Comparing the very bad with the worst

BY: Elizabeth Ohene

You know you are in real trouble when the bar keeps being lowered for your measure in everything. In our neighbourhood, it is not exactly difficult to be seen as doing well. Let’s face it, what is the competition?

Burkina Faso, Togo or La Cote d’Ivoire, who are our immediate neighbours. Or maybe we should go a bit further afield into the West African region and bring up Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, The Gambia, Niger. 

Your neighbourhood tells a lot about the expectations people have about you. If you happen to be in a tough neighbourhood, it is very tempting to accept the lowest common denominator and if you make it to JHS three without getting pregnant and dropping out of school, you are congratulated by all. If you were in another neighbourhood, getting to JHS three and beyond would be the norm and not worth commenting upon. 

It seems to me that we in Ghana have unfortunately come to accept the lowering of standards in a desperate anxiety to be able to see ourselves as performing well.

Comparison with Nigeria


For historical reasons, we used to compare ourselves to our cousins, the Nigerians, in this neighbourhood. We competed with them favourably on the sporting field and when we defeated them at a football match, we did not think it was extraordinary. We expected to defeat them and when they beat us, nobody suggested they should beat us because there were so many more of them than us. 

For years we were fascinated and watched certain types of behaviour by these cousins of ours in amazement. The propensity to create new lanes on the road instead of staying in orderly queues, for example, was supposed to be something Nigerians did and Ghanaians tutted if someone tried it on our roads. Today it is normal behaviour on our roads.

In the past 20 years, Nigerians regularly come to this country and go on about how clean and orderly Ghana was. I always thought that Ghanaians were smarter than to allow themselves to be taken in by such talk and start believing that our country was indeed clean and orderly when we can all see the filth and chaos around us. 

I always thought we were realistic enough to realise that the rubbish generated by 25 million people was bound to be less than what 150 million people generated, and when our Nigerian cousins say Accra is clean they are only talking about the size of our garbage dumps. 

For as long as I can remember, Nigeria has been plagued by the phenomenon of unstable power supply. Granted that the exasperated National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) that they shout or mutter when their lights go off has not got the same sexy ring to it as our DUMSOR, but unstable power supply is as Nigerian as “EBA” or “AGBADA”. When we started having power problems, some Nigerian visitors here claimed to be impressed by our scheduled load-shedding regime and cited that as evidence of how much better organised we were. 

But I always hoped that Ghanaians would take such talk for what it was: a comparison of two rotten fruits to see which one was more rotten than the other. The truth of the matter is that a rotten fruit is a rotten fruit, and not fit to be eaten. 

Surely, the now famous proprietor of the Ovation magazine should know better than suggest that Ghanaians should be pleased because the power situation is better here than in Nigeria. I’m afraid it shows the depths to which we have fallen that our power situation should be compared with Nigeria for us to get some comfort. 

Then I heard our newly appointed Inspector General of Police casting around to find examples around the world to justify his threat to shut down social media on Election Day. According to IGP Kudalor, the world is now a global village and we can and should find best practices to help us conduct our affairs. I couldn’t agree with him more on that, but where does he find his best practices to emulate? Yoweri Museveni’s Uganda! 

For the moment, I am holding my horses on the merits and demerits of shutting down social media to make the work of the police easier and on the question of whether IGP Kudalor can arrogate such powers to himself. But I am completely dismayed that our IGP has to go to Uganda to find “best practices” in the conduct of elections. Would he really want to be in such company? North Korea, Syria, Chad, Congo, Uganda would not be countries that come immediately to mind when one is talking about best practices in any field that one would want to emulate. 

They are the countries thus far, cited as shutting down social media for elections. What is more, once you start putting yourself in such company, people presume you want to do some other things that such people do, even if you had no such intentions. Among the five countries cited above, four of them have presidents who have been in power for more than 20 years and have resorted to dubious means to stay on in office. Only North Korea has a leader that has been in power for a shorter period than our President Mahama, and we haven’t yet got to the stage where we call him great or supreme leader. 

When we start being mentioned in the same breath or same sentence as some people, before very long, we start behaving like them. When we measure ourselves using the lowest common denominator, our aspirations remain low and we begin to think we are doing well when we are not. 

We are in a rough neighbourhood. Compared to most of our neighbours, some of us are lured into thinking we are doing well. But then we also know that currently La Cote d’Ivoire is doing much better in the neighbourhood than the rest of us. We might want to compare ourselves with La Cote d’Ivoire in the field of agriculture generally, cocoa, coffee and cashew in particular, or maybe power supply.

If we must compare ourselves to countries around us, we should pick what sectors to compare with which countries. There are areas in which we might at the moment learn some lessons from Nigeria, fighting corruption maybe. There are areas in which we might want to compare ourselves with them in the hope we would feel good about ourselves.

We could of course go on deluding ourselves because we have some sight in one eye in this area of blind people. And when we go outside the region to find cohorts, we could continue to find those who make us look good. The truth is a rotten fruit is a rotten fruit.