(Swans - July 26, 2010) Sometimes, writing has an uncanny way of mimicking prophecy. The last article I penned for this column was "Licensed To Rip Us Off." In it, I lamented our (Africans') seeming inability to tackle any given problem successfully.
Here is what I wrote: "One of the most baffling things about governance in Africa is the consistency with which things invariably remain the same.
Just think about it: the problems our fathers were grappling with 50, 40, 30, 20 years ago are still the same ones confronting us today. And looking at the way things are going, our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren will still be tackling them in years to come.
That is unless god Almighty herself comes down from heaven as our leaders are wont to believe.
What makes it impossible for us in Africa to take a problem, successfully tackle it and be done with it FOREVER?"
A few days after the piece was sent to the publisher, the heavens opened up in heavy downpour. Several of our cities, towns, villages and hamlets were flooded. Our capital city was cut off from our nation's World Bank, the Western Region. Depending on whose figure we choose to believe, between 11 and 36 of our compatriots lost their INNOCENT lives.
Once again, we have been caught napping!
Is it not time we ask ourselves what exactly is wrong with us that we cannot take a problem, any problem at all, and try to solve it successfully? Most galling of all is that our leaders are doing what they do best: running around like headless chickens, spewing the same tired inanities they have been feeding us over the years.
There they are, engaging themselves in useless blame games. Assemblyman is blaming the District Chief Executive (DCE). The DCE is blaming the Member of Parliament (MP). The MP is blaming political opponents. Political opponents are blaming the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO). NADMO is blaming godonlyknowswho. But who cares?
We have men and women who are paid to ensure that our nation stops suffering all these national embarrassments. We have people who receive public money every month to ensure that our people stop dying needlessly like flies.
Even though we were declared a Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC), we still try as much as possible to make our rulers comfortable enough so that they can tackle some of the problems besetting us, among which is perennial flooding.
OK, OK, we have absolutely no say in the percentage of the budget our rulers collar for themselves as salaries, loans, emoluments, and ex gratia (no one tell us what exactly we should be grateful for), but yet we didn't complain too much.
We also do not mind too much that pure greed still drives some of them to collect bribes from the British M&J and the German Daimler companies, if only they will work on our behalf.
But rather than sitting down to think about how to solve the problems they are paid to solve, our officials will be seen and heard jumping from radio station to radio station engaging one another is useless verbal diarrhea that does absolutely nothing to enrich our lives in any way.
Our political elite are paid, fed, and housed at the public expense. When it comes to their personal comforts, nothing is too much for them. They have to live in style, benefiting the status of a GREAT nation like Ghana, right? They even blow their sirens to drive us off the road when they are on their very important (hmm...) missions.
They borrowed money to build a presidential palace that is languishing unused whilst our folks are perishing from easily curable diseases. The suggestion by Yours Truly that they should use the loan to build a rail transport system to connect Accra to Kasoa went unheeded.
Our leaders took us HIPC, but that didn't stop each of them from taking US$50,000 in car loans from the state kitty. What do they care that our children are still "studying" under trees!
All this would not be galling if we'd see them doing something to make our own lives a little bearable. We need not be dying like low-life animals at the mercy of nature's elements. We need no oracle to tell us that in our parts of the world June will witness heavy rains. Global warming or not, the rains will fall.
This gives us more than ample time to get prepared. Year in and year out our leaders made ritualistic promises to solve the flood problems besetting our major cities. Year in and year out the promises remain unkemt. While we cannot guard against floods that happen in remote areas, we should be able to make Accra safe for its inhabitants.
It has just been revealed to me that the first issue that noted Ghanaian journalist Kwaku Sakyi-Addo tackled on his FRONTPAGE programme was that of flood. That was fifteen (yes, 15 years) ago!
It is very clear that all the noises our leaders made then were just empty promises they had no intention of keeping. They know that we are a people with a very short attention span. We are too busy chasing the little things of life: food, sex, football, and gossip, to worry about larger issues like how we can improve our environment in order to make life a little bearable for ourselves.
Those leading us know that as soon as the rains stops, we forget all the tribulations and the anguish we suffer. We keep on "managing" like some hopeless grasshoppers that give no thought for the morrow. We keep on suffering and smiling through life like little children. Our paid officials continue to look the other way while landlords and developers continue to build at waterways. No one seems to care when people put up buildings without toilet facilities. Our beaches are defaced by human excreta; yet we want tourists to come and visit us, ah!
We are a nation where anything and everything goes. We are a nation where laws, rules, and regulations are seen as mere suggestions. We are a nation of macho men and women. We are nation where lucid, logical reasoning are not required in debates -- verbal abuse and fisticuffs will do very nicely, thank you!
We are a nation where supposed leaders lack the decent, elementary courtesy to treat one another with respect.
It is not for us to rouse our passions to do something to improve our material well being. We would rather spend our time arguing over inanities than on thinking about some of the problems confronting us.
Of course, those ruling us understand our psychology only too well. That explains the reason why they would rather spend good money to send people to go and watch a useless football jamboree in South Africa whose outcome has long been decided.
The rain has come and killed our people and devastated our land. Of course, our president will visit the sites, he will condole the bereaved. We will wax hot and cold on the airwaves. The newspaper will, for the next few days at least, be filled with nothing but stories of the tragedy -- sorry, the stories will compete with our ongoing football struggle in South Africa.
I say that in this age and time, it is time we see our situation as an affront to human dignity. We deserve a lot better. It is time we citizens stop accepting the low life we are living.
Whichever way we throw it around, there is an acute failure of leadership in Africa and I say that it is time we citizens start to get more involved in how we are governed. Many of those ruling us certainly have no business in national leadership. It is time we design better parameters about how we allow ourselves to be governed.
And what do I advocate? I advocate a system where anyone in a position of authority in any institution of the state will have daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly plans. Leadership 101 teaches the importance of planning. It is good planning that gives us a guide, a roadmap. If we do not have a plan how on earth are we supposed to know what we want to achieve?
Our president tells us that he as an agenda for a Better Ghana. I have tried unsuccessfully to get a copy of the plan. Perhaps he has one, perhaps he doesn't, I simply do not know. But if he does, methinks it should be in the public domain.
I find it rather insulting when those we pay to rule make plans and keep them in their closets. If Mr. President refused to show us the blueprint of his agenda for Better Ghana, how on earth do we measure his performance?
What, for example, is in the blueprint on electricity generation and distribution? How many schools does Mr. President wants to build in one, two, three, four years? How many kilometers of roads are going to be re-tarred, resurfaced or built anew? How many manufacturing outfits are going to set up shop in our country? How many, how many...
In fact, we have absolutely nothing with which to measure the president's performance. Based on his own evaluation, he awarded himself an 80% pass mark.
President Mills is an honorable man of integrity, so I do not doubt that he was honest in his self-assessment. But I say, as the leader of our nation we are entitled to know what he has in stock for us. I am not going to join those that faulted the president's high mark. What if tomorrow he comes out with the parameters with which he judged himself and he was found to be credible?
I further advocate that the whole thing should go through down the own gamut of governance. Designated ministers should provide plans of what they will achieve in office. The plans should be put in the public domain and it is what the Parliamentary vetting committee should use in adjudging fitness for office.
As things stand, we maintain people in office who serve at the pleasure of a president who does not demand much from them. If a person seeks to be the minister of sport, the onus should fall upon him to publish details of his plan for the ministry of sport. We ought to know beforehand what he intends to do to ensure that we do not participate at international sport only to make the numbers. I am sure that the DCE for my area will just go through the motions until his tenure ends. How do I judge him when no plan was demanded of him before he was appointed?
Anyone seeking a ministerial appointment owes it us to take the time to study the ministry for which he seeks appointment.
In this age and time the very idea of leaders hiding behind cut-and-paste jobs called party manifestoes should be intolerable to us.
Jimmy Carter informed us in his books the preparation he took in seeking the candidacy of his party to become the president of his country. In The Candidacy of Jimmy Carter and Why Not the Best? we read about how Mr. Carter consulted all the knowledgeable in his country so that he could at least have working knowledge of most of the problems confronting his country.
In our parts of the world, past leaders (Nkrumah exempted, also Afrifa who collaborated in the writing of that silly little book, "The Ghana Coup.") did not put their thoughts to paper to serve as a guide to upcoming leaders.
This also must change. Our former presidents should use part of their mouth-watering ex-gratia award to pay ghost writers to author their memoirs for them. These should be the treatise we and future generations can study.
Judging by its reaction to the current disaster, it is quite clear that NADMO is a reactive organization with absolutely no proactive plans. It's like the fire brigade that seeks to put fire out instead of preventive the outbreak of fire.
It could be argued that NADMO is badly resourced. But how can we know when we have absolutely no idea what plans NADMO officials have put forward on how they intend to deal with natural and unnatural calamities?
Our country has highly qualified professionals in every sphere of human endeavor imaginable. We certainly must have brains that could help us set up emergency relief plans. Should we put such plans on the Internet, there certainly will be non-Ghanaian but highly-qualified people that will chip in their ideas free of charge. If we abandon our culture of leaving everything to gods and learn to plan ahead, we certainly will find qualify professionals to help us fine-tune whatever plan we can come up with.
Let's start by inviting the NADMO boss to bring out his plan for us all to appraise. Did he have one? If not, why not? I read that the guy was recently in the Netherlands and I hope that he will learn a trick or two from the Dutch, who are true masters when it comes to flood management.
Unlike us, the Dutch believe in good thinking and good planning. When in 1953 a flood devastated the southern part of their country, the Dutch sat down to plan how to make sure that it never happened again. The result was the building of the awe-inspiring engineering marvel called the Delta Plan. The Netherlands have not suffer any devastating flood ever since.
I have visited the Delta Plan and it truly will take anyone's breath away. The sheer ingenuity and the pure audacity involved in the building of the project increased my respect for the Dutch in spite of the other gripes I had with them.
Delta Plan not only ensured that Dutch citizens stop dying needlessly from COMMON flood; it helped the Dutch to develop new technologies that are today earning them good money around the world. From Dubai to Nigeria to China, everyone seems to have the telephone number of the Dutch Masters when it comes to dredging and water management.
Incidentally there are but about twenty (20) million of them. Yes, the population of the Netherlands is less than that of Ghana. And compared with the Netherlands' paltry 41,526 sq km of real estate, Ghana (with 238,500 sq km) is a HUGE country.
I say that it is time we start to see our situation as dire. We are in an emergency and we have no more time to waste on stupid frivolities. It is time we begin to prove that we are indeed capable of managing our own affairs, as Nkrumah proclaimed.
I say that it is time we in Africa start dreaming big. The future, they say, belongs to those that believe in the beauty of their dreams. The Americans dreamt of landing a man on the moon and they accomplished it. They had a plan and they put all their energies to it and they succeeded.
Why, for example, can we not think of connecting our two major cities, Accra and Kumasi, with a huge canal? Daunting? Think about the Pyramid.
A voice from Africa worth hearing... Please consider a
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About the Author
Femi Akomolafe (see his profile on Swans) is a computer consultant, a writer and social commentator, an avid reader, and a passionate Pan-Africanist who lives in Kasoa, Ghana. Femi is known to hold strong opinions and to express them in the strongest terms possible. As he likes to remind his readers: "As my Yoruba people say: Oju orun teye fo, lai fara gbara. It means that the sky is big enough for all the birds to fly without touching wings." Femi Akomolafe's views, opinions, and thoughts can be accessed on the blog he maintains: http://ekitiparapo.blogspot.com/. (back)