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“How is Accra?”
From: Johnny Blukoo-Allotey          Published On: March 26, 2013, 11:43 GMT
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“How is Accra?”

Hawkers in Accra

This simple innocuous question, a Whatsapp message I got from a friend from Nairobi on 20/2/13, a few days after the 20% fuel price hike, got the following response from me; “Terrible. No lights, no water, fuel price hikes, its hot and crazy!” In jest she assured me that in Kenya they had both electricity and water aplenty.

Following from this, our chat was a litany of the woes which have beset living in Accra. I did not even tell her that gas was also in short supply and that its’ price had been increased by 50%! She thought I was being “awful”. Having been to Accra before and having experienced our power outages, she was mortified at my lamentations regarding the water problem in Accra. That was new to her. That well intended, seemingly harmless greeting which evoked in me, pain, anger, frustration and helplessness and the frustrated subsequent conversation that ensued has been reverberating in my ears and forms the basis for this complaint.

On the matter of water will I begin this monologue. I live at East Airport aka Martey Tsuru, Accra off the Spintex Road. Progressively for the past three years, “common” water has become scarcer and scarcer in this area. From flowing regularly between 2006 and 2008, it started flowing only at dawn, then became a trickle, which meant that one had to wake up at 4.00a.m to fill 5 yellow ex-cooking oil plastic containers derisively and perhaps deservedly christened “Kufuor/Atta Mills gallons”. At first it took some effort to wake up but after some time my body clock adjusted and still asleep at 4.30a.m I’d become programmed to hear the taps trickling. I told a couple of friends that my neighbourhood was becoming like Adenta in terms of water supplied us. We must have now surpassed Adenta’s negative claim to fame. Hurrah! In the past six months the number of times water has run through our taps will not exceed thirty. My collection of loathsome yellow containers has gone up to ten. Yet Ghana Water Company (GWC) still brings us bills whilst its information vans ironically, aggressively and unashamedly threaten to disconnect residents with bill arrears. Strangely when GWC announced its water rationing schedule recently, we had a good spell for a couple of days. The water rationing exercise, supposed to limit water supplied to us, was now bringing us water! That jubilation was short lived. Since that lucky patch in January not a drop has come though our taps. Residents of neighborhoods that have running water once or twice a week jubilate at their ‘luck’. We must have water all the time! It’s basic to survival. Whole households go in search of water from dawn; a process that takes hours. People walk miles in the sun with containers on their heads. It’s taxing, unfair and cruel. Kids come home from school and instead of learning they have to trudge out in search of water. Tired mothers now have to wake up at 3.30a.m to queue for and ferry heavy containers of water home on their heads. They do this at least twice a day. They are tired! Their bodies and backs are constantly aching from this. It’s unfair. No water means poor sanitation. Poor sanitation means illness, including cholera and typhoid. As we are all aware, cholera means death.

Our over-pampered leaders, politicians and technocrats, paid on our taxes, are responsible for bringing water to us thorough our taps. They live in state-owned houses for free. They pay neither rent, nor charges for electricity, water, refuse collection or installed telephones. They live large at our expense. They have “connections” within our government machinery and bureaucracy so when there is a shortage they have water supplied to them by government owned water tankers for free. One phone call from these vampires intent on sucking every drop of blood from us: and you have government-owned water tankers scurrying to please them. They have huge water tanks and water pumps installed for them in the houses we let them live in for free and so our “honorable big men” do not feel the pinch. The water they use is not only free, but also, when there is a shortage they don’t feel the pinch as it is supplied to them for free. Meanwhile we who pay suffer and have to buy fetid water from water tankers at a premium. Now it’s GH₵150.00 for 1000 gallons of water of doubtful quality.

We must rise and call for an end to this nonsense. Ghana must be the only country whose citizens accept such nonsense. No demonstrations, no leaflets, no graffiti, no banners expressing dissatisfaction, no concerted call from civil society, the CJA and the suffering population on GWC, the ministry and government to redress this matter. “Fa ma Nyame” our weak mantra which endorses turning the other cheek must be discarded. We must resolutely and unwaveringly demand answers to this from our fat-cat plutocrats! This is not incitement; it is a call for accountability.

Electricity: Electricity supply in Accra is characterized by low voltage, fluctuating voltages, sudden, erratic and frequent unannounced blackouts. Sometimes the power trips five times in an hour. The damage and loss of electrical gadgets, office equipment and machinery, domestic appliances, industrial equipment and the damage caused to electrical setups in homes, shops, industries and offices is incalculable. Households lose food stored in fridges. Those who lose their equipment and business through the negligence/failure of our electricity providers have no chance of recompense. Houses, shops, markets, office buildings and factories are suddenly burnt down and while empirically traceable to our utility providers, we hurriedly and without investigation dismiss them as “electrical faults”: no further questions asked. Last month erratic power supply fried two power stabilisers in our office. Cost to replace them: GH₵1500.00. An unbudgeted for expense and quite likely to recur given the fact that our electricity supply problem seems to have no end in sight. Households, shops, offices and industries have to buy generators to back up unreliable power supply. The cost of running these generators is prohibitive. Let’s face it Ramboesque, gung-ho visits by the President accompanied by gangs of ministers, power company capos and hordes of clueless, hapless journalists to power installations with fanfare, and ending with verbal assurances of time lines in which the power problem will be remedied will not solve the problem.

While we suffer from erratic power supply and power surges, what do our luxuriated overfed politicians, appointees, political elite and political hangers-on and technocrats do? They do not feel what you go through since they have silent automatic 30+Kva generators installed, fuelled and maintained for them free by the State. The state installs, fuels and maintains hundreds of these expensive machines for them. At $20,000 to $30,000 for some of these generators, plus the huge diesel bills that accompany their use, the drain on our coffers is “gargantuan”. These generators (plants as they are known) are the V8’s of the generator kingdom, overweight, thirsty and expensive to run. Status symbols... Once electricity supply is cut, their ‘plants’ come on automatically. Unlike you and me their food doesn’t go bad in the fridge. So while our suffering masses are unable to sleep because it’s sweltering, they shut their windows to the heat, dust and noise, turn on air-conditioners (of course supplied free by the State!) and sleep in peace. Often when they leave office they steal these generators under the guise of “retirement/benefits package”. So a generator with a few hundred hours on its log is lost by the state. Thievery! Why don’t they sleep in the heat just like us? Even if we must buy them generators, (which I do not subscribe to) must they be these monsters. Won’t the small 5Kva ones give them lights and power their fans and fridges? Must we continue to bear such a burden? We must immediately task our politicians and technocrats to solve the electricity problem plaguing our country. Civil society, students, organized labour, professional groupings like the Ghana Bar Association, the Institute of Engineers, the Ghana Medical Association, think tanks and other identifiable groups, etc should demand answers to this problem. We must protest against this nonsense. Banners and posters must go up and letters go out demanding concrete steps being taken and a timeframe for the resolution of this crisis. Regular supply of electricity must be a basic right in the 21st century, at least in ‘Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana’!

LPG or “Gas” is a prerequisite for any kitchen to function. Why don’t we have this most basic household need? Even at its current relatively high price, it’s still in short supply. Here too we must task our cormorant politicians, our snotty blood sucking political elite and their thieving colluding technocrat allies to immediately answer this simple question. Caterers and households have gone back to charcoal as a fuel for cooking. It’s sad. Meanwhile the above mentioned shameless groups make a few calls and state owned vehicles take their cylinders to be filled for them. Even this small cost is passed on to the State! Vampires! Yes they are our elite!! We must hold them accountable. They’ve lived off us like leeches for too long, ravenously sucking our blood. They must provide a lasting solution to this problem now. Attending conferences and seminars and going to rather frequent committee meetings at which our technocrats are given sitting allowances ranging from GH₵300 to GH₵1000 from state resources will not solve the problems confronting us.

Dear Ghanaian, we must immediately demand answers to these crucial matters from our leaders, political hangers on and technocrats. They cannot insulate themselves from our suffering whilst they live like kings. They are there to meet the needs of Ghanaians and we must ensure that they do just that. If we keep on with this “Fa ma Nyame” or “Give it to God” attitude, it will cost us dearly. One day our belligerent neighbours Cote d’I voire, knowing our penchant for meekness, our strange state endorsed reliance on prayer to solve our niggling empirical problems, our acceptance that when being bullied we should turn the other cheek and our silly embrace for “peace” in spite of the injustice we are suffering will attack our oilfields and claim it as theirs. Will we say Fa ma Nyame?

Johnny Blukoo-Allotey
Accra, Ghana

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