Saturday, June 14, 2014

Deferred Maintenance

Deferred maintenance is a norm where I come from; we tend to demur on the necessary until we are confronted by the looming or, more frequently, the actual, catastrophe. Indeed, quoth my mother, "if you are seen painting your house, people will stop by and ask if you have a funeral". That's just the way things work. Still I was struck by the following photos which depict the Jamestown Mantse palace in Accra; the first delapidated in 2001:

Jamestown Mantse Palace 2001

and vaguely restored in 2010 (restored enough that it features on calendars these days).

Jamestown mantse palace 2010

There's a comment to be made about what the former photo says about the institution of chieftaincy among the Ga. One can't imagine the Ashantis ever letting Manhyia Palace fall into similar disrepair but that is by the by...

There is a wider cultural point, I suppose; there are opportunity costs for maintenance, moreover, it is hard work, and unsexy at that. Some cultures simply have norms that emphasize mundane processes and others where the constraints of societal life drive different behaviours. Inertia is an essential part of the dark matter of communities. What interests me most is exactly how a society moves towards cultivating the maintenance ethic.

In the software profession, we often talk about "technical debt", acknowledging its almost inevitable presence as well as the inertial forces that contribute to its growth. Just recently, I was burning the midnight oil and paying for design and architectural decisions postponed for a couple of years. It was painful to deal with, but with hindsight, plainly unavoidable. My sleep-deprived self was conscious enough to bemoan my plight. It takes maturity and discipline to instill this ethic.

In Ghana, sadly, the escape valve for a surprising amount of deferred maintenance is often that some benevolent foreign entity can be called upon to fund a restoration. One wishes that the impetus was internal. There is certainly plenty of shovel-ready work to be done in development.

restored houses elmina

That said, I see 'normalcy' taking root in many places. Indeed the rise of the insurance industry can be said to be a marker in that respect. Restoration and maintenance does take place (occasionally) and must be celebrated whenever it happens. Welcome signs on the streets of Jamestown and Elmina.

Soundtrack to the note

  • Bob James - Restoration
  • Bruce Hornsby - That's just the way it is
  • Massive Attack - Inertia Creeps

Sidenote: before parenthood intervened, I used to tend to this virtual joint more often, consider this note some throat-clearing, some deferred maintenance on the blogospheric writing front. It's the World Cup season and I am bound to summon up the creative juices as in times past. Some readings from the archives: Ghana vrs USA and some Dilemmas.

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