Last Saturday I decided to cover the National Sanitation Day exercise in Sekondi – Takoradi Metropolitan Assemby (STMA), an example of one of the few instances when I have had to run away from commenting on a national issue – whether gay marriage is coming, or it is not coming. Even the fact that I am saying I don’t want to be part of that conversation, can, in itself, generate problems for me. So I have adopted a convenient approach; I have decided not to understand the issues around same sex relationships– or is that one too a problem?
Anyway, the Sekondi – Takoradi sanitation exercise, which started at about 7am, took place at the market circle, Bank of Ghana, and AJIP round about, with the army, and the STMA city guards undertaking the cleaning.
Unfortunately the general public was not involved. The low patronage of the exercise was so loud, that I wondered where all the millions of cedis, and all the funfair that greeted the 2012 inauguration of the Sanitation Day, had gone to.
As I made a few stops at the market circle, towards the Bank of Ghana area, the Glawa men kept congregating around my car, hoping to convince me, to change some foreign currencies with them; they behaved as though they were not aware that there was any sanitation exercise ongoing – although the exercise was taking place right at their noses.
The market women began to arrive at their shops at about 9.30am, just in time before the end of the cleaning exercise, and as they arrived, they waited in front of their shops, looking on as the army cleaned the gutters.
Immediately the exercise was over, all the market women opened their shops at once and customers began to come in, with many traders parading their wares right on the closed gutters exactly the location where the army had cleansed a while ago. The liters began to fly back into the gutters, the streets started to see rubbish sweeping itself back onto the open, as though no cleaning exercise had taken place.
One man nearly punched my nose when I confronted him for throwing empty pure water sachet into the gutter and he had another person supporting him against me – it took a woman to challenge him into silence, and to draw his attention to the clean up exercise that had just taken place.
So yes, the sanitation exercise took place, but the rubbish went back into the gutters and on the streets a few moments later and the work done came back to zero. I am told that the exercise would be repeated in three weeks, and our way of doing things will resurface, gathering the rubbish out and throwing them back into the gutters from where they were gathered, month after month, do you get me at all?
Last week the President, Nana Akufo-Addo, launched a National Sanitation Campaign, similar to the National Sanitation Day program that the former President, John Mahama, launched somewhere in 2012. The government-launched campaign is also similar to the Town Council sanitation officers’ (popularly called Tankase Officers) of the late 1950s, and almost the same as the one that was launched by Stephen Asamoah Boateng, in the mid 2000s, when he was the Local Government Minister – the sanitation program that failed, just like the one that failed previously, similar to the one that might fail, do you get it now?
Since 2014, the country has spent millions of cedis going round the country, from one regional capital to the other, carrying out what was later referred loosely as a Political Sanitation Days with all the fanfares that came with the events. We got Zoomlion to procure several hundreds of thousands of dustbins including the ones which, we are told, were never supplied, but which we paid for in full, do you remember that one?
Sadly the story has not changed after the many sanitation investments in the country. We still have choked gutters. We still have polluted beaches. We still have plastic bags disposed in the open.
I did another visit, just to satisfy my curiosity, to assess the sanitation situation on the beaches of Winneba and Senya. In both towns, I saw open defecation on display. Men and women, children and adults, squatting, side-by-side, some on rocks, others in deserted holes, all producing fecal matters onto our beaches with the sea waves occasionally evacuating them into the sea, to exactly the spots where men and children swim, bathing in the sea water that has been mixed with the toilet they produced a while ago – do you see where cholera began?
I spoke with an elderly man who had just completed his fecal mission, to find out why he had to walk six hundred meters to do what he did at the beach in such a hot afternoon. His answer was predicted; the government has failed to provide a toilet facility in his area and that is why he had to walk all the way to the beach.
This is a man who recently put up his own house with twelve bedrooms but did not include any toilet facility when he was putting up the house – a classic case of a lack of law enforcement, right? Whoever failed, in his duty to have ensured that this man included toilet facilities in his building, is still collecting his salary, and is still being seen as a noble man, while the integrity of our beaches are destroyed – mbo!
In a conversation with some of the users of the beach as destination for open defecation, they seem to admit that the practice was wrong although the same was done by their grandparents, except that there are no options and there are no consequences for the abuse of the beach. We have, within the National Youth Employment Program, a module called Youth in Coastal Sanitation (is that right?), yet our beaches are as filthy as they have been since we began to dance in circles.
The National Sanitation Day, Sanitation Taskforce, Tankase, and so on, are all phrases of pain; they get us no results; they are all tokenistic projects, cycled and recycled, to give us a semblance of hope that the situation shall improve – they produce nothing! These programs did not work yesterday, they are not working today, and I don’t see them succeeding any time soon – all these fun-filled launching and re-launching of sanitation programs that have been done and continue to be done, are a waste of our money; the people are not interested in owning it, can’t you see?
We need innovation, to solve the problem. On my way to Rwanda a couple of years ago, it was part of the landing announcements, that, rubber bags are not allowed in Kigali. I am not comparing us to Sweden. I am not comparing us to Brussels. I am not comparing us to Geneva. I am comparing Ghana with a genocide affected country that had emerged from war. Kigali is beautiful, not because of high rise buildings. Kigali is beautiful because there is a collective resolve, backed by concrete leadership, to rid the city of filth.
If we want to succeed, like Rwanda has done, we will need to deploy sanitation programs back with ruthless consequences for violations, a program that comes with strong political will and are owned by the communities devoid of partisan recruitment with community determination to provide vanguard for its sustainability.
In the past, cultural taboos and our traditional institutions were the centers of fear into obeying environmental laws. If these taboos were still respectable, they would have continued with us into self-regulation as done by our forefathers to maintain the environment.
But we have lost the fear of the gods. When we became Christians we destroyed them without looking at the rationale for their existence. In place of the gods, we brought something we call Sanitation Police, a taskforce which, unfortunately…
Anyway, in the absence of the cultural route to law enforcement, we will need to decentralize decisions around who becomes responsible for the sanitation situation in our districts. Let us invest all the several millions of cedis we are paying for sanitation days, into open and fairly selected private sanitation companies, paying them premium, and tasking them to ensure that every corner of the district is clean, giving them the power to enforce prosecution of those who mess up the environment. At the same time give the citizens a role to play, as in making sure that they hold those sanitation companies to account and if they fail, empower the citizens to be able to take them to court with consequences – therein lies the solution to our problems, with both of us, sanitation companies and citizens, holding each other to account – collectively and variously.
From James Kofi Annan