Let me preface this piece by saying that I am nothing but a humble consumer privileged to find myself in this epic battle for survival called Life in Accra – a tale that will inspire generations to come.
Each morning, the sun rises unfailingly with its rays – a prompt to get up, gear up and stand at the ready for a battle. Government will fights us, MPs will misrepresent us, the dollar will hammers us down even further, our education will fail us, and fake preachers will defraud us. At night, we retire to bed hoping against hope that tomorrow will be better. But does it ever? Today, it is the increase in the price of pure (sachet) water. What is it going to be tomorrow? I don’t know. Somehow, we will survive today to see it.
Before I plunge into my diatribe, I first need to acknowledge the current price hikes in this country, without which this article would not be possible. Second, I’d like to thank everything that is wrong with this country for teaching us ways to survive pre-pandemic, in-pandemic, and post-pandemic. If you live in Ghana and have no natural or nurtured survival instincts wired into your DNA, you must not have lived here for very long.
Now to it. Yesterday, NASPAWAP (National Association of Sachet and Packaged Water Producers) announced new prices for pure water. An unexpected announcement, but lacking the surprise element. Per their release, starting Monday, October 31 a sachet of pure water will be sold at 60 pesewas. This new increase triggered a thought I’ve mused on for years now, that pure water retailers that sell by the sachet make nearly 100 percent profit on their business.
Prior to the increase, a bag sold for GHS 7. Going by the original price of the bag of 30 sachets, my basic math teaches me that a single unit should go for about 25 pesewas (rounded up to the nearest whole number). Let’s add a generous 50 percent profit margin to account for refrigeration and labour costs i.e hawking. That should bring us to approximately 40 p. However, they were sold on our streets for 50 p – double it’s worth! It means that the retailer resells a bag for a total of GHS 15 (0.5 x 30 = 15)! 50 pesewas may not seem like much, but if you consider that that is over 100% profit margin from the original cost, it is mind blowing.
I don’t know much about business, but that seems like an overly generous deal. With the latest increase in retail prices of 60p, a bag sold for GHS10 will gain a whopping 80 percent profit. My question is, why? How reasonable is it to have a business that makes 80% profit in this current state of economic crisis? There’s nothing ‘pure’ about that if you ask me.
It begs even more questions: Which governing body is in charge of the Consumer Price Index in Ghana? Is there even one? Why do we insist on making things even more difficult for each other as a people? There are many reasons why Ghana doesn’t work like it’s supposed to, and it’s about time we took an inward look into our psyche as a people; questioned our motives, and try to define who we want to be. Are we going to continue using Kwaku Ananse tactics on each other (a topic for another day) or are we going to be like the son, Ntikuma, and make better altruistic choices?
Let’s also consider the fact that street hawking is illegal in Ghana and the majority of these hawkers don’t have valid business registrations that can be taxed. Some might consider this piece an attack on street hawkers. Well, it is not so much that as it is the mind with which we run petty trading in the country. For years now, we’ve been aware of how over-priced street items are but in the moment of need, we either strike a bargain and buy or ignore and drive off.
But when you really think about it, nobody should have to survive on pure water sales on the street for survival. For me, it’s one of the most difficult ways to earn a living: standing in the middle of traffic in the sweltering heat, chasing after cars for coins at the risk of your life, and making less than a dollar a day in profit. It’s outrageous! And nobody can fault them for trying to make an honest buck, high-profit margins aside. That said, they should not translate their frustration to the consumer who is suffering the same or even worse fate that they are.
It seems to me that the mentality of nearly every soul, especially in the capital, is to find the sleaziest way to make money; street hawking being the perfect, most glaring reflection of that mindset. Think of how we have come to accept that prices in Osu, even those outside the posh buildings, are at least 3 times what they are supposed to be. Why? Because it is assumed that the majority of people who trek through Oxford Street have deep pockets.
Who is to blame? You tell me. We can look everywhere for cause, but when the gavel falls, it should strike hard on the pate of leadership and hopefully knock them out. Not only political leaders, mind you, but industry leaders as well. Because how can they possibly, with a straight face, defend what’s been going on for decades now? A nation muddled in layers of endemic and systemic dealings piled on through years of fraud and forgery in collusion with a desperate populace who see no hope in sight.
We are without a doubt at a tipping point and a new movement must be engaged. A movement not in demonstrations – we know how those go – social media rants or war chants, but a movement of the mind. A movement of young people determined not to be corrupt; determined to help each other build up; determined to start a whole new generation that has learned from the mistakes of the forbearers and is poised towards honesty at the very minimum.
Our failed attempts at being instant millionaires keep us from growing together. Everyone is willing to make the quickest buck using the most acceptable dubious means, and we allow it because secretly, we admire it. Young people are staking sports bets with their tuition fees or their mother’s daily sales; pastors are doing same with church offering. The list goes on. When will it stop? We give people like Agradaa aka Evangelist Patricia Oduro power through our greed to scam thousands of victims when most people are still reeling from the shock of the MenzGold saga? There must be something in the air. Something that tells us it’s okay to take advantage of the next person so long as our needs are met. There’s something in our culture that makes it okay and it is not okay.
Past governments and present ones have failed us but let’s not fail ourselves. There is a better time to make a quick profit; when the times are better. Now isn’t it. This is the time to survive. But if your survival means the death or deliberate deprivation of another, perhaps, and I say this with the greatest of reservations, we deserve what’s happening to us.
Author: Winifred hMensa
Profile: Winifred is a Ghanaian freelance writer (fiction & non-fiction), a certified nonconformist, and chief evangelist for creative expression against all odds. Before starting a career in writing, her profession orbited multiple disciplines; first, civil engineering and then circled briefly around corporate communications and content production for TV. When not writing, she explores the many worlds in her mind, develops new interests, and works on her imaginary rap and soccer careers.
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