizations throughout Africa and its diaspora. Often these organizations both support and are staffed by emerging writers or those whose writing has yet to receive international recognition. Yari Yari Ntoaso marks this moment and provides an opportunity for these organizations, as well as individual writers and scholars, to share information and to build international networks”.



Angela Davis the African-American activist, scholar and author who first shot to prominence more than 40 years ago as a key figure in the black Liberation and civil rights movement in the United States will speak at the Du Bois Centre in Accra this afternoon at 4pm. You cannot miss this one. Come and listen to a global icon of the struggle for social justice talk about issues of contemporary relevance.   

Yari Yari Ntoaso is going on at the College of Physicians and Surgeons. It is free.


On Selecting Which Laws to Obey… (15-05-13)

On Selecting Which Laws to Obey… (15-05-13)

This should have been the exception but sadly it has almost become the rule. The lights at the Regimanuel Junction, aka Cylinder Junction, turned green for those entering from the Estate Road into the Spintex Road but those on the main road disregarded their “red” signal regardless until one of them chose to stop under pressure from the aggrieved drivers from the side road. The last driver to go through the red light was a policeman driving a police vehicle. On the same day, on the same journey a collection of motorcycle riders rode past me at the Accra Mall end of the Spintex Road and not a single one of the riders wore a helmet. Standing by and chatting among themselves was a group of young policemen but not one of them paid the least attention to the motorcyclists who were so obviously breaking the law.

These scenes are replicated around this country every minute of every day without any apparent concern from those who must enforce the law. Indeed, the STATE of Ghana – in the form of the security forces can arrest or even brutalise you and me at any time and under any pretext but cannot enforce its own laws even when such laws are being broken in broad daylight. It begs the fundamental question: what is the purpose of government? This is a basic question that every person must to ask several times in order to understand the existential conditions to which we are subjected as human beings and citizens of a particular state. 

Every second of the day we are breaking the country’s laws with impunity and it is not just young men on motorcycles who are breaking the law; the rule of thumb appears to be that the higher a person’s social standing the greater their ability to break the law. Another example taken from everyday street-level observation is the tint on car windows. This is said to be against the law but you would be pardoned for thinking that the practice is rather compulsory for those with expensive cars in this country, especially the cars that were bought for the “owners” with our public money.

The question we have to ask is this: why do we go to the expense of installing traffic lights when we have no intention to obey its command? Indeed, why do we keep laws that cannot or will not be enforced? Still staying with traffic examples I have cited, there are good reasons why motorcyclists are required to wear helmets. Years of research have shown that in an accident a person wearing a helmet on a motorbike is less likely to die from head injuries than one without. This is incontrovertible, and so after years of ignoring this important fact the government of Ghana imported this practice into the country. However, the conditions under which the law can be enforced are simply not here. Let us ask ourselves what those young policemen could have done to the helmetless motor bikers at Tetteh Quarshie? Apart from shouting at them, which the offenders would not have heard there is nothing they could have done. I doubt that our policemen and women routinely carry writing equipment to write down numbers of vehicles whose drivers offend against the rules. It would surely be too much to expect them to carry communication equipment to report such infractions to headquarters, as we see in done in the movies.

Similarly, there is a good reason why it is a bad idea to tint car windows especially in a country where traffic rules are routinely ignored. I once saw a driver knock down a pedestrian without stopping. The car’s windows were as dark as sin so we had no way of telling whether the runaway driver was a man or woman, white, black, yellow or brown as the car sped away and passers-by had to attend to the victim lying on the ground. Without the tint we would have had a better chance to identify the driver. This law is also good for the occupants of a car if they need help in an accident or a crisis. There have been many recorded cases in which distressed children left in cars have been rescued by people by people who casually peeped into such cars. Usually, people who drive cars with tinted glasses are criminals such as drug dealers who have good reasons to want to hide from the law. In Ghana, it is the rich and the powerful and their wannabe pretenders who imitate this mafia practice.

Indeed, the most important traffic rule, the one that says we should drive on the right is also selectively obeyed. We all know that it is important for public safety and order for all of us to agree to a set of traffic rules which must be obeyed at all times except in exceptional circumstances. Those circumstances must be known and accepted by all. In Ghana this simple and straightforward rule which says we must drive on the right and the only times that rule can be disobeyed must be in highly exceptional circumstances. In this country even this fundamental rule is routinely disobeyed, especially by people in uniform or those with influence through power and money.

It appears that in Ghana everyone can do just what he or she wants to do regardless of what the law says or what the effect would be on other people. This apparent lawlessness has gone beyond perception and become a daily reality of our lives. This brings me back to that most elemental of questions: what is the purpose of government. The answer is that in a society individuals give up some of their freedoms in return for guarantees of safety and happiness. In practice, this means that the government, however it is defined and understood at all levels, should use its laws to protect those individuals who are part of this contract. They are called citizens, and include others who may be residents or visitors in the jurisdiction.

This is why the agents of the state can arrest us if we do something wrong. In return the state must use its laws to make sure that we can live in safety. What happens when people select which laws to obey? The answer is a journey into anarchy, “a state of nature” in which everyone follows his or her desires. In that kind of state those who have power, money or influence do whatever they want at the expense of the poor and the vulnerable.

On the face of it, it may look as if there was a million mile gulf between everyday law breaking such as we find on the road and the mega-corruption which the World Bank says is the curse of lot as a developing nation. However, there is a direct link between the situation in which young men refuse to obey a simple rule to wear helmets and go unpunished when the don’t to the other situation in which powerful people misuse money meant for our general good and also go unpunished.  What happens when we are allowed to select the laws we want to obey is that people take advantage of the lawlessness at the level at which they operate. Therefore the generalised state of lawlessness has got consequences, which is why we must do away with laws that we do not or cannot enforce so that we know the true state of our capacity to protect this nation.



The Bloody Ingrate by Sylvanus Bedzrah is now in revised edition and approved by the Ghana Education Service as a supplementary reader for schools. This fiction takes you into the world of a promising Senior High School teenage student whose dreams and aspirations het thwarted because of some wrong choices she made at school…

Sylvanus is a talented young writer whose first book was published when he was just 14. The Bloody Ingrate is published by Mini-Star Series Publications and available in all good bookshops.

Lest We Forget – 1983 - Thirty Years Ago (08-05-13)

Lest We Forget – 1983 - Thirty Years Ago (08-05-13)

The year 1983 perhaps was the harshest year in Ghana’s modern history. In some countries there would be retrospectives, symposia and other kinds of public reflections on this most devastating year in our collective memory. When I say “collective”, I am referring to those who have not forgotten because they were there and those who have chosen not to forget because they remember. There cannot be many of the latter because general amnesia is another Ghanaian strategy for enduring the pain of the recent past, especially those for whom remembering the past is inconvenient.

The year 1983 did not start well. One of the harshest droughts was in progress. There had been little meaningful rain since 1981; that is it has either rained little or the rain had come at the wrong place and time. The drought could not have come at the worst possible moment.

To understand the full import of what happened, a bit of history is in order. The most unsettled decade for this country has to be the 1970s, the years during which for good or ill, the chickens of the Nkrumah overthrow in 1966 came home to roost. Maybe the Progress Party government of Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia could have succeeded in its policy of rural development but we have no way of knowing because it lasted only 27 months. In the meantime, it managed to sell off state assets in a manner that foreshadowed other economic controversies, some would say disasters, in the following decades.

In January 1972 Colonel Kutu Acheampong and his close friends staged a military coup and took over the country. They did not appear to have any development strategy but they managed to infuse a sense of purpose and urgency around their slogan of “Operation Feed Yourself”, and a mild form of pan-Africanism and Nkrumaist orientation, later to be described as “domestication” by the late Dan Lartey who was one of their civilian advisers. In 1975, Acheampong’s closest comrades in their National Redemption Council government were demoted to a second-tier of government in palace coup staged by the most senior officers in all branches of the military. They formed the Supreme Military Council, still with Acheampong as head but without the esprit de corps he enjoyed with his demoted friends, who quietly left the centre stage of government. The SMC had no policies except staying on in power through some of the most disastrous economic crises we have ever known. This article is not the place to go into the details of those policies and their consequences, except to remind us that almost all sections of society rose up against the government.

Trapped and with nowhere to go, the SMC tried one last trick; this was “Union Government”, (UNIGOV) an ill-defined coalition of civilians, soldiers and police officers. A botched referendum was the last straw and yet another palace coup overthrew Acheampong in 1978 and replaced him with General F.W.K. Akuffo, who was generally acknowledged to be a first-class military officer but untested as a political leader. He is the man who used military discipline and precision to lead Ghana’s switch from driving on the left to the right in 1974 without a single accident on the day of the change. However, his attempts, first to continue the UNIGOV scam under a different guise, and then to absolve the military of blame did not sit well with soldiers and civilians as well.

On June 4 1979, a fortnight before the first general elections in a decade, a group of young soldiers overthrew the Akuffo government as they successfully released a certain Air force officer from custody at the Special branch headquarters where he had been held since leading a failed insurrection on 15 May that year. That young air force officer, of course, was Flt Lt. Jerry John Rawlings who needs no introduction in this discussion. On the last day of the year 1981, Rawlings who had been retired from the military led another insurrection to overthrow the Limann-led Peoples National Party government which had been in office since the Rawlings insurrectionist gave up power three months after their coup.

Flt Lt Rawlings announced at the beginning of his insurrectionary regime that it was a “revolution”, and the revolution’s first year saw the country economically destabilised partly by the revolutionaries own activities and by international pressure. Squeezed by international commercial lenders, Ghana’s credit dwindled and disappeared. Our credit was not a lot to start with; Nigeria had to bring in truckloads of gifts including toilet rolls to soften our difficulties during the Christmas! Understandably, life got very difficult for most citizens of this country. In the meantime, as lack of raw materials shut local production of everything we could make ourselves there was no money to import anything and yet warehouses had been emptied by revolutionaries pursuing social justice.

The revolutionaries had a point even if it was excessively expressed. Ghana could not continue on the path, whichever it was, that had driven us that far. The nation needed restructuring and whether a political revolution was the ideal way to perform this all-out change in those circumstances, still needs to be debated in this country. There is a Japanese proverb that says “although the sign reads do not pluck these flowers from this garden, it is useless against the wind which does not read”. The drought did not read the revolutionary script and deepened as 1982 turned into 1983.

There had been little notice in the Ghanaian media that Nigeria had given a very strict and final ultimatum in 1982 to foreigners there to “regulate” their stay or be kicked out early in 1983. It is difficult not to conclude that Nigeria’s actions were in some way retaliation for Ghana’s own eviction of foreigners, mostly Nigerians some fourteen years earlier. More than one million Ghanaians had to pack bag and baggage and head home. They came into an empty country. Food was scarce and disappearing fast and although our “returnees” came with some nicely painted bags known as “Ghana Must Go” and many stories of atrocities, none brought a morsel of food to add to the national stock.

It was in that period that the term “Rawlings Chain” was coined to describe the deep gorges formed around people’s neck’s when their emaciated skin exposed protruding collar bones. It is the look of refugees on television, but the famine of 1983 was not a television play; it was real. Most Ghanaians of a certain age will have their own stories but the most enduring scene from that year is the long queue formed not of human beings but by discarded objects and stones to stand in the place for people because those queues would not move for hours on end. The queues were mainly for uncooked kenkey; yes, we stood in line for hours just to buy the raw fermented corn dough to take home to cook. It was a privilege.

Nineteen-eighty-three also saw interesting changes in social attitudes in the country. In hospitality, the norm in Ghana pre-1983 was to offer food to any guest who entered your house. Indeed, the host was often offended if the guest refused to eat. In 1983 and after this turned 180 degrees as people hid food under chairs and even beds and waited until the departure of any friends and family who had chosen to visit at mealtimes. The indiscipline that has become a byword in Ghana dates back to that period when family structures collapsed; it is obvious that a father who could not put food on the table would command no respect.

We have to remember 1983 - those of us who can; those who cannot remember because they were not there must be told the stories, and those who have chosen to forget must be reminded because unless we learn from history it is bound to repeat itself. There were political, economic and environmental mistakes that had been made many years before that disastrous year. We did not absorb all the lessons and we have still not learnt from them.

In 1983, we had only one TV news channel and before the evening news broadcast the following ditty would be rendered…

Ghana People make you stand up

Make you fight

For your rights

We no go sit down make them cheat we everyday…

I don’t know what to make of that today.

Nineteen-eighty-three, 30 years ago – lest we forget!