Roxanne Scott is an American radio/print journalist born in Queens, New York. She spent a little over a year in Ghana, my home country, feasting her soul on everything in the country; politics, arts, music etc. She’s currently back home here in New York and the two of us met to have a little chat about her stay in Ghana, and some of her recollections of living in Ghana.The interview or conversation is part of a new series #PrampramFishermanInNewYork (podcast) for the period that I am here, studying at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Through the podcast, I’ll be meeting and talking to interesting people about everything in the city, so far as I find it interesting, compelling and, oh, even crap but funny.
New York is, arguably, one of the most lively states here in the United States and on and off the subways, poetry, singing and other arts related activities go on. On one of my afternoon trips, I bumped into a local band, Lucky Chops Brass Band, entertaining passer-bys at a basement at the subway
James Town will benefit from a seven hundred thousand slum upgrade program with support of the United Nations Habitat. The pilot program is for selected African countries including Ghana and should take off this year. The aim is to address what the UN believes are growing and worsening conditions in low income earning communities. Anny Osabutey has more.
On Friday 6th March, 2015, Ghana turns 58. That is quite a milestone, in terms of age. But in terms of achievements, she falls far below her peers with Malaysia and Singapore miles ahead of her. Just imagine Ghana as a 58 year old human being, with only two years left before retirement, the situation will be dire if not bleak. What does she have to show for the many years of running round in circles? Absolutely nothing. It means the only investments she can boast of are the many times she spent at a bar, alcoholic beverages eating away at her beauty. And with a figure like a malnourished child in a displaced refugee camp, she still thinks the two years left offer hope.
Though I concede that two years can change the fortunes of an individual, I don’t see that happening in the person called Ghana. If you can’t fix your life in fifty-eight years, what else can you do before your 60th birthday? That’s the more reason why I think we should be mourning on Friday instead of celebrating. What is there to celebrate?
This country was and is blessed with resources and has the capability of being as successful as those she started life with; countries such as Malaysia, South Korea, and others.
Ghana and Malaysia took off at the same time in 1957. Those who were in that era said we were ‘blessed’other countries looked on us with envy. Natural resources and skilled men and women were in abundance. We were the pride of Africa, if not the world. We had everything needed to become a wealthy country. Our wings were strong enough that we could fly for hours without getting tired. That was in 1957.
Fastforward to 2015 and the situation is pitiable, to say the least. Malaysia is miles ahead of us in terms of economic success. According to a report in the British Financial Times newspaper, “The Malaysian economy expanded at its fastest rate in four years in 2014, with a GDP of 6 per cent outpacing economists’ estimates,” adding further “Malaysia benefits from a low unemployment rate of 3. 1 per cent and a growing middle class.” That is Malaysia, a country we started life with but now wouldn’t mind receiving assistance from.
I am not, by this, suggesting Malaysia hasn’t got her own problems, no. She does have issues including human rights abuses of perceived political opponents. The imprisonment of the leader of the Peoples Justice Party, former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, in what most critics describe as ‘trumped up’ charges still remains a scar on the country’s conscience.
But Malaysia’s troubles are greatly overshadowed by a resilient economy, reduction in unemployment and a sustainable power supply. Ghana @ 58 is suffocating under enormous economic difficulties; rising unemployment, inflation and corruption. Ahead of the anniversary, the country is crawling to find a solution to a worsening power crisis which has resulted in job cuts particularly in the private sector. People are losing their jobs at a rapid rate because employers are unable to retain them. Each redundancy has implications for families, too.The power crisis is now in its third year and, despite the many assurances from government, it doesn’t look like the solution will be found today or tomorrow. The Minister for Power, Dr. Kwabena Donkor, declared at a press conference in February that he will resign if the situation doesn’t get rectified by the end of this year. But I wonder how many employers and those affected can wait that long to have the situation rectified? A single day without power is hell enough, in itself, not to talk about asking for another year to resolve it. One more year? An entire 12 months more? Employers would have long asked workers to go home because they can no longer pay them for no work done; because a large chunk of the money goes into buying fuel to power plants for production. Obviously, the current NDC administration cannot single-handedly be blamed for all the problems in the power sector. Previous administrations didn’t do enough to fix the situation during their tenure. Rather, all they did was apply a plaster on a sore hoping it would heal by itself. Sadly, it festered and is still festering.
However, when a government campaigns on the slogan of “A BETTER GHANA”, then Ghanaians deserve to see exactly that being delivered. What we have doesn’t suggest anything BETTER, hell no! Unless my understanding of the word “BETTER” is different from what the Government has been trumpeting for the past 6 years, since they assumed office.
At the age of 58 years, this country is suffocating from pervasive corruption. People tasked with the responsibility of using their positions to improve lives have found dubious ways of fleecing the state of millions of Cedis. In some cases, people willfully misuse monies given to them to improve the living conditions of those at the bottom of the economic ladder. A case in point is how millions of Cedis went down the drain under the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA). SADA was said to be the panacea for resolving the gut wrenching poverty in the northern part of Ghana and those tasked to lead it, on paper, had glossy academic qualifications and shouldn’t’ have encountered any difficulties achieving results. Sadly, they not only failed their own kinsmen but the entire country. Monies were spent on useless and hopeless investments including the planting of trees in the dry season. The sad state of SADA and its saga is well known to most of us.
At 58 years of age, the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA) is facing serious challenges. It is unable to pay debts owed to hospitals servicing those who signed onto the scheme. The Ghana Medical Association (GMA), in a statement made on 3rd March, 2015, said the NHIA scheme owes several hospitals across the country millions of Cedis. The debts, according to them, could either collapse the scheme or force operators of the medical facilities to go back to the ‘Cash and Carry” system. Contrary to the NHIA’s inability to settle its debts, the Auditor General released a report in which it says millions of Cedis allocated to the GYEEDA programme ended up in private pockets.
Just a few weeks ago, a senior officer at MASLOC was indicted for stealing millions of Cedis meant for the poor. Before him, the then MASLOC boss freely pumped the scheme’s funds into her husband’s private business. We just talked about it, she was relieved of her position and we moved on. Has she paid back the money?
At 58, the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital is unable to raise an amount of US$250,000 to bring donated equipment from the Walter Reed Military Medical Hospital, in the United States,, to cater for brain tumor patients unable to raise enough funds on their own to save their lives.
At 58, some doctors in the country’s hospitals have been forced to use either torchlights or lights from their mobile phones to carry out complicated surgeries in the operating theatres during power outages. How much worse can it get?
At 58, Parliament has become an open space for shouting bouts by MPs who have failed to deliver to their constituents. Members of Parliament are happy holding on to their titles of “HONORABLE” when they should be holding the Executive accountable. Depending on which government is in power, and has the majority, every piece of legislative ‘crap’ put before the MPs is okayed, without the details even being read. Some MPs appear to spend their time in the chamber either screaming or just snoring, while proceedings are ongoing. No wonder some of them exhibit dead ideas when they get the chance to speak either on the floor in the media. In effect, Parliament has become toothless.
At 58, the International Monetary Fund is here to give us money to put into our pockets. Our self inflicted mess as a people is unimaginable and so what are we celebrating on Friday? Shouldn’t we be wailing instead of packing school children, workers and security personnel in the sun in the name of celebrations?
Dear Queen Elizabeth,
Happy New Year Maa Lizzy. I know you started the year well, at least from what I have been reading in the news. I understand your grandson, Prince William and his wife, Duchess Kate, are expecting another baby. That must be exciting news, right? At least it is an indication the prince is putting his bed to good use.
And whilst I congratulate you on that, I must also acknowledge your personal difficulties in having to deal with allegations that the Duke of York, Prince Andrew, had an inappropriate sexual relationship with one Virginia Roberts in the United States, and an intruding press scavenging for details about it. I hear royal “Spin Doctors” are working their behinds off to ensure the report is quashed. Good luck on that. I pray the outcome looks good for you.
Anyway Maa Lizzy, I hope you remember me? I am the young man from Prampram, a small town stashed away in the eastern part of Accra, who, in 2014, wrote pleading to you to re-admit Ghana back into the British Kingdom, had the Scots agreed to a “YES’ vote and gone away with Alex Salmond to form an independent country. Sadly, my wishes and prayers did not come to pass. In fact, my letter might have even unintentionally opened their eyes to kick against the “YES” campaign.
At least from Ghana’s point of view, agitation for independence has not guaranteed economic freedom nor an improved infrastructure left behind by Britain. Rather, it has brought pain, anger and disillusionment to the majority of us citizens, as the nation’s natural resources have been openly raped in the full glare of all. Perhaps this is what the Scots saw and advised themselves accordingly.
Maa Lizzy, I am here with a special request. I do not know if your aides or your citizens here in Ghana have told you about “Dumsor” and the negative impact on the country? The term is not a new Azonto dance, Kpanlogo or Agbadza, no. It is incessant power cuts which are grounding businesses to a halt and causing untold hardship to its citizens. I bet you did not envisage such a situation more than thirty years ago, when you said goodbye to this country.
We have not been hit by any natural disaster. No earthquake, tornado or tsunami, none of the above. We are not suffering from any curse from the gods (maybe there is one which I may not be aware of) and yet the ship is sinking faster than a coin thrown into the ocean. The centre is no longer holding.
Maa Lizzy, can you believe that government hospitals have no power to work? Doctors have been forced to use torchlight or lights from their mobile phones to operate on their patients. Two babies are reported dead in a hospital, in a town in the Eastern Region, because the hospital power went off rendering the incubators useless. There could be more that have not been reported. That is the badge we carry on our chest. A once proud nation has been reduced to a banana state, so far as energy consumption is concerned. I am not moaning or whining about the problems in this country, no. I am merely stating facts.
Perhaps if you doubt me, you can check with your boy here, Benjamin. He is a living testament to the “Dumsor” that has afflicted this country. He will tell you how he has to run both his office and home on gensets, something he has never been used to.
Most of our state officials are happy to show up at work in their Toyota V8s and other expensive cars, take their paychecks and associated kickbacks while they look on unbothered only for the problem to fester like a sore. They are not using their brains to think. They have become SPECIALISTS IN SIGNING AGREEMENTS as well as hallucinating about “Ghana gradually becoming an energy hub in Africa.” They are dead to the realties on the ground, Maa Lizzy.For instance, there is a mother of two who works as a seamstress opposite where I live. Her shop has been closed for over two weeks because she does not have the electricity to power her sewing machines. Just about a week ago, her oldest son, who is 8, was happily loitering in the neighborhood. My small mouth decided to ask the little man why he was not in school. “My mother says she does not have the school fees for me,” was his reply.
The mother is not happy about the situation but did not have the money. Not that she is unemployed, lazy or an idiot, no. She is self employed and though she has honoured her part of the bargain regarding pre-paying for power, she does not have it. The state has woefully failed to honour its part of the bargain.
Her depressing story is one of many others in this sinking ship whose captain is even tired of making promises to rescue the population from the approaching storm. Employers are downsizing their employees because there is nothing for them to do – after all they cannot pay people just to show up at work. However there are those who regularly show up at work yet do no work. Theyare the newly appointed Minister of Power, Dr. Kwabena Donkor, the Minister of Energy Kofi Armah Buah, and their deputies. Call their phones and the next thing you get is a message that reads: “I am in a crucial meeting discussing our energy challenge and can’t talk right now.” Ironically, all these meetings have not resolved the problem.
Maa Lizzy, I plead with you to make available to Ghana five of your many technocrats to come and think for our officials. They are dead to ideas and no amount of fasting will bring them back to life, if they are not willing to kick themselves in the groin. I write on behalf of the rest of the population to consider our plea.
I know you have enough trouble on your own but I am on my knees and, with tears in my eyes, begging you to pull this hapless nation of nearly 24 million people out of this energy quagmire. I plead with you.
I am signing off the letter with Whitney Houston’s “On My Own.”
An unhappy ex-colonial subject.
Nigerians head to the polls in February 14th and ahead of the exercise, the main political parties are busy jostling for votes from outside the country–the message is now taken right to compatriots abroad. Here in Ghana, a group of Nigerians backing the ruling Peoples Democratic Party has mounted a billboard around Danquah Circle, Osu, imploring their compatriots to come home and vote for Goodluck Jonathan, for him to continue with “transformation agenda”.
Nigerian opposition party All Progressive Congress has mounted a huge billboard here in Accra to appeal to compatriots living in Ghana to buy into its message of change by voting out the Goodluck Jonathan led Peoples Democratic Party. With only a month for the country’s general elections, the party has not only stepped up its campaign in Nigeria but here in Ghana too. Anny Osabutey has seen one of the billboards and now reports.
When was the last time you heard about book reading in Ghana? And how many have you attended so far? Well, concerns about the dwindling fortunes of the habit of book reading in the country continues to be a major subject for discussion, as most educationists in the country say enough is not being done to promote the culture in the country, especially among the current generation. For some, reading is a tough act meant for a selected few but as Anny Osabutey found out in a recently organised book reading by the Ghana Writers Project, book reading can be exciting..
Residents of Akumanjay, a suburb in Jamestown here in Accra, are warning of a potential health risk in the community due to an unbearable stench coming from a privately run public toilet housed within the centre of the town. The toilet, they explain, is poorly maintained as it takes weeks before it is flashed.
Somewhere last month, a colleague was fuming at a driver of a commercial vehicle who bumped into the side of his car nearly breaking the front lights. For nearly ten minutes the two engaged in a shouting bout and as they traded insults at each other, I flipped through my mobile phone to read a message a colleague had posted on our Whatsapp platform. It read “An accident on the Tema motorway. A lot of people have died.” I was left dumbfounded. Certainly not again, I kept saying to myself. Within a flash, pictures, number of injuries and deaths poured onto the platform. But how did the accident happen? I kept asking myself.Most messages for the festive season have elements of call for motorists to be careful on the road. They are reminded to show respect to other road users and not go beyond speed limit. But what do we see? Almost everyone on the road -trotros, taxis, pedestrians – is in a hurry to get to their destination. I wonder if they set off early.
I am yet to hear or read about the number of road accidents for 2014, but from what I already know, almost every part of the country recorded accidents where there were loss of lives. It is a major concern. I believe it’s not about the number of deaths. For every life that is lost on the road, the effect is dire not only for families but for the entire country. Ever wondered how many entrepreneurs we may have lost due to the recklessness on the roads? Or the number of motivational speakers, career and guidance experts whose contributions would have impacted positively on our society but are no more because of road accidents?
It appears discipline on our roads has been thrown to the dogs and people are just doing what they like-it is depressing, to say the least. Why is it so difficult for people to have a sense of order on the road? I often ask myself this but well, I’m yet to find the right answers. What I can however say is that if you are #madeofblack and have got something to contribute to the society, you exhibit a lot of care on the road. You are mindful of your actions and inactions. The cat, we are told, has nine lives but the human has just one. Cherish it, make each day count and live to fulfill your potential on earth.