Monopoly on Death
Since I moved to Ghana at the beginning of 2018, there has been at least three funerals held by my extended family and when I scroll through my Instagram feed, the ratio of wedding to funeral pictures are probably about 1:1. Within the past three months, there have been two seasons of deep grief on my Twitter timeline for young men that died way before we’d expect them to. I refuse to attend funerals partly due to the same reasons I avoid all large gatherings — social anxiety — however, there’s something even more insidious about deaths in Ghana, to me.
I was sixteen when my dad died. Sixteen and two months, actually, but I didn’t find out until I was sixteen and four months, because my family thought it better to not tell me while I’m writing my GCSE exams. In hindsight, I don’t blame them. I had one of the best nights of my life on the 26th of July that year — prom night — and then my entire life felt like it was crumbling around me the day after, when my mother finally told me. I didn’t get out of bed for days.
Of course the most acute pain was that ultimately, I was never going to see my dad again; he wouldn’t walk me down the aisle, I no longer belonged to anyone, my tether to part of my heritage had been broken. However, till this day, the pain of not knowing what killed my father still lingers in my innermost. The narrative goes that my father fell off his bike and hit his head, was taken to the hospital, but discharged, only to be rushed back weeks later and never be brought home again. Doctors, who we paid all of my fathers wealth, couldn’t tell us what exactly was wrong with him, neither could they cure him — they stopped trying when our money ran out. A tragedy so typical to Ghanaian culture, that I’d be taken aback if I met a competent and empathetic healthcare provider.
In May this year, I was in a friend’s car when he was stopped at a police check-point, he rolled down the window, greeted and slipped the police officer a ten cedi note. As we approached 37, my friend drove into the curb of an intersection, because he was speeding so much he couldn’t react any other way to the car crossing from the right. The copious amounts of cocktails he’d had prior to picking me up definitely didn’t help in terms of reaction time. The police officer may have noticed his inebriation, had he intended to. I should have insisted he didn’t drive.
A few streets behind my house runs a stream. When I first moved back home I couldn’t find my bearings because the bridge that runs over the stream is a common land mark, but it wasn’t there when I lived there 20 years prior. At that time, I’d casually hop over the lax trickle of water that would only require more effort to cross during monsoon season. Now, the bridge covered a drop that was at least a storey high. Right on the bank of this stream that has, and is still eroding the sandy earth around it, stands a house whose outer wall is already about ten inches in thin air.
All across Accra, you will see bus shelters and refuse bins sponsored by The Rotary Club to help prevent common folk being exposed to UV rays and reduce littering. Bins and bus shelters are in need of being donated, because apparently, Ghana’s government prioritises footballer bonuses over protecting Ghanaians from cancer and death by the floods caused by plastic pollution. Ghana ushered in this year with the murder of investigative journalist Ahmed Hussein-Suale, after our Honourable MP Kenedy Agyapong incited violence against him. While nobody expects such a person to be tried for such callousness in Ghana’s republic, the cherry on the cake is that he is still an active member of government. 2018 began with the death of Ebony — a beacon for a lot of talented young women. Her death incited heaps of vitriol from the same batch of pastors that promote violence against queer folk, advise pregnant women to reject c-section deliveries, because they’re unnatural and disfigure children for being ‘witches’.
I hate funerals, because I hate grief. I hate Ghanaian funerals, because, in a quest to find peace we make every effort to remove the anger and anguish from the pain of death with Nyame na oma, onoa nso na ogye… We’ve become numb to the injustice of being killed by our circumstances, as if the life expectancy of many of our fellow humans, with singular heads, doesn’t surpass ours by more than 20 years. While God indeed has the right to take us out whenever He wants, putting the job in the hands of party politicians seems a bit off brand.
Dying a slow cancerous death will sap every ounce of humanity out of you before you finally die. Many people don’t die on the spot when they get into a car crash — imagine the love of your life, lying in a ditch, stroking out because there’s no more blood running to her brain. Imagine a child gradually suffocating under a heap that once was a poorly constructed building. Accepting death is inevitable — there isn’t much choice in that, but I don’t think I can ever accept the senseless way my father died and I wish more people with access to power in Ghana would be disgusted at how their people pass away.
At the beginning of 2018, at the height of my personal despair, all I wanted was to die — so I moved to Ghana. Yet, that I do not value my life, doesn’t mean all Ghanaians shouldn’t be given the chance to live fulfilling lives. But who will fix a country that evidently enjoys what looks like a monopoly on death?