Monday, March 28, 2016

Broken Record

The rainy season is so-named because it comes every year, hence one would expect that the authorities would plan for it, but this was the scene on the front page of the Daily Graphic in 1960 when the rains came to Accra with the resulting floods. The headlines 56 years later will likely be the same even with last year's disaster relatively fresh in our minds.

when the rains came to accra april 18 1960

The satirists have already laid their bets: Accra mayor begins ritual of dusting off his annual 'flood speech' as rains set in. Of course the collateral damage has already been felt this year. One prays this year's death toll will be minimized.

Now I hear you: it's complicated. Flood management is difficult even if you're not in the Third World (and you don't have to go the extreme of mentioning Katrina and Sandy and other extraordinary acts of nature to make the point). Flash floods do happen. And yes, you can't simply throw out all the people who have encroached and built on the areas that are ostensibly meant for drains. You need to find a sustainable solution. Oh sure, after every disaster, the bulldozers appear and the Accra Metropolitan Authority workers along with the police knock down the kiosks and other dwellings that have sprung up upending home and livelihood for the unfortunate. And sometimes it is just a matter of excessive garbage, blocked drains and/or the negligence of those who got the juicy contract to maintain the same. Or... I know, I know: everything is local. And anyway why worry about such things from a remove of 6,479 miles?

My mother has accumulated dozens of newspaper columns on this very topic over her 50 year career. And as evidenced by the 1960 front pages, the headlines were writing themselves long before she started. It's a matter of meteorology (it always rains heavily), geography (Kwame Nkrumah circle was always a flash point; the location of the rivers and lagoons in the city), physics and architecture (the design, placement and configuration of streets, houses, roads and drains), engineering (how well those roads and drains were constructed, whether corners were cut after the no-bid contract was awarded, whether proper materials were used) and ultimately slum politics (the perennial tension between the drainage of the Korle lagoon and the growth of the nearby slums full of voters - whether you call one of those touchpoints Agblobloshie, Old Fadama or Sodom and Gomorrah features into the lens through which one views this intractable issue).

But there is a difference between an act of god and an eminently predictable seasonal occurrence. We'll bemoan the lack of a maintenance culture, pay emergency rates for things that ought to be run-of-the mill repairs. Before and after the fact, everyone "knows" what needs to be done. At what point does damage move from collateral to intended? We cheapen Ghanaian lives and compensate with congratulatory funerals while patting ourselves on the back about our unique culture. I dissent. The refrain I've grown up with is that history should not keep repeating itself. And yet we keep sounding like a broken record when the rains come to Accra.

And for bonus points note the other headline on the 1960 front page: "Fast Train Services Planned". We're still waiting for Godot on that front. It's not as if the plans haven't been there as far as the development of Accra goes. Through each era, under each government, no matter how progressive, incompetent (as currently) or indeed how repressive (as thankfully in our past), the plans have always been there. Sisyphus must have been the patron saint of urban planners in Accra.

A lamentable soundtrack for this note

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Ghanaian Fictions

"Bank of Ghana maintains policy rate at 26%". The good news? "Inflation rate declined to 18.5% in February". Let's sing the inflation calypso.

If you're a retiree or living on fixed income, 18.5 percent inflation must be doing wonders to your oh-so-substantial pension. #Ghana

What kind of rate does a businesswoman get from a bank when the prime rate is 26 percent? And how do you service that loan? #Ghana

It's not as if government services are exactly stellar, not as if water and electricity are reliable, not as if... arghh I give up #Ghana

Economic fictions, electoral fictions, fictitious employees doing fictitious jobs, fictitious politicians making fictitious claims... #Ghana

How does one anesthetize oneself from fictitious realities? One answer, per Gifford, is "Ghana's New Christianity". Other growth industries?

Perhaps the reason our literary fictions have been slow in gestating is that we have a surfeit of fictions in our daily life. #Ghana

Ghana seems to be in a state of fiction - we must have all agreed to the author's premises. Suspension of disbelief is our coping mechanism.

"To understand what a mafia state is, we need to imagine a state run by, and resembling, organized crime" #Ghana?

If amnesia and nostalgia are preferred US coping mechanisms, Kwesi Brew dryly noted Ghana's Philosophy of Survival

helen takes on extra staff

Soundtrack for this note

Nancy Wilson - Easy Living
I prefer the version on her masterpiece: But Beautiful. It must be easy to live in Ghana, such beautiful fictions.

Sidenote: I've been cheating a bit these days imparting my toli in tweets. Like all writing mediums, the constraints of the very short form can be liberating. Still I will try to collect the occasional bite-sized nuggets here.

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Monday, March 14, 2016

Mango Madness

It strikes me that we don't talk enough about George W. Bush. He remains an erasure even as we all reap the fruits of his legacy.

The signal foreign policy achievement of the Bush administration was allowing the importation of mangoes from India.

Ghanaians will point fondly to the George W. Bush highway (fruit of the Millenium Challenge Accounts). As for the rest of Bush's legacy?

Recall that in 2005, the editors at CNN and Time magazine declared Bush the "fourth most fascinating person of the last quarter-century"

The headline on July 3rd 2007 read "Bush Commutes Libby Sentence, Saying 30 Months 'Is Excessive'" but it was the small things that rankled.

There were so many "last straws" under George W. Bush that I suppose this Great Recession (or Lesser Depression) remains an afterthought.

Gil Scott-Heron's band used to be called the Amnesia Express, proof of how keenly attuned he was to that deep vein of the American zeitgeist

The defense mechanism to George W. Bush's tenure has been amnesia and nostalgia. I had rather expected tissue rejection. The USA confounds.

Incidentally Indian mangoes have faced stiff competition from Latin American mangoes in the US due to transport costs. A race to the bottom.

George W. Bush has indeed proven to be a hard act to follow. Discuss this paradox among yourselves.

An elephant which is lean is still fatter than a cow. Ga proverb, Ghana.

Let's celebrate George W. Bush's brand of mango madness. Soundtrack: Mango Meat by Mandrill.

Alternatively: Legend In His Own Mind by Gil Scott-Heron

Mangoes in Auntie Akwele's Garden
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