THE STRAW THAT BROKE THE CAMEL’S BACK
By CAMERON DUODU
IF you do not know Ghanaians very well, you might that they are among the most docile creatures created by The Almighty.
They can tolerate situations which would make the people of other countries reach for their machetes and/or even guns.
And they can give the impression haven’t “heard” an insult that has been hurled at them.
For their elders admonish each other not to be too easily provoked because “Maturity means sometimes feigning not to have heard everything that has been said! [–provocative words about oneself, for instance]” (Opanin di ‘mannte, mannte!’ )
The reason why they do these things is that they like to live in “peace” so that they cannot be easily distracted from solving the practical problems that they face in life. They have learnt this the hard way because the history of most of their families is generally strewn with incidents of internecine wars, and intra-family litigations (mansotwe) that render all the protagonists destitute but whose origins no-one can remember with any certitude. Every family has a secret, a taboo, or an anathematical occurrence which is best not talked about – on pain of further social estrangement.
Hence, to many Ghanaians, a proverb which advocates extra caution: “Yes – if you fire a gun at me [my supernatural powers] will enable me to survive the bullets. But what if you miss me altogether?” is the epitome of wisdom. The easiest thing in the world to say, according to this philosophy, is: “My friend, take your trouble go!” The thwarted “agent provocateur” is invited to “go and burn the sea”, if his anger cannot be assuaged by a refusal to be provoked.
But beneath all that apparent ”passivity”, lies a cunning toting up of wrongs, which can cause a serious eruption when the numbers finally add up. Thus, if you are a stranger who lives in a Ghanaian village and you begin to take the villagers for fools, you will not be told anything. People will just look at you with their mouths open. Until suddenly, you wake up one morning to find that those who used to respond warmly when you said “Good morning” to them, will pass you by without responding when you greet them. Others will cross the road when they see you coming. And if you have cultivated any amorous liaisons, these will mysteriously dry up without any tangible cause.
A story published by the Chronicle newspaper illustrates my point:
QUOTE: ”Dumasua — One of the unique [aspects] of our culture is the respect for our traditional rulers who, before the western system of government was introduced, set rules and regulations that governed their people. Modernisation is, however, gradually eroding this time-tested culture, paving the way for subjects to defy their chiefs….
“ At Dumasua,in the Sunyani West District of the Brong-Ahafo Region, [tradition has been broken by] the residents, mainly women and and children, [who] have dumped garbage collected from their various homes, in front of the chief’s private residence. The reason… is that the town has no refuse dump [known locally as “bola”], and the Chief is not making any efforts to get them one…. The Chief [had] allocated a temporary dump site for them, only for a private developer to harass them because the land belongs to him. The said developer also went further to invoke curses on them, using the local gods, but all complaints to the local assembly and the chief to get them a new place to dump refuse have not received any favourable response.
“This has resulted in the indiscriminate dumping of refuse, which is also creating a health problem for the community. The women accused the chiefs and elders of the town of selling all available lands to private developers without thinking about where refuse must be dumped. The women also alleged that their chief is resident in the United States of America, and, therefore, does not feel the pain they are going through when it comes to waste disposal. [They said they] got [a] hint that their chief had returned home from the US, and decided to dump the refuse in front of his house the following morning, just to tell him the difficulty they are going through.
“When contacted, [the Chief] described the action of the women as disrespectful, because he had personally contacted the Sunyani West District Assembly to request for a refuse container, but they had refused to do so. UNQUOTE
This story raises several issues which underline the pressures to which chieftaincy is being subjected at present: the Chief accused those who dumped the rubbish in front of his house of being “disrespectful”. But can he explain how anyone can be “respectful” towards a Chief who has refused to fulfil the functions expected of a community leader? Again the Chief is reported to have stated that he had initiated action with the District Authority to provide a refuse container to the village. Very good. But if that is so and yet the villagers felt the need to send him such a direct, “disrespectful” message, does it not mean that he has failed to communicate with them? Did he take any of the villagers with him when he went to negotiate with the District Authority? Finally, has the Chief not realised that the successful “bola-bombing” of his residence must have taken some secret planning, and that for such a plan to work, it must have been given support by a majority of the populace he is supposed to reign over?
There is a proverb in China which says, “A man against whom one thousand fingers are pointing in accusation, will die even if he is not sick!” And indeed, If the Chief had any dignity left, he should abdicate straight away because of the unmistakable lack of support the “bola-bombing” demonstrates in relation to his occupancy of the stool. But sometimes, the ability to sell communal land to developers blinds Chiefs to realities which their ancestors would have recognised as signs of their failure as leaders.
The story also has national implications. Right now, entertainers – who, normally, are narcissists with little time to do anything other than perfect the lines of their film-scripts and the lyrics of their songs, even as they get incessantly involved in romantic liaisons which turn them into “items” that render them “newsworthy” to the media – have somehow found time to organise a “vigil” in protest against the DUMSƆ that is killing Ghana by inches. Some sycophantic politicians and traditional rulers have rained insults on them for showing ”disrespect” to the Government of Ghana by seeking to advertise its failings with the DUMSƆ vigil. And one stupid posting I have read on Facebook even accuses the stars of having been “given” $10,000 to organise the vigil. Simple question: where was the guy when the money was changing hands? Why didn’t he report the matter to the police? Or is he such an ignoramus that he does not know that taking a bribe is an offence under the law? He knows how to post on Facebook, but he does not know the law of his own country?