President Akufo-Addo has added another chapter to Ghana’s Book of Lamentations.
On June 3, he lamented to the Ghanaian community in Canada that "up till today, while the Odaw River is being dredged some people think that the best way to dispose of rubbish is to throw it into the gutter."
His conclusion? "No amount of investment aimed at finding a solution to Accra’s flooding will work if our people continue this way".
Well said, Mr President.
But are these words not too familiar?
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Jerry John Rawlings, as Junior Jesus, said it in the days of the Holy War as he angrily jumped into gutters in Accra and Cape Coast, desilting drains.
Aliu Mahama (RIP), as Vice President, launched the most ambitious War on Indiscipline, including a campaign against littering and choked gutters.
It did not last.
Atta Mills said no less.
On campaign platforms in the lead up to the 2008 elections, he promised to end the country’s sanitation nightmare in his first 100 days in office.
He did come into office, and I remember the zeal with which the citizens came out in their numbers with shovels and wheelbarrows to do the President’s bidding.
Ex-President Mahama, unable to contain the persistent whining of the citizens whose welfare he had pledged to seek, began a tirade against the people, accusing us of becoming too cynical.
I wrote at that time, and I repeat it to Akufo Addo today, that Ghanaians were not born cynical; our governments have made cynics of us all.
Perhaps I should not be too harsh on Akufo Addo.
I myself have, in no fewer than four articles, drawn attention to the fact that sinking millions of borrowed money into drainage projects will fail to solve the problem if it is not accompanied by a programme for attitude change.
So our President is right. But attitude change has to be a Presidential Special Initiative.
Man, by nature, doesn’t want to obey laws. That is why we vote a party into power – to cajole and to coerce us into obedience.
From all the books I have read on the subject, however, reinforced by all the success stories from other, including Singapore and Rwanda, attitude change is not words.
It is a programme.
It starts with knowing why the people think and act the way they do, especially in a predominantly non-literate African society where a citizen arrested for littering is genuinely surprised that littering is a crime.
Pastor Otabil’s definition of attitude is “a settled way of thinking”.
It is built over time and you don’t change it with platitudes.
I was in primary four when manufacturers of Ovaltine launched a campaign to promote the beverage nationwide.
They came to our school, gave us free cups of hot Ovaltine and taught us to sing, “Be a happy family, listen to what I say.
For health and strength and energy, drink Ovaltine each day”.
I caught the taste and it stayed on my tongue.
It’s been 50-plus years ago but I still remember both the words and the tune.
Today, see the impact direct TV advertising of alcoholic bitters has had on the population.
The aphrodisiac campaign, into which millions (I dare say, billions) of cedis have been sunk, has succeeded in imprinting on the minds of Ghanaian youth the unfortunate associations between bitters, sexual performance and food - in spite of Professor Akosa’s warnings painting a picture of mortuaries packed with bodies of young people who have died from liver diseases.
As someone has remarked, this is the only country where gluttony is advertised on TV as a desirable virtue.
Changing attitudes takes investment, of the magnitude that went into the 2014 “Hohor wo nsa” handwashing campaign and the subliminal assault in the early 2000s that promoted the use of condoms via the hugely influential TV serial, ‘Things We Do For Love’.
It starts with painstaking research, followed by a packaging of appropriate communication by the likes of Dr Joyce Aryee, Mrs Norkor Duah etc, using the most admired citizens like Father Campbell, Pastor Mensa Otabil, the Chief Imam, KSM, Kwame Sefa Kayi, Nana Ama McBrown, Lil Win and Akrobeto, to name but a few.
It is a campaign waged from pulpits and mosques where over 80 per cent of the people live, literally.
So, well said, Mr President.
Question, however, is: is the culprit always the citizen?
What about our main problem of leaderless-ness.
Often in Africa we have Presidents/Prime Ministers but no leaders.
When a government clears the Makola street of hawkers and allows them to return just so as to win a by-election that is not leadership.
The politicking is worse. When the former President visited the latest flood victims and made sympathy speeches, did he remember the US$663,229,496 Conti Project?
The project was aimed at improving drainage and sewer systems with a primary focus on flood zones in the Odaw Basin and the Korle Lagoon.
Parliament, on October 25, 2012, approved all the agreements covering the project.
Three years later, on July 22, 2015, Collins Dauda, then Local Government Minister, informed Parliament that preliminary works commenced immediately after the signing of the contract.
Question: Where is the project?
It died on arrival - under Mahama.
Over to you, Akufo Addo. Attitudes can be changed. One leader makes a difference.