How to make 300,000 lives wretched

I am currently reading a book that according to reviews has had a major impact on civil rights, anti-colonialism, and Black consciousness movements around the world. It is called “The Wretched of the Earth”, written by Frantz Fanon whose time on earth was momentary, having died at 36 in 1961. Fanon’s hot-blooded personality and no-nonsense ideological standpoint made me curious about his background, in terms of his socio-economic status. I flipped the book cover and read that he studied Medicine in France, specialising in Psychiatry. A lot might have provoked Fanon, then working in the professional sanctum of medicine, to intermit and dive into the deep, unsteady waters of politics, systematic racism, and colonialism in pre-independence Africa.

Fanon appeared like an angry activist abandoned to his radical opinions on how politics should play out on the public stage and how it could be progressively harnessed for greater reach and inclusivity. I felt the thick accent of Marxism in his forthright effusions from his extensive usage of associated terminologies and direct applications to the realities of political craft and engagement present, in his time:

The weakness of political parties lies not in their mechanical imitation of an organization which is used to handling the struggle of the proletariat within a highly industrialized capitalist society…the great mistake, the inherent flaw of most of the political parties in the underdeveloped regions has been traditionally to address first and foremost the most politically-conscious elements: the urban proletariat, the small tradesmen and the civil servants – i.e. a tiny section of the population that represents barely more than one percent.”(Fanon)

Fanon’s thinking starkly parallels recurrent headline stories in Ghana. I will cite the most recent story to illustrate my point. But before that, what does the word ‘wretched’ mean?

The Advanced English Dictionary provides five definitions and they are as follows:

  1. Of very poor quality or condition;
  2. Characterized by physical misery;
  3. Very unhappy; full of misery; suffering;
  4. Morally reprehensible;
  5. Deserving or inciting pity

These definitions altogether apply to the Ghanaian context. In government’s mid-year budget read by the Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta, there was a reiteration of the core pillars of President Akufo-Addo’s vision: macroeconomic stability, growing the productive sectors of the economy, job creation and the ‘Ghana beyond aid’ hymnal

But one of the loudest expectations of Akufo-Addo’s administration has been job creation, a demand by the many suffering, unemployed Ghanaians who gave him that definite victory in the 2016 elections – and a demand that has refused to be dimmed by the flamboyant flashlights of Free SHS. So, it was expected that his administration would respond and, accordingly, we had the Nations Builders Corps (NABCO) rushed out from the pipeline.

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NABCO is a stop-gap intervention programme targetted at graduate unemployment, with the overarching objectives of giving unemployed graduates new professional skills and experience for permanent employment in the foreseeable future. In design, NABCO addresses the core issue of why Ghana’s economy is unable to absorb the rising tide of unemployable graduates sufficiently.

With an imminent general election, a short-term fix – adorned with plenty of assumptions in respect to economic impact on individual pockets – is certainly a relief that allows the president a moment to chisel off the ‘sharp teeth’ of his political opponents.

According to government, when NABCO was launched 130,000 persons applied. This is nearly half (43.3%) of the estimated 300,000 students who graduate from our universities and Polytechnics annually. Following screenings and interviews, 100,000 (76.9%) applicants were selected – however, 10,000 (10%) of the successful applicants eventually defected from the programme.

On 17 October 2018, all the successful applicants across the country were contacted by the Administrators of NABCO to convene at the Black Star Square, Accra for a matriculation ceremony. This was an unnecessary cost to the taxpayer but politically expedient.

Those who say politics is a game of numbers are partly right. When the president said, “I have no doubt that NABCO will succeed”, he meant more than an ordinary declaration of hope and optimism for a baby he has just birthed: he was responding to the educated elite who say NABCO, his precious baby, is premature and won’t last. Crucially, he was also saying that NABCO will also be different from its accursed nemesis that plagued the Mahama administration. But here’s the thing though.

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We solve problems in ways that make our leaders look good instead of in ways which will make the country look good. We design solutions in a manner that fortifies our presence politically, entrenches the ‘big-man’ disease, centralises praise and decentralises failure. And it is in these particular ways that our political state of affairs resonates with the thinking of Fanon.

Even in recent times, some people have come to describe the country as a “a disseminator of pain” (Anyimadu, 2006), a “vampire-State” (Frimpong-Ansah, 1991), and a “fokn country” (Wanlov). Even the immediate past-President of Ghana Mr. John Dramani Mahama (2017), who gave us a toxic mix of shock, depression and a ‘dead goat’ attitude, had this to say:

Absolutely nobody thinks about the country first; we all think about ourselves first, our families second, our parties third, maybe our communities fourth – and Ghana comes a distant fifth or sixth, or even tenth.”

Nothing has been so effective at keeping Ghanaians wretched and dependent on disappointing state interventions than political corruption – to an extent that kills industry and creativity at the micro level of our society. According to the 2018 economic freedom report:

The heavy burdens of state regulation and political favouritism undermine overall competitiveness. A cumbersome bureaucracy dissuades potential entrepreneurs and impedes optimal economic performance. Corruption remains unchecked by selectively enforced reform measures.”

The report ranked Ghana’s economy 122nd out of 180 countries.  Yet we are addressing these in a piecemeal manner because we are bound by partisanship to score political points with politically-conscious elements of our society – leaving the hard, stubborn issues unresolved. It has been difficult getting out of the classroom mindset, really.

Our endeavours to always get answers right, to look good and be accepted among our peers, takes precedence over thoroughly thinking-through ideas, principles and ways to forge enduring solutions for community challenges. The thousands of Ghanaians who applied for NABCO were products of our quaint system, and the political elite endorses and enforces such a system. And that is how we keep people wretched.

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