Can you imagine with Ben ACKAH-MENSAH: The business in death


My choice of subject for the beginning of a new year – ‘The Business in Death’ – may sound spooky for those who are yet to experience its effects, but please bear in mind that death has no specific timelines. Many have suffered its icy grip during the festivities, and the cycle will continue until same time next year – and others until eternity.

As I write this piece on Tuesday, January 10, 2023 at 08:46 GMT, a very hazy and dusty harmattan morning, I have just had a call that the mother of a friend, Oliver, had kicked the bucket – is dead. I lost my dear niece on December 23, 2022 just before Christmas. I lost my dear mum earlier in the year 2022 on January 27. Some friends and acquaintances have also passed-on to glory, as they say, and I am sure all readers have had similar experiences with death, as it were. It’s a fact of life … and who is the regulator of this eerie business?

So, can you imagine that death (from time to time in this article I will refer to it as ‘Honourable’) also has its own business models?

To the bereaved it is an expensive venture, but to those in the death value chain – sorry, to those rather in the sorrowful business chain – it is a very lucrative venture, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on which side you stand.

To begin with, let us look at it from the bereaved angle; and I would like to tackle the narrative from the pre-death circumstances. If ‘Honourable’ visits as the result of an illness and the deceased was in hospital or elsewhere seeking to fight him, the ‘wahalas’ are different.

Imagine, just imagine your loved one struggling with ill-health of any form and you have to transport him or her to hospital. That is when the offshoot of the death-business triggers in. If you do not have your own vehicle to convey the sick to a hospital, most hired vehicles want to rake in extra profit – unless the driver is a human being. You know very well their tricks of deceit or their business survival instincts; in order to milk you in a looming death situation and judging from your panic level – i.e., panic indicators – they pretend as if the sick person is ‘filth’ and that if they must help you then you should pay a little extra; business (demand and supply). At this point you have no option than to fork out the money; the first chain in the looming death-business.

Consider the next scenario: to get through to the Ghana Ambulance Service or a private ambulance service is one palaver, for them to arrive on time is another; and reportedly, the demand to pay before delivery is the most worrying nuisance – business; money is the deciding factor. Stories abound that some ambulance drivers will not cooperate unless they see money, and these have resulted in some unfortunate deaths.

The other option is that you may have your own vehicle but the ultimate destination is the hospital, where most deaths occur. This is where the business moves to the next chain.

Thus, still on the side of how expensive the business of death may be for the bereaved, some hospitals are dreaded for their level of emotional signatures. Some health workers, simply do not care if you arrive there in a hot chase from ‘Honourable’ or not; they must make money first. At this point in the chain, the would-be bereaved probably might have called for some funds from their own sources or from family and friends or from lenders… who are also seeking to benefit from the looming death-business.

Then, like a bolt of thunder, the consequent expenses start raining in. Payment for the preparation of a hospital file for a man being hounded by ‘Honourable’; ‘payment’ to secure a bed for ‘Honourable’s victim; payment for intravenous drips and other first-aid medications, and tips for taking good care of a person already dancing with ‘Honourable’ in paradise etc.

Some well-known hospitals have become synonymous with death. The mere mention of their names brings a shudder to the sick and weary, to the souls of the would-be bereaved. Some officials there ask for four pints of blood and only use one, and then sell the rest to other patients. They ask you to procure a certain number of intravenous drips, only to use less of them and sell the rest. The searchlight is on them and their stories wll be exposed in due course. Such are the initial ‘wahalas’ associated death.

But then again, the most harrowing scenario is the ‘animal’ called DOA (Death on Arrival). This situation is rife with corruption, bribery, forgery, bigotry, necromancy, pomposity on the part of some medical and police officers etc. This is where a person dies at home and has to be deposited in a mortuary. The natural course when a person goes off at home, or in the office or elsewhere other than a medical facility, is to take him or her to a hospital for an examination to determine death or otherwise. In an instance of death upon arrival at the hospital, a police report will be required before the body is attended to. This is where the business is. It is alleged by some bereaved persons that monies are extorted by police officers and medical officers for them to be given the required certification.

Then the second strata sets in: “Spiiiirit of the liiiiving God, falllll afresh on me….” Family and friends will sacrifice jobs, businesses, time and other engagements to visit and gather around the sick on ‘Honourable’s well-laid bed and sing solemn hymns, songs that elate ‘Honourable’ and further dampens the very spirit of the sick. In all these melees the sick person is gradually drifting to death, yet the expenses are soaring – buy this drug, do this test, bring x-pints of blood etc. The would-be bereaved is counting the cost while praying to God to save the dying – probably not for the sick person’s longevity but because the business is getting expensive. The worst is yet to happen, though.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the main business in death – with arms clasped and in sweaty exasperation, players in the revenue or profiteering game are also praying to the god of ‘Honourable’ for a bumper harvest. The grave-diggers, coffin-makers, the coffin-dancers, the pallbearers, the undertakers, the mortuary men, the dirge singers; the canopy, chair, table and music providers are all agog for what will be in it for them, for they have families and responsibilities to take care of (that is their choice of business too). The food and alcohol providers and eaters and the extended family members will be waiting patiently for the news, too.

Suddenly, “What a Shock! Gone too Soon! Call to Glory! Home Call! Eternal Rest” – and the most interesting one I have ever seen, “At Long Last”, become the headlines. ‘Honourable’ has won the concensus for life to discontinue and the business in death to continue.

To the bereaved, this is where the real expenses begin – and to those in the value chain of death, this is where profiteering becomes sweet. For the latter, they become very commiserative, endearing, sympathetic and timely – not so for the bereaved, but to ensure that their monies are adequate and prompt. They come in handy at the time of bereavement though; but consider the outgoing expenses on the part of the bereaved and the incoming revenue for those in the death-business chain.

A run through the sequence from death (even forgetting about pre-death costs) to burial and post-burial expenses will throw more light on how lucrative this industry is and why it is becoming attractive to more business people – among them some prominent Ghanaians. After death comes preservation before funeral rites before burial, and these people are making fortunes off the dead – but who regulates them?

Most Reverend Charles Gabriel Palmer-Buckle, Metropolitan Archbishop of Cape Coast, advised Ghanaians in recent years to reflect on how funerals are conducted in the country; and where and when possible, not to keep the bodies of deceased family members too long in morgues just to find enough money to conduct elaborate funerals. To those who can, it is manageable; but for some others, it becomes an unnecessary burden to carry.

I’m off to another funeral next week. Can you imagine?

The writer is a publicist and a development & corporate communications specialist. He is also an environmental advocate: [email protected]

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