Tuesday, April 28, 2009

There is nothing harder than the softness of indifference - Ghana shows it's darker side

I’ve been blogging a lot lately about the perils of the health system, or lack of it, in Ghana. Combined with corruption, horrendous driving (with the resultant high rates of car accident deaths), and a general lack of respect for life, Ghana has a serious side that so many of my fellow bloggers choose to ignore or are simply naïve about.

One of my cyber friends, the Irishman in Ghana, recently took a trip from Accra to Kumasi – which is generally known as one of the most dangerous roads in Ghana He was in a tro tro at night. BAD idea.

His blog post HERE is worth a read. I of course chimed in on the comments section with my jaded reply.

As a foreigner it is a common reaction to assume a car would stop if it hit or ran over a person! And an equally normal assumption that someone should call emergency services. In this case however, the tro tro he was in kept driving, and to his amazement all the passengers were fine with that. When he reported the incident to the police later, nothing was done about it (except for the police no doubt bribing the driver).

The next day when he asked his fellow colleagues who were Ghanaian what he should do about it, they told him to drop it. Today I shared his story with some Ghanaian friends and colleagues, and people laughed. Not a happy laughter but once of futility and despair. Their responses were all along the lines that he was naïve to think anyone would care.

Over the weekend in Accra, a man was hit at about 4am by a taxi which did not stop. By 6am the body had been run over by no less than 3 other vehicles. That means no one stopped – and even once they had crunched and bumped over the mass of a body under their tires, they carried on. This article was published in the local paper, but when I tried to find it online today, I realized it wasn’t important enough to make it to the online news in Ghana.

Recently a friend of mine came to me to tell me that his 36 year old brother was missing after having a minor argument with a fellow tenant in the compound where he lived. It was discovered that three thugs had ‘beaten’ the man and since then he’d not been seen. Two weeks later, thanks to an article the family had run in the newspaper about their missing brother, his body was identified at a local hospital. They had been about to bury his body in a mass grave. No investigation, no questions asked. Luckily the family had closure. But now there was a murder case to follow surely??

You would think so, but then you would be a naïve foreigner. In fact, the three people responsible were taken reluctantly into custody, but bailed out within a day. Now the family is being asked for installments of money to ‘help the inspector’ with his investigations. Yet nothing is happening. No one shows up at the court for the case. The family is not wealthy or well connected and they cannot afford the bribes... the case will die. And that is the sad fact. A 36 year old man beaten to death – no repercussions for the perpetrators.

We went to the funeral and across the crowd, who sat on the rented chairs straddling the open gutter in the heat of the midday sun, fanning themselves with the funeral pamphlet, I made out the dead man’s mother. I saw the genuine grief in her eyes. A grief I know too well. A parent should never outlive their child. I realized though, as I watched the neatly dressed men load the coffin into the ambulance, as they do here (ambulances being used for bodies as opposed to the sick but alive), that in Ghana it happens all the time.

You could be a toddler in a village and catch malaria, or an unfortunate cyclist on the road to Kumasi at night. You could have an argument with the wrong guy or stumble out in front of a car. In Ghana you will probably die. And there will probably be a funeral and Ghana will move on.

My Irish friend likened the reactions of his fellow passengers to fear, assuming that it was this fear that stopped them from forcing the driver to stop and assist the person he’d hit.

But I’ve been thinking and come to the conclusion that is the opposite that is true. What happens in society when there are no consequence for our actions? When we have nothing to fear from authority and also nothing to gain. No welfare from the government, no protection from the authorities. It makes people lawless and also concerned with themselves only. Why help an accident victim on the road if you will be asked to pay his hospital bill or watch him be ignored? Why stop to help someone you’ve hit when the police don’t care and will not persecute you in any way?

I guess I’m the Thomas Hobbes in this discussion, with Ghana representing humans in a state of nature - in a 'war of all against all', without a controlling authority… I'm definitely thinking far too much, far beyond my reach…

All these sad events have made me a backyard philosopher. Time to indulge in some soft fleshy mango and slices of the sweetest and best pineapple in the world – and remember some of the things I love about Ghana!
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Kajsa Hallberg Adu said...

I agree with your poetic way of summarizing Ghana's darkest side. "There is nothing harder than the softness of indifference". The indifference to human life. The way I am seing it, Ghanaians have just told themselves that life is hard and unfair and adopted a mode of strict survival.

Noone gets upset that ambulances are used to drive dead people around for funerals, instead of taking injured people to clinics.

That policemen are more often creating more traffic when stopping vehicles in unsuitable places or passing by in motorcades, rather than aiding in lessening the traffic.

That the only mode of transport for most people are extremely unsafe vehicles (tro-tro's, standing in the back of a truck etc.) often driven by people without the necessary skills to do so.

And as you write, this is not even news.

Indeed it is the darkest side to this, otherwise, warm culture.

The pale observer said...

Thanks Kajsa for your thoughtful comments. How do you change this attitude in a culture, toward a positive end for those living in it??? Big question for a long weekend! :)

bobbo said...

"I'm definitely thinking far too much, far beyond my reach… "

That's the problem with this world, when good people like yourself come to the truthful conclusion about life, it just seems so massive and that there is nothing at all that we can do. Some don't even come to the conclusion.

I'm convinced, and have to live my life hoping for an optimistic view towards humanity and the future of our race. I do hope that one day comes when these horrible atrocities that you speak of stop happening.

For me, somebody who lives in the US and has never traveled, my stomach was all in knots from reading that blog post. So many people in the world are so blind to horrible things occurring all over the world, and even then most do not care.

More people should have the courage you do to speak out against these brutal acts of "in-humanity".

-Robert (co-worker of your son Quinci)

Bukola said...


I find myself posting on your blog again because I find you to be quite an eloquent writer. I could not agree more with your observations about the lack of value of life sometimes displayed and will venture to say that it is not just an Ghanaian thing but an African thing. Maybe we have been traumatized by so many wars/slavery/colonization as a continent, that we have become numb to such horrors? Growing up in Nigeria there were many instances as a kid when my family would drive by a dead body on the street or highways. I remember asking my parents a lot of questions about these people and never getting a good reply. It is one of the horrors one files into ones memory banks a child growing up in Africa. I cannot myself condone it nor can I explain it. The opportunity for education in a foreign country has expanded my world and view and my ideas on morality. I hope I get the chances to pass these views on whenever I go back home and as for you who are a "foreigner in my homeland" as it were, I commend you greatly for your ability to speak about these things without being judgmental. Such clear eyed analysis is not often made of incidents in Africa. Thanks for that.

The pale observer said...

Bukola - thanks for taking the time to contribute. I think that the more people from Africa who are not afraid to analyse the problems, the more the problems will be addressed and dealt with.

More power to you! Let's keep asking Africa to look at herself and strive to do better!!

Obibini Bruni said...

I would liken this to the fact that most Canadians and other westerners could care less how their consumption habits directly affect people the world over. Despite options being available to not encourage social and environmental instability, a majority of westerners would rather do what is easiest, most convenient, cheapest, instead of having any kind of consideration for others.
As for these examples you have given, this is a way of thinking that was encouraged and enforced during colonization, so how can anyone blame Ghanaians for this legacy, when it is European colonizers that created the problem in the first place?

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