I really feel very sorry for Jerry John Rawlings. I never thought a day would come when I’d feel this way about the former dictator. But watching the ruins of the house he has lived in for the past 20 years fills me with a mixture of grief, anger and a wee bit of cynicism.

I grieve with Mr. Rawlings and his family because no human being should suffer what they have been through.

All their belongings, including important documents and historical mementos, are gone. All of Nana Konadu’s scarves and hairpieces are gone along with Kimathi’s birth certificates and Rawlings revolutionary photographs have all been burnt to ashes.

I am also very angry, once again, at the utter helplessness of our national fire service in such situations. The fire service headquarters is just a few minutes’ drive from the home of the Rawlingses. They got to the scene of the fire in good time (or so we hear), yet they were unable to put out the blaze. It seems to me that the fire went out only after it had devoured everything in its path. All the fire officers did was to nurse the blaze.

A proper fire service should be able to put out a domestic fire in a single-storey building with very little effort. Our fire service makes heavy weather of even the laziest infernos.

But is it their fault? Nope.

Sad to say but it’s the likes of Rawlings who have made the fire service the incompetent and inefficient service it is. When our leaders care so little about our collective security and spend our little money on their own luxuries and comfort, this is what we get.

And this is where cynicism kicks in.

There have been a lot of fires in the country in the past year. Our markets catch fire so often that it’s tempting to assume that the Greek god of fire has shrines in places like Makola, Kajetia and Asafo. Whenever there has a market fire, we are fed with silly effusions by our leaders who promise halfheartedly to do all in their power to equip the fire service and do all the common sense things that need to be done to prevent a recurrence. Yet the fires keep coming, exacting heavy losses and nothing gets done.

Recently, when the Foreign Ministry was completely burnt out, we were promised that something was going to done this time around to build a better-equipped fire service. After all the talk, we were told that we have to wait because the country is broke. But to our utter surprise, the government managed to scrape three million dollars for earthquake-ravaged Haiti. We just gave to Haiti to show the world that we are also here. Three million dollars could have started the process of equipping the fire service.

Now, the fire at the home of the Rawlingses, should knock some sense into the heads of our leaders that we can’t wait any longer. The fact is that we are all at risk. Even the most powerful can be afflicted by a fire. If the fire service cannot help a powerful man like Rawlings to salvage his property in a fire outbreak, what can they do for hapless people like me? It seems to me that they can only put out fires in coal pots. And that’s not good enough!

If we don’t take a cue from this fire to build for ourselves an efficient fire service, we will leave no doubt in the minds of the rest of humanity that we have just come together to form nothing better than a collective stupidity. And then who can tell me that Lord Lugard was wrong when he said that the thoughts of the African “are concentrated on the events and feelings of the moment and he suffers little from the apprehension for the future, or grief for the past.”

Now, we are all sad and grieving with the Rawlingses. But are we going to learn from the disaster that has befallen them? The cynic in me says we won’t. But I will gladly eat humble pie if someone proves me wrong – in, say, five years?


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