“Letsa, you’re here earlier than usual,” said the inquisitive office janitor, as I handed her a magazine, at around 5.00am so she could glance through a column I authored. “So little time and so much to do,” I replied. Her two-worded response was instructional: “Keep going!”. That was exactly the motivation I needed.
In that week, I hosted over a dozen meetings, attended several more and drafted many plans for the year ahead. I enjoyed the insightful daily lunchtime updates from journalists and relished evening revelries with filmmakers, artists, musicians and radical social activists who were all optimistic about 2020. This was the kind of momentum the year began with, until the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly hit Ghana and brought social life to a standstill.
Perhaps, what I desire most is the routine interaction with petty traders and hawkers at Airport Residential, on weekends. To bond with constituents, I usually spend time at the shops of small-scale entrepreneurs. I haven’t been able to do this recently and I can’t wait to get back on the streets.
Over a month ago, I decided to take this approach a step further. I sat on the bench of a popular orange vendor in the neighbourhood for hours. And quite surprisingly, I wasn’t bored witless. I learnt, within those few hours, from the company of petty traders, more about what needed to be done to improve life in Ghana than I could as a Judicial Clerk for almost a year.
I listened with rapt attention as people gathered around and spoke rather eloquently about the bread and butter problems of our time. I’ve discovered that my tête-à-têtes with street vendors, fishermen and taxi drivers often provide reliable solutions to some of the most complex social issues outside the fortunate reality I’ve been accustomed to.
You do not need a long report from a think tank or an academic institution to understand the plight of Ghanaians. Engage members of your district in a conversation and you’d find out that, more often than not, life is tough for the diligent Ghanaian worker. I heard stories of sellers who lived hand-to-mouth for decades; they spend a chunk of profits on access to public toilet facilities, rented kiosk make-shift homes and the upkeep of their children.
One fact was frightfully clear from our conversation: Ghana’s democratic society is much more fragile than it appears to be. There are far too many underprivileged citizens out there in the wild.
The streets of Accra are lined up with terribly frail paupers who beg each car that passes by for cash. Today, a cruise around town after hours can leave any observant person astonished. I once inescapably spotted a lady, through the rear-view, with a massive belly who flagged my ride at Osu; she was most likely a pregnant sex worker, since that particular route is often clustered with hookers. Even sex-workers can’t afford to take maternity leave anymore. Clearly, life has only gotten worse for the destitute.
We live in the same Republic but are worlds apart. We need a society that works for not just a few, but for all of us.
The author, Vincent Djokoto, is a Business Executive and Columnist.