In his last TV show for 2010, ace comedian and entertainment impresario, Kwaku Sintim-Misa, apologized to patrons who had paid for regular or VIP seats for his December 25th show but ended up standing in the aisles of the filled-to-capacity auditorium of the National Theater in Accra. It was a decent thing to do, especially since he conceded that some unscrupulous staff of his had taken money from ticketless patrons and ushered them to seats that otherwise should have gone to paid-up patrons. But this seemingly isolated incident of dishonesty and disorganization is actually a reflection of a bigger Ghanaian problem: Our perennial inability or refusal to get the basics of our society, our development, right. I was at the National Theatre that night and wondered, as the ushers indiscriminately directed patrons, why the seats were not numbered to correspond to ticket numbers of patrons. At crowded events like this, I thought, it would also have been appropriate also to have officers from the Ghana Fire Service present to ensure that the maximum capacity of the auditorium was not exceeded and that the aisles and all possible escape routes were clear for any eventuality. First aid staff, including an ambulance, would have rounded off the preparation. That's what organized and smart societies do. But ours is anything but organized or smart, and so we don't do such things. Indeed, we seem to thrive on chaos and disorganization. From our schools to markets to highways to churches to communities and government, disorder rules. Such chaotic existence is at once a cause of the persistence of our underdevelopment and a result of it. It's a vicious cycle that breeds inefficiencies and the kind of corrosive corruption that Mr. Sintim-Misa bemoaned. Most times, we do get away with it but occasionally we have had to pay a heavy and tragic price - such as what happened on May 9, 2001 at the Ohene Djan Sports Stadium in Accra when 126 people lost their lives in a stampede. That stampede would have been avoided altogether if our police had been properly trained to know not to fire tear gas in enclosed areas. And certainly the casualties would have been far less if the injured were given on-site first aid and taken to hospital in ambulances rather than being piled haphazardly into taxis. Much theater was made of the public inquiry that followed, including a trip abroad by the committee of inquiry to study best practice in crowd and stadium management. Very little seems to have come of those costly efforts. Disorder and vandalism remain hallmarks of sporting and other public events in Ghana. The police who are supposed to keep an eye on crowds at stadiums, for example, are often rather seen watching matches with them, oblivious of potential sources of trouble. Indeed, general crowd management skills of the police appear not to have undergone any significant change since that tragedy. This was evidenced by the total chaos that characterized President Mills’ inauguration at Independence Square on January 7, 2009. It was a disturbing replay of what happened at the 2001 inauguration of President Kufuor, when unruly crowds broke through barriers manned by indifferent police officers, and visibly terrified guests like then Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo sought safety with the assistance of a small and clearly overwhelmed security detail. Or consider the dozens of passengers who yearly die “on the spot when their vehicle ran into an abandoned truck on the highway”. The phrase is almost a standard in Ghanaian journalism now, and 2011 had scarcely started when on January 7th, three chiefs and their driver from the Central Region were killed after their vehicle, in the words of one journalist, “rammed a broken down articulator truck in the middle of the road.” Sadly, if the past is any indication, many more Ghanaians may die through these senseless and avoidable accidents before the end of the year. What is it about us? What does it take to remove broken down vehicles from our roads to prevent such accidents? What does it take to learn from the folly of our tragic ways? What does it take to be an organized and disciplined society? In putting his wahala out there, KSM promised to do something about it. Are Ghanaians ready to do likewise about their institutional failings?
Source: Nii Moi Thompson. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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