In The Midst of Celebration; Balancing Grief Against The Audacity of Hope

Thoughts From Afar
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Thirty-two years on, in many parts of Ghana, only the insane still drive straight. From Accra to the hinterlands, I have seen much footage of roads that can be best described as paddy fields. Many of these roads which not too long ago were commissioned with pomp and pageantry as achievements by one previous leader...

"The pessimist resembles a man who observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day. On the other hand, the person who attacks the problems of life actively is like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it neatly and carefully away with its predecessors, after first having jotted down a few diary notes on the back. He can reflect with pride and joy on all the richness set down in these notes, on all the life he has already lived to the fullest. What will it matter to him if he notices that he is growing old? Has he any reason to envy the young people whom he sees, or wax nostalgic over his own lost youth? What reasons has he to envy a young person? For the possibilities that a young person has, the future which is in store for him? No, thank you,' he will think. 'Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved but of sufferings bravely suffered. These sufferings are even the things of which I am most proud, although these are things which cannot inspire envy."

My life never saw Nkrumah, Ankrah, Kotoka, Afrifa or Busia, all I know about these former leaders I was taught, read or told. My umbilical cord was severed from my mother months after Kutu Acheampong had led a coup to overthrow Busia. I vaguely remember Kutu but have fond memories of Akuffo. As a growing child on the then University of Science and Technology campus, his in-law was my neighbour and he used to visit regularly. Many will recall him watch us play football on the patch of grass between number seven and nine Ridge Road. I remember the events of May 15th and June 4th and the military barrier at the University Police Station. I remember Liman and his rise to power, his Vice President W.S. de Graft-Johnson was a neighbour too. I saw them overthrown and remember that New Year’s Eve and the sound of military music on the radio.

I lived through the PNDC era, and I remember all the acronyms: Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) I & II, Program of Action to Mitigate the Social Cost of Adjustment (PAMSCAD), and Poverty Alleviation Project (PAP), just to mention a few. I saw the PNDC shed the “P”, and metamorphosed into NDC with the inception of the Fourth Republic. In twenty-six years of this democratic drive, I have seen five Presidents: Rawlings, Kufuor, Mills, Mahama and Akufo-Addo.

Through all these leaders, I have seen our nation’s roads go from muddy pothole ridden to asphalt and back to muddy pothole ridden again. I vividly remember a documentary in 1986  ''The Africans," by the late Prof Ali Mazrui in which he described Ghana as the country where only the insane drive straight. Thirty-two years on, in many parts of Ghana, only the insane still drive straight. From Accra to the hinterlands, I have seen much footage of roads that can be best described as paddy fields. Many of these roads which not too long ago were commissioned with pomp and pageantry as achievements by one previous leader or the other at huge expense to the Exchequer that has now become death traps.

I have seen lawlessness reach dizzy heights in all aspects of our lives. In a country where some were shot for taking loans in amounts that are laughable in the eyes of many of today's public office holders, I have come to witness corruption to levels that make the death of these soldiers a farce. The amounts that were doled out to Alfred Agbesi Woyome will make the dead wrench in their graves. The recklessness of our deviant minds has come to amaze me. I witnessed the conniving of some to burn down the Central Medical Stores and though investigations have implicated some, they walk our streets, free men and women worshipping in our churches and mosques as though their hands are clean. Murderers perambulating and calling our bluff because we have failed to call theirs.

This quote by SJAAK VAN DER GEEST made forty years ago still holds true today. “In January 1978, at the Central Lorry station of Kumasi, Ghana, I met a young boy who was selling capsules from a plastic bag. I asked him what they were for and he first answered "Piles," but later, confronted with other customers. He indicated that the medicines would treat sexual impotence. I bought one capsule for the price of two and one-half shillings and took it home. It was analysed and proved to be Penbritin 250 mg, a broad spectrum antibiotic, which is used neither against piles nor against impotence.” It’s as though whilst the world moved on the destiny of Ghana was held at a standstill.

It is easy for anyone who has read to this point to wonder why after all I have written above, I have not given up. Strangely, I am a perpetual optimist when it comes to Ghana. Many countries have seen worse than this and still found a way to turn the corner.  In doing so, these countries have found men and women who have decided to put the country first and throw all to chance. When Japan was riddled with political corruption and public service was not worth it, they found Toshiki Kaifu. Under his leadership, albeit short, he steadied the ship and brought back credibility. Rwanda found Paul Kagame at a time when they were at each other’s throat and he was part of the problem; today he has led the way and been part of the solution. There are many such examples in this world.

On a day like this that weirdly marks the day my umbilicus was severed from a mother who has long departed this land, I have had to pause and balance the pain of bereavement in the midst of celebration against the reality of hope. In this reflection I have pondered over this quote by Barak Obama in The Audacity of Hope, "I wonder, sometimes, whether men and women, in fact, are capable of learning from history--whether we progress from one stage to the next in an upward course or whether we just ride the cycles of boom and bust, war and peace, ascent and decline." As a result, I have come to understand why I cannot accept that our country is doomed and destined to fail. Why I cannot live with the thought that over the years the more things change, the more they remain the same. Why to me it is criminal for a drug that was designed primarily to alleviate pain to savagely inflict pain on large sections of our youth.

The history I was taught, that I have learnt, and the life I have lived have finally made me understand why I tend to believe that though I have friends, colleagues and acquaintances, my life will only be defined by my personal efforts and what little change I manage to engineer through positivity and hope. My entrance onto this planet at two O’clock AM on that Saturday 13th of May was solitary and so will my departure, and that of all of you. Between these two certainties, my mark can only be defined by the change I network to achieve through advocacy, action and hope. This is why moving forward I will still follow my passion, advocacy.

Happy Mother’s Day to all women who share my passion, this country deserves more.