Ghana's Boko Haram

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Manasseh’s Folder: Ghana’s Boko Haram
Source: By Manasseh Azure Awuni
Date: 13-05-2014 Time: 08:05:04:am

There is a sparkle of hope for Ezinwa and her friends. The Islamist militants yesterday released a video which showed about 130 out of the 270 abducted Nigerian school girls camped somewhere in the forest. The sight of the girls alone is heartwarming. At least the merciful Old Man above has kept an eye on them.

The leader of Boko Haram has made a predictable offer about the girls’ future. He wants all Boko Haram prisoners released in exchange for the girls. Many analysts predicted this. The kidnapper’s ransom is often easy to predict: price or prisoner exchange.

It is not clear what the Nigerian government will do about this difficult request. But at least, Ezinwa has hopes of ever joining her family. She has hopes that she will one day go back to school, even if that means leaving Northern Nigeria to a much safer part of the country, where book or Western education (Boko) is not considered a taboo (Haram). Ezinwa has hopes of sleeping in a room with a good roof over her head. And she nurses hopes that she and the other 275 girls will one day fulfill their ambitions in life.

For twelve-year old Ayishatu, however, there is no such hope. Ayishatu cannot recite beyond the first four letters of the English alphabets, but she has no hope of ever sitting in the classroom. For the past three years, she has not slept with a roof over her head and she doesn’t dream about such a luxury. She has stopped dreaming of ever becoming somebody in future because it’s all doom and gloom around her. She encounters the harshest realities of life since becoming a "beast of burden" in response to her survival instinct. And this morning is one of such days.

It’s an early Saturday morning and the bright rays that shoot through the cloudless sky are a sign of another bright and jolly day for Elsie. Her father is driving the family from East Legon to the Movenpick Ambassador Hotel for breakfast. Later in the evening, she will fly to Paris with her mother to spend the next three weeks before school reopens.

Elsie attends Ghana International School, and her three-week trip to France is in fulfillment of a promise her father made at the begging of term. He said if she fell within best 10 in her class, she would visit any city of her choice and will have herself spoiled with shopping before school reopens. Last term, the target was the best 15 and she was in London for two weeks. Her father’s dream of getting her into Harvard is becoming a reality and he would do anything to encourage her.

But Ayishatu is not that lucky. The rays of the sun are still too weak to produce heat, but she is already sweating profusely. With beads of perspiration dotting her overburdened neck, she is swaying wearily under a heavy load of a 50kg bag of rice and another 20kg gallon of cooking oil. She carried this from the Makola Number 2 market and final destination is the Rawlings Park. The thick crowd has almost stagnated human traffic so that journey will last at least 30 minutes, but she has been standing at the same spot for the past ten minutes without taking a single step.

An official of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) has stopped her and handed her “ticket.” She has to pay tax. Head porters are not spared tax. They are not among the multinational companies which enjoy tax holidays as incentives for investing in our economy. They are not among the huge profit making businesses which are helped to evade tax.

Ayishatu has not made any money and does not have any money to pay. The woman whose load she is carrying has to retrace her steps after realizing that "the beast of burden" is nowhere in sight. She pays on her behalf and starts hurling abusive words at her. After unloading the stuff in the booth of her Ford Explorer, she throws a one-cedi note coin into Ayishatu’s palm and reminds her that she paid for the “ticked”. Ayishatu thanks her and leaves without a word.

Ayishatu’s life cycle is more predictable than the ritual journey of the sun from the east to the west. She is developing breasts and will soon encounter a truck pusher or street hawker. He will ask of her name and where she sleeps.

She sleeps at Tema Station, and that’s where he sleeps, too. Proximity is a factor which enhances relationships. But theirs will not be a relationship.

“Hey Ayishatu, come here,” he will call out one night.

“Leave me alone. What should I come and do?” she will say and run away innocently.

He will not give up. He will persevere. And get hold of her one night.

“Leave me alone,” she will protest weakly.

“I won’t leave you, you stubborn girl,”

"I’m not a stubborn girl."

“I know. You are not a stubborn girl. You are a beautiful girl.”

She will freeze. This is the first time she has heard she is beautiful. She softens. He hardens up. And cuddles her.

She is not a piece of wood. She feels good. Together in the shed where the gari seller has turned her table upside down, they stand. The number of people passing by has thinned. This is the time to strike, he thinks.

She is frightened and protests. But he is too strong for her. Right on that table, she has to endure the excruciating pain of a rapist.

He hands her a one cedi note afterwards, and promises to see her tomorrow. Ayishatu is shaken, but feels adequately compensated. She will meet him on two other occasions and endure the painful pleasure, for he is three times older than her.

Soon she will start vomiting. Her colleague head porters will tell her she is pregnant. Some will advise her to drink concoction to get rid of it. Those from her hometown will remind her it’s a taboo among her people. The least punishment is death.

So a few months later Ayishatu will be carrying her load with a fatherless baby strapped to her back. The man who owns the baby disappeared the night she told him her friends said she was pregnant. And the only time that baby will see anything close to hospital is when Joy FM organizes the Easter Soup Kitchen at the Efua Sutherland Children’s Park.

Ayishatu is not one out of 276 girls. She is not one out of a thousand girls. She is one out of the hundreds of thousand young people in the Republic of Ghana whose lives are hopeless. When people head home from the city centre after the close of work, they have no homes. They sleep in the open and in front of kiosks. The lucky ones can afford slums. They pray it never rains.

They are everywhere: Tema Station, Kantamanto, Agbogloshie, Mallam Atta and Ashaiman markets among others in the national capital. In Kumasi you will find them at Aboabo and other markets in the capital. Majority of them are from the three regions of the north. There are others from the southern parts of the country. But irrespective of where they come from, they have to do that to survive.

Some are as young as 10 years old or younger, doing jobs that threaten their health. They are exposed to all forms of abuse, including sex abuse. They live in the streets and markets, procreate and with time, we have second and third generations of street children.

They are not lucky. The powerful nations which compel our governments to stop child labour do not see them when they visit our republic. Or they see them but have concluded that theirs does not constitute child labour.Perhaps, theirs is normal. They travel hundreds of kilometers to cocoa-growing communities to search for children, most of whom help their parents on cocoa farms. They then go back and vote money and force our government to also give in order to eliminate what they term the worst forms of child labour.

Since Boko Haram kidnapped the school girls, a lot has been said. People from all steps of the social ladder have expressed their disgust about how they feel the pain which parents of the children feel. They have children they love and adore just like the school girls of Chibok. How on earth would someone attempt to prevent girls from having education. But we have the Ayishatu’s with us.

Some of us are worse than Boko Haram. When I visited Germany last year, I came to the conclusion that there’s no way we can ever develop like them. We have destroyed the foundation on which to build such huge infrastructure. But I also believe that we can make life dignifying and worth living for all our citizens. The thousands of youth who line up the streets every day, battling with toxic fumes from moving vehicles and blistering heat from the merciless sun, do so not because the nation is too poor to provide for their needs.

There is too much greed in our country. All social interventions meant to help these unfortunate people have been hijacked by the mighty and powerful in our society. GYEEDA, SADA, LESDEP, LEAP YESDEC and other interventions do not have anything to show for the huge amounts of money voted into such social intervention programmes. The programmes and projects were well-thought out. And there have been enough funds to make impacts. But the greed and broad daylight robbery are just indescribable.

Today, people are heading for Akosombo to find solutions to our economy. I don’t know how the plight of Ayishatu and the thousands of young girls and boys who have been deprived of the dignity of human life will fit into the agenda.

What I know, however, is that not much will come from this forum. If all winners of the Nobel Prize for Economics were brought down to manage our economy, nothing would change until we find a way of making corruption unattractive.

Every year the African Progress Panel, led by our own son, Kofi Annan, tells us almost the same story about our continent. They say Africa is very rich, but majority of its people are suffering.

Others rank us high with utopian economic indicators. You go to bed and wake up the next morning to hear you are a middle income economy without anything to show for it. And we sing praises to that.

“This progress is laudable. However, disturbing in increases in inequality and poverty are a cause of great concern,” Kofi Annan said at the launch of the 2014 Africa Progress report.

Indeed, the Boko Haram, are currently considered the most heartless beasts on our continent. But we should not look too far to see the devil. The corrupt public and private officials who deprive many generations of education, health care and decent living conditions are not any better.

And we should not forget that the more we create such hopeless youth in our society, the more we endanger our society. If anyone wants to hold this nation to ransom, they will not go to East Legon to recruit rebels.

We are breeding enough of them at the slums and on our streets and in our slums. It is such such actions and years of neglect that has created the thousands of idle hands for whom the devil has found useful in Northern Nigeria.

The Writer, Manasseh Azure Awuni, is a Senior Broadcast Journalist with Joy FM. His email address is
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