Sane Eteshi – Matters Arising
Four years ago, President John Dramani Mahama was derided by the other party as he traversed the country with a set of tools in his helicopter, breaking the ground wherever he went in the last days before the election. There were many who suspected that even after Mahama and the NDC lost the 2016 election, he must have organised more of these ceremonies, as a testimony to his dedication in fulfilling his election promises. Thank God that this year is very different and he is more focused on his campaign without such accoutrements.
So why is it not strange that, so close to the election this year, we see President Akufo-Addo driving from district to district, with his presidential throne but not without shovels and pickaxes ready to cut the “sword” wherever he goes? I had hoped that he would have invested in a pair of wellington boots, or decided to wear fatigues, to suit the macho act of digging the ground for whatever project may have been in the NPP manifesto the last time around but has been forgotten.
How wet is WET?
Such is our obsession with minor infrastructure projects that must be visible and seen by the people in the constituency as a political achievement that these ground-breaking or sod-cutting ceremonies by the incumbent will continue at every election. Sometimes our leaders will cut the sod twice for the same project within a single term of office, never mind even that a previous president may have done it a few years earlier.
Some years ago, when I was active on the Ghanaian internet discussion forum Okyeame, one of the most prolific contributors, Kwaku Asare (popularly known as Kwaku Azar), coined the term “WET” as the sum total of our politics in Ghana. I now realise that WET is a must – without “water, electricity and toilets”, and a few financial scandals thrown in from time to time, politics in Ghana would be incomplete.
But where are we on WET now? We have privatised water, or done deals to carve off the metering and billing and place these under the private sector. We privatised the metering, billing and collection of electricity charges, and we may be about to do the same thing all over again soon, using some special-purpose vehicle. But we have not thought through what we should do with toilets because they are essentially still in the hands of the state, and so we continue building them.
Now, with toilets, we may be spoiled for choice because I am told that there are different types: the ones that use water and those that allow for generation of biogas which can be used for cooking as well as having compost by-products. There may be others which suit different kinds of household or which are better for public use.
Having seen how policy backed by a few financial incentives has helped to make it possible for every household in Britain to have an inside toilet and central heating, I have often wondered why we have been unable to implement a policy which would result in each household providing a certain number of toilets per number of people in the household. Surely in central Accra, we will then be able to resuscitate the walantu walansa sewerage project that Kofi Abrefa Busia established at great cost, and put it to good use.
These politically visual infrastructure projects are now creating a problem in some places. I hear that the people of James Town have had to take the government to court to reject an AstroTurf project that is being forced on them.
The people of James Town do not want an AstroTurf at Mantse Agbonaa. The chiefs do not want it. Their main civil society organisation is kicking against the AstroTurf. My other fear is that the people might just cut up the pitch and take it home with them to line the concrete pitches where they still play football. Mantse Agbonaa must remain a multipurpose, multi-use facility and not be reduced to football alone.
Besides, AstroTurf is not the real thing: it is artificial, it is high-maintenance, it is not beautiful and the entrance to our Buckingham Palace should not be through Wembley. Incidentally, the president has not cut any sod for this project, which I find strange, given that he, Nii Kwaku Ablade Okogyeaman, is a true son of the soil. Could he have forgotten to cut the sod in his own backyard?
What we really need is an innovative greening of the area to blend in with the environment. To achieve this, and find a more imaginative use for the space, the government should rather partner a civic society organisation.
Sane models of sanitation
Now that the US elections have been won or lost, amid all the controversy, I hear some men of the cloth or God trying to predict the outcome of the elections in Ghana on the basis of the results in America. I fail to see the similarities which might trigger these predictions, because neither President Akufo-Addo nor Mr Mahama looks anything like Donald Trump. America is also highly polarised along racial lines and according to voting patterns.
Trump certainly used this to his advantage to garner almost half the votes cast, so there must be a large number of voters in America who agree with him that African countries are “s***hole” countries.
I have not heard of any US president waking up with the intention of going to cut the sod for a lavatory anywhere. And I am sure that if they did will be using some higher-tech way to do it, maybe with a JCB or some computer-aided implement, and certainly not with shovel and spade. I know that if they were to commission projects it would be something more sophisticated – a spaceship or something like that – running into the trillions of dollars, and not a public toilet.
But seriously, after all these ground-breaking ceremonies to start construction work, when shall we see our politicians, scissors in hand, ready to cut the ribbon to unveil the completed project or to pull at the curtain over the plaque showing who opened the facility when it was finished? If you ask me, I think that is much easier than wielding a shovel or pickaxe to cut the sod.
Let us be imaginative in giving the people what they want for their vote; but please, no AstroTurf. If we must stop open defecation, then, by all means, continue to build public lavatory. But as my collaborator-in-chief Allotey has been telling me, “Kɛ ale bo ale bo, djɛmɛɛ tiafi.”
November 2020, Croydon
Owula Ade Sawyerr is a writer, social activist and founder partner of Equinox Consulting, which works to develop inner-city and minority communities in Britain. He comments on economic, political and social affairs and is a past chairman of the UK branch of the Convention People’s Party.