A Visit To Ghana – October 2045
Dennis Penu (Ghana)
Eve: “Hello”……”Hello” can you hear me?
Dennis: Yes loud and clear. How are you faring today?
Eve: I can hardly here you though. Nevertheless, I hope that you are able to stay on and hear me. I am not very well; I have developed a headache. I guess it is as a result of my tight itinerary at work today. You know my Fridays are always that busy. I have missed you so much and you seem to have been away for ages.
Dennis: It can’t be. Today’s a Saturday and its free from official work, remember?
Eve: ‘Lucky day’? ‘earth’?
Dennis: No I meant work; no work
Eve: Ooooh! Work: I am not sure I understand what you are saying. Our lights have been out since last week. It only came up this morning and we are living in the fear of losing it the next second. There seems to be no one accountable, no explanations and no hope of the situation getting better.
Dennis: Well Eve. I am not sure if I can imagine the scenario you are explaining, either. Everything is bright here and there is no sight of darkness except the skies.
Eve: Pies? Pies in the Darkness?
Dennis: No Eve, I said there’s no where dark except the skies. I think you are having difficulties hearing me from your side so could we talk another time?
Eve: Of course, but I can’t afford it. Would you call?
Dennis: Yes of course: no problem. Bye.
I sit in my sofa after this call and wonder: could this possibly be so? Could there ever, be a situation of total blackout in a town for that long without any explanations? Incredible: this is really incredible. This will not happen here in Ghana. People pay taxes, taxes pay workers to work in providing electricity and they have to do just that. There’s no excuse, absolutely no excuse for that failure. And then I remember: I have to go for routine check up with the doctor tomorrow, drive to my hometown to visit my parents and get back early enough to pick my son, Kwame from school. Kwame has grown very confident in just a short time, he loves school more and is always happy to take up responsibility and work towards it. I am confident of a bright future for him. He has a serene educational atmosphere that focussed on student development rather than general trackless indoctrinations and more so I have already taken care of his educational insurance. What more could a 10 year old ask for? He would have no excuse, really, to fail. I stretch out myself in the sofa and raise my eyes in an attempt to estimate the time I am likely to fall asleep: it is 10pm and on the calendar: Saturday, 7th October 2045.
Today is Monday, the 9th and it has come very fast for me. I wake up with a tint of nicely warm sunrays entering my room and I can feel the sweet airy breeze coming in from the canopy of trees that arrested the neighbourhood. I take a peep through my window from my 20th floor apartment situated a kilometre away from the city centre and from up there I see a scene that marvels me. The entire city seems to have been drawn as a map before my eyes and the organisation of the streets is remarkable. There is a nice blend of flora and infrastructure. Cars are moving to and fro with limited trail-darkening smoke. The streets are as ‘clean as the word itself’. The regimental flow of events below my very eyes makes me feel as if I have not paid serious attention to my surroundings. But then it seems to me that it was just yesterday I had complained bitterly about the Town Planning Council. I complained of the congestion, the environmental pollution, the disregard that people had for rules and regulations and the chaos that all these culminated in; and you could sense this anarchy just by taking a mere walk along the streets. Of course the disorganisation I was mad about could not be the one I now see through these natural telescopes of mine.
Just at the time my phone rings. The doctor is on the line talking to me about my medical check up which is due later that morning. But for this call, I would have continued in my hypnotized state of marvel at the almost perfect environment I am now living in. Then I remember, my conversation with Eve had ended abruptly because of clarity problems on her side. I will call her back in the evening to reconcile all that she had been telling me.
At the hospital, the service is unusually quick and I have the impression I am receiving VIP treatment and for fear of getting a fat bill, I mention to the nurse: “pardon me madam, but I am a civil servant”. “Of course” she says with a smile, “and your bill is covered by the health insurance policy”. “Thank you Elorm”, I say, after taking a quick stealing peep at the shiny name tag she has strap to her breast pocket. She appears surprised but just smiles back at my appreciative gesture. Observing my surroundings closely now, I notice that everyone else is sailing smoothly through the processes at the hospital. Beds are in abundance and they are as white as snow. The kids on their beds are nicely kept and the whole organisation is excellent. The staffs are up to their calling. They seem to love what they are doing and they are satisfactorily courteous.
On my journey back from visiting my parents who are now retiring comfortably on the National Welfare Policy for the Aged (NWPA), I feel rather secured about my retirement as well. As I drive through the streets, I notice that there is something unusual about my surroundings or rather unusually right about it. Where are all the people who used to work the streets: those who pulled the carts and those who hawked the streets sometimes at the mercy of the weather? I now see limited human activity on the streets and the shops and factories are at their functional peak and booming with activity. And there virtually are no idle hands working the streets. I reckon that in this kind of atmosphere there is little motivation for crime and aimless loitering. The mind and body of the people are committed to something productive and there is an atmosphere of increased activity. I check my watch and notice it is close to 5pm. Good. This is close to the end of business time. I will take the opportunity to stay and watch as the workers come out of their work schedules. And there they are; happy people full of smiles and activity. I see on their faces the expression of hope and fulfilment. The day has gone by but they all have put their efforts to good use: to the building of their personality, their city and their nation. I continue my drive through the streets and I see this scenario almost everywhere. I am increasingly growing pleased with this atmosphere I find myself in. It started this morning at my window and I am beginning to see organisation and purpose everywhere. Just then it strikes me: I have to rush in early to get through to Eve, she has a specific timing to receive my call. So I rush home with a bag full of stories that I think Eve would definitely be interested in. But then maybe I should have held on to my hopes.
I have been dialling Eve’s number several times but with no success of getting through to her. Tired of dialling, I decide to sit behind my television and follow the news. “Welcome to Change Television” the smart looking newscaster says soothingly “and these are the headlines”:
“Today the leader of the house of parliament has announced that members of the house have voted 10 % of their allowances to support an endowment fund to support skills training for children and youth of the orphanages in the country.
The government has raised the minimum wage by 30 percent in an attempt to mitigate the effect of increased prices and goods.
Current statistics show that 20 rural communities in 6 out of 10 regions of the nation have increased agriculture production by 70% and that sets the country on the path to exporting excess agricultural products.”
I am returning from work on Friday afternoon: after an arduous week of work as a story writer for one of the literature firms in my city (Literacy for the Future). I pick up a mail in my post box and it’s unclear to me who possibly might have sent it in. The crumpled paper envelope betrays the distance through which it had travelled. It is indeed very odd as I gaze at the inscription on the stamp that had been placed on it. ‘11th October 2011’. 2011? What could this possibly mean? …..A mistake? Probably, I say to myself as I zoom into my room, turn on the lights and tear open the letter with anxiety. It’s Eve!!
“Dennis, I guess that you might have tried to reach me, since our earlier phone conversation. However, things have really gone bad since our last contact. I can no longer pay my telephone bills so the communication authorities have come over to disconnect my line. That’s what they can do best; not solving service problems. But then I had no option. I have lost my job because I had run late again for work, the other day. That is the third in 2 weeks and you can’t blame me. The whole city is congested, the traffic is opaque and movements in town can never be predicted. You can never tell how long a journey you made several times was going to take you the next time. So it happened to me. I lost my job. The worse is, Junior has to drop out of school and the thought of it kills me. Despite the struggle we had gone through to get him a proper school to attend. You remember? The stress? Financially and emotionally? The time…”of course not. Eve cannot possibly expect me to know what she is talking about. No. Things don’t happen this way here. Everything is so organised here. The lights are constantly on. The jobs are enough. The people are happy and progressive minded, the streets are clean and organised and ………….No I must be sure that I am not dreaming so I open my window again and there, right there before my very eyes; like a soccer fan watching the ball enter the post, is my lovely city, as clean and well lit as ever. This can’t be possible, it can’t be happening, there’s something wrong somewhere, but it is going to be all right, definitely. It should be…
Riiiiiinnnnnnng, Riiiinnnnng, Riiing…The phone is ringing. ”Hello” I respond. “Yes”…. “Yes”. That will be fine; I will be over there in 15 minutes”. Glancing at my calendar, I notice it’s Wednesday, the 18th October 2045. My friend, Dzidzor, is inviting me over to help him with recruitment for his bottle production company. As I drive into the company parking lot, I take a glance at my watch and notice that it had taken me 12 minutes 30 seconds to make the journey. I was paying attention to it because I need to be sure I am safely on time after the unfortunate story I had read from Eve last night. At the reception I meet a dozen young men clad in elegant business attire. “They look very ready for the moments ahead” I reckon. The entire interview session went smoothly and it was a huge experience for me. Sitting in my car ready to drive off after the interview, I am in deep thought over what happened in that room. Throughout the interview session I was impressed by the calibre of people who came before us. Most of them were just about exiting school and they all had very good prospects for the job. I was surprised at how hopeful these lads were about the job they were pursuing. Most of them had the urge and confidence I do not remember having at their age. At 60 now, my youth days are not very vivid to me but I still feel definitely sure I was not this vocal and innovative at their age. Back there in the session, I was hugely impressed by the vision they had for the firm, the ideas they had to implement in the near future to contribute to the turn-around of the firm. There’s definitely an even brighter future for Dzidzor’s company looking at the intelligence and zeal of the people who came before the recruitment panel. As if I had been programmed to ask a specific question throughout the process, I found myself echoing the same question over and over again. I kept asking: “Have you never thought of travelling outside this country to seek greener pastures? But my expectations were disappointed and I was surprised to know that most of the gentlemen were of the conviction that there was nowhere greener than this country. According to them they saw opportunities all around and one of them mentioned that my friend’s company was an example: a bottling company that run its operations on recyclable waste as raw materials. The business focus was to get bottles out of plastic waste and some of these gentlemen were here because of their passion for recycling and its environmentally friendly output; one of the gentlemen who expressed this conviction actually won the opportunity to head the Operations department. Indeed I have learned a lesson from this recruitment episode; it’s more rewarding to place passion first before the financial reward in any endeavour. I smile to myself, switch on the ignition and locate the reverse gear of my car to manoeuvre my way out of the parking lot.
Saturday 21st October 2045; it’s a weekend and traditionally meant for rest from work. On these free days, the media agencies take advantage of the attentive ears to permeate the community with their advertisements and political discussion shows patronized by politicians who are eager to sell their manifestos. Rather than being a nuisance with indoctrination, these shows are largely informative. The political representatives of the parties devote their ‘tongue’ to addressing the issues that affect the daily lives of the people. The discussions are void of insulting insinuations, inflaming comments and destructive discourse. It is not as if this is a choice out of many options: in fact there is no other alternative. The society is averse to any such bad-blooded discussions. So these serene political discussions are rather an adaptation than a choice, and they obviously have come to stay for no political party can risk to do otherwise. In spending my weekend therefore, I sit behind my television set and treat myself to one of these sizzling discussions on this serene Saturday morning.
“It is important that the railway, connecting the Eastern corridors to the West of this country, is constructed before the one connecting the North and South” the representative of the ‘Progress Party’ starts her argument. “The government is failing to see that starting with the North and south is likely to cut off major raw material supply from the East to the West and this is going to seriously affect the food supply in the West. This is our stand, and we definitely would have done things differently if we were in power”. “Honourable member from the ‘Welfare Party’ (WP) what is your reaction to this suggestion”? The pretty hostess of the program asked. Arguably, her beauty and commensurate eloquence are also part of the main reasons people sit behind this television discussion on weekends. Like many other hosts and hostesses her type, spread across the country, hosting came naturally and their ability to effectively shape constructive debates are remarkable. Need I say therefore that the media is also at its best? They project and protect the welfare of the people and are always quick to arrange discussions between stakeholders towards the promotion of the development agenda. “It is indeed interesting that my honourable fellow from the Progress Party (PP) has taken this position” the man from WP begins “She agrees that there is the need to improve on our railway system but fails to notice that this initiative must first start with the task requiring greater financial and human resource involvement. Taking a look at the situation currently, the case of the north and south is first priority. We are at the crossroads and the government has taken a prudent decision in accordance with the conventions of the country’s development agenda”.
Yes, in this country, there is a development template that every government has to operate along. There is no room for gross deviation because these templates are enshrined within the legal framework of the country and any such move is tantamount to criminality against the people, who are the kingmakers, and for whom governance exists. It is this setting that makes it difficult for politicians to waste precious time on throwing around insults and casting unnecessary aspersions at each other.
At this point, I am moved to search for the letter from Eve and continue the reading I abruptly truncated the last time. I am interested in finding a clue to the political atmosphere where she is, if, by any chance, she wrote about it.
I finally find it after wading through my drawer. My eyes scan the earlier parts quickly and finally rest on portions that are new to them. “And the worst, Dennis, is that, these politicians instead of speaking to these issues and enforcing the rules of this country, they waste precious time indulging in rumour mongering, politics of insult, unnecessary sabotage and affluence. This has created frustrations among the citizenry. We do not trust the ability of our leaders to protect our interest and to move forward the development agenda. The threat here is that the frustration could eventually explode to something uncontrollable and we all fear that.
I wish to end here with wavering hope that someday these things will change; that life will be better and that this hope will be realised.
It is clear to me now that Eve is totally oblivious of the paradise I am living in. It is also clear that we are worlds apart in terms of our daily experiences. In this world of mine institutions are the rulers. Leaders are just mere tools for development. ‘Mere’ not because they are unimportant but because they are important only for the execution of the national or populace agenda: not to set their own parochial targets. I see myself living in a big buoyant balloon where contentment neither comes from accumulation of riches nor extravagant living, but from the knowledge and feeling of societal order and fairness. A balloon where everyone has a needle in hand but no one is willing to stick it in. This balloon has a harmonious gaseous equilibrium with its surroundings despite the activity within. On the other hand I could imagine the balloon Eve lives in: an enclosed balloon that floats on the principle of survival of the fittest. Meanwhile only a few are fit to survive: branded by injustice and despair and this is definitely a motivation to commit crime; creating an atmosphere of fear and…
Gosh! I nearly cut through my finger. I am in my kitchen now, at the chopping board, preparing a fruit salad. Here I am at the point of unconsciously inflicting pain. I almost bled just by mere thought of the frustrating system she could be enduring with all those millions of people. I wonder what people will consciously do to themselves or others in those circumstances? I am convinced that wherever Eve may be, these experiences were bound to draw a mixture of blood and tears for some people; the very vulnerable who do not have the strength and might to survive. On that premise I remember that I am supposed to write commentary for my firm on an interesting court case involving a farmer who was suing a manufacturing company for polluting a water body with industrial waste. Today is the 26th of October. OK. The case is scheduled to be heard tomorrow, Friday, 27th October 2045. Taking my alarm clock I set the time: 9:45 am.
Its 2 days after the case was heard and decided. I am sitting by my favourite window in my room (the same window that gave me the perfect city view), polishing my report on the court proceedings and I feel a sense of security in my society. I am convinced that the rule of law at the core of my country’s motto: “freedom and justice”, has come to stay. So I pen away my analysis on the case proceedings. Here it is, short and vivid:
When the court Orderly bellowed, “Court Rise!” the whole auditorium filled with people rose to its feet. On that day, we were eager for the hearing because the company in question was a prominent one and yet very few people knew much about the farmer in question. This case had drawn public interest because there is a rising concern that the government in its quest to promote development has tried very hard to liberalise the business atmosphere for the growth of industries and companies and as a consequence, some of the companies have taken unfair advantage of the liberal atmosphere to lower their safety measures and neglect their social responsibilities. As minority as these cases maybe, they are the very shortfalls and challenges we have to deal with despite the paradise we boast of and these loopholes are the windows through which we recognise our human limitations and traits that threaten our institutional competence. So we are careful not to assume a perfect system but we are confident that we are currently at our possible best, and still looking forward to better times.
At this point in the report, I pause to think of Eve and her predicaments.
Eve needed to know this: we have a ‘paradise’ not because we are ‘superhuman’, but because we committed ourselves to building institutional systems that will cure our human weaknesses and shortfalls. Taking this court case as an example, we had come to this legal institution to cure a negative human trait of greed and indifference to the welfare of others and we hoped again that, as always, our systems should live up to expectation: not in succumbing to populace emotions but in the defence of the law and justice.
I resume writing. Monday, 30th October 2045 was judgement day. When judgement was pronounced, it had gone in favour of the farmer. The industrial giant had been committed by the ruling to desist from the pollution, treat the water body and pay compensation to the inhabitants in the surrounding communities for the risk it had put their lives to. At the last bang of the Judge’s gavel, the Orderly bellowed again “Court Rise”! This time louder… It was loud enough to wake me from my sleep.
I had been dreaming. Yes dreaming. Not just about the court session; but about this whole paradise I had encountered. Sitting straight on on my bed and switching on the lights, my attention falls on the calendar hanging lonely on the bedroom wall: Sunday (not Monday), 30th October 2011. The clock was reading a quarter to midnight. Feeling the warmth on the body of the lady beside me, it dawns clearer on me that I had been asleep and had wondered to wonderland; the land of my dreams; life in Accra, the capital of Ghana but in a different era. Eve, now snoring away by my side, had asked me to take it easy earlier that evening as we drove home from work. I was fuming about the huge shortfalls in our country and the way it was governed. I had sub-consciously taken these issues and thoughts of the country I desired for myself on a virtual journey to see how the country of my dreams would really look like. Quickly I put on my Pyjamas and put on the light at my study on this fateful 31st day of October 2011 (just 5 minutes past midnight) to write what I had seen, heard and learned of my society in 34 years to come: in detail, in sequence, just as I witnessed them: before they evaporated. I write them now as mere words but in the years to come, I am hopeful that it will become a vision fulfilled. After all, if I can perceive it; I can achieve it.