THIS UNIMAGINABLE TORPOR IN OUR NATIONAL LIFE IS SAPPING THE MORALE OF OUR PEOPLE
By CAMERON DUODU
How can this be? one asks.
But there on the screen is the report – unmistakable in its starkness and brutal in the imagery it summons into play.
The report reads:
“Dozens feared dead at Kasoa after a public toilet caved in
“Over a dozen people are feared dead after a public toilet they were using in Kasoa caved in and sank them.
“The victims were among about 20 people who are believed to have fallen into the manhole early this morning.
“Fire service officials are reported to have rescued at least three people who have been rushed to the hospital for medical attention. So far one dead body has been retrieved from the ditch. A local journalist was at the scene of the incident and spoke to XYZ News.
“Meanwhile the assembly man for the area, Nicholas Sowah tells XYZ News rescue efforts are still ongoing.”
The question that arises immediately is this: “why should such dangerous contraptions continue to exist in our rural areas in the 21st century?”
(The Kasoa toilet is, in fact, supposed to be relatively ‘modern’. Yet it subjected its users to such a tragic and — nauseating — experience!)
The answer is: “Because nobody is interested in eliminating them and replacing them with safe, foolproof toilets.”
Another question that arises is: “why is nobody interested in providing them with a better alternative?”
Answer: “Again, because some politicians think that the people are only there to vote them into power to ‘aggrandise’ themselves. Once the people have voted for them, they, the politicians, do not much care whether the people live or die!”
Is it really as bad as that? Well, tell me whether any of our political parties has made it part of its programme to give pride of place to the replacement of such dangerous toilets in our villages? If they had implemented such a programme and provided all the safeguards — which, by the way, shouldn’t be too costly in a rural setting with low employment — would the people of Kasoa have been subjected to this horrendous accident?
It was an accident waiting to happen, because there obviously are no “tankaase“-type sanitary inspectors employed to inspect such facilities on a day-to-day basis and ensure that they are safe and fit for purpose.
Who at all abolished the tankaase system? I am sure it was done by the Ministry of Local Government without debate, and — of course — when no-one was looking! The Ministry should be ordered to reintroduce that system immediately.
When we were growing up, we used, occasionally, to hear a cry reverberate through our compounds: “Tankaas ‘eeba oh!” [Tankaas is coming!] And our mothers would scurry around to hide any pots and pans that they hadn’t managed to clean properly yet. They would also overturn barrels and containers with water in them, the bottoms of which had collected sediments of dirt and nkonkomi [worm larvae and other crawlies] underneath the water.
We, of course, thought the tankaas was a nuisance, because if he summoned you to court, you would be fined. But by “samaning” women who neglected to keep their homes adequately clean, he saved many of their children — like many of us — from dysentry and other diseases caused by bad hygiene. Where are such people to be found today?
In our overweening wisdom, we think we are too ‘civilised’ now — because we ride in cars and enjoy air-conditioning — to be saved from self-courted diseases! But it is self-deception. WE ARE MORE PRIMITIVE NOW, IN SOME INSTANCES, THAN WE WERE WHEN WE LIVED IN ‘COLO’ TIMES!
Indeed, a World Bank STUDY I came across whilst writing this article estimates that Ghana now loses about $300m per annum as a result of diseases caused by, and the opportunity costs incurred, of the use of insanitary facilities.
Our politicians should be reading such Studies and absorbing their cost implications. They should then have the courage to confront such issues with common sense. I mean if it costs so much to do nothing about sanitation, then why not provide the facilities and save the $300m a year the World Bank says we lose by doing nothing? Wouldn’t providing the facilities be a “saving” of money, in fact? But, of course, the politicians don’t think like that. Many show a greater interest in ‘gargantuan’ contracts than in the welfare of their constituents.
But is it really fair to blame the political parties for all this? Well, if not them, whom should we blame? THEY offered themselves to the voters as the proper and fit persons who should rule us and make laws for our general welfare, didn’t they?
The NPP had eight years to make a difference by modernising life in our villages. Obviously, it didn’t succfeed in doing so. Now, the NDC is coming to the end of its own four years of rule. Has it done anything better apart from shouting “Better Life” from every cowshed and hamlet?
When it was in power, the NPP spent scores of millions of cedis to build Flagstaff House, so that the President of our country would be able to work and live away from the ancient slave castle in which he is now compelled to work.
That was a laudable objective. The NPP also bought new presidential aircraft for the head of state so that he would not need to depend on commercial airlines when he was travelling abroad to conduct important business on behalf of our country. That, too, was a very laudable objective. The NDC is enjoying these things done by the NPP because the NPP did not do them for itself but for the nation. Indeed, because the NPP had already done such things, the NDC should have been freed to concentrate on the kind of projects that could be accepted by everyone as true national priorities. Yet where are the NDC’s endeavours in that direction? A ‘gargantuan’ absence, hasn’t it been?
We live in a world of priorities, in which not all laudable objectives can be achieved at once. This is because the means for carrying out projects are strictly limited. For instance, everyone knows that the aircraft used by the President of the United States, Air Force One, is one of the most desirable means of transport in the world. But the President of the United States would not be able to ride in such an aircraft if his people were using unsafe latrines in their neck of the woods. He is able to represent America’s wealth because America has taken care of its priorities. The priorities were drawn up and implemented by the politicians at both the state and federal levels. So the people do not grouse when the politicians use state resources to make their work conditions more pleasant.
Indeed, American farmers and rural dwellers in general, are probably the most pampered section of the US populace. The water they need to irrigate their farms is of serious concern to both their state governments and the Federal government. As a result, they are able to produce a lot of food for the US, both for home consumption and for export. In the past, some farmers were even paid by the US Government not to plant food, if the US Government determined that new plantings would create too big a surplus of food and thus result in lower prices for the food produced by the farmers. Thus, a true partnership exists between the farmers and their country’s rulers.
We too have farmers who are very productive. Through the efforts of our farmers, we used to be the largest producer of cocoa in the world. Even now, we are second only to the Ivory Coast in cocoa production. But who looks after the interests of our farmers? Who constructs safe and hygienic toilets for them so that what happened at Kasoa may not happen to them? Who makes sure that the water they drink is not contaminated by insecticides and other chemicals, such as those used by mining companies and their galamsey parasites? Who builds feeder roads to take the farmers’ foodstuffs to the urban markets where the best prices can be obtained?
Our Government cannot even construct a first-class motorway to link our two largest cities, Accra and Kumase. If you want to see good roads, don’t only go to Germany, the USA, France, Italy or the UK. On this our African continent, there are roads that can match those anywhere – in South Africa, for example. Our Cabinet Ministers visit South Africa, are driven on its roads to and fro, and they put their hands to their mouths and mutter, “Wow! This is in Africa?” Then they come back home to see the Achimota-Ofankor road STILL under construction, years after work began on it. Ditto for other important arterial roads! They probably think the South African stuff is a ‘miracle’ that happened through magic. Yet, it was this same Ghana in which they shake rattle and roll when they use the roads, that built the Accra-Tema motorway nearly 50 years ago! We can see from its continued durability that employing the best road-makers to make the best roads for us does pay dividends. Yet, we play the fool when it comes to the Accra-Nsawam road and the Nsawam-Suhum road.
What sort of torpor have our rulers fallen into that makes them tolerate such silly situations? Why can people look at things that are not going right and just close their eyes to them? It is said that if you don’t run forward, you can’t stand still either, but will be driven backwards by force! Are we going forward or are we being pushed backwards at full speed?
As far as I can see, the main reason why we are experiencing this depressing state of affairs is that few people go into politics nowadays with a genuine desire to use power to change the lives of their fellow countrymen and women for the better. Most countries have politicians who are every bit as self-serving as our own. But the difference between us and them is that here, politicians are not prepared even to perform the minimum of service that would justify the money spent on them. It looks as if the whole machinery of government has been captured by a bunch of immensely self-centred and selfish individuals, who spend all their time trying to bend the resources of the state to their personal use and that of their cronies.
Our politicians should please buck up! Please consult your constituents and find out what their priorities are and do your best to use the Government machinery to satisfy those priorities.
For the history of this country, which the politicians ignore at their own risk, is replete with periods during which the politicians lord it over the populace as if the populace were fools. Yet that situation can change overnight into one where and revenge-seeking becomes the order of the day, followed by a total disrespect for all office-holders.
When you see all those shiny 4 x 4 cars on the roads, can you recollect that there was a time in this country when far less imposing but new-looking cars were seized and the owners asked to go and explain how they got their cars?
I find it unpalatable to remind people of such things. But the truth is that a people who do not learn from their own history are condemned to re-live it. The sad thing is that many of our politicians do know this. But such is the torpor afflicting them that they think they can change the laws of history. Poor clowns!