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Rejoinder by Nii Lantey Okunka Bannerman : Feces takeover Accra markets

Nii Lante Okunka Bannerman

Nii Lante Okunka Bannerman

I read with horror the news report titled “Faeces{sic} takeover Accra markets”. The report, produced by the Herald, was posted by Ghanaweb on the 8th of April, 2013. Why this revelation was shocking to anyone paying attention in Ghana astounds me. It is a known fact that vendors throughout Accra and other cities do ease themselves in black plastic bags dubbed “wiase ye sum”, translation: “the world is dark”. I know of individuals vacationing in Ghana, who have erringly stepped on such plastic bags and lived to tell their horrible stories. Just think about this for a minute! Where do you expect all these vendors and their teeming customers at various places in Accra to ease themselves? Why is free lance defecating rooted in our culture? Why should a society like ours, tolerate such disgusting and imbecilic behavior? What does this behavior tell about us? What are the possible consequences if we don’t change the behavior? How do we put a kibosh on this behavior?

I believe that incompetence, a lack of planning and absence of a maintenance culture significantly account for this daunting problem. You see, Ghana is a place where we order expensive generators but have no place to locate them. We draw up a health insurance scheme but have no way of retaining our doctors. We watch our population explode but we have no plans to deal with waste in general. Waste by the way, correlate positively with population growth. The more the people, the more waste to expect. Accra for example, cannot wean itself from dumping disgusting human waste into the never tiring shining sea. Ghana is a place where we continue to put up houses without worrying about zoning laws, parking requirements, sanitary requirements and many more. We are importing thousands of cars without road enhancements and urban planning to sustain such. The government collects huge sums for car imports but refuses to invest in our transportation infrastructure. In a nutshell, if you don’t plan then you plan to fail. It is that simple my friends.

If you decide to build a market, you must forecast the number of foot traffic expected. Based on foot traffic, you ought to be able to project sanitation needs. Who planned the market and why did he or she not do due diligence? Is this person still at post? If he or she is, what other project(s) is he working on? Will this same person create this kind of nightmare in other places? How can we either remove this person from office or beef up his or her thinking skills in relation to building public facilities? I am not an architect or planner but common sense tells me that I cannot build any public facility without thinking about its end users and what services they will need. The problem in Ghana is that we tolerate incompetence. Indeed we reward incompetence!! As a result, we get a heavy dose of unacceptable mistakes repeated over and over again. This then gives the outsider, the impression that, we can’t think our way out of problems. It is really sad and devalues any Ghanaian anywhere. We are better than what those in power make us look like. How do we get the right people in power to correct these fundamental problems? How do we restore our pride?

When such unacceptable behaviors are exposed, some are quick to jump on the obvious perpetrators. Of course the perpetrators deserve our unvarnished scorn. However, imagine yourself in Ghana. It is a hot afternoon and you’ve decided to visit the market. Unfortunately for you, your stomach begins to growl upon arrival at the market. Fear begins to tighten its noose around you. In a few minutes, you need to visit the washroom. Opps there is no washroom! The nearest washroom you tried to use is choked with worm infested excreta. Of course the nagging flies are feasting. The revolting scent alone is enough to turn your cringing body away. Home may be 30 minutes or more away. In addition, the traffic is horrendous. What will you do? Will you defecate in your clothes or grab one of this tidy black bags and render it unusable ever again? Will you go around the corner and empty your strained bladder? Your choices are certainly not good. More importantly, who do you blame for your inability to find a decent place to ease yourself? Is it the government or the local chief? Who owns the property and what are the owner’s responsibilities to you and society?

You see me friends, we are creatures of habit. Our environment conditions our actions. So the smartest and most well meaning person amongst us, could be forced to behave like an animal if he or she is presented with bad options in a tight situation. That is really the crux of our challenge in Ghana. Our government’s inability, at all levels, to meet the needs of our people is a daunting problem. The government must either build the facilities or require private owner to build them. Individuals cannot build their own bathroom facilities in a market place. Therefore, the government must not only accept the responsibility but execute flawlessly. Public facilities must be planned, built and maintained. Build it and tax or charge users. We cannot expect shoppers and sellers in a market to behave civilly when there is no place for them to ease. We create untenable conditions and then turn around to blame the actors. If you cage people, expect animal-like behaviors. This is why the government is greatly responsible for this careening sanitation problem.

Once the sanitation facilities are built and maintained, the government must embark on massive public education on the health risk of defecating openly and disposing off recklessly. When I was growing up as a kid in Ghana, we had hygiene classes. We were taught about disease transmission. We learnt about air and water borne diseases. We were also taught cleanliness. Today, I must admit, I don’t know what the kids are taught, if any. The government must re-introduced mass civic health education. After all, prevention is a better health insurance policy than curing. Some of our adults remain a lost cause. We need to reel everybody back into the information loop.

Lastly, there must be a compliance piece to this equation. Once the facilities are built and maintained, and the people are educated and informed, vigorous enforcement must trail the aforementioned interventions to close the circle. This way, a systemic approach to solving the problem permanently, is structured in place. Carrying out one of the recommend solution on its own will not address the problem. Facilities without maintenance will not work. Education without well maintained facilities will not work. Enforcement without education and well maintained facilities will not work. However, if all the above are done concurrently and in tandem, the results will surely be impressive. Two other key ingredients to improving public facilities is the availability of water and electricity consistently. In addition, Ghana needs a sewer pipeline network throughout the country.

Lastly, I will like to suggest that any leader in Ghana must be required to take planning and problem solving classes as part of their orientation. I mean this in a very serious way. It was Einstein who intimated that if he had an hour to save the world, he would spend 59minutes defining the problem and I minute on execution. The best solutions arise as a result of proper study and problem definition. Vilifying the victims of a failed system solves nothing. Instead, holding the elite responsible will be critically helpful. Step up the heat on the so called leaders who continue to short change the good people of Ghana. The people of Ghana must wake up from their deep slumber and demand change. Inside out change is the most sustainable. The time to change is now! Our disgrace is palpable. Our actions are unacceptable. We must show a Ghana that is ready to embrace civil behavior and willing to make the sacrifices that creates and sustains a society worthy of mention.

Nii Lantey Okunka Bannerman (Affectionately dubbed the Double Edge Sword and now mobbed as Santrofi Anomaa) I can be reached at: Akyere@aol.com

I don’t give them hell, I just tell the truth and they think it is hell—Harry Truman

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