Swans Commentary » swans.com July 12, 2010  



Licensed To Rip Us Off


by Femi Akomolafe





United Nations dem come get name for us
Dem go call us underdeveloped nations
We must be underdeveloped to dey stay ten ten in one room
First and second day, dem go call us Third World
We must be Third World to sleep inside dustbim
Dem go call us Non-aligned nations
We must dey craze for head to dey stay under bridge
Ordinary thing for man to enjoy for town, nko o?
E no dey
Food? E no dey. Problem, iyen dey. Light? E no dey. Wahala? Iyen dey.
Dem turn us to sufferhead o, original sufferhead.

—Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, from the Album Original Sufferhead.


(Swans - July 12, 2010)   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?

I was talking to a very close friend recently who brandishes unequalled Pan-Africanist credentials. Yet he told me that he's tired of thinking about the problems confronting our people. He would like to "retire" to his village where he'll stop worrying his head thinking about how to contribute to solving Africa's seemingly intractable problems.

I fully understand my bosom friend's despondency as the thought has crossed my mind more than once. It is a dilemma any conscious African must have had to struggle with one time or the other?

The inimitable Nigerian musician and Pan-Africanist, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, released his song Original Sufferhead, from which I quoted above sometimes in the 1970s. That's more than thirty, yes 30 years ago.

Yet, our leaders, in their infinite wisdom, have not found solutions to ANY of the problems Fela talked about in his song! Problems of good leadership, of water, of food, of electricity, etc., etc.!

More and more of our people are sleeping ten -- ten in one room today than thirty years ago. Maybe those are even the lucky ones. A visit to Kaneshie and the other market places in our capital city, Accra, will reveal the level of shocking poverty our folks are still forced to endure -- more than three years after we beat our chests in huge celebration of what was supposed to be fifty years of self-governance.

Our elites wine and dine themselves silly and a load of public money allegedly found its way into private pockets. They are still busy trying to unravel the huge mess they made of simple accounting. You can bet your last Cedi that they will just talk themselves into stupor, and at the end the day, the thievery will be overtaken by more scurrilous looting.

If you want to understand how the elites play their not-so-clever games on us, get and listen to another Fela's song titled Government Magic.

There are ministries created to ensure that our children are well taken care of; that they go to school where they are supposed to be fed, and given uniforms free of charge.

Of course, the ministries are manned (womanned?) by people who receive fat paychecks; people who get official cars, houses, allowances, and other appurtenances that go with high offices in Africa. Yet, our children still toil in great hardship selling every junk from Asia, Europe, and America in the hot sun.

And no one cares a hoot. Our president has been reported to pay unannounced visits to some institutions, but he couldn't have failed to see young children who are supposed to be in school hawking on our streets. Why hasn't he queried the minister responsible for youth? What exactly is our policy to take children off the streets and put them in school? Is the policy being implemented? If not, why not?

How do we manage to produce in Africa officials whose consciences have been totally deadened? How do we manage to get people into offices that do not care about anything apart from their fat paychecks and the goodies they receive from the state -- not forgetting the bribes they collect? Are our Ministers too blind to see those children wasting away on our streets? Are the officials in their offices also blind? How could they, in good conscience, collect salaries at the end of every month for jobs they have not done?

If it is said that a people deserve the type of government they have, maybe it is time we citizens share the blame for our current state of impoverishment.

We believe that our civic duties begin and end on election day when we line up to cast our ballots. After which we retreat into our shells only to complain about hardships in the comfy of our bedrooms and our favourite drinking spot.

Most of us believe that the writers that take it upon themselves to catalogue our shortcomings are busybodies, too-knows with more time on their hands than they know what to do with.

That is the only reason we can adduce for our officials treating us with the impunity they have mastered over the years. That is the only reason our politicians make promises they know that they will never keep. That explains why our president can appoint ministers who are totally clueless about what to do. Ok, they are Team B. But even a Team B would be occasionally inspired to show some promising moves.

Why can't we as a people demand from our president a blueprint of his plan for the country? We do not mean party manifestoes, no! Our president said he has a Better Ghana Agenda. I have so far been unsuccessfully in getting a copy -- let me know if you have.

In this age and time with Internet and things, we should demand from anyone seeking the presidency his comprehensive plan. Anyone serious enough to canvass for our votes and expected to be taken seriously should be able to get competent people to help him draft plans on all the areas s/he intends to tackle in office. Then the plans should be put on the Internet where we can all access them and put them to rigorous scrutiny.

No, it is not a novel idea; the Americans are doing it. Since we tend to borrow everything from them, we can as well borrow this idea.

It makes no sense at all for us to continue to elect people who are totally clueless about what modern governance is about.

Other people/nations have proved that generating and distributing electricity is not rocket science and there's no earthly reason why we should still be grappling with inadequate power supply. Water is recognized as one of life's basic necessities; we are not asking for a pie in the sky if we demand that our government provide us with treated water at prices we can afford.

As I wrote in "We didn't vote for gods," it is rather insulting for someone to get elected into office and turn around to tell us that only god can solve our problem. We voted for men and women who made promises to solve our earthly problems. No god canvassed for our votes and we didn't vote for any.

Another thing that constantly baffles me is that our officials are regular visitors to Asia, Europe, and the USA. They visit those places and see what ordinary human beings have managed to achieve on this earth without any help from any god.

Our officials journey frequently to foreign lands to collect their bribes (à la the unfolding M&J and the Daimler scandals). They go abroad to check on their health because they have allowed our health delivery system to collapse. They send their children to foreign schools because they have run our education system aground.

That was the reason I advocated some time ago that no elected or appointed officer of the state should send his ward to schools abroad. Also, no official of state should seek medical redress abroad.

The reasons are informed by the simple reason of self-interest. We need patriotic leaders who put their own stake in how things are run in our country. Our elite are forever extolling the virtues of patriotism; I say that it is time they invest in it.

If our elite are barred from sending their wards for schooling abroad, they will, in no time, ensure that our schools are brought up to par. They will also make sure that our hospitals become better than glorified dispensaries when they know that they have nowhere else to go when they fall sick.

After fifty-three years of self-government, we certainly deserve a lot better. We have no reason to be still grappling with basic problems like inadequate water and electricity. It might sound like some conspiracy theory, but it is difficult not to imagine that our elite are in cahoots with our slavemasters to keep us in perpetual servitude.

I have often lamented the attitude of our paid officials who behave more and more like agents of the neo-colonial forces bent on ruining our lives in Africa.

Let us take the case of the mobile telecommunication sector as an example. I do not know in which other part of the world the reprobate multinational organizations operating in Ghana would be allowed to get away with all the shenanigans in which they are engaged in our dear country.

Instead of investing in state-of-the-art modern technologies to give us quality services, these organizations will "invest" in the most obsolete equipment. They give us the shoddiest deal at the highest rates possible and laugh all the way to their banks.

They will then invest some of the ill-gotten, totally undeserved windfall in organizing lotteries, raffles, and other razzmatazz to bedazzle us. They are forever sponsoring this or that jamboree in other to make themselves look good. And we are too stupid to realize the con game the tricksters are playing on us. We are too stupid to realize that we are paying for all the bull... They are dishing out in the name of "good corporate citizen sponsorship."

I have used mobile telephones in both Europe and Africa, so I am in a position to make some commentary on the type of services operators render in both places.

Time without numbers the sector minister has given directive that number portability should be effected. Zain and Tigo are the only operators that have taken the minister's directive seriously with the others giving one silly excuse after another. In no other land will they be allowed to get away with such disrespect. But this is Ghana, where our bark is usually louder than our bite.

In the Royal Kingdom of the Netherlands for example, every mobile number irrespective of operator has the prefix 06. The Netherland's population is close to that of Ghana, so if it is possible in that country, why not in Ghana?

Again, in the Netherlands, effecting number portability is as easy as ABC, maybe even easier. You need only to inform your new operator your desire to keep your number. It is between the two operators to sort themselves out.

Again, a SIM card in the Netherlands is good for one year with or without recharging, in contrast to Ghana where operators are still doling out 60-90 days and believe that they are doing us a great favor.

And what about the nonsense the operators call "broadband modem" in Ghana? Good gracious me! I bought one of Zain's so-called broadband modem at their Kaneshie office recently. I had to return it the following day in great anger.

The speed of what Zain touts as "broadband" is akin to the 1200 bpm modems I used in the 1980s while a student in Europe.

The experience made me so angry! How on earth are these phone companies allowed to get away with this daylight robbery? Zain's modem cost close to GHC100 (about 55 Euros) whereas in the Netherlands one could buy a four-port router for less than half that price.

Imagine my horror and disgust when a few days later the Daily Guide carried a report whereby Zain's CEO was boasting about the "latest broadband technologies" his company has deployed. Since we live in a country where anything goes, the slothful reporter failed to take him to task.

They say that we are a Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC), but that hasn't stopped the multinational corporations from raping us with the connivance of our bribed officials.

They are allowed to provide service in our country that they would never dare peddle in any other land.

In Amsterdam, for example, telecom operators offer a combination of telephone and Internet service that costs as little as 15 Euros a month. And we are talking true broadband speed, not the crappy speed that operators offer in Ghana, for which they charge an arm and a leg.

Which raises (again) the issue of on whose side our government really is. Telecom operators offer sloppy services for which they continue to rape us like no man's business. All that we get are call drops and bad networks. They then turn around and try to pretend that they are some giant Father Christmas filled with nothing but high altruism. Most of them are doing their best to turn us into gamblers whether or not we like it.

Again, what are our paid officials doing to compel these companies to use our hard-earned money to provide us with good and quality service? Why are the telecom companies not compelled to spend more money on getting the best equipment instead of splashing our money on nauseating marketing jamborees?

Returning to the Netherlands, there are many places where companies have placed Wi-Fi equipment so that anyone with a suitably-equipped laptop or notebook can browse free of charge. That is a very noble idea that the telecom operators in Ghana could try to emulate instead of their stupid "win this or that" jamborees.

If Zain makes so much money from us that it could afford to give away GHC75,000 every week, what stops it from putting free Wi-Fi service on all campuses of our tertiary institutions, or in all public places of our major cities?

Of course, such positive ideas will never enter into the equation of any neo-colonial multinational that exists only to suck the blood of the world's sufferers.


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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)


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published July 12, 2010