A beep from the G-Shock on my wrist sent my eyes to the time piece that had lit up to read ’00:00′. The date bar showed ‘SUN 3- 6’. “Happy Birthday Ghana,” I thought.
Streaks of red lit the dark night ahead of me through the windscreen being beaten by seemingly fierce rain drops. LED lights from a silver sedan cutting through the dark night. The car was a Nissan sentry, a newer model one. The ideal city car, I figured. The car I was in? A small taxi cab, a Nissan Micra chauffeured by an overzealous cabman who kept changing hip-hop songs on his phone playing through the Aux cable. Soulja’ Boy’s “Turn My Swag On” was playing through the car speakers. I was bobbing my head to the music when the thought hit me that this cabman was in my generation. I instantly felt bad for my initial reaction to the driver.
The driver had pissed me off in several stages this wet night. Currently the guy was driving at 120 to my annoyance on the Legon-Madina road with one hand out of the window and the other hand clutching the steering wheel he had pushed up close to. He was bopping and weaving his head to the music as well.
Standing in front of the VIP station this wet evening, I had hailed two cabs and gotten increasingly frustrated each time. The first one quoted 40 Ghana Cedis and I just walked away. The next cab I hailed started at 35. I told him a flat 20. He replied with 30. I took two steps back from his cab and he said with a very grudging face “You bring the 20.”
Right when I was opening the door the man grumbled under his breath, “I go take 22. Just bring the 20 and add 2.” I burst back in anger. My frustration from an exceedingly tiring day climaxed at that point and I told the driver in a not-so-calm voice to “Go to hell.”
“I dey pay you money for a service and you dey act like you dey do me favour!” I added.
I walked away from the cab and he said, “Boss, you come.. 20, 20.”
“Take your car,” I retorted. “I no like am.”
I ignored his calls to me and strode to a nearby Nescafe merchant.
Standing in line at the vendor, I wondered why such prices were quoted by the drivers. They were outrageous! Could this be blamed on the absurdly high cost of fuel in Ghana at present? I remembered an article I had read from allafrica.com on how that Ghana had one of the highest Petroleum Tax globally. Or maybe their outrageous prices were because they intended to exploit the headphone toting young man in front of them. I shrugged these thoughts off as inconsequential.
I was paying for my 2 cedi cup of coffee, (a remarkably smaller cup than from the last time I bought from a coffee vendor) when a smallish man clad in a Chelsea jersey and a blue chequered skull cap reached out to me and gestured at a taxi cab parked some metres away. It was the same cab I had burst out at earlier. The man said with the hint of a francophone accent, “You go Madina, I go Madina. We pay 15.” He clapped his hands at the conclusion of his sentence and wagged his finger at himself and myself repeatedly. I interpreted it to mean he wanted us to split the cost of the cab. A red stone on a ring he wore captivated my attention for a brief second whilst I considered the current development. Eventually, I decided to save a quick buck by going along with this plan.
I took two full sips from my cup and proceeded the cab. “Yo! We no go give you 30. We go pay you 20 together!” I barked at the driver.
My curt voice was warmed by the hot creamy coffee that had washed down my throat, putting some heat to my outburst. He stammered in a very remorseful manner, “P-P-Please i-beg, make am 22.”
Entering the back seat as my francophone cab-mate entered the front seat, I wondered about the possibility of this being a staged robbery. I dismissed that thought with the calm knowledge that given an eye appraisal of the driver and co-passenger, I could incapacitate both of them confidently from my back-seat position. Nonetheless, I cracked down the window at my back seat perch and asked the driver to turn on the interior lights of the vehicle. I could feel the canister of pepper spray I wore on a slim chain around my neck rubbing at my skin under my hoodie. The thought of the slim dagger cooling in the bottom of my backback also gave me some vim. I was armed and ready for any unexpected eventualities.
Crime has risen in Ghana. The increasing wave of violent crime, especially robberies, can be identified as the creation of survival mechanisms for the misguided. This affair can be attributed not so much to the nature of man to be greedy, but rather, the need for him to feed himself by all means.
The car flew over a pot hole and I snapped to reality. “Oi you! Driver! Behave yourself!” I barked. “Stop driving recklessly. The roads are slippery. It’s been raining much and I refuse to die in this car in an accident tonight.”
The driver brought his speed down to 70kmph on the speedometer I was staring at and proceeded to change the song playing to Meek Mill’s “Check”. I cracked a smile at the visible youthful exuberance of the driver, who was now gesticulating wildly with his left hand to the lyrics:
Look at these at all these young niggas flexing from the bottom
Flexing from the bottom
We just want the money the respect and all the power”
This young man and I were stock from the same generation, enjoyed the same kind of music and definitely shared the same dreams of grandeur. But he was a taxi driver. Not to speak in a demeaning manner about taxi drivers, but that’s hardly an occupation I would pursue whilst chasing my dreams for the mere reason that the climb to the top would be a herculean task, given the meagre income generated from such a venture.
Drawing parallels between the driver and myself, I realised that despite my qualms about his occupation, he was in a position of relative economic stability. He had a job.
The current Ghanaian climate is one that remains quite toxic to Ghanaian youth coming out of school. A ‘sulphuric’ environment, if I may borrow a description used by a man I look up to greatly for his objective and positive views: Dr Mensa Otabil. Earlier in the week, I had received a text message quoting a talk he gave somewhere, in which he drew comparisons between the Ghanaian environment and its effect on a young mind, likening it to sulphuric soil that would end up producing onions that caused you to tear up. His use of this analogy and the contrast between the products of unhealthy soil and those of viable, sulphur-free soil made sense greatly to me, a young man disillusioned with the ability of the current Ghanaian system to encourage capacity building of its youthful population. It went home deep.
The Ghanaian condition is one that saddens me greatly. There is a clear absence in the provision of an adequate social framework to develop human capacity and consequently create the necessary human resources needed to change the fate of the country.
Currently in my 4th year of pursuit of an undergraduate degree in Political Studies from a public university, I can honestly boast of nought but a vacuum between the expectations I had concerning the practical impact of my education and the stark reality facing me now in my 8th semester.
The job market at present requires several years of working experience for prospective employees to command ‘high’ paying job opportunities. The situation makes it virtually impossible for a recent graduate to land a job within the confines of that lucrative echelon of employment.
The national service scheme which employs the nation’s tertiary graduates each year is in itself a paradox. The scheme purports to provide employment for these graduates and place them in institutions where they stand to gain valuable experience. But this is an oversimplification of the situation at hand. A year of employment with characteristic late payment of meagre allowances seems to me a quite painful experience. Even more so as permanent employment in those institutions is in no way assured as employment bans have been placed on those government institutions these service personnel are assigned to. The implication of this is the regurgitation back into society of these young men and women after their duration of employment.
The private sector admittedly absorbs some of the national service staff. But this represents just a fraction of the total number. Public sector national service veterans are excluded from the bracket of new entrants into the private sector field of employment primarily by the entry barriers of working experience requirements for those positions.
Short of personal entrepreneurial endeavours or ‘connections’ to employment, job opportunities for recent graduates remain very scarce and far between.
The steadily rising cost of living in Ghana and the relative backward state of affairs as compared to the more developed world scene create a situation of economic hardship in the country. Globalisation has removed geographical barriers in the spread of communication, leaving Ghanaians exposed to the advanced standards of living and general lifestyles of higher income earning states. This situation has been furthered by the internal development of Ghana’s prime spots (such as the regional capitals Accra and Kumasi) with their fabulous nightlife, entertainment and leisure profile elevated by a massive boom in the establishment of lounges, nightclubs, pubs and bars and other general party avenues.
A Mercedes C63 AMG sped by and overtook my taxi just when these thoughts were on my brain’s ‘in-tray’.
It got me thinking more. Luxurious cars abound on the streets of Ghana. Fabulous mansions can be seen all around the country. Ghana is far from a poor country. At least these common indications of grandeur are testimony to this.
For the unemployed and despairing youth, there arises an opportunity for wealth in a parallel economy, and this culture of back-doorism has seen a slow growth in Ghana over the last decade. “Fraud”, “419”, “Shopping”,”Chatting”, “Client processing” are all synonyms for the myriad of different applications of cyber crime that reaps huge sums of money for involved individuals.
The presence of such illegal crafts provides an attractive domain for young men (and women) who are exposed to the influence of the sad reality of global grandeur juxtaposed with the minuscule incomes our legitimate mainstream jobs provide.
The search for quick money has spawned the widespread engagement of youth in these fraud activities. Indeed, the endemic poverty of the Ghanaian system encourages the search for a quick, irreversible escape from it. As industrious and creative as these youngsters are, they dive headfirst into this business of scamming and make their order of employment the manipulation of Internet protocols, foreign bank details and exceedingly ingenious schemes to extract cash.
As a Political Studies student, I have sought answers to the question of what is responsible for the plight of Ghana today.
Politics stands as the biggest impediment to Ghana’s developmental trajectory by very nature of the game of politics itself.
This multi-party democracy (now a seeming de-facto two party state) is characterised by a system of patronage. I go further to describe this patronage as a relationship between ‘big men’ and the masses where legitimacy is assured by a continuous flow of payments guaranteed from the big men. This neo-patrimonial trait of Ghanaian and indeed African politics is a direct factor responsible for the retardation of developmental progress.
Propaganda is made to the effect of convincing the people of Ghana in their varying communities that government projects are done at the expense of the party in power for the people in that community. The consequence of this is an identification of development to particular political interests and creating a sense of need and loyalty of indigenes of a particular community to a particular political faction in order to ensure continued development of that community. Ghana is a country with a majority illiterate and rural population, and this reality firmly entrenches neo-patrimonialism and its inherent politics of patronage in the national understanding of politics.
This phenomenon is made evident quite clearly during election periods when overnight roads are laid, social infrastructure hurriedly put in place to appeal for votes from the community in question in favour of the party at the helm of affairs. The sad result sees the people of that community identifying their development to that political entity, thus handing them their votes out of a clearly misplaced sense of indebtedness.
One of the fastest ways to become fantastically rich in Ghana is to become a ‘contractor’. Government contracts of procurement and provision of roads, school buildings, and the many other social goods are supposedly published to the general public for competitive tendering of bids to execute these projects. I use ‘supposedly’ at this juncture because of one particular issue that has rocked the Ghanaian space recently: the issue of bus branding that came to the fore at the latter part of 2015. This saw the award of a contract worth over 3 million Ghana cedis for the rebranding of some 32 commuter buses. This contract was awarded to a private contractor, and it came to light that payment for the contract was made before the constitutionally mandated publication of an invitation for tenders for the said project. This particular occurrence can be identified as a model to appraise the current happenings in Ghanaian politics.
Contracts for provision of social goods have become big money making ventures. Of course, no one does business to go broke, but there exists a worrying situation of terribly bloated contract bills and the converse under-utilisation of allocated amounts for the execution of these contracts, as well as a consequent inadequacy of executed projects to satisfy the long term benefit of society. Roads constructed see wear in no time and create additional income for road contractors who bring crews of workmen to fill the gaping holes in the roads with gravels and tar.
How many road accidents can be avoided in Ghana if roads weren’t constructed with substandard materials leading to their quick and undeniably hazardous deterioration? A few hours ago, I had been in a vehicle with some friends when we drove over a huge dent in the Tema-Ada road. This dent sent our vehicle flying and, but for the alacrity of my friend Edward at the steering wheel, I have no doubt that a misfortune would have been in order.
Street lights are a luxury on Ghanaian roads, a situation that baffles me. What happens to all the human resources that complete educational pursuits in engineering and practical courses in our many polytechnics and universities?
Surely, the idea of a state owned engineering firm responsible for production of social goods such as street lights, traffic lights and traffic signs as well as the management of such isn’t far-fetched. That won’t be a bad way to use state resources, I believe.
Price controls and related endeavours at checking the work of these private contractors is the only way to mitigate the wanton corruption pervading the Ghanaian system which is furthering the politics of underdevelopment.
My phone just gave a double beep. Low battery alert. I look out of the cab window at the thick darkness around the Madina station. Dumsor. My hope of electricity at the home office of the entrepreneurial start-up business I work for is dashed as the taxi takes the right turn at Madina Ritz junction unto a depressingly dark street. I have to stop typing now. My battery is almost dead. God bless Ghana.
Happy Independence Day.