It is often said that life on earth entails both joy and sorrow. Joy comes in when there is achievement and expectations are met. On the other hand, sorrow sets in when there is a crisis or an undesirable situation at hand. As believed strongly, no amount of human efforts can guarantee a total perpetual elimination of happenings that plunge individuals, communities and societies into the state of sorrow.
If it were not so, rich and powerful individuals and nations would have worked out for themselves sorrow-free lives. What further exonerates this philosophy is the fact that the most powerful and advanced parts of the world, today, continue to helplessly suffer both natural and man-made calamities such as earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, fire outbreaks and terrorist activities.
On September 11, 2001, America was thrust into unprecedented ruins resulting from a terrorist scheme against the powerful country.
This single disaster left close to three thousand people dead! Similarly, Nigeria, a giant sister West African country to Ghana was thrown into a state of shock and wailing when Boko Haram captured nearly 300 student girls in April, 2014.
It is regrettable to state that Ghana as a country has received her fair share of such national crises. Among those still fresh in the memories of Ghanaians are the collapse of the Melcom building at Achimota in Accra in 2012 and the most recent June 3, 2015 fire and flood disaster that occurred at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle, Accra.
Nonetheless, the focus of this article is not to rewind our memories to bitter experiences we would never like to encounter again in our history, but to examine some Ghanaian attitudes and behaviours in times of crises.
Whereas merely examining such attitudes and behaviours in ink may not pass for an end in itself, it is a move that can contribute to making the Ghanaian conscious of his or her response when in or out of crises.
Many readers of this piece would agree with me that Ghanaians generally have a reactive style when it comes to ‘the discipline of crises management’.
This posture to crises fails to imbibe the wisdom in a Ghanaian proverb which says that ‘We do not wait until the hunting day before we raise a dog.’ What this literally means is that if one wants to benefit from the services of a dog during the hunting season, one certainly must have started rearing a dog for that purpose long before the hunting time is due.
Any attempt at instantly raising a dog on the hunting day and have it catch a game for the owner is, doubtlessly, a fruitless venture.
In essence, the Ghanaian authorities and mandated institutions/agencies usually become enthusiastic about the enforcement of safety regulations and measures only when we wake up to see ourselves in the claws of an ugly disaster.
It is also under same circumstances that one equally discovers the magnitude to which our ordinary citizens can be so angelic- being so cautious and patriotic in their words and deeds. The sad fact is that such positive trends only survive for as long as a particular disaster receives intense discussions on the media waves!
Again, an associated characteristic is that in a spirit of frenzy, authorities, by hook or by crook, will have to use some individuals or entities as scape goats to assuage or as it were, ‘cool down’ the anger of the criticizing masses. In many cases, such actions further compound the problem by creating another nomenclature of post-disaster victims.
Not long ago, we witnessed how some fellow citizens were hurled out of their businesses and places of abode in the demolishing exercises that followed the June 3, flood and fire disaster which nearly caved in the entire nation.
A number of questions naturally arise when one takes a sober reflection on this issue: Will our authorities have caused to be pulled down the structures whose demolition they authorized if the June 3 disaster had not occurred?
Did those who have the mandate and power to do so have to wait until an enormous crisis struck before they acted?
Will any of the measures taken in the aftermath of the disaster help recover any of the perished brethren?
What about the fate of the individuals and families that the demolition moves have displaced in residential and economic terms and have we also thought about the fact that these displaced citizens now become a liability to our very society?
‘The blame game’ is yet another practice typical of the Ghanaian community in a crisis hour. It is quite unfortunate that any time an unforeseen circumstance hits our society, everybody blames it on some one. In fact, all get embattled in a blame contest — the public blaming authorities or leaders for inaction, authorities blaming it on the recalcitrance and unpatriotic acts of the general public, politicians in opposition lambasting those in power for inefficiency etc.
In the most recent June 3 flood and fire disaster at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle in Accra, even some sections of the Ga Traditional Authority added their voice to the blame brouhaha.
Some members of the said traditional authority held the view that the crisis was brought upon the city by the gods of the land who are disgusted by the increasing immoral conduct of people in the city of Accra.
It is a wonder how the gods could have acted so wickedly without even a first warning to the people. What is more interesting is the reality that in the end no one accepts the blame.
Perhaps, a much bigger question to throw is that do our blame game and reactive syndromes put us as a people in a better situation against future disasters?
A big NO is certainly the answer. So, why do we wait until an ugly calamity unleashes cruelty on us before we begin to act and trade blame? Why don’t we rather stitch in time to save nine?
I believe, strongly, that, as we speak now, there are numerous situations in our environment which are potential dangers to sections of society. Nevertheless, for now, everybody passes by unconcerned, as though nothing needs to be done to preclude disaster.
For instance, I have, recently, driven through the George Walker Bush High Way in the dark hours of the evening a few times and was plagued with a very uncomfortable experience on this highly patronized road in our capital city, Accra.
The situation is that the stretch of this road remain so dark in the night as the street lights are apparently not functioning. God forbid that something fatal happens on that road, but if the darkness on that road causes any road tragedy now, we will see almost instantaneous action to restore the dysfunctional lights.
In earnest, we need to break away from this vicious cycle of negative attitudes and behaviours towards our own safety. That means that we must try, as difficult as it may be, to do the right thing always and not only when we are in trouble or when disaster visits.
By Abrahm Kwesi Basilki