On Sunday, January 17, 2021, I set off to meet two friends at the Shiashie bus stop in Accra. Jones Ronny Dedjo and Benjamin Tenkorang – professional photojournalists – were my classmates at the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ) and are now helping roll the cameras for my talkshow ‘Talk To Solomon’ on the YouTube channel Aniwaba.
We were to go to Abokobi to interview veteran journalist Teye Kitcher, who worked with the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC). Mr. Kitcher was the presidential correspondent to the Castle in the era the late Jerry John Rawlings was the head of state.
Coming from different directions with a common destination of Abokobi, we agreed meeting at Shiashi. So, we moved together to Teye Kitcher’s house. I got to the Shiashie bus stop, longed to sit on a chair but there was none. What I saw could replace a seat was a metallic bar. I sat on it but that did not make me as uncomfortable as the pile of refuse at the bus stop that stared at me and other commuters.
The very spot the refuse occupied should have had a dustbin placed there. The absence of a dustbin had commuters dumping their waste on the bare ground. I could not really fault those who dumped their waste there as I blamed persons mandated to ensure there was a dustbin in place.
Benjamin came a few minutes after I had arrived and then Jones followed. While we sat in our vehicle and headed for Abokobi, I brought up the issue of the filth at the bus stop. Scenes of filth like the one seen at Shiashie have become so normal here in Accra and in almost all the other cities in the country.
At Kaneshie – also in Accra – where the Accra Metropolitan Assembly has its waste management office, the place appears to be the Mecca of filth in Ghana. Well, at a point, we chipped in a different conversation and sped off to meet our interviewee.
Today’s interview with Teye Kitcher will be the second after I first interviewed him three days after Rawlings passed away. In our first interview, he had mentioned that he still had in his archives some of the speeches Rawlings delivered as far back as the 1980s. To my surprise, the man who will turn 62 years soon (but looking evergreen) had placed a brown leather bag on one of the chairs in his living room.
“Solo,” he said when he ushered us into the living room, “this is the bag. It contains some speeches of Rawlings and other stuff during my days at the Castle as a presidential correspondent.”
We started the interview proper and asked him how he would feel seeing the remains of J.J Rawlings– the former president– laid in state on January 27, 2021.
I knew what he was likely to say. Mr. Teye and Rawlings had become so close that the former could bare it all to the latter issues that worried him. The retired journalist once told me he even shared family matters with the former head of state. When your close friend is laid in state, that could physically and emotionally drain you and that was how difficult Teye Kitcher had presumed it will be for him.
In the course of the interview, I asked him to get us some of the documents from his well-kept bag of archives. He stood up, brought a bundle of papers and started searching through them one after the other.
“Address by the Chairman of the PNDC Flt. Lt. J.J. Rawlings,” read Mr. Kitcher after he pulled out one brownish-white paper, “at the occasion of the commissioning of the Accra City Waste Management Project at Kaneshie on Friday, 18th July 1986.” That was the heading of Rawlings’ speech. When Teye Kitcher read that, I told him I was interested in that particular paper and that he should read excerpts of it.
“Madam Chairperson, PNDC Secretaries and Under Secretaries, Your Excellency, Nimei, Naamei, Distinguished Guest, Ladies and Gentlemen,” started Rawlings. Listening to Mr. Kitcher read this to me, I could imagine the sort of seriousness with which Rawlings read this himself.
“[…] It is indeed true to say that this function provides yet another practical demonstration of the government’s commitment to strengthen the hands of Local Authorities with the ultimate aim of injecting maximum efficiency into the performance of their important function of providing essential services to the people.”
Choosing Kaneshie to commission this project, I think, was strategic. As I mentioned earlier, Kaneshie today appears to be the citadel of Ghana’s filth and I presume it was as filthy in the 1980s as it is now. But, Rawlings’ drive to get Accra clean did not yield long-term results. In 2021, we are worse off than the late president imagined.
Papa Jay, as many called him, knew the essence of best sanitation practices, hence, the coming into being of the Accra City Waste Management Project.
Mr. Rawlings’ speech continued: “Madam Chairperson, the fact cannot be gainsaid that our major problem with the urban environment clearly lies in the area of sanitation. It is common knowledge that where healthy sanitation practices exist, the air we breathe and the water we drink and utilise for numerous domestic and commercial purposes will be free from pollution.”
Why do we as a people perfectly know the results of best sanitation practices, yet we blatantly disregard such and live our lives as people who are lost on their bearings? At Kaneshie, Lapaz, Madina and all the suburbs of Accra, filth has engulfed us. Sadly, market women sell right at the spots where refuse are dumped while buyers and consumers busily buy consumables there. Are we normal?
Why is it that for solid 35 years, we are still talking about unsanitary conditions in Accra and Ghana at large? If you happen to be a social science student or asked to describe Ghana, please don’t wrack your brain that much. In simple terms, Ghana is either a state without citizens or citizens without a state, arguably, the only country in the world where common sense appears so expensive a commodity.
The John Dramani administration attempted to fix our mess but what they proposed as solution to the problem was actually a problem to the solution. They introduced the National Sanitation Day, which indirectly told citizens to fill their gutters with all their trash so they go back to clean it the first Saturday of every month. Is something not wrong with us?
Then came the promise Messiah and his government. Then candidate Akufo-Addo promised Ghanaians Accra will be the cleanest city in Africa by the end of his first term. This task, to President Akufo Addo and his government, was so difficult and complex than the Russians manufacturing their S-400. So, they told Ghanaians the clean city promise will be delivered in their second term. A country of jokers?
Not long ago, I had a chat with Bruno Sorrentino (a veteran journalist) who spent 20 years documenting the life of a girl. I told him how much I was impressed with his exemplary journalism of riveting storytelling.
The documentary by Mr. Sorrentino that I watched on Aljazeera titled ‘Kay Kay: The Girl from Guangzhou’, had the journalist filming the little girl (named Kay Kay) every two years, starting from when she was two years. The purpose of the filming was to assess how Guangzhou and China would be like – in terms of economic growth – when Kay Kay had turned 20.
“We can put up with all this dust and pollution if in the end it means business,” Kay Kay’s mother said in the film. The year was 1992 (when Bruno first filmed) and Guangzhou was sprouting like mushrooms. Twenty years came so quickly, Kay Kay had completed university looking for job and China had moved miles away from its gloomy past.
When I had the chat with Bruno Sorrentino on January 10, 2021, it was my third time watching his documentary. If Bruno had come to Ghana to film a little girl or boy in Accra and witnessed the commissioning of the Accra City Waste Management Project, he would have wasted his time and resources on us.
Ghana, a country so much blessed yet so poor in all aspects of its endeavour, is gracefully a disgrace state sitting on the surface of the earth. I am sorry to inform you that that Accra City Waste Management Project was even funded by the “Federal Republic of Germany and some friendly organisations of that country,” yet, we failed them!
It is Sunday, January 24, 2021, and the time is 2:44am and I am here in my ghetto writing you this piece. I need to catch some sleep. But as I go to bed, if I tell you I have hope in Ghana I will be lying. My hope in Ghana is gone with the wind and it will only be resuscitated if only we are able to put our minds on “factory reset,” discard our backward behaviour and live as civilised people.
By Solomon Mensah
The writer is a broadcast journalist with Media General. Views expressed here solely remain his and not that of his organization.