This piece was written 20 years ago. Today half of Accra has no lights because the Achimota sub-station is flooded; compounding the already intolerable Dumsor. More than 200 Ghanaians are reported to have perished in a fire at a filling station and in other areas.   The President of the Day and all the usual suspects have visited the scene of the tragic accident and doled out the usual platitudes, including the Minister of Interior’s unbelievably denying that the loss of more than 100 of our citizens does not qualify as national tragedy.

Meanwhile the President under whose watch this piece was written, is attributing the recent incident to a failure of leadership; a supreme irony which would have all of us splitting our sides but for the very tragic loss of life.

Every Government in the 4th Republic o Ghana has gone through the routine. Ghana has become a nation of TALKERS not DOERS.  The best commemoration we can pay to 200+ who have had their lives cut down so tragically and unexpectedly is to ensure that this will be the LAST TIME WE SHALL GO THROUGH THIS CHARADE OF CROCODILE TEARS AND INACTION BY THOSE WE PUT INTO OFFICE TO GOVERN IN OUR NAME.


The bright and shining light on Africa's 'most successful economic story' of  recent years literally went out at about 0400 hours on Tuesday 4 July 1995.  It was the moment when the gushing waters of the heaviest recorded rainfall in Ghana in 30 years crept into the Achimota Electricity Sub-station.  All the lights and air-conditioners went "foosh", enforcing  a total blackout of the city of Accra. The same waters found their way into the heart of the nation's brand new telecommunications system and the phones went dead  on us too. Too much of everything being bad for us, the torrent showers of  rain also stopped the waters  flowing in the taps because the pipes simply could not cope with this unexpected bonus of excess liquidity. And to compound it all, substantial portions of the roads became  beds for emergency  rivers, or simply 'threw in the towel' and followed the course of the rain to the nearest silt- infested blocked drain.

The real tragedy unfolded as the natural light of the sun rose from the east to expose the misery and sufferings that had been inflicted on many  residents of the nation's capital city. As always, this was apportioned according to the relative economic standing in the society. The visitors in our midst,  who sing our praises loudest quickly, overcame the initial shock, flicked on their generators to restore lights and the air conditioning, and began to gossip amongst themselves on their "megyina abonten na merekasa" mobitels about how "awful the whole thing was". The well to do locals went down on their knees to mop away the waters which had broken through their walled fortifications, attacked the stereo systems and almost taken away the 'M-NET' decoders.  Alas, the very poorest bore the brunt of it all. As at the time of writing, the  official count was  that 24 residents of Accra, including at least 4  children had lost their lives. Many others had seen their homes brought down and literally carried away. Their immediate future prospects looked bleaker than the darkness of the city.

Watching the President's morale boosting tour of the affected areas on the TV screens on Wednesday night , I was filled with a mixture of sadness, horror and deep anger at what had happened. My anger intensified the more I became convinced that the tragedy and serious personal and economic loss to so many of our citizens could have, and should have, been avoided if the government had realised that its responsibilities went beyond talking about things to taking actions to overcome those things and prevent future occurrences.

Accra's inability to cope with even the tiniest of  rainfalls is knowledge that even the least-tutored  of J.S.S. pupils will  score 100% marks on.. The spectacle of government ministers visiting areas to console flood victims has been played each year on our TV screens for at least the last decade. The script is always the same, the minster articulates the causes of the disaster to the TV cameras, looks painfully remorseful  about the plight of the people,   promises swift and decisive action to deal with the underlying problems, and hops into the Pajero to push the problem into the distant future, only to realize that the future comes round quicker  than he thought. The only difference this tine round is that, the scale of the disaster is 'gi-normous', so the "OLD MAN" himself is wheeled out to act out the "We are shocked and concerned" show.

Apart from the fact that our capital city's drainage system has been reduced to the status of 'self-help' projects to be undertaken by individual citizens, Accra's poor drainage system has been compounded by two major recent developments. Firstly, incompetent development of the roads infrastructure; and secondly, inadequate and largely non-existent management and maintenance of the city's environment, especially of sewage and garbage. Many of the most affected areas of the city, including the Achimota Electricity sub-station, the Kwame Nkrumah Circle which sites the nation's Telecommunications nerve centre, and  the Ring Road West / Abossey Okai areas, have seen the construction of major road works in recent years. And yet, these are the areas which suffered the most damage because of the failure of the drainage systems constructed as an integral part of the road works.

Surely, we are entitled to ask whether the design and construction of these roads, which cost the nation several million dollars, was carried out professionally and competently?  For example, there must be serious question marks about the adequacy of the drains incorporated into the new 37 Circle to Achimota road, which gets bogged down with as little as 10mm of rain, never mind the over 250mm deluge that came down on Tuesday morning.  And yet, it is this very road which sites the one and only installation that supplies electricity to the nation's capital, which got totally flooded, which short-circuited the equipment, which  plunged the city into total darkness. If the President wants to avoid getting his trousers wet next time round, he must order Ato Quarshie to institute an immediate review of all the major road construction projects, take the necessary corrective measures and ensure that those who failed us this time  are never allowed to do so again, no matter their 'connections'.

Immediately after the '92 elections, the President lamented the fact that he always had to keep his ''darks'' on and hold his nose on account of the litter everywhere in Accra and the stench of the various stagnant waters.  On the "President shows concern TV show", the faithful managers of our city and environment talked ad nauseam about people throwing garbage everywhere and drains that have become choked for the simple reason that nobody clears them regularly. The problem was blamed as usual on the supposed ignorance of the people, therefore the solution was, 'you guessed right', more public education. What a load of rubbish,  I heard myself say, especially when I saw  many of the so-called ignorant articulating the precise causes of the debacle to the President on his walkabout

When was the last time anybody saw dustbin or any other garbage points in Accra for the people to dump their rubbish in ? Even where there have been some, what greater disincentive can there be for the people than to see that nobody takes away the garbage when it is full, and that it all goes back to litter the street or choke the already silted drains? What hope is left for us when Accra gets filthier by the day after more than a decade of donor-assistance to set up a waste management system for the city? The crude and painful fact is that the Accra Metropolitan Authority has failed in its basic duty of keeping the nation's capital clean and its gutters free of silt.  Proper waste  management requires constant and regular attention, not the pathetic occasional "made for TV" Saturday clean-ups led by Ministers of State. With a vast army of unemployed people and the AMA fleecing us with exorbitant waste management fees and property rates, we will not accept the excuse that there are no funds or bodies to keep our capital city away from the elements.

When the people have complained about the illusory gains  of the Economic Recovery Programme and the Structural Adjustment Programme, the government has responded by pointing to the good roads, the improved water system, the modern telecommunications network, and the jewel in the crown, electrical power for all the people. When the folks in the capital city and other big centres say, " this is all well and good, but it does not put food on our tables, nor indeed can we afford to pay to enjoy them", the government retorts that they are being ungrateful and just want to take all the money that has been set aside to enable the poorer rural folks attain the same infrastructural development. Well, well, well, the grand deception has finally come crushing down.

The rains have eroded the veneer of asphalt to restore the potholes of the pre-ERP days. The problem is that there are more vehicles now than then, especially the heavy and expensive 4-wheelers whose use can, ironically,  only be justified during disasters as we are in now. Unable to move, we cannot call the police and the fire service to come to our rescue, because the phones don't work. Even more ominously, we are cut off from our foreign benefactors, although we were fortunate to have the BIG MAN of the IMF here to see things for himself. All in all, it looks as if  there has been a divine intervention to reveal the grand con that has engulfed this nation for the past 12 years of 'super duper development' Somebody up there has invoked a "force majeure" clause on behalf of the people of Ghana in a classic example of  'Man proposes, God/ Allah disposes" judgement on the economic and social well being of our nation.

The lessons for us to learn are several.  We can never repay the several millions of dollars we have borrowed to bring foreigners here to put up infrastructure if we do not make sure that shoddy and sub-standard  work is rejected, even if it is undertaken by 'favourite contractors'. Secondly, if we do not develop the foresight to establish our own priorities for our development, as well as the able and competent skills and capacity to keep things ticking over, we will be spending several more years standing in front of TV lights lamenting annual incomprehensible disasters.  Where is the consolation for the wet and homeless people who are told that each year that there are plans to construct a comprehensive drainage system for Accra, when all they see are endless hotels springing up to cater for the delights of transient foreign experts and praise singers?

The most important lesson above all others is that we need competent people at the helm of our nation's affairs and the institutions that manage our affairs. The ones we require are those able to rely on their own skills and initiatives to set the right priorities and be able to deal with problems to forestall their recurrence. Sympathy after the event is cheap and unhelpful, as is advice to foreign NGOs to take over the government's responsibilities to provide basic amenities for the urban poor and rural folk, as was reportedly advocated by the Minister of Employment and Social Welfare, D.S. Boateng, in the same issue of the Daily Graphic that carried the graphic(no pun intended) details of the devastation of our capital city.

As for our relatives in the rural folks who the government wants to create trouble and mischief between us, we shall quickly have to get back to our roots and warn them to be very careful and wary of people promising good infrastructure in return for their votes.  For if all the over-paid foreign experts and the 4-wheeling Ministers  failed to stop the abrupt and sudden erosion of all the gains of the ERP in the nation's capital, what hope can there be that the rural infrastructure,  which is faraway from the instant TV call,  and is often in the hands of with less well paid and less qualified NGOs  will not do a "now you see it, now you don't" disappearing act  like one of Nana Konadu's legendary 'garri factories'? Our advice to our rural kith and kin is to beware of incompetent but sweet talking wolves coming to you as caring and concerned sheep.

On the fateful day, GBC FM(sorry, RADIO GAR ) seemed to have put the latest highlife hit, "Akosombo Nkanea" in a multi-repeat groove,  a most fitting anthem for the lamentation of the fact that the lights of the Akosombo Dam, which should have shown even more brightly because the floods would fill the lakes, had instead been put out by the very floods.  AKOSOMBO NKANEA ADUM AMA GHANA MAN ATO ANIMIA SUM MU BIO. (The lights of Akosombo have gone out to plunge our nation into a social and economic  darkness again).  The centre spread headline in the 'Daily Graphic' of 6 July, 1995 screamed "President to the rescue". Whilst I doff my hat to Jerry and Totobi's very photogenic and populist expression of sorrow, I  hope that their rescue will mean "NEVER AGAIN WILL THE PEOPLE OF ACCRA HAVE TO ENDURE THIS MISERY . WELL, LET'S MOP OUR  MISFORTUNE THIS TIME ROUND AND AWAIT THE FLOODS OF NEXT YEAR.