I have been thinking of this subject since I joined the journalism wagon through the back of sports pronouncing ‘‘correctly’’ names of European teams and players some fourteen years ago.
Even though I respect and believe in what the sages say that, a prophet is never accepted in his own homeland I believe that those at home have an onerous duty of living exemplary lives worth emulating.
In 2004, I enrolled in to a six week course on Broadcast Journalism at the Ghana Institute of Journalism. Staying at West Legon, I used to pick three cars before I could make it on time to the late evening class. On my way to lectures on trotro from Haatso junction to Atomic junction, I sat by an American who only gave his name as Roger. We started conversing on the trotro following a phone call I made speaking Waale.
Immediately after the call, he quickly asked me which part of the Upper West region was I from. Being a typical Ghanaian, I replied by asking him which part of the Upper West region does he know? He said he has stayed in the region for over twenty seven years and has traversed the length and breadth of the region. He knows a lot about the region. I cringed upon hearing that, and then I told him that I am from Wa and for that a Waala. Roger told me that your region is a good region and has lots of potential for investors. Your only challenge there is the people who will pull the investors to your region. I asked whether we were our own enemies, he answered in the affirmative.
‘‘I am told although I am yet to find out which research says so, that Nandom traditional area is where you can find the most educated people in the whole of black Africa. If that research is true, why are you people poor,’’ he rhetorically asked.
He then paraphrased what late South African president, Nelson Mandela said about education as th the greatest weapon to eradicating poverty.
He continued, ‘‘the fear from those in the diaspora is that if they come home, they will be killed through what they called Africa metaphysics’’. He widened the net saying it is not only Nandom but that is the opinion held by most sons and daughters from the Dagare and Lobi speaking areas.
Turning to the Sissala land where my mother hails from precisely Walembelle, Roger told me the people there are introverts and love their animals more than their children. He said the land there is rich and fertile and most people in there can own over three hundred cattle. Instead of hiring the services of an alien herdsman, they prefer to remove their children out of school; in most cases the girl child.
At the stage I thought he had ended and unknown to me he was still having more beneath his sleeves. Wa as the name literary suggest, come; for him would have been the best to live in but the people are very proud, indisciplined, selfish, arrogant and with higher percentage of illiteracy.
I didn’t have the opportunity to rebut his claims because I had just gotten to the Ako Adjie interchange. I alighted from the trotro and walked to the Ghana Institute of Journalism.
It has been 14 years since I had that friendly banter with the American and I have been thinking about that interaction.
Two years ago, I went to the Wa regional hospital to cover a strike embarked on by the members of Ghana Medical Association. I got in touch with my ‘‘Frafra slave’’, Dr. Adoko Amiah from Manasseh Azure’s home village who also doubles as the medical superintendent of the hospital.
Immediately I asked him whether they were on strike or not. He cheekily responded by asking what is new about the strike because doctors are always on strike at the hospital. He went further saying, ‘‘ten doctors who were posted to the hospital a couple of months ago have all refused to come. We are only seven Ghanaian doctors here with the exception of the Cuban medical doctors taking care of the over six hundred and seventy thousand people in the region’’.
‘‘The most annoying thing is you receive a call from colleague medical doctors sitting somewhere in Accra telling you that my mum; dad or sister is with you kindly take care of him for me. Is it not stupid? Some people think they have the licence to enjoy city life and we should be here working to save the lives of their blood relations.
“I came back to the country from Russia after my training as a medical doctor in 1986 and I was posted to the Bolgatanga hospital. I met six doctors at the hospital; it’s been close to two decades and still the same six doctors are still there”, he continued.
Dr. Adoko told me frankly that he was ready to talk about doctors from the region who didn’t want to come home and serve the people and would decline to give me an interview if I wanted to discuss anything short of that. He showed me the list of doctors from the region and there were hundreds. I was ashamed of the numbers and I promised to come back for us to talk about it.
I never did.
There are several reasons given by these doctors for turning their back to the people who have delivered, fed and schooled them from the sale of their animals and farm produce. Most of them, especially the young ones, claim that they are new in the profession and need to go through some specialist courses before they can come. It’s being ages and they are still specialising I guess.
Statistics from the 2010 population and housing census has it that more than half of the population of the upper west region are outside the region. Majority of these people are in the Brong Ahafo region. Some few years ago the chief director of the Brong Ahafo regional coordinating council and all decentralised departments in the region were from the Upper West region. Only God knows the number of teachers who are there and education back home is on the decline.
I once had a chat with former Upper West Regional Minister, Ambrose Dery, who later became deputy minority leader on the Nkronza North bye-election. They were to find a replacement for incarcerated Member of Parliament, Eric Amoateng over his cocaine scandal in the United States of America.
Ambrose Dery told me that he found campaigns both the NDC and the NPP conducted at the constituency as stupid and un-brainy. Why? Over seventy percent of the voters were from the upper west region.
‘‘What prevented them from choosing Upper Westerners for both political parties to contest,’’ he lamented.
This brought us to the saying that if you fail to vote the fool will rule but in this case if you fail to choose your own you will be ruled by an outsider.
The other argument put up by the doctors and other technocrats from the region is the dependency rate by family members. I remember in an interview with the then regional director of the Ghana Health Service, Dr. Alexis Nangbeifubah during my days at Radio Progress, he vented his frustrations on the number of phone calls and radio announcements that asked for his presence at a funeral.
‘‘When I was in the Upper East region, I was not doing that, I can’t be attending every funeral,’’ he fumed.
Furthermore, they are hijacked by family members to pay their wards’ school fees and the upkeep of the family on daily basis.
Worst of all, and most ridiculous among the flimsy excuses given, is the use of Africa metaphysics to kill them. As highly educated as they are, they still believe that there is still an old man somewhere pulling the strings to kill them and if he or she comes home, he will die.
I have been battling it out with a senior friend of mine who works at the birth and death registry. He was transferred from Jirapa to Wa some few years ago. Apart from the twenty ducks that he had, he came to Wa with nothing. Thieves started visiting his house after the ducks. A couple were stolen.
Few days later, he had a swollen leg and I visited his house with a senior colleague of mine, Syedu Bomanjo to greet him. He told us that, somebody from his village was trying to kill him. I asked of the wrong he had committed being a poor man due for retirement in a couple of years’ time. He laughed and told us that it is because of the ducks. We both burst into an uncontrollable laughter. He said Rafiq, ‘‘it is not a laughing matter, whatever you have, people are envious of you. That is the reason why I won’t go home again”.
I asked him if he fears death. He swore he doesn’t but its unpredictability is what he fears.
Can we run away from them? Isn’t it balderdash to think that you are an island in a community like ours where everybody is the other’s keeper? We live in a community that hardly people even know our real fathers because of how close our fathers are. For all you know it was your uncles goat, pig or millet that they sold to enable to go to school. The greatest challenge the people are facing is poverty, ignorance and disease. The responsibility now lies in you to pay back to society.
Renowned surgeon and former Dean of the University for Development’s School of Medical Health Science, Sir Dr. Edward Mwinlayouri Gyader worked at the regional hospital for close three decades. He came from Padua in Italy at a time that the region was not connected to the national grid and was using torchlight to operate on patients. He could have stayed there till date but he opted to come home. He joined politics somewhere along the line and attempted to go to parliament. But the people said no.
“You can help us better at the hospital than in parliament,” one of his critics, former regional propaganda secretary of the NDC, Alhaji Blackie argued at a political platform.
He also had family members and friends. He didn’t turn his back on them. He listened to the people and he was not killed by any Africa, metaphysics. He is still alive and kicking.
My bite on this issue is that we must be responsible to our people. During the hard times, they didn’t turn their backs on us and we must not fail them. They invested a lot in us to grow our teeth and we must also pay back and look after them till they are toothless. They are the reasons why we are existing. We can study and work to have all the titles, but if we fail to help them out of the woods, they will remain a scar on our legs. A word to the wise is in the north.
The writer, Rafiq Salam, is a broadcast journalist with Joy 99.7FM. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org