Last year, lots of Ghanaians appear to have visited Kigali, the Rwanda capital. I assume this is so because of the number of times I got photos of the streets of Kigali from Ghanaian visitors.
The captions to the photos were always the same, why can’t we do the same in our country? Why can’t our capital city Accra be as clean and tidy, the Ghanaian visitors were asking.
I remember I got fed up and started telling everybody I did not want anybody to send me photos of the clean cities of Kigali because it was my view that Ghanaians did not really want their towns and cities to be clean.
I have just read a story that reports the Metropolitan Chief Executive (MCE) of Accra offering an interesting explanation about the reason the streets of Kigali are clean and the streets of Accra are not.
According to the Accra MCE Mohammed Adjei Sowah, “The seeming authoritarian and autocratic rule practised in the East African country makes it easy for state authorities to ensure order and absolute rule of law.
There is some level of authoritarian and dictatorship in the level of governance they have. We have taken our democracy as absolute and we are doing anything we like. That is the difference between Ghana and Rwanda.”
Well, that is one way of putting it and I suspect the Rwandan authorities would probably claim not to be happy with the MCE ’s choice of words, especially the authoritarian and dictatorship bits.
But they would be proud that their city is being cited for its cleanliness and they would most likely accept the authoritarian bits in their governance as the prize needed to be paid to get a clean city.
How about taxes?
Nobody would dream of describing the governance system in Switzerland as authoritarian or dictatorial, but the consequences of littering, or jaywalking or jumping a red light in Geneva are about the same as what you would get in Kigali.
If you drove through the red lights at the traffic lights, or put rubbish where you are not supposed to, you will get a ticket and you will pay a fine and a repeat performance might lead to losing your licence or ending in jail.
Everyone appreciates the orderly and clean towns and accepts the sanctions that come with breaking the rules.
It is not regarded as authoritarian or dictatorial.
In some other parts of the world, the police presence and ticket giving are not as prolific, but people do not generate or dispose of rubbish recklessly.
They are not better human beings than we are.
They have simply worked it out for themselves that the cleaning and tidying up of city streets and other public places cost money and this money comes from their pockets in the form of taxes.
They would much rather the municipal and town authorities didn’t have to spend a lot of money cleaning up, and save themselves from paying high taxes.
This means that the discipline is imposed not only on themselves but on neighbours and all other citizens. People feel able and indeed stop their neighbours from littering and other such practices.
If you live in a town where most people don’t pay taxes, they would not worry about the cost of cleaning the town.
A way out?
I once tried to make a young man pick up a plastic bag he dropped on the pavement opposite the offices of the Daily Graphic. Far from being ashamed at having been caught, he asked me if the pavement was my house.
In other words, he wanted to know what business it was of mine that I was objecting to him dropping plastic on the pavement.
It was simply too complicated to try to explain to him that it would take my money to clean up after him.
The money incentive only works if all of us are made to pay; then maybe we would take to policing one another just to protect our pockets.
If we are to accept the theory of the MCE of Accra about why we can’t seem to keep our towns and cities clean, and believe that we are unwilling to be subjected to any rules, then we would have to make some hard decisions about how we rank the things we consider important.
We obviously think our freedoms are very important. If we think it is more important to us as a people that we are able to sell on the streets and pavements, then we really should stop going on about our towns and cities being dirty.
Selling on the streets and a clean city; the two don’t and can’t go together; if you allow people to sell on the streets and live on the medians, you cannot hope to have a clean city.
If we think it is more important to be allowed to dispose of our rubbish recklessly rather than go to the extra trouble, then we have to accept we cannot have a clean environment, the two simply don’t go together.
Last Friday there were two horrendous motor accidents in the country and the fatalities sound as though we had a plane crash. It set me thinking about one of the bugbears I have in this country.
The roadworthy certificate regime is obviously not set up to test vehicles that might be faulty. Why would a brand new vehicle, straight from the manufacturers, need a roadworthy certificate?
It is obvious from that moment that the roadworthy certificate regime is not meant to test and find faults. It is not surprising, therefore, that the 10, 15 and 20-year-old vehicles are also routinely passed as roadworthy.
In other parts of the world, if you register a brand new car, it is only in its fifth year that it requires a roadworthy certificate. You cannot pretend to test a brand new car for roadworthiness and then imagine that you would have a different attitude when you are presented with an old car.
If we think it is tolerable for motorbikes to be allowed to ignore the traffic rules, go through the red lights, drive on the pavement and on the wrong side of the road, it does not require much more courage for bus drivers to want to overtake in bends and corners.
It makes you wonder why the President of the republic would go and make a promise to make Accra a clean city. Mind you, I am not interested and have no intention to holding him to the “cleanest city in Africa” bit.
It would be enough for me if we were able to say Accra and other cities and towns have become clean. Not when people are selling on the streets, don’t get sanctioned for breaking simple rules and regulations.
The two things just don’t go together.
Seems to me we want to eat our kelewele and still have it.
By: Elizabeth Ohene
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