On March 6, 1957, Ghana’s first President Kwame Nkrumah opined, “the black man is capable of managing his own affairs.” In that independence speech, he also claimed that “we must change our attitudes and our minds. We must realise that from now on we are no longer a colonial but free and independent people.”
In making these statements on our behalf, Nkrumah was signing a promissory note that required that as a country we will give meaning to these words.
While listening to Ghana’s Minister for Health at a press conference last week, it seemed that in a way our generation was defaulting on this promissory note. My heart sunk when Kwaku Agyemang Manu indicated that The Global Fund had pardoned Ghana following the Central Medical Stores arson that led to health commodities worth $27 million belonging to them being destroyed. According to the minister, Ghana had to refund the said amount. However, “the donors knowing very well that Ghana does not have the financial strength to pay back the money had decided to let it go.”
I was vexed at the benevolence of our development partners. In effect, they had entrenched our lawlessness and allowed faceless criminals to walk our streets. Then it dawned on me that in actual fact the real problem was a societal failure. Following the arson, an investigation was conducted jointly by our security agencies after which a report was issued. Names were mentioned of people who were to be held liable and prosecution recommended. Ironically, the government then was unable to pursue any such action. Following the change of government in 2017 numerous calls were made by civil society, development partners, diplomats etc. for the current government to bring closure to this national disgrace.
The Minister of Health intuited back in 2017 that a forensic audit was going to be undertaken to aid with possible prosecution. This was almost three years after the alleged crime. At his last meet the press, it was apparent that The President was not abreast with the matter and invited Mr Agyeman Manu to answer a question in this regard. His answers, if anything, gave little hope that any prosecutions will happen anytime soon. Unfortunately, now that the debt has been forgiven it is highly unlikely that anyone will pay the price for this sacrilege.
Hence though we are the most affected as a result of the arson from a health standpoint, we are the least bothered about what happens to the culprits of this crime.
This development sends shivers down my spine. It does because crime is known to thrive in societies where there are no punishments for previous actions. Also, punitive actions often result because there is a collaboration amongst all aspects of society from civilians to the security agencies. I cannot believe that amongst almost 30 million Ghanaians, none of us has information that can lead to the arrest, trial and incarceration of all those involved in this act. If that premise is to be believed then what has prevented informants from speaking up till date? Is it to be accepted that most of us have no moral fibre and will protect rather than expose known criminals? What does such an attitude say about us as a people?
Then there is the matter of the security services. Are they trying to tell us that in this day and age, they lack the ability to infiltrate criminal niches? Or am I to believe that because the finger points at deviant white-collar criminals with little respect for the welfare of our citizens, they have also become numb? How can it be that after the initial investigation, with enough evidence allegedly not gathered yet names of accomplices were found in the report? How could it be that the area was not cordoned off until we had closure in the case? How did anyone expect a positive outcome from the forensic audit when the crime site and any associated evidence had not been preserved. If as a country we lacked the funds to repay for the loss, will it not have been gratifying if at least we were able to show our development partners that the criminal elements were behind bars? How could our intelligence and security institutions let us down this badly?
At certain points, it came across as though foreign diplomats were even more determined to get closure than we Ghanaians were. Whilst the likes of Jon Benjamin the former British High Commissioner to Ghana and the United States Ambassador Robert P. Jackson shouted themselves hoarse calling for the identification and prosecution of the arsonist, our officials were busy pleading for the debt to be forgiven without making serious attempts to get the perpetrators punished. In the last few days, I have tried to rationalise this dissonance and have come to an understanding of why this situation may have pertained.
The point is whilst Britain and the United States are net positive financial contributors to the global fund, Ghana is a net negative contributor. The positive contributors obtain their funds from their taxpayers who hold them accountable for how these monies are disbursed and spent. Thus, it is incumbent on them to ensure the monies are not torched into flames as those faceless beings did. On the other hand, freeloading Ghana has citizens with little attachment to the funds used for the purchase of these medicines; meaning citizens can afford to be distant from holding leaders accountable for what happened to these medicines.
This behaviour satisfies the description Dambisa Moyo author Dead Aid gives of why Africa must be starved of aid. Hear her out, “Africa is addicted to aid. For the past sixty years, it has been fed aid. Like any addict it needs and depends on its regular fix, finding it hard, if not impossible, to contemplate existence in an aid-less world. In Africa, the West has found its perfect client to deal to.” Yes, by the actions of the donors they have not done us a favour but have ensured that we continue to be aid addicts at a time our President is striving for Ghana to move beyond aid.
I fume at the fact that our leaders did not see beyond the short-term gratification of us obtaining our regular addictive fix of aid. I fume that many listening at the press conference and some of you reading saw this as a useful outcome. I fume that yet again we have shown our propensity to remain as addicts when we have a great prospect of surviving addiction rehab. I fume because as citizens we have stopped shouting about this heinous crime and have become accepting of it as yet another of Ghana’s mysteries. I for one will never give up and will still advocate for those who did this even if in their graves to be posthumously punished. I swore an oath to be a pharmacist and “a friend of the human race.”
I know our forebears will be turning in their graves wondering why we have meekly defaulted on the promissory note that was signed on our behalf by them with their blood and espoused so poignantly by Kwame Nkrumah at the Old Polo Ground. As they turn, I believe many of them will be wondering and asking themselves if in all reality we are capable of managing our own affairs? With things like these happening, I would want to be an ant in their coffins and try and glean the answers they will get. In my bird’s eye, not one they will be proud of. What they will realize is that after sixty-two years as a collective, we have not changed our attitudes and our minds. We may be free and independent but, in most instances, behave like colonials.
By Kwame Sarpong Asiedu