“Ubumuntu”, humaneness or compassion, abounds among African societies. But methinks, generally, Ghanaians have taken the lion’s share of it. Anywhere else, I’d never witnessed a townie leave their money-hunting preoccupation to give a total stranger assistance without demanding anything in return.
That altruism is all too common in any African village, alright. But thinking you can get it in cities where urbanites’ time is totally consumed in “deal-chasing”? No chance!
Senior citizens who lived in black-market, scarcity-of-everything fraught Uganda during Idi Amin’s reign remember that “deal-chasing”. When you ‘captured’ a “deal”, you’d struck a bonanza. Say, something to sell: gold, mercury, ivory, rhino horn, baby tortoise, crocodile egg, anything.
Any small good, any little service; nothing was given out of simple kindness.
Such a cutthroat state of affairs may not be alive anywhere today, admittedly. But even here in Kigali where we have regained our humanity, ask a stranger to take you to a place and they’ll flash a hand at you as they rub their index and middle fingers against their thumb.
That’s demanding payment!
“Ubumuntu” is reserved for our disciplined and sociable security organs. Their eager oft-called-upon intervention in cases of difficulty is well-known.
Which is why I was pleasantly surprised by civilian city dwellers of Accra, Ghana.
When we expressed desire to change money for Ghana Cedi, our guide, who knew no street money-changer, asked a roadside kiosk-vendor: “Boss, where can we change money?”
Without thinking twice and with kiosk left open, the vendor hopped onto his motor-scooter and signalled us to follow him.
After winding our way through the rackety mass of humanity and narrow but all tarmacked winding streets for almost an hour, he stopped and called out to a money-changer: “Boss, can you serve these friends?”
And he quickly kick-started his scooter and was gone.
We and the money-changer haggled over the exchange rate and sealed the ‘deal’.
But curiosity was gnawing at my mind. What? No asking for payment?
To my question as to whether our guide knew the first “boss” or the latter knew the second “boss”, the casual answer was “Nope! If we are not from the same tribe, then we are married into one another’s tribe. So, we are family.” Just like that?
Now, clean and orderly Rwandans as true family, being one tribe, that should truly sting your conscience!
If one of you can burn your petrol, trusting your open little bread-earner to the hazards of a passing crowd, guiding a compatriot in the company of dollar-possessed outsiders – though wrongly assumed! – without expecting anything in return, put up your hand.
I can confidently proclaim that I see none!
Being descendants of ancestors who were marked by such compassion and incapable of lusting for lucre, aren’t we betraying them? Shouldn’t we return to that old Rwandan ubumuntu? With a government that does not tire in calling us out on this, are we irredeemable?
Wherever you go, the un-thieving nature, courtesy and kindness of Ghanaians are simply astonishing.
And that whetted our appetite for exploring the whole city.
And being in the land that sired the venerable Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, where else could I suggest as our first port of call but his memorial park?
Alas! Upon entering the extensive park, my heart sank!
Surely, how could a park commemorating the legendary Pan-Africanist be so run-down? Yet it’s visited by world leaders who necessarily perpetuate their visits’ memory by planting a tree. Sadly, even the boards bearing the leaders’ names are falling to pieces.
Fortunately, Nkrumah’s monument, though vandalised and beheaded during his ouster in a military coup, has been re-erected in the pieces it was found in. Well annotated photos of him with all the then great world leaders are preserved in a room of their own.
Outside, the shelter that houses his presidential ‘winged’ American-made limousine still stands, but rickety.
Only the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum defies the neglect, standing in its proud splendour.
Then there was Osu Castle/Fort Christiansborg, which fares no better despite its rich history. Built in the 1660s, it hosted slave-trader bosses, colonial governors and a succession of Ghanaian presidents till 2009.
The story of how a local chief tricked Danish slave-merchants and sent them packing in the 1660s can only be recounted another day. Africans, we’ve had heroes and then some!
Next, the W.E.B. Du Bois Memorial Centre for Pan African Culture. For being reasonably well-kept, it lifts your spirits. It’s an enriching walk down memory lane with the giants of global Pan-Africanism, when it was verily worth its name.
But come out and join the streets of Accra and your heart plummets to the bottom again.
You are again engulfed in the choking heat and humidity of disorder, dirt, noise, wrestling traffic with no police in sight, save when, unlike their people, they want an oiled hand.
Yet through it all, the uprightness, courtesy and kindness of lay Ghanaians prevail, unfazed.
Friend of Rwanda President Nana Akufo-Addo leads a truly great people, in their on the most part stocky and sturdy but lard-less happiness, reflecting good feeding and wealth.
A little people-centred governance can turn them into a clean and orderly development wonder.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.