Saturday, May 16, 2015 will be remembered as one of the most remarkable epochs in the history of Ghana. It’s a day I hope to never forget even if I suffer the severest form of dementia. It’s a day, I will look back on with pride in myself and the thousands of compatriots who turned up to speak with one voice and send a clear, unambiguous message to a national leadership that has lost its way and much of its mind. The message was simple: we have heard enough of their promises, we have seen enough of their efforts which have yielded precious little and now, we demand nothing but concrete solutions to an energy crisis we have tolerated for far too long.
We took to the streets in response to the call of a very brave young woman who realized that if she could use her face to sell beauty products she could also use her voice to rally her compatriots to demand results from their leaders. With a simple hashtag, Yvonne Nelson poked the eye of the arrogant beast our government has become. The best initial response to her simple demand for an end to the crisis came from government agents and party operatives who specialize in raining terror and venom on any section of the citizenry which questions or challenges the ruling elite. They insulted Miss Nelson and tried almost every trick in the book to intimidate her into silence. Yet, she stood her ground and won the admiration of much of the patriotic, thinking side of a weary nation.
We responded to Miss Nelson’s call for us to march and participate in her vigil because we believed her cause was right and her demand for nothing but results was just. We weren’t bussed there. We weren’t paid or forced to be there. With the voice of Miss Nelson, our nation called and we responded. There were students and professors, doctors and nurses, employers and employees, men and women, young and old, rich and poor. We heard a call to patriotic duty and we heeded.
In the songs we sung and in the words we spoke to each other, we shared stories about how the power crisis has affected our lives. Most of us are sleep deprived because climate control is hard to achieve without electricity. So we sleep drenched in sweat. Sleep deprivation means low productivity at work, where we are constantly being threatened with the spectre of possible lay-offs because our companies cannot continue to stay viable when they are forced to spend much more than they ever have on fuelling and maintaining generators. We also heard from people with bed-ridden relatives whose recovery from debilitating illnesses hasn’t been helped by the unbearable heat.
We heard stories about how people are spending much more than they ever have on food because buying and preparing food in bulk is a foolish proposition at a time when there’s not enough electricity to keep the refrigerators working. We heard from people who have had to discard refrigerators which have been damaged by power fluctuations. Others told of how they themselves or people they know have suffered severe food poisoning, brought on by inadequate preservation. We heard from students whose academic careers are floundering because they don’t have sufficient lighting to burn the midnight oil. Actually, Miss Nelson and her fellow entertainers also told us about how the power crisis is blocking the flow of their creative juices. And on a lighter note, we heard from both men and women who have for so long been deprived of those precious intimate moments that prevented most of us from becoming nuns and monks.
Some of the stories were funny. Most were sad and pitiful, a clear indication of the dire straits our nation finds itself in as a result of the government’s incompetent and shambolic handling of the power crisis. This ‘dumsor’ crisis is crippling our nation and sapping the vitality out of the citizenry. It’s a big shame that those we’ve given power to are failing to give us the power we need to keep our homes habitable, our factories producing and our businesses running. There is no sign yet that they will solve this problem anytime soon.
But as our government literally gropes in the dark for remedies to a problem whose solution should be easy for a thinking government to grasp, the only positive in these difficult times is that we as a people are beginning to stand up for our nation. It started on Republic Day last year with #OccupyGhana, a protest moment spearheaded by middle class Ghanaians, who decided on that rainy day in July to come out of their comfort zones to speak out and fight their country.
Almost a year to that day, entertainers like Miss Nelson and her friends who comfortably sat for so long on the fences and watched the nation being brought to its knees, suddenly came to the realization that they could use their faces and their voices to force change. They were told to shut up and continue to sit on the comfy perches because as entertainers, they were not supposed to be political actors. Yet they stuck to their guns and acted on their convictions, knowing very well that we are all in this together and that this is the only nation we can call our own. If this ship sinks, we will all drown together. While John Mahama and his ilk flee to safe, luxurious abodes in Dubai and London, many of our small-town entertainers and celebrities will not be saved. Even if they got saved, there would be few of us left for them to entertain. They marched on Saturday because they have become very acutely aware of these facts.
Miss Nelson, Van Vicker, and the other celebrities who joined in the march may not have done anything out of the ordinary. After all, the arts have always been a force for change the world over. Fela Kuti, for example, was an entertainer who rained lyrical fire on Nigeria’s bungling military dictatorships for years. But in this country where entertainers, have confined themselves to just singing and acting about love and death, what happened over the weekend was well and truly unprecedented. Not only did our entertainment celebrities find out that their voices and visages could be used for much more than making music and film, but we the ordinary citizens also demonstrated that with the right kind of leadership, we will all put our shoulders to the wheel and help build a strong, healthy and bright mother Ghana. In the meantime, we are not taking any more nonsense from the governing elite. We are telling John Mahama and his underperforming cronies that we have heard enough of their promises. We won’t hear any more of their catalogue of efforts. We need results. And they better come soon.
To Yvonne Nelson, we say thank you, brave woman for every word you spoke, for every insult you took. When they insulted you, they insulted us all. Today, you have won our hearts because we know you care more about your country than John Mahama ever would. You’ve made history and we are proud of you. Yaa Asantewaa made it into the history books with a gun. You did so with a hashtag. That’s more than we can say about John Mahama after all these years in office and all those unfulfilled. Those of us who heeded your call to come out and march for Mother Ghana, are grateful for the opportunity to be part of the history you made.