COVID-19: Prof Gyampo writes to policy makers on public ignorance

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1. There is a fundamental misunderstanding and ignorance on the part of policy makers about the caliber of citizenry that populate developing countries. Ghana is no exception.

2. In the Course, Strategies for Development in Africa, POLI 356, we first interrogate the theoretical explanations of under-development. The Dependency Theory, Modernization Theory, Geographical Location Theory, WW Rostov’s Historical Theory, Institutionalist Theory, and the Knowledge Theory, are among a host of theoretical explanations of under-development we examine, to see whether they make sense, and adequately capture why we are where we are, in terms of development in Africa, and Ghana, for that matter.

3. One of the explanations that seem to partly make sense in Ghana’s current COVID state of affairs, is the Knowledge Theory, articulated by Acemoglu and Robinson (2012), in their path-breaking work titled “Why Nations Fail”. The fundamental assumption of the theory is simple. We are where we are because our leaders and policy makers are either ignorant or lack a firm grasp and sophisticated awareness of the issues that affect us, and the very proactive solutions to dealing with them.

4. We are seriously battling to have citizen comportment, as a means to help win the fight against COVID-19. But we have failed. Many citizens aren’t complying with the announced safety protocols. The few who are complying, do not also seem to know what they are doing.

5. Yesterday, at a mall in Accra on the Spintex Road, there was this attendant who frequently touched the face of his face mask, and used the same fingers to type on his computer. He didn’t disinfect his fingers and his computer afterwards. Later, I found him rubbing his fingers around his eyes. Assuming the face of the mask was infected through droplets from customers, you can imagine how he could infect himself and other gadgets, by his frequent touching of the face of his face mask. There are those who wear the mask, only to pull it to their chin, and spit saliva droplets on people, when they want to talk. There are those who still think COVID-19 is a myth, while others believe the disease is only meant for the affluent in society and top government functionaries. Last week, I was buying fish among the fishmongers around the Kormantse-Abandze stretch of the road from my hometown Saltpond, to Cape Coast. When I asked the fishmongers to wear face masks, they told me COVID-19 wasn’t meant for them. To them, it is a disease for those of us from Accra.

6. Because of the challenges in getting the citizens to comply with the safety protocols, we have suddenly labeled Ghanaians as recalcitrant. The refrain, for sometime now, is “Ghana fo aso y3 den”. Recently, the Electoral Commission told all of us that they could not be blamed for the infractions on the safety protocols, and that Ghanaians are old enough to comply with the protocols to keep themselves safe as they queue to register. The government also feel it has done all that must be done. Ghanaians must therefore, simply comply with the protocols and take their destinies in their hands.

7. But we aren’t complying with the safety protocols and our COVID infection rate seem to have been thrown out of gear. How can can any policy maker who reasonably understand the caliber of people that populate a developing country expect compliance with rules, simply because they have been announced? Any policy maker with such an expectation, rather displays ignorance about the caliber of citizenry in developing countries. Ideally, politicians should have a demonstrable knowledge of the citizenry before they can be declared as fit to govern.

8. We cannot blame Ghanaians for their lack of compliance with the safety protocols. We must blame policy makers, for their fundamental ignorance about the caliber of citizenry they signed our social contract to govern. In other words, our policy makers are failing in the fight against COVID-19 because they don’t fully know the people they are governing.

9. Michael P. Todaro and other astute scholars of African Development, have outlined many features of developing countries, including Ghana. If you see these features in a country, it means, that country is under-developed or developing. The features are many, but one key among them, is IGNORANT POPULATION. By this, Todaro for instance argue that, in a developing country, majority or a good number of the citizens are very ignorant. Some may be educated and yet ignorant. Some may also be uneducated and very ignorant.

10. The majority of people in such a population, in the works of many scholars of African Development, cannot just understand and simply comply with directives and protocols. Any policy maker who is ignorant of this, will fail his people and his policies targeted at the people will also not thrive. So, we will keep soaring our COVID figures unless policy makers begin to fully appreciate the caliber of citizenry they preside on, and fashion out strategies to make them reasonably supportive of the policies aimed at fighting COVID.

11. There can be only two interventions to save the situation, in the view of scholars of African Development. First, there should be massive, sustained, public education and sensitization drive, aimed at internalizing the ideals of COVID protocols and policy prescriptions among a cross section of the citizenry. The lackadaisical “two by four” urban public education we do for a few days, and go to sleep, isn’t what is being recommended. A drive that proactively tackles rural ignorance, akin to what we did to get Ghanaians to participate in the 1991 Referendum, that accepted the 1992 Constitution, is what is being recommended. Those who are old enough will remember the days of “REFERENDUM” & Y3RE FR3 DOM” Secondly, announcing protocols without rigid enforcement, achieves nothing, in dealing with the caliber of people in a developing country. During the UK lockdown, I called a student of mine, asking about how he was faring and how he was complying with their lockdown directive. He told me there were no police officers enforcing the directives. Yet there was total compliance. What our policy makers must know is that, even though we are all human beings, the citizenry in a developing country will require rigid enforcement of rules and protocols, till compliance becomes internalized. Compliance becomes internalized when obedience to rules, become part and parcel of the lives of the people, such that they won’t need another person to enforce the rules.

12. So, policy makers must not blame their ignorance and failure to understand the caliber of people they opted to govern on the citizenry. There should be more work on the fundamental challenge of the citizenry, using the recommendations above as a guide. Once we tackle ignorance among a huge chunk of the population, we will make giant strides in eliciting popular support and compliance with our rules and COVID protocols.

13. But, is the African politician of today, interested in an enlightened citizenry? Don’t they prefer majority of us wallow in ignorance? Let the policy maker in Ghana, lead the way in dealing with ignorance among the citizenry, as a way of tackling COVID-19, and generally, shaping the fight against under-development.

Yaw Gyampo
A31, Prabiw
P.A.V Ansah Street
Suro Nipa House


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