Everything in Ghana is going to kill you
Sometime in 2015, I banned my mother from talking to me about Ghana. Since I work as a journalist, I’m the go-to news source for my family and friends. Every day, I’m called upon to do three things: to affirm or deny something they heard on the news, provide more details of a particular story and generally chat about running issues. In the beginning, it didn’t seem like a chore, but after years of talking about scandals, Ghana’s failings and the mismanagement and corruption of successive governments, I got tired.
I work on the most listened-to breakfast show in Ghana, the Citi Breakfast Show. By the nature of the Show, I’m required to know more about everything we discuss, which means I know that only 2 out of 10 pupils in Primary 2 can read and write. I know that 36 percent of Ghanaians with salvageable injuries die because of the lack of emergency care services. I know the doctor-patient ratio stands at one doctor to 10,450 patients. I also hear shenanigans of the powerful. For instance, I know which elected official is using his family and friends to hide money in Dubai. Knowing the things I know about the powerful, rich and connected makes me very angry about the ways we live, work and play in Ghana.
I get angry that some live fabulously on taxpayers’ money while babies die in hospitals because of the lack of incubators. It terrifies me that able-bodied young men are spending the best years of their lives, wiping windscreens for lunch while politicians spend millions on needless things such as embossing John Mahama’s face on a bus. I fear what will happen to all these young men and women hawking Chinese products in traffic in their old age of no-pension-no-health-insurance. Overall the state of the nation infuriates me – the filth, the lawlessness, the public and private corruption and the broken systems.
Sometimes my rage about the systemic corruption and incompetence that pervades every aspect of our lives shows in the articles I write and the things I say on the radio. When this happens my family and friends tell me to mind my blood pressure and safety and ignore the establishment. “They’re going to steal and chop anyway,” I’m often told. I know they mean well; they don’t want the people writing long emails and text messages to my bosses about my views to harm me as some of their supporters have suggested on Facebook.
I’m one of those naive, idealistic people who came to journalism believing Ghana could pull a Singapore without the authoritarianism. This wasn’t the job my father wanted for me. He didn’t want me to spend my days chasing soli. Still, I fought him because I had heard Matilda Asante grill powerful men on radio and render them incoherent and I figured keeping the powerful accountable was a worthy job. I truly, sincerely believed that speaking truth to power and keeping citizens informed would help. And our small victories show they do in some cases.
But I have been thinking, writing and talking about Ghana since 2007, the year I started working as a journalist. My friend Tee and I used to spend our evenings when we lived together talking about Ghana. We worried about the ineffectiveness of the National Identification Authority. We imagined the ways the government could, if it really, really wanted to, provide comprehensive healthcare. We thought of ways education could be improved and made accessible to all. We were also hopeful too.
It was after all, the season of hope. We weren’t in the Africa rising period, but the World Bank and other agencies said Ghana was on the growth path and the John Kufour government was praised for the nation’s stability and good governance. The Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER) described the years from 2006 to 2011 as the best years for the economy.
But even in the best years, the hospitals were crumbling and top officials were traveling to go and die at the Lord Cromwell Hospital in London and other places. There were over 2000 public schools under trees, maternal and child mortality were high and hundreds were dying from avoidable diseases such as cholera. In spite of this, we believed things could only get better. I figured all we needed was someone who cared to build on what John Kufour attempted.
Alas, we got John Dramani Mahama, a partisan, who assembled an incompetent government that thrived on corruption. Before him was John Atta Mills who people claim would have done better had he not been sick. We won’t know how true this claim is, but one thing is for sure: John Mahama will forever be remembered as one of Ghana’s worst presidents. He was the reason I banned my mother from talking to me about Ghana because his government’s inadequacies were lethal and their corruption legendary. I couldn’t wait to see the back of his government.
They have been gone for nine months and we’re still reeling from the previous government’s bad decisions. Everyone I know is incensed that the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) spent $72 million on a software project while paying pensioners a pittance. The contract for the deal was incompetently written and it is obvious the cost was inflated as the contract was awarded to the company with the highest bid. The details of the AMERI power deal which was reportedly inflated by $150 million have everyone who cares about Ghana in knots.
Last year I read Nigerian Writer, Ayo Sogunro’s Everything in Nigeria is Going to Kill You. I couldn’t believe how hauntingly the details fit Ghana. Many readers can testify some books instantly remind of things and people we know. Ayo’s collections of essays is one of those books. In the book he writes: “I’m quite serious about the intent stated in the title: Nigeria is out to kill you. The country is going to hell in a handbasket. This is not a drill. And we have arrived at this point simply because you don’t care.”
His is such a profound and insightful analysis of all that ails many countries on the continent. Among his reasons for this death by country are corruption, incompetent presidents, sponsors of terrorists, high cost of living, the disappointing health care system and poor quality social services. These are not unsolvable problems. They persist because citizens have somewhat accepted that incompetence, corruption and poverty will forever be our portion.
In Ghana, folks have convinced themselves that by providing private solutions to public problems they can escape death by Ghana. They buy 4-wheel vehicles for the bad roads, send their children to expensive schools abroad because who wants to send a child they love to school with windowless classrooms and avoid crime by moving to gated communities. None of these, however, is a shield from the death.
But caring about Ghana is so damn exhausting. I’m tired of reminding folks that none of us, rich nor poor, within the jurisdiction will escape this imminent death because ambulances won’t come when a stroke or an asthma attack or some other emergency occurs. After all, we all know a rich, prominent and important somebody who died after making it to the hospital because there were no beds, doctors or equipment to care for them. I’m spent from all the conversations we have at work about the cost of living, crime and high levels of unemployment. My heart hurts to see the poverty in which the majority of our people live.
I get that we must care, that caring is the fuel to get our country fixed. But sometimes I want to have whatever Johnson Asiedu Nketia, the General Secretary of the NDC that helped him to blissfully ignore the senseless policies and corrupt behavior of the John Mahama government. These days I wish to have whatever the Vice President, Mahamadu Bawumia, has every morning before enthusiastically marching to launch programs without detailed implementation plans.
As I do not have the connections or the money to insulate my poor heart and soul from feeling, I escape Ghana by reading. These days I just want to flee in my body because my country is killing me. Slowly!