As a Ghanaian, one thing that often eats me up; is when I occasionally hear the phrase ‘Ghanaians are undisciplined’, and when some actually blame this so-called indiscipline for our under-development.
Let me begin by stating that indiscipline is not peculiar to any nationality, and it is not racial. It is a global human trait and defect exhibited by all everywhere; often when there’s an atmosphere of laxity in law enforcement and leadership.
The reason why you think indiscipline in Ghana or most parts of Africa may be worse, is largely because of poor leadership, weak systems and disrespect for values.
Nobody is born disciplined, people are deliberately taught to be disciplined, and it starts from the home, the school, and the general environment, and in serious countries, there’s a deliberate national approach which inculcate a culture of discipline into citizens; and it starts right from a very young age.
A lot of the times, these are the areas Ghana and most parts of Africa have failed, especially when it comes to a deliberate national plan that instills cultural values right from childhood. Today in Ghana, you will still find a child in class one littering in public; and that child will most likely litter till he grows; and it will not require the use of violence to transform them.
When we blame undisciplined Ghanaians for our problems, we create an escape for leadership failure. Leaders take responsibility and don’t blame followers for their failures; and everything starts and ends with leadership.
When you have leaders merely appealing to citizens to do what is right and failing to put in place robust systems and enforce existing laws, that’s a sign of failed leadership and that’s what we see here.
No country has ever developed by merely relying on the conscience and the morality of its citizens to know and do what is right. Countries have developed by deliberately instilling values, putting in place robust systems, and enforcing laws fully without fear or favour.
The undisciplined Ghanaian, who will most likely jump the red light in Accra, will not easily do that in New York, London or Ontario. And the reason is simple; a robust system put in place will fish him out unlike Accra where it will only take the physical presence of a police officer to fish him out. Secondly; he will pay a heavy fine, lose a license temporarily or even serve a prison term.
On the contrary, the US citizen or Canadian who some Ghanaians think is more disciplined can easily jump the red-light in Accra because he can escape punishment; and in the worst case when he’s caught; he can pay a bribe and go scot-free. In effect, the weak and almost non-existent systems in Africa automatically encourage all kinds of indiscipline. And so you see; indiscipline isn’t racial; and it’s not in the Ghanaian blood.
It surprises me when people actually expect all 30 million Ghanaians to simply obey every rule. It is not possible under the sun. There are always people everywhere even in the most disciplined societies who will behave differently, and those are the people laws exist for to whip in line. But do our laws ever work fully to whip people in line to deter others? The answer is no; and this is often due to corruption, favoritism, nepotism, lack of systems and simply weak leadership at almost every level of our governance. So if you’re angry about public display of indiscipline, your anger should be directed at the government and not the few wayward citizens.
Leading a country is akin to a father’s leadership of the home. If your children go wayward, you largely take the blame; just as you seek the glory when they excel. The so-called Ghanaian indiscipline; is largely the failure of Ghana’s leadership; and it can be fixed with the right leadership and commitment if we have the willpower.
The lockdown reality in Ghana
The implementation of Ghana’s partial lockdown in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and the subsequent abuse of some citizens by some reckless police and military officers, pushed me to write this piece, because the subject matter of the so-called ‘Ghanaian indiscipline’; is on the table again for discussion.
I’ve barely heard forward-thinking leaders complain about problems such as undisciplined citizens. Instead; they put in place robust systems and laws to punish and minimize its impact on their societies, because there will always be undisciplined citizens.
We must face the harsh truth, that the social make-up and economic structure of our country; doesn’t make it easy to have a perfect lockdown of any form. That is why I found it very strange that some privileged Ghanaians could actually propose a total lockdown of the entire country without thinking about the many under-privileged Ghanaians in the masses.
On the first day of the partial lockdown; a gentleman who works for company being managed by a foreigner in Accra; told me his company gave him a bonus of GHS32, a gallon of cooking oil and 7KG rice for the two weeks of the lockdown period. Although he had worked for just two weeks of joining the company, he expected that they would at least pay him for the two weeks due to the lockdown; but that didn’t happen. He told me he could not survive for the two weeks with what he received; and so I should send him some money when I can. Don’t forget that he’s not in the US or UK, where he probably could have filed for unemployment benefits to keep up. He’s in Ghana; where he can only rely on the benevolence of friends and relatives to survive.
This is a country with many unplanned and crowded settlements with very poor citizens crowded in single rooms and in wooden structures in the slums, and yet such people are not expected to move out, but stay indoors and observe social distancing. Even for those privileged Ghanaians who have decent homes; they struggle with constant flow of water and power supply; and will not easily have access to an ambulance when they fall sick.
What we don’t seem to know is that; the West is not witnessing 100 percent compliance in these times despite its robust systems and more responsive leadership; how much more our country where someone’s daily bread is dependent on daily street hawking?
But the West is not beating up citizens or manhandling them for breaking the rules. They’re handled with dignity and respect according to law; bearing in mind the natural human inclination to move around. I have watched a video of a policeman in a UK community, speaking through a megaphone from a car, and encouraging citizens to stay indoors; and why it is important for them to do so if they have nothing to do outside.
But in Ghana, we often sit in Accra and speak a lot of big English on radio and TV, and we assume that majority of Ghanaians in the country, have heard the instructions and will observe them accordingly. What happened to decentralization and the deployment of the Information Services Department and the National Commission for Civic Education, NCCE, to take the messages down to the people? Obviously, because we have not valued information dissemination to resource these institutions, we’re forced to rely on just news houses to do that job; forgetting that the trader, the ‘kayayo’ (head porter) or the butcher busily making ends meet, isn’t always listening to radio, watching TV, or reading online.
We’re angry about the head porters attempting to leave Accra back to their homes in the north, and we’re treating them like criminals; forgetting that they are just helpless citizens escaping to their home regions for economic reasons in the wake of the lockdown. At least, over there in the village in Walewale; they can spend less and survive this period; even if they have to sleep in mud houses; and not on pavements in Accra; where they’re exposed to several dangers.
The government had absolutely no plan for many of these homeless head porters, and so how did we expect them to be part of this process when their livelihoods have been taken from them by the partial lockdown? Elsewhere in the West, local authorities have taken steps to house homeless people for the time being and keep them safe from the pandemic.
And so when government has not fulfilled its social contract to the people satisfactorily, it cannot turnaround to blame helpless citizens for the outcome of its own failures. Sadly, that’s what our leaders often do; instead of accepting blame for their ineptitude.
Civilized societies live by a set of rules documented in the constitution; and we cannot act differently; and yet boast about being democratic and respectful of the rule of law. Inasmuch as some citizens will be recalcitrant, many more people are genuinely ignorant; including some of the police and military officers themselves, because I’ve listened to a Regional Minister in this government, misinterpreting portions of the President’s directives and making claims that the chemicals used in the fumigation of markets; kills the coronavirus.
And so one would expect that the most sensible thing for frontline military and police officers to do at this time; is to help citizens understand the rules; and get them to stay safe not just for themselves but for everyone. The use of violence or indiscipline as exhibited by some security officials has never been a cure for indiscipline anywhere in the world. Security officials abusing citizens must know that they’re not any better if they are side-stepping the law; and carrying out their own methods of punishment.
I think that for the President to hurriedly ensure the passage of the Imposition of Restrictions Act, 2020, solely to enforce directives against the spread of the coronavirus; and yet officers of the law can side-step same to carry out their own punishment on citizens, is the highest form of indiscipline.
Indiscipline is a goldmine
On the other hand; government must know that indiscipline is a goldmine; and Citi TV’s War Against Indiscipline’ in collaboration with the Ghana Police Service; recently proved this; by raking in thousands of Ghana Cedis for the state, through the fines slapped on reckless drivers.
In cases where people are unable to pay fines, there’s the option of non-custodial sentences which can get offenders to carry out all kinds of community service; and this will in a long way deter indiscipline.
Serious-minded countries are making millions of dollars from punishing indiscipline behaviour; and so the earlier we tapped into this ‘resource’ and stop complaining and abusing citizens, the better for us, because the complaints and abuse; will never stop the menace.
A lesson from COVID-19
If there’s anything this pandemic should teach us when it is finally over; it should be the fact that our governance cannot continue being business as usual.
It should energize us to ensure a completely new paradigm shift in the way we have developed our country; considering how our weak health system and economy, as well as the almost non-existent social support system, have been seriously exposed.
Inasmuch as catastrophes of such magnitude can outstretch human capacity and systems of any country, it is very clear, that the wheat has been separated from the chaff; and we definitely know where we belong; and must not remain there.
The Writer is a Journalist at Citi FM/Citi TV, and the Head of Business News. The views expressed here are solely his, and do not represent his media organization.
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