The ongoing conversation about fixing the systems in our country and the counterargument about fixing the attitudes of citizens could not come at a better time than now.
Even though the nation stands divided on the issue, I believe this awakening of the citizenry is good for our own progress as a people, and I would rather we devoted our energies and time to tackling it holistically, instead of justifying our failures with partisan sentimentalism and religious hypocrisy.
Today, many advanced countries are living the future in the present, with their use of futuristic technologies, smart business innovations, cutting edge scientific infrastructure, and strategic human investments.
The world today is run by evolving technocultural ideas, rather than the conservative ideas that most African leaders are unfortunately solemnly attached to. Any well-meaning country like Ghana had better keep up with the structural revolutions of the world, instead of wasting its energies on peripheries such as hair politics and religious fanaticism.
For many reasons, I feel this is the opportune moment to publicly add my voice to the millions already pervading on our airwaves regarding the fix-it rhetorics. If you are here for misguided partisan politicking, you will be disappointed.
This is about nation-building. You don’t have to agree or disagree with the thinking of this post, but I want you to note that perspective-taking and responsibility-sharing are the takeaways of this post. Nothing less. I should also add that I own these thoughts unapologetically.
On the subject of fixing attitudes, I know that attitudes can be genetically or environmentally engineered into a person. I will leave the genetics to the biological scientists and focus on the environmental aspect as a social scientist. The ideas, trainings, values, and beliefs of people inform their perspectives about life and these eventually determine their attitudes.
If people at a particular location demonstrate a certain range of attitudes over a period of time, it becomes the system of that location. As an example from our local Ghanaian context: Whereas Assin Kushea is widely noted for its good sanitation, cosmopolitan cities such as Accra and Kumasi are disappointingly the direct opposites.
No malice is intended, but the difference tells of the range of attitudes of the people in these locations. Longitudinal studies show that when a system is tested over time and becomes widely acceptable by a group, it becomes indistinguishable from the attitudes of members of that society. That is why, to a large extent, we are able to describe a society as elite, law-abiding, racist, lawless, hospitable, or define a group of people as possessing certain traits or behaviours, even though definitions are political and perspectival, and can sometimes be grossly stereotyped and misappropriated.
This is only a scratch on the surface of a topic I will discuss in another post, but for now, let’s just say that the common dominant narratives about a people or society usually become the only known narrative. So, honestly, what’s the dominant narrative about our present Ghanaian society? Your initial response is the soul of this discourse. Your afterthought is the body, and I may add the spirit at the end of the post.
You cannot change a bad system without changing the attitudes of the people involved, much the same way you cannot change the attitudes of people without changing the system that should keep them in check. No system in Ghana works adequately. Ranging from education to transport and everything in-between. There is no exemption! Nothing works satisfactorily! A country that politicises its education and healthcare, and fights back its corruption fighters?! It is annoyingly sad.
In this 21st century Ghana, we still have perennial flooding issues, corruption and rot in public spaces, poor healthcare, rocketing youth unemployment, polluted water bodies, weak security climate, too many bad roads, erratic power supply, etc. And these are not problems that emerged today. The systems have been weak and porous since time immemorial, but as always, nobody wants to take the responsibility. The attitudes of citizens are just like the rickety systems we speak against. We are sick and problematic in our thinking and actions.
The people who have been elected to run the system tend to blame the people whom the system should run for, and the latter also blame the former, so the argument always shifts from how to fix the problem to whom to be attacked the more. And it is why our development has always taken a downward movement. Both systems and attitudes need to be fixed, and it doesn’t matter which one is fixed first. Let everyone fix themselves now — leaders and followers — and we will see progress.
While we are at it, we need proper planning and effective economic management, not the knee-jerk partisan policies and out-of-bed political interventions. We cannot make a headway if we repeat our old errors and still have new expectations.
There is no perfect system anywhere, not even in the advanced countries we consider utopic, but in any good system, the positives are the norm while the negatives are the exception. The reverse is also true for a bad system. There are bad roads in Western countries, but you hardly hear about them because they are only an insignificant number.
There are also good roads in Ghana, but we rarely talk about them because of the numberless bad roads that dominate the statistics. In the end, what outnumbers the other determines whether the system is good or bad. The same assessment criterion applies to all other sectors of the country, but unfortunately in Ghana, the bad outweighs the good everywhere.
In any good system, most of the citizens have a comfortable life (not necessarily a perfect one) because adequate provisions are made for them by those entrusted with the resources of the land and there is transparency and proper accountability from both the leaders and the citizens. None can exist without the other. Are our leaders transparent and accountable? Are citizens transparent and accountable? When taxes are misused by leaders and taxpayers who are sick of the malfeasance decide to evade taxes, who is to blame? Who needs to be fixed?
A good system breeds good attitudes, but a bad system becomes a viable land for bad attitudes. A good system cannot co-exist with bad attitudes. Have you ever wondered why Ghanaians (whom in this discourse are widely thought of as having bad attitudes) travel to advanced countries and become law abiding good citizens? Ask them why. You cannot drive a car in a Western country without a valid driver’s license and insurance. You cannot negotiate with the police about a traffic ticket issued in your name, not to talk of attempting to pay a bribe. You cannot embezzle State funds and not be prosecuted. Why? The system keeps you in check. It regulates people’s attitudes.
The system can be punitive all right but the same system provides you with a comfortable life so that you don’t have to be dubious and lawless to make a living. But here in Ghana, lawless behaviours are the daily occurrences and they have been normalized. We dispose waste indiscriminately, build in waterways/railways, destroy State property, allow numberless fraudulent churches and shrines to operate, and fail to regulate the vehicles that ply on our roads. We are all simply irresponsible.
Are we not tired of causing harm to ourselves and the country? We blame the government for everything, including what we ourselves should be held accountable for. When a government or assembly engages decongestion exercises for our own free mobility and comfort in town, what do you see or hear in the airwaves? “It is politically-motivated; we won’t vote for you in the next election.” So politicians who are more interested in winning the next elections than transforming the lives of people would rather not do what will affect their votes. This affects the system negatively and we are the same people who would complain. So where do we start the fixing from?
Sad enough, when foreigners become used to the porous system we have and its inefficacy, they readjust their attitudes to fit into our system and become like us. Galamseying is a case in point. Employee abuse is another. Bribery is a distant cousin. Can you live in Ghana and not pay bribe in any form? You cannot survive! It’s like being at the abattoir and dreading the spill of blood. It’s impossible! So why are we surprised that some of these foreigners have some of our political and traditional leaders in their pockets?
At the center of this controversial arguments is the bold call-out on African leadership and governance by the hangry youth. Our African leaders have failed us big time. No exemption! The causes of their failure are greed, dishonesty, wickedness, retrogressive thinking, power drunkenness, bribery and corruption, over-reliance on foreign aids, moral decadence, and witchcraft. Any other evil thing they do is the icing on the cake.
Ruling governments are always egocentric, moneycentric, and bereft of ideas. The public purse they promised to protect becomes their private purse and they use it with careless abundance. After all, they have the power to protect themselves for at least four years. The oppositions are also annoyingly crafty, hypocritical, and noisy only because there is no more supply of their honey and milk. Or because they actually sin differently when they are in power. These dominant parties have been the baggage weighing us down, and it may just be about time we did the needful.
Most African governments are given the adequate resources, looking at the revenues they rake from our mineral wealth and high taxes, etc., but they intentionally make things difficult for citizens so that citizens would always remember them and run to them for help. The typical African government does not find satisfaction in a stable peaceful productive society where everyone lives comfortably. No, they will feel extinct.
The cry of the ordinary citizens feeds into their relevance and existence. It makes them happy. They are allergic to transparency and accountability, so people can enter into politics as paupers today and show up the next morning in so much wealth. They dine in opulence and bathe in the culture of impunity, because they know how to massage the laws they themselves have legislated. In any bad system such as ours, the laws don’t work fairly. The rule of law, arguably, is a mere rubberstamp expression. It catches the little fingerlings and frees the whales and sharks.
The governments intentionally make their institutions weak so that they cannot hold them accountable. The Executive interferes the work of the Legislature and Judiciary, so objective checks and balances are thrown outside the window. Bribery and corruption becomes institutionalised, and it spreads to all corners of the country. The civil society organizations, media, academia, technocrats, think-tanks, peace councils, and private institutions who should safeguard the conscience of the country and keep governments on their toes irresponsibly form unholy alliances with the same government for their parochial interests and hit them hard only when it doesn’t profit them.
Both incumbent governments and oppositions know the desperation, hunger, and gullibility of the youth so they ride on the backs of these young ones to sustain their political powers and selfish gains. But until when will the youth wake up and speak truth to power? Until when will the youth be independent-minded and entrepreneurial enough? When will they avoid being used as conduits and puppeteers by selfish politicians? When will they realise that politicians do not really care about the level of unemployment in the country but only need the statistics to contract more loans for their own selfish political interests? When will the youth begin to take responsibilities for their actions and take charge of their own futures?
Until when will leaders realise that, much like all other citizens, they have contributed to the mess in the system and have the responsibility to fix things? When will they be truthful to us? When will they realise that we have everything we need to succeed? Are they not ashamed that they seek medical treatment abroad (on sponsorship from the State) while the ordinary citizen suffers in the poor health system in Ghana? When will they put national interest above their selfishness? When will they realise that the politics of equalisation does not solve issues? Until they realise that this awakening by citizens is only a pale hint of worse things to come, they will continue to ignore the cracks on the wall and feast on what they have dubiously accumulated. But one thing for sure is that the falcon will one day not hear the falconer, and that day is coming soon.
The spirit of this post is that we can choose to play ostriches and dabble in irrelevant blamestorming. Citizens can blame governments and governments can blame citizens ad nauseam. We can go back and forth with the arguments and continue to feast in mediocrity and pitypartying, while we watch other nations prosper. It’s commonsensical not to fix what is not broken, but for what is broken, everyone has a burden of responsibility not only to fix it, but to also creatively make what is fixed more useful and durable. Fix attitudes! Fix systems! They both work hand-in-hand. There is no magic wand to make that happen. We need collective efforts and progressive patience to build. Fixing the country means fixing citizens and fixing citizens means fixing the systems!
By Eric Nuamah Korankye
the writer holds an MSc. English (Technical Writing & Rhetorics) from Illinois State University
NB:Views expressed in this article are entirely the author’s