Painful memories don’t disappear

BY: Elizabeth Ohene
Black Stars’ Jordan Ayew gains the upper hand during a tussle for the ball with Tarek  Hamed of Egypt
Black Stars’ Jordan Ayew gains the upper hand during a tussle for the ball with Tarek Hamed of Egypt

It might be a tough lesson but there is no escaping from it. It is often said that politicians and officialdom in general get away with murder in this country because, to borrow President Mahama’s words, Ghanaians have short memories.

He tried the theory in 2012 and it worked for him and he seems to be trying it in 2016 in the hope that it will work for him. In the four months leading to the 2012 election, President Mahama pushed enough money through SADA, GYEEDA, ZOOMLION, RLG etc. to make people forget temporarily about their economic reality. 

In 2016, in the six months leading to the election, President Mahama is trying to repeat his tried and tested method. Roads which had been impassable for the past five years and been untouched by any maintenance work are suddenly being asphalted. Nurses in training who have not received allowances for five years are suddenly being told it was all a terrible mistake and they would be getting allowances. 

The idea of a four-year term being packaged as three and a half years of suffering and six months of joy is offensive to everything within me. If a government pushes us into a tunnel and now expects to be praised because members of the government claim to see a light at the end of that tunnel, it is offensive. 

There are those among us who have been terribly scarred by the experience of the past five years and the bright lights of the past three months cannot make up for it. It is dangerous to work on the assumption that today’s asphalt will make everyone forget about the manholes of the past five years.     

Maybe Ghanaians don’t have short memories after all. Who would have thought that the Black Stars, the national football team, would lose a crucial World Cup qualifying match and the reaction from Ghanaians would be such deafening silence? 

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It has been more than two years since the Brazil fiasco when the Black Stars disgraced themselves and all of us. It has been more than two years since our government chartered a plane to carry money from Accra to Brazil and we became a byword for mockery and humiliation. 

People do like their football in this country and they will dearly want to have the national team play in the World Cup in Russia in 2018 but it appears there are limits to what they will tolerate from the team. People are not in the mood to forgive or forget those involved in the Brazil debacle. 

On Sunday when the Black Stars were defeated 2-0 by Egypt, there were few tears and I was struck by the reaction of the Ghanaian football fans. I repeat here some of the choice words that were used by the football fans which hit home most poignantly for me. Someone wrote: “Your loss used to be our loss, now your loss is your loss.” Another put it this way: “We're all hoping they'll watch the World Cup on TV like the rest of us. Not just the Black Stars; GFA, management committee and whoever.” 

I don’t know if the Black Stars players and the officials quite appreciate the extent of the public disenchantment with them. I am also not quite sure what the reaction would have been if the team had started the qualifying series with wins. Maybe there would have been some cheers but something tells me it will take more than a few qualifying series wins to mollify the fans. 

Following football and supporting a team involves a lot of emotional investment; you know the team will not always win, but the emotional investment means the team’s loss is your loss. The players respect and appreciate your support but when they display total disrespect towards their supporters, the team is on its own. When they lose a match, their loss is their loss, the fans are not involved. 

As another Black Stars fan put it, I cannot bear the thought of a chartered plane with cash flying across the world. It appears the prospect of Ghana not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup does not frighten anybody anymore. Since 2006 when Ghana made the first appearance at the World Cup, with our exploits there and at the subsequent South Africa 2010, it had been assumed that Ghanaians were willing to make a lot of sacrifices to ensure the Black Stars became a regular feature. The players made a sad miscalculation. We do not want Ghana to play at the World Cup at any cost. I note that the Black Stars’ coach, Avram Grant, is putting a positive spin on things and is suggesting that Ghana might yet qualify for Russia 2018. I pray that we do and I wish sincerely that we will beat the odds and qualify, but in the unlikely event that we do, he and his players will have to recognise that they are not going to have the passionate, unquestioning support they used to have. 

How long is it going to take then for people to get over the events of Brazil 2010? Playing and winning a few matches will help but doing something to redeem that image of avaricious and spoilt brats will win over their lost fans. Dede Ayew offering to pay to bring some of the players to the last qualifying match in the Africa Cup competition was a good start but the entire team should be seen to be making some effort. Since all the players can afford to, they might consider playing the next two matches for Ghana without demanding to be paid. 

I am watching the current distribution of confetti with a lot of apprehension. We have still not recovered from four months of recklessness in 2012.