Gone are the days when the rank and file accepted leadership even if it flouted its own rules with impunity. They were leaders and the rest of us accorded them respect – some earned and some unearned.
Today’s African has found an antidote to this “bigmanism” that helps him to sleep at night because he doesn’t have to be angry all the time – he just flouts every rule he can find in a dangerous equalization state of mind.
When we were growing up, especially on the campuses of UST now KNUST in Kumai, the rules were simple. You attended school through the university, you found a job, played by the rules, and with some hard work and some divine luck, you got some breakthroughs to set you on track to achieve your life’s dreams.
Today a guy gets out of school today and wants to be a millionaire tomorrow. And while back then how a person made his money mattered just as much as how much he made, today it is completely an end-justifies-the-means society. Who cares how you make money so long as you have it, right?
Along with this mentality came rule breaking as a way of life. Whether it’s traffic rules, simple queuing, or even showing up for work on time, respect for order continues to sustain injuries in the African society.
But in Ghana something may have set us on track to this point though. It came in the late 1970s and the early 1980s.
But let me reach farther back to the Nkrumah era. Say what you may about Kwame Nkrumah’s dictatorial leadership, but what you can’t say is that he embezzled the nation’s money.
That public accountability or a semblance of it would continue through the Afrifa/Kotoka/Ankrah era, through the Busia administration, until we got to the Acheampong/Akuffo era.
Youngsters today may not know about “Fawotobegye Golf” whereby Head of State Colonel Ignus Kutu Acheampong was allegedly lining up women and giving them Volkswagen Golf cars in return.
We may not have evidence of wanton embezzlement but corruption as we know it today can find its roots from that administration. Not to be outdone, market women intentionally horded essential provisions to create artificial shortages within the market so that they can turn around and sell them at exorbitant prices.
After the palace coup d’etat that brought in General Akuffo in 1978, Ghanaians waived off their announced timetable to democratic rule as their escape plan to retire and enjoy their perceived loot of the nation’s coffers.
The distrust of the Supreme Military Council (SMC) was so deep within the Ghanaian psyche that when a frail-looking Flight Lt Jerry John Rawlings attempted his coup and was captured and jailed, he was given the hero status.
Thus you can imagine the jubilation on the streets when Captain Boakye Gyan succeeded in his follow-up coup a couple of weeks later on June 4, 1979 and released Rawlings to lead the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council.
University students chanted “let the blood flow,” and the AFRC listened and (without due process of the law) executed several leaders of the SMC along with General Kwasi Afrifa who was “sitting his somewhere” at the time and had nothing to do with the SMC.
That era ushered in a national attack on affluence. If you were rich, you were deemed guilty until proven innocent meaning rich people had the burden of proof that they did not become rich through foul or corrupt means.
That sustained anti-affluence campaign inadvertently ushered in creeping beliefs among all the “struggling men” that they had nothing to be ashamed of because all these rich folks were breaking the rules to get rich.
That is when we began to see behaviors like the dismissal by young people – the type that have become common place today especially among trotro drivers. They break all kinds of traffic rules and when you complain you get that wave (Oh sooho – to wit geraarahi – or get out of here).
Back to the timeline, the AFRC would honor the timetable towards democracy, hastily organize an election, and hand over power to Dr. Hilla Limann in 1979 after just three months in office.
But the seed had been sowed.
If you have seen a driver obediently towing the queue in traffic but decides to also jump onto shoulder driving because others were getting away with it, that is what happened on a large scale.
The so-called big men are intoxicated by their penchant to break the same rules that they make for others to follow. One can deduce that it adversely impacts their moral authority to rein in members of the rank and fie when they do same.
As a resul, the African society has begun to experience rule-flouting galore. And today’s young democracies on the continent are not helping matters. Public protests as a right continue to be employed for utterly unreasonable reasons.
In Ghana taxi drivers in Kumasi organized a boycott of the 2008 elections, which reduced the New Patriotic Party’s votes in its stronghold leading to an eventual defeat at the presidential level.
Recognition of this fact has now tamed subsequent governments when it comes to being too tough on citizens. Citizens are now openly blackmailing administrations with their vote.
A group of street hawkers somewhere in the Accra area threatened to vote against the government if it repaired the main thoroughfare. The bad road slows down traffic and allows them to sell their wares.
In the Madina area in Accra, the people rioted violently because the new NPP government had not completed the footbridge started by the previous administration. They consequently blamed a vehicle/pedestrian accident on the government because they were being forced to cross the road without any protection.
Less than two weeks later the government gave the residents what they wanted and completed the footbridge. Today no one uses the footbridge out of laziness. They still cross the road even when the traffic light is green for automobiles.
In Lagos, Okada operators, knowing fully well that the law forbids them from plying the expressways did so anyway. And when the SWAT team arrived to arrest them, they called their friends over to protest and burn tires on the expressway blocking traffic for hours.
Nigerian youth made the global headlines with their EndSARS movement. Yet after the government disbanded SARS and formed a new unit, they continued to protest by shifting their focus to police brutality. Why didn’t they begin with a campaign against police brutality to begin with?
The environmentally friendly country has banned public smoking for health reasons. Yet according to DNT correspondent, even the police officers openly smoke in public.
Strict law against logging that bans Gambians from cutting down any tree without approval is openly flouted, and the government officials are the biggest offenders.
ECOWAS citizens by law are free to enter any member country so long as they have either their passport or an ECOWAS identification card. Yet ECOWAS citizens are forced to pay fees at entry points in The Gambia.
A clash between members of the public who wanted to venture out into the streets to celebrate the country’s independence at a time when COVID restrictions were in place resulted in several arrests and even fatalities.
DNT correspondent in Dakar was laughed at when he submitted a report of people urinating openly on the street and dumping trash on public streets despite laws against them.
But in his defense, he personally witnessed an instance where a law officer forced a nicely dressed lady to pick up the plastic bag that she had dropped on the street, escorted her to a nearby dust bin to dispose of it.
In most of these instances of the public disobeying the law, you find that the people simply emulate the so-called big men to break the rules and dare the authorities to control them.
African governments must have a plan. The African Union must have a plan. The continent cannot continue on the current path of lawlessness.
We may begin with beefing up policing in all the countries, but then set up comprehensive oversights over the police itself.
More importantly, those in power positions must, as a matter of urgency, desist from abusing their power. In this social media era and cameras on ever phone, people in authority cannot get away with abusing their power for long.
It is only when one is clean that one can clean another. You cannot wash dirty clothes with dirty water and expect them to be clean. It begins with considerable introspection from those in authority. Once they clean their ways, it would make it morally easy to clean the system over which they govern because the people will respond positively when they see a repented leadership.