Some blog topics come to you in the form of a sentence from a stranger’s mouth, others come in dreams, and yet more from trending topics on twitter. My first blog topic in Ghana met me at the airport. As the plane descended into Accra’s Kotoka Airport, I thought to myself, “I’m finally home!” As is apparently the case with most flights arriving in Ghana, the passengers broke into spontaneous applause once we hit the runway. That’s when I saw it: the wretched-looking shell of what used to be a Ghana Airways airplane. The engine had clearly been removed, but the actual body was still intact, and while some paint was peeling off it, the words “Ghana Airways” and the familiar red-gold-green colours of our national flag seemed to stare wearily at the relatively spic and span Delta aircraft. Oh Ghana!
My heart broke. I thought about taking a photo, but I was too distraught. Right there and then, my expectations of the “new” Ghana everyone seems to be talking about slowed from a galloping run to a sluggish walk. I blame Facebook and Washington, D.C. for those high expectations. Facebook because most of the photos posted depict high-end areas and events. But then again, I guess that’s the percentage of the population that has the most access to the internet anyway? Washington, D.C. because, despite knowing very well that Ghana is currently the West’s favourite poster child, I still fell for the scam! All those sweet words about showing results, and how Ghana is doing this and that…Darn it all.
I’d promised myself that my first post about Ghana would be positive. I’d talk about finally running into my mother’s arms and laying my head on her bosom (something I (day) dreamed about constantly before leaving the U.S.), or about how beautiful the roads are. Unfortunately I cannot. Not when I see my mum wondering where all the money went, or when the previously passable “road” to my house is now a miniature version of the Rockies. Besides, I think it’s more important to be objective. Whether it’s a hawker selling water by the roadside, or an MTN agent waving top-up cards in your face, that look of desperation is there. And the sun doesn’t help one bit. But who am I to complain? Everyone tells me I came at an opportune time; the heat is less intense and the rainfall guarantees some cool(er) days.
So I’ll give Ghana and Ghanaians our due. We’re still in the race. We haven’t given up. We’re still striving. We still have each other’s back. However, the words “desperation etched on their faces” pop into my head every time I take a trip into town.
Anyway, to get to the heart of this post. Seeing that Ghana Airways plane made me think about how unable we are to manage our affairs. Not only do we make a waste of the national airline, we don’t even have the decency to store the aircraft anywhere but on the airfield – a hollow shell of what Ghana (Airways) could have been. How many years has it been since Ghana Airways closed shop? I can imagine all the foreign aircrafts smirking mockingly at that poor piece of equipment. I dare not even think about what’s on the minds and lips of investors and foreign air crews when they touchdown. We must have missed the memo on first impressions being important. Unfortunately, the airplane was just the first of many neglected things.
After going through customs and meeting up with my co-conspirators (in surprising my family), we got in the car and started the journey from Airport to Adenta. Like I said, I’m not here to complain, so I won’t mention the traffic. I finally saw the Accra Mall and if nothing at all, at least Ghanaian youngsters will know what it means to “hang out at the mall” when they come across the term in Sweet Valley High, Babysitters Club, and Enid Blyton books. Generally speaking, everything I saw, or rather, every public infrastructure I saw was either very old or very new. Very few in between. That made me sad. Apparently we don’t know the meaning of the nursery song, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold,” or the idiom “A stitch in time saves nine.”
Mismanagement of resources tops my list of why Ghana (and Africa) is slow to develop. Poor Leadership is a close second. And now, I’m ashamed to announce that Lack of Maintenance has joined that top-tier.
Why do we have to wait until a road develops gashing teeth at its edges before we think of filling up the holes? How many able-bodied Ghanaian men, women and children would we have sacrificed by then? How do we expect a motorway which was built for a population of about 6 million at the time of independence to support the 20million or so Ghanaians of 2010? And the biggest question in the maintenance arena, do we honestly think that the Akosombo Dam alone will be able to provide electricity for today’s Ghanaian population much more our neighbours in other West African countries?
This post might be considered ramblings from someone who just returned to Ghana with high expectations. And you’re right, that’s exactly what it is. Because the way I see it, Ghana (and Africa) has too much potential to be content with the current state of affairs. Current is even an understatement. It’s been the same thing for the past five years!
Ghanaians do have a culture of maintenance. Virtually half the population wouldn’t survive without it. Just take a look at the mother with a single church cloth for all special occasions. Or the school boy and aspiring footballer who uses one pair of sneakers and comes up with inventive ways to keep them together when they start falling apart. Or even the trotro drivers who make do with second-hand mini-buses imported from abroad.
Think about the fact that the second-hand industry is a huge and booming one and you’ll know that Ghanaians are not foreign to the notion of maintenance. Now, what we need to do is apply it on a national scale. We can’t always expect “new” things, when we’ve barely repaid the debts of old. Unless that culture of maintenance is ingrained in our policies and society, we’re going nowhere fast.
Nevertheless, I’m hopeful. Like I said, not much has changed – the major changes are that people are more gadget-wise and that banks and mobile companies rule supreme – and that includes some positives. Like the generosity of people, the willingness of Ghanaians to open their homes up to you, the desire to help one another, or the sheer determination that accompanies that look of desperation. If we keep those in store and make a few changes to the “bad” habits, we stand a chance. And regardless of what anyone says, keep those expectations high! It’s probably one of the few ways we’ll succeed in pulling ourselves out of the depths of poverty. Forward ever, backward never!
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.