Once upon a time in ancient Asia, white elephants were held as sacred. Keeping a white elephant was a very expensive task because the holder had to provide the elephant with special food and provide access for people who wanted to worship it. If a King became displeased with a subordinate, he would give him a white elephant.

The gift would, in most cases, ruin the recipient. Nobody wanted the white elephants. Several years later, things beyond imagination happened (whether as a result of juju or magic or sheer foolishness), a certain country decided to embrace the white elephants. Sadly enough, that country happens to be my very beloved country, Ghana.

The “white elephant” syndrome has struck the four corners of my beloved Ghana such that schools have been left to rot in forests;  health facilities have been abandoned and buried in cemeteries; educational centres are competing for space at refuse dumps; and factories have been left to become the breeding ground for reptiles and all forms of insects. In all of this, I little imagined that the white elephant was at my doorstep until it happened….Just a few years ago, the headlines of some papers read, Gomoa Nyanyano gets cold storage facility, Ghana Opens 1m Spanish-funded Fish Cold Store. The whole of Ghana was told that the government has built and handed over a cold storage facility to the Nyanyano fishing community. The Spanish funded facility which was constructed to address post-harvest fish losses is equipped with a cold room, a blast freezer, an ice-maker, a standby generator, an electrical lifter and a cold van.

Gomoa coldstorage

Fast-forward, the cold store which government had to secure millions of euros from the government of Spain to construct has been shut down, is locked, is grown with weeds, and is now the playing grounds for insects and all kinds of creatures. The cold store had never improved on the lives of the people of Nyanyano. I know as usual, reasons will be given why the cold store had not served its purpose but that is my ‘back case’. So far as some actions or economic activities are not seen around this facility, it means some smart decisions have not been taken. If it had been, the cold store would be working by now….the Elephant in the cold store has turned white and that is my story and the story of the cold store at Gomoa Nyanyano.

Trust me, anytime I see the facility, I get furious and ask myself a lot of questions. Is this a case of putting the cart before the horse? Why would we finish building facilities before we use centuries to ponder how to use them effectively? Is there a need for the facilities we construct the time we do them? If yes, what are the considerations that go into the construction of facilities? It is obvious lots of thinking do not go into the projects we construct.

Governments over time go for loans which the taxpayer must later pay, build facilities, amid pomp and pageantry, bells and whistles, dump the facilities on the communities without given them the road map on how it’s going to change their lives.  Again, how do you build facilities without properly engaging and involving the people who are beneficiaries?  It is becoming clearer by the day that when we are planning or situating projects, we do not engage the people that matter. If this is done, in most of the cases, we would realize that what may seem like the needs of the locals may not be the actual needs.  In the case of Nyanyano, how do you put up a very expensive cold store when the road to the community is ‘without form and void’? Should people fly from other places to the cold store? Why are the fisher folks not patronizing the place?

Gomoa coldstorage

Clearly, there is a total disjoint in our national planning and meeting the real needs of the people. As a result, we waste money, resources, infrastructure and opportunities to better the lives of the man and woman on the street. We also waste access to basic things that will make us live as human beings who pay tax. Well, sometimes, I am tempted to agree with my mother the Koko seller who always say that Ghanaians are overly intelligent. If we are not, we will not ‘finish cooking only for us to be now thinking of how to eat the food’. My biggest disappointment is the Elephant, it made us believe it will go all out to avoid becoming white but power has blocked its ears. 

Eric Ziem Bibiebome

The author