Accra is Gotham. Can it be Saved?

In the Gotham allegory, Batman is the symbol of hope in a city that is so depraved and corrupt that the only way to root out that corruption is through violence. Batman doesn’t hold symposiums and forums encouraging city corrupt leaders and crime bosses to stop ruining the city by appealing to their more delicate sensibilities. He merely kicks ass, disappears and waits for the police to pick up the trash. There is no discussion.

Accra is really no different from Gotham. All of the elements that comprise of the fictional city exist in the metropolis that sits on the coast of the Atlantic. The same extremes in wealth and poverty, corruption, looting of government coffers, shady deals with nefarious characters, stabbings, raping, arson…they are engrained in this African city. The debauchery is so rife that you can smell it in the very air. Accra’s air is thick with smog, filth, human waste and unending suffering. It chokes you when you land at Kotoka or as you snake your way through traffic to face a day at work, hoping that today will be the day your boss decides to pay you a fair wage.

And just like Gotham, our municipal leaders’ solution to these problems is to infrequently build a new high rise or two to disguise their failures so that they can point to something and call it “progress”. It does not go unnoticed that the average Ghanaian could never afford to live in (or around) these beacons of national development. That pleasure is reserved for expats, diplomats and sold out government cronies. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the state of Accra gives me nightmares.

You wonder how we got here. How did the Star of Africa get to this point? The simplest explanation is that we have been – and are – complacent. Worse than that, we’ve been arrogant. Ghanaians like to believe that certain things can “never happen” in Ghana, because we’re too civilized for whatever the unthinkable idea may be. And yet here we are, with someone like Nelson Baani in parliament.

Oh yes, the Sharia MP as he has been dubbed, has kept me up for four nights now. But it is not he alone who has occupied the darkest corners of my dreams.

I have nightmares about Accra Mayor Alfred Oko Vanderpuije who started the summer by burning down the makeshift homes of artisans behind the Accra Arts Center and then arresting journalists who came to report on the story, charging them with trying to embarrass the government.

Just over a month later, this same bearded fellow was captured on video arresting a trotro drive for honking his horn. The driver’s crime? He failed to recognize that Mayor Vanderpujie was in the road for a photo op, desperately attempting to appear as though he was really doing something to impact Accra’s sanitation problems. There were no cones, no barricades, no cordons – nothing to indicate that this was an official clean up exercise: Just a dude in the street with his massive beard and even bigger ego roughly handling a citizen, violating civil rights and vowing to show him where the power lies.

Oh! But it’s okay! Alfed Vanderpujie is just one foolish man! He can’t rule as mayor for ever. Ghanaians give it over to God and bury our faces in our imported rice.

Dr. Joshua Dra is another demon who refuses to offer me peace. For two years, the memory of what this man did to hundreds of Ghanaian women has haunted me. In 2012, an investigative team covertly video this “doctor” pressuring vulnerable patients to have unprotected sex with him before he could perform abortions. His explanation was that it was medically necessary for him to use his penis to open up their uterine lining so that he could extract their fetuses for disposal. This man raped and violated hundreds of women. And do you know what our justice system did after they arrested him for the cameras? They let him go! A rapist and quack has been released back into society with a slap on the wrist and is probably planning his next attack.

But oh! He’s just a foolish man. We’ll give to God. This behavior is not Ghanaian.

The list of things that are not Ghanaian and yet are fast defining what it means to be a Ghanaian – like defecating on beaches, selling children to settle debt, raping teenaged boys, using the word of God/the Bible to subjugate entire groups and selling expired (and potentially poisonous) food in grocery stores for profit – is ever growing and shows no sign of shortening.

But it’s ok! Why? Because these things are not what Africans do. It’s some few foolish people who are ruining the system. We shall give it to God.

And that has been the catch: we’ve turned blind eyes and deaf ears to all these “one off” incidences so consistently that the incidences have become our culture. This is why someone like MP Nelson Baani can get on the floor of Parliament – the body responsible for making laws in our land – and unflinchingly suggest violent, barbaric punishment for behavior that is immoral and not criminal. In addition to that, the self-same MP felt emboldened to not only venture onto national radio to re-assert his remarks, but to also call on his fellow male MPs to support him in this proposal. We’ve been waiting 4 days now for reaction from Parliament and all the citizens of this once great country we call Ghana have gotten in return is silence. Why?

Say it with me:

Oh! Because this is just one foolish man. We shouldn’t mind him. After all, he is from the North, and you know they are not very educated up there. Stoning adulterous women? How. This can never happen in Ghana.

Really? And yet this week in Kenya, another “civilized country”, my sisters are forced to march to the walls of the judiciary to force their government to protect them from savage, beastly men who strip, assault and violate in public at noon them on a near daily basis because NO ONE sat up from the beginning and said this far and no further!

Huh? Baani said WHAT??

Huh? Baani said WHAT??

What we have gotten instead is a ‘wait and see’ response. The ruling party and its opposition (save Ursula Owusu who is the only MP to come out publicly in condemnation of these ludicrous statements) are hoping and expecting that this incident will just be added to the laundry list of things that have shocked Ghanaians and gone forgotten. To help spur the forgetting process, the Chairman of the Parliament Finance Committee just recently released a statement warning that “Ghanaians should brace themselves for some tough times next year.” It’s a deflection tactic. Seriously, how much tougher can it get in Ghana? There are whole swathes of people who literally cannot afford to eat right now and who don’t have access to toilets. Is government going to sprinkle some extra starving fairy dust in the air to add to the misery? Is shit in the city about to get stinkier? The only thing that can be worse than the current economic crisis is if Lucifer himself took over the seat of the presidency!

Is Accra a lost cause? Batman has been fighting Penguin, the Joker and co for half a century and the city still hasn’t been saved. Is this just the way it’s going to be? Are you and I foolish for hoping, believing, fighting for a better future? I had a conversation with a woman I highly respect last night, and she led me to believe I was a fool for expending this much energy (which isn’t very much) on the likes of Nelson Baani.

“I just worry that focusing so much energy one this one stupid utterance, we may be losing touch with the bigger issue/picture,” she said.

But that’s just the problem, isn’t it? The bigger picture is made up of thousands of singular stupid utterances that no one tackled at birth…and now it’s too late to go back and abort them.

Ah well. If Batman doesn’t come, we can always give it to God.