Takashie is Our National Philosophy

The subject of dumsor came up briefly at our Friends meeting two Sundays ago.

I cannot remember the question she was responding to, but my fellow friend Edwina said something along the lines of:

“If you are sitting in dumsor and they are trying to tell you that there is no dumsor, why should you take anything they say seriously?”

I couldn’t agree more.

It is deeply depressing (and actually really insulting) when – in fear of its potential effect on their power – our leaders deny the very existence of our problems. Or try to get technical about them, playing word games… with words that we created.

image0069

I’m not saying our government has done nothing towards ending the power crisis: things had improved until a month or two ago. I’ll do that rare thing and commend them for such small mercies.

However, when I am sitting in dumsor, don’t try and tell me that it is not dumsor. It’s bad enough that you haven’t solved our problem; don’t insult our intelligence/experience too. Just give us our dumsor schedule. You know: the one you won’t stick to anyway. Yes. That one.

politicans-and-diapers

We will be voting at the end of the year. I believe in actual choice, and I just don’t see enough difference between our two leading parties. Some – maybe – but little by way of genuine, inspirational, transformational leadership.

My dream candidate (another post for another day) would be a little more radical than Ghana is presently used to. For what should be obvious reasons, there are certain things he or she would ban senior government officials from access to, including:

  • The right to fly abroad for medical treatment
  • The right to educate their children abroad (before Masters degree level)
  • Generators
  • Water tanks
  • Motorcades to cut through traffic

I could go on.

I’m not saying politicians need to work for free, but we do need to find urgent ways of getting people to look at politics as public service and not some fast track route towards personal gain (or a way of repaying the massive debts our politicians incur in order to become politicians). And we need politicians who feel what we feel, and who put people over politics/money/resources as a result.

John-Mensah-Sarbah

Example: way back in the day, there was a general belief that the social value of land was more important than its commercial value (you know… the kind of thing South Africa’s Abahlali Basemjondolo are all about). That alone is as good an example of people being more important than money as any. But that’s only the beginning of this story.

When the British colonial government basically tried  (with the Crown Lands Bill of 1897) to claim all land they saw just ‘sitting there’ (ancestral/inherited lands) for the British Empire, Ghanaians were understandably horrified. Patriots including John Mensah Sarbah founded the Aboriginal Rights Protection Society to shut that nonsense down, partly by:

  1. Studying all proposed colonial measures
  2. Giving political education to the people
  3. Making the people understand the effect of these measures

Yet another example of putting people first.

After the Society campaigned successfully for the Bill to be rescinded, Sarbah refused to take any money for his role in their success, explaining that it was an honour to serve his people.

Now that’s leadership I can get behind.

Today we have a new national philosophy and it has little room for crazy ideas like public service and putting people first. It’s not Christianity: please. We might wear fine robes on Sundays, pray in loud tongues and such, but look around you: we are waaaaay too practical a people to actually practice such universally lauded religious principles as turning the other cheek or treating people the way we would have them treat us. Our society would look very different if we did.

No. Our real national philosophy is takashie: forcing our way ahead by any means necessary, often at the expense of others.

Where we have a choice between demonstrating a love of others or using takashie, the latter usually wins. Open your eyes and you’ll see examples, everywhere and every day. In little things. Like driving in traffic. In haggling prices. In (not) queuing. Etc, etc.

Each man/woman for him/herself and God for us all… and that’s the problem:

Takashie is an understandable response to the frustrations of living in Ghana. Nevertheless, our leaders come from among us. They are living reflections of what we really believe in: not as individuals, but as a society. If we each resort to daily takashie, why should we expect our leaders to – by some random miracle – do any different?

Sure: some countries are lucky enough to get officials who think differently and who help move their countries forward as a result. But that’s just it, isn’t it: luck. Such leaders are miracles.

Which makes our choice a tricky one: ‘Aben Wo Ha‘ vs. ‘Dabi Dabi 3by3 Yie‘.

Either we continue to get by on takashie, continue to produce more of the same leaders and vote them in with the expectation that they will suddenly and miraculously become benevolent (with enough competence to match that benevolence).

Or maybe we should all start thinking about our individual roles in changing the society out of which our leaders emerge.

 

 

Trips to Thug-O

I was going to write a long rant about this, but there’s no point. So I’ll just say this.

1. It makes no difference whether you enter Togo through the official border or the illegal one. Tried both. Your choice is simply whether you wish to be screwed by people in uniform or people without. Choose wisely. Choose unwisely. Makes no difference.

2. If you ever want a reason to feel like Ghana is progressing, visit Togo by land.

I’m sure my Togolese brethren are wonderful people.

But by the time you go through Togolese customs, you’ll miss Ghana Police.

Fin.

On Fuel Prices Increases & the African Art of Negotiation

I just received the following bit of news from Vodafone (one of the latter’s slightly more useful services):

The Ghana Road Transport Operators (GRTO) has announced a 10 percent increase in transport fares across the country.

My immediate thought is that since the government upped the fuel prices a few days ago, I have already had to factor it in to my every negotiation with taxi drivers since.

‘Afternoon Bossu, I want go Osu. How much? Ntoboase… me pa wo ky3w. Me wo palpitations wai’

‘(laughing) oh, twenty cedis p3h’

‘Ajei! M’akoma! But boss, why? You want give me heart attack?’

‘Oh, but massa, you know they have increased the fuel price…”

My question is how this 10% affects the already extensive negotiations I have do. Is it just the GRTO making things official? Or  does it mean I have to expect drivers to add an additional 10% to the cost that was already adjusted as soon as the fuel increase was announced? Because I wouldn’t put it past some drivers to argue that I pay more because of the fuel increase AND the 10% announcement.

Pardon me if that sounds ridiculous, but the truth is that we are living very ridiculous times in Ghana.

I remember once back when I was working in the Joy FM newsroom and the cost of fuel dropped.

Yes. This happened once. In our lifetime.

The government came out to say they expected transport costs to drop too. The people (or let me be honest: maybe it was just me) rejoiced. I had NEVER seen the price of ANYTHING EVER drop in Ghana.

Then I listened as a rep from GPRTU explained how – in spite the drop – something something something cost spread between number of people something something (insert magical, sorry I mean mathematical formula), therefore they couldn’t reduce their rates but they had to stay the same…

[Insert side-eye here]

I’m still waiting for the day when fuel prices go up and they say prices must in turn remain same because of the same magical formula. Or maybe it’s been happening and I just haven’t noticed. I don’t mean to knock taxi drivers: we’re all in the same daily grind outchea.

Truth is though, even if the GRTO or GPRTU didn’t issue such edicts, taxi drivers would still factor any fuel price increase into negotiations, because – let’s be honest – prices are not issued by any higher bodies. They are issued at street level, where negotiations involve not magic but sine equally mystic combination of knowledge of market reality, attire, accent, language, gift of gab, negotiation skill, the affluence of where you are being picked up or going to, etc, etc.

Frankly, the GRTO are just rubbing salt into already raw wounds. It’s not like there’s some official list of taxi prices listed somewhere that we can now add 10% to in preparing our daily budgets.

No.

So what’s the point in their announcements besides insulting us?

Mtchew.

Guest Post: I Hate Ecobank

The following post was written by Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah; a woman who works for the African Women’s Development Fundis co-founder of the award-winning blog, Adventures From The Bedrooms of African Women and MAKSI Clothing. These are only a few of her achievements.

Does she sound like a woman you would want to cross? I doubt it. Others – it seems – disagree.

Good luck to ’em.

Image

I joined Ecobank because it proudly describes itself as a Pan-African bank, and I’m a woman with Pan-Africanist ideals.

Last year I attended a workshop in Nigeria. I took my Ecobank card, and some dollars (you know: just in case…) When my contact picked me up at the airport, I said to him, “Could we please stop at an Ecobank so I could take out some money?”

At the first ATM I was unable to withdraw any money, so he took me to a second ATM, same scenario, and then a third. I was embarrassed, ‘Oh I don’t know what’s happening, I definitely have money in my account.’ I knew taking money out of the ATM shouldn’t be an issue. I had purposely visited my bank and asked them if I could take out money in Nigeria and I had been told yes. I had previously used my Ecobank card in the United States and had experienced no issues at all. I called one of the staff at my local bank in Ghana, and he advised me to call the general customer number, and so I did. A customer rep picked up my call, promised to call me back, and never did. Thankfully those US dollars came in very handy.

I have been threatening to leave Ecobank for ages. Every so often I get on Twitter and rant about the lack of service I receive at the bank, or about waiting in a queue forever, or the unnecessary bureaucracy Ecobank (Ghanaian banks) seem to delight in.

Do you remember when Ecobank floated shares? I bought some. So did my mother, and my brother. Over the years my mother and brother have received miserly dividends – $5 here, $3 there, ohhhh and a big cash in of $7. All along I received a big fat nothing. A couple of times I went to the bank and asked, ‘So what is happening. I never get any dividends’? The response for a couple of times was, ‘Hmmm. People have been complaining. We’ll look into it for you.’ Eventually I was told, ‘You need to go to Ridge to ask about your shares’. I was irritated. Ah, how do I need to go to Ridge to ask about my shares? When I was buying these shares I didn’t need to go to Ridge but eventually I went to Ridge, and there I was told I needed to visit the Ghana Commercial Bank on the High Street if I wasn’t receiving my shares.

Have you ever visited the High Street on a regular working day? I sat in traffic for about an hour before arriving at my destination. And there we discovered the bank had made an error inputting my address. A crucial ‘2’ had been left out when my details had been entered in the system. ‘You need to go to a notary, and then the post office for x (I can’t remember what x is now).’

I lost my cool.

I am not going anywhere. I am not going to go and pay a notary, and then go to a post office to buy x. This is the fault of Ecobank, and I don’t see why I have to suffer for your mistakes’. A young man rushed over to the desk where I was being dealt with. ‘What seems to be the matter Madam?’ I explained the situation. ‘Please come this way’, he said.

After 10 minutes of fiddling about with paperwork and, speaking to his supervisor he said, ‘Madam I’m really sorry but you’re going to have to get the notary to sign…’ ‘Listen, I’m not going anywhere’…So another supervisor stepped in, and eventually they said, ‘Okay since the mistake was with Ecobank you need to go back there and tell them they need to change their address on their system’. And so I went back to Ecobank, and my address was changed on their system.

At this stage I wish I could say, ‘…and then Ecobank and I lived happily ever after’, but I made the mistake of making a simple mistake. I run a small business with my sister, and that small business also banks with Ecobank, and our accountant had requested that we get a copy of our statements from the date the account was open. I dutifully wrote a letter to the bank requesting for this information and dropped it off with the Enquiries desk at the Community 6 branch in Tema. When I went the following week to pick up the letter I was told, ‘Oh but you didn’t state when you wanted the statement to start from’, and so I wrote the date I needed the information from manually on the printed letter. ‘Okay when you are coming back for the statement bring another copy of the letter with all the information typed.’ And so the following week I came back with another word processed letter, and was told, ‘Just a minute please’. That minute lasted 60 minutes. I waited an hour to pick up a statement I requested 2 weeks previously.

I was fuming.

I sat there stewing in my anger. How can this be the case? At the same time I had dropped off my request at Ecobank I had gone to Zenith with the same request, and within 10 minutes I had my statements (I hadn’t needed to wait or ‘go and come’ for this information). At the end of the day I got an SMS update from Ecobank. I had been charged GHC40 for the statement printed earlier that day.

Everybody has a breaking point, and that was mine. That was the reason why I called up the customer service line to inform them that I would be closing our corporate accounts and I needed them to know the reason why. That’s the same reason why I am now shopping around for a new bank to manage my personal account.

Do you have any recommendations? Do you bank with Ecobank? What are your Ecobank horror stories? Feel free to vent in the comments box.

After all, misery loves company.

A few things have happened since we put this post up. In the name of fairness, we are bumping up from the comments below Ecobank’s attempts to right the customer service wrongs outlined above.

So please read on…

UPDATE#1 (August 19th)

Today I was visited by Ecobank’s Head of Branch Network Adobea Addo, and Area Manager for Tema, Beatrice Normanyo. They have both apologized profusely for the lack of customer service I experienced, and promise to ensure that this doesn’t happen in the future. I am impressed that Ecobank sent senior staff to come and visit me to listen to the issues I’ve had to date. I told them I will observe what happens subsequently, and for the moment will maintain my accounts with them. They also told me to let them know of any other customers who have had issues with them. I know from the comments here alone that I am not the only one so I asked for an email address that grievances could be asked to and I was given allegh-csqhelpdesk@ecobank.com

So fingers crossed. On a positive side this shows that at least some companies listen when we make our issues known publicly. Time will tell whether I grow to love Ecobank or continue to hate them :) At the moment I am a tad mollified.

UPDATE #2 (August 20th)

Dear Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah/Kobby Graham,

Our attention has been drawn to your publication regarding series of unpleasant service experiences you have encountered with us. We have attentively read your message and we apologise sincerely for all the service delivery shortfalls from ATM experience, share dividends and request for account statement.

Indeed the conduct of our staff for the occasions mentioned fell short of the high standards we have set for ourselves in Ecobank in the service of our clients.
Kindly accept our apologies once more.

We would appreciate an opportunity that would enable us to resolve the issues at stake and avoid a recurrence.

We humbly request that you kindly contact us through our address:ecobankenquiries@ecobank.com enable us to establish a contact and resolve the concerns you have raised.

Ecobank takes this opportunity to express our sincere apologies to you and to the general public for any inconveniences caused.

Thank you,
ECOBANK

Being Bourgeois (& Other Ghanaian Delusions)

wonder1

I keep finding myself in conversations with people who whip out the word ‘bourgeois’. Some are loud and proud about it. Others mention the word in hushed tones, serving it up like they would a sly wink. Regardless of the approach, I wince.

The ‘poor African’ stereotype is a particularly strong one. Those who do not fit within it become deeply sensitive to it. You do everything you can to defy, avoid, subvert or destroy it. It’s not that non-poor Africans are arrogant or in denial. It’s that there is more than one African. You can’t herd everyone under one label, and where existing labels do not fit, people will find or create new ones.

At times, however, the new labels we find and create push so far in the opposite direction that they lose touch with reality. The label ‘bourgeois’ is – to me – one such step too far. It is deeply, deeply problematic. Even worse, its growing acceptability in certain circles strikes right at the heart of something that is dangerously wrong about modern Ghana.

Let Them Eat Nkate Cake

I had the pleasure of teaching Social Theory (alongside my colleague and friend, Kajsa) last semester. Many of the ideas that shape society today emerged in reaction to the French Revolution: when the poor people of 18th century France decided enough was enough, took to the streets, and toppled the French monarchy. The revolution was – like others before and after it – in response to the reckless flaunting of wealth in the face of abject poverty; a Western Spring if you will. This and other revolutions within the same period forced people – rich and poor alike – to start thinking deeply about things like wealth, privilege, social responsibility, rights and how they are all connected. Philosophers and politicians alike argued. New ideologies – like liberalism and conservatism – were shaped out of these arguments and discussions. The West as we today know it was born.

Since the Revolution, the bourgeoisie rarely actually refer to themselves as bourgeois. They don’t have to. People who are really that elite rarely feel the need to flaunt wealth to anyone outside their class. The trappings of real wealth are obvious to people who are really wealthy. They don’t have to write songs about it. They are so wealthy that their wealth doesn’t need celebration: they take it for granted. Should they need to differentiate themselves from the unwashed masses, they do so by pointing out the latter’s poverty (pleb) rather than by directing attention to their own wealth, lest (“mon dieu!“) they are mistaken for ‘nouveau riche’.

In Ghana, I see the exact opposite. Partly in order to escape the trap of being labelled a poor African, some draw extra attention to their wealth and its trappings, using it not only as an identifier, but also as a way of differentiating themselves from the mass of poorer Africans. Wealth sets them apart. ‘Bourgeois’ becomes a clean, acceptable word. It sets them free.

… except, it doesn’t. They are essentially new slaves to consumer culture and the things they flaunt are merely products of capitalism’s amazing ability to make you buy things you think you need but don’t. That aside, the problem isn’t having wealth.

It is the lack of social conscience that comes with it.

You see it in the little things. Like MPs who seem more motivated by salary than by real social commitment. My girlfriend recently interviewed the men who – in exchange for the occasional tip – regulate traffic under the tunnel connecting East Legon to Spintex Road. Interestingly, they said they recognize many of the people who drive past them and they rattled off a list of wealthy pastors, sportsmen, and politicians, noting (with the interesting exception of former President Rawlings) how rarely they give tips. 

A Few Words for Returnees from an Older Returnee

I also hear some returnees (please note that I said some) make the mistake of including themselves within Ghana’s elite. Some even act accordingly. I won’t lie: as a returnee whose return home predates that of many of the more recent wave of returnees, I find this deeply annoying.

If you know yourself to be one of these people, please research the word, ‘elite’. It involves more than just money. You lack the networks and the contacts to qualify. There are people here who are poorer than you who have better networks than you do. Please note that this may include the waiter and the house girl you snapped at the other day. It is those very same networks that your inability to tap into will result in your failure here. There is a lot about Ghana that must change for all our sakes, but don’t mistake the many parts of the system that don’t work for the whole. There is something intangible here that you will learn to respect and be humble before. If you don’t, you will fail and you will return wherever it is that you came from with your tail between your legs, whining about Ghana being impossible to tame when in fact Ghana just tamed you. Good riddance.

At best, think of yourself as economically privileged. Given the lack of opportunity you are fleeing however, you’re basically an economic migrant with delusions of grandeur. You were not flossing in the UK. There is something there – financial or otherwise – that you lacked. Otherwise you would not be here. Never forget that. Let it humble you. Act accordingly.

I find it galling when people flee a class system that locked them out of being successful, only to come and try to replicate it here. It reminds me of something I heard when visiting South Africa: apparently lower class Brits would go there and lord it over people of darker skin than them worse than white South Africans would. It’s very depressing to see Ghanaians doing the same thing to their fellow Ghanaians based on perceived class.

There is a logic to everything in Ghana. Even that which seems illogical. The same goes for any demographic anywhere in the world, really. Smart companies do market research before embarking on marketing campaigns. They design products with the end user in mind.

Start by dismissing the idea that the ordinary Ghanaian (whatever that means) is simply ignorant. It is lazy thinking (and I use the last of those two words incredibly loosely). Put yourself in the shoes of the person whose actions you don’t understand and rather than asking yourself what would compel them to do such a thing, ask yourself what would compel you to do that thing. What would motivate you to stand in the scorching sun selling Chinese products for so little that you may not have enough money to go home if you do not sell enough? What situation would force you to drive in as kamikaze a fashion as some of our nation’s taxi and trotro drivers? Simple indiscipline and stupidity? Or is there more to it?

Putting yourself in someone’s shoes is harder than it sounds but it leads you closer to the truth. You will often find more questions than answers. Good: keep going.

There are ways of doing things here and reasons those systems have arisen. If you come charging in with what you think is a solution without factoring those ways and reasons in, you will fail and you will sit there in your failure.

We Are All Complicit

Before anyone starts pointing a finger at returnees, please note all the other fingers pointing back at you. We all seem to have this obsession with exclusivity here in Ghana.

Some hide behind their high walls like ostriches burying their heads in the sand; they and their children so far removed from other people’s realities that they assume poor, uneducated Ghanaians are inherently ignorant.

The rest of us create other spaces in which to physically and ideologically distinguish ourselves from our fellow citizens. We stop going to that spot, that club, that bar because ‘too many people are going there’. It has become ‘common’. It is no longer exclusive. Yet we move in herds every Friday night, showing no loyalty towards any one venue. If we are all going to the same venues, how exactly do we expect too many people not to go there? VIP culture is quite childish when you really think about it.

Obiaa nye obiaa.

We Are Young. All of Us.

A nation is no joke. It’s a big thing. It doesn’t just come together by accident.

Ghana is a young country. We have been doing this nation-state thing for only half a century. Americans, for example, have had over two centuries to work on the idea of America and what it means to be American… and it shows. We are all still creating what it means to be Ghanaian. We have a choice to let it fall apart by accident or actively make it gel.

So here’s the thing:

We need to start thinking and writing about what Ghana is, what it means to be Ghanaian and the things that unite us in all our diversity. Our sense of social conscience is currently limited to our social circles. It needs to grow into something that can apply to an entire nation. We need to start having arguments (and disagreements) about these things, forming rival theories, ideologies and philosophies around them that influence politicians, lawmakers, artists (yes: artists) and other practitioners. We then need to teach all of this to our children and get them engaged in the debate from a young age so that by the time they grow up, it has already been imbibed. Nkrumah wrote books about ideas. Those writing about ideas relevant to our time (hello academics) need to find and embrace all the new ways there are to get their message out there.

This exclusivity bull**** isn’t cute anymore. Neither is it sustainable. 

Still want a label? Try this one on for size:

Ghanaian.

>Blogging: Promote Ignorance Much?

>If you scroll down the left column, you’ll notice that I’ve been trying to compile all the blogs I can find that are written by Ghanaians. I’ve included a few Ghanaians abroad, but try not to include people who are merely blogging as they pass through (nothing personal).

The Problem…
 
I just read the latest post of one blog I recently added and the content was so ignorantly-worded (and I don’t mean the grammar) that I’ve decided to remove it from the list. One too many expletives and exclamation marks… the content wasn’t that hot either.
I’m having mixed feelings though.
On the one hand, I am not a big fan of censorship and the list is supposed to reflect the diversity and richness of Ghanaian blogging.
On the other hand, I try not to be pro-ignorance: a stance that has seen me refuse to play certain forms of music when I DJ.
Why should I not do the same with my blog?