Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

What The Papers Say

People's Daily Graphic, Ghana

Refuge from adversity

Many people are beginning to notice groups of Chadians hanging around market-places, sometimes begging or foraging for food.

Their presence is most conspicuous in some of the border towns, and in cities such as Bolgatanga, Tamale, Sunyani and Kumasi. Even in Accra, small groups can be seen.

Chad has been torn by warfare and in addition is suffering the effects of severe drought and food shortage.

It appears that what began as a slow trickle of refugees to our more fortunate country is gradually growing. Chadians and also people from other drought-stricken hungry areas of West Africa see Ghana as a refuge from adversity.

We Ghanaians consider that we have been through a time of severe hardship, and that even though things have got better, the going is still tough. But do we realise how much better off we are than some of our neighbours? Sufficiently to make them regard us as fortunate?

If there is, as it appears, an increasing influx of refugees into this country, we must begin to think about the implications before it becomes a problem.

No doubt, among these people there will be a few undesirables, individuals who need screening out before they cause social problems.

But many of them are simply our brothers and sisters fleeing the intolerable adversities of their home areas, where their crops have withered, their livestock have died, and their communities have been disrupted by war.

When, in 1983, we had to cope with a million Ghanaians returning from Nigeria, foreign observers were astonished at the way in which they were rapidly absorbed into their communities.

But they were, after all, Ghanaians, with parents, uncles, cousins all ready to welcome them back into the fold. Is it not possible for us to regard these refugees as members of our families? Most of them have no wish to be parasites - they are hardworking farmers and herdsmen who have been driven from their land by adversity. They do not want to lose their dignity by begging.

We cannot, in the interests of good neighbourliness, turn them away. Nor can we afford, if their numbers increase, to herd them into camps which will drain our resources and undermine their self respect.

In those communities where groups of these refugees are already evident, the 'GRAPHIC' calls upon men and women of goodwill, whether individually or through CDRs, religious organisations and other bodies to try and help. Not just by doling out charity, but by finding them productive work to do which will enable them to retain their dignity.

Late last year, the Chairman of the PNDC offered Ghana's hospitality to about 1,500 mothers and children from famine-stricken Ethiopia, so that they could be integrated into rural families and find new homes. He asked some of our more prosperous friends to provide air transport, but so far no response seems to have been forthcoming

We are sure that there are many Ghanaians ready to share what they have if only these women and children can be brought here.

But Ethiopia is far away. Already there are refugees on our doorsteps, walking our streets, begging in our markets. Let us not wait until social problems arise, until our brothers and sisters are driven to a choice between crime and charity for survival. All they want is a chance to earn an honest living, at least until such time that they can return home.

National Concord, Nigeria

Fires and our high-rise buildings

Cocoa House, as we once knew it, is no more. The pride of the former Western Region now stands forlorn and desolate, a solitary monument to a tragedy that could have been avoided, if only we had tried to learn from our previous experience with fires in high-rise buildings.

Rather, at a time like this, our sense of drama has once again overtaken us. The destroyed building has so soon taken the trapping of a shrine to which various dignitaries have come to pay their respects. All that is really medicine after death. And it would have been unnecessary if only we had learnt our lessons from the past.

We would have learnt that most of our high rise buildings are, as they are, fire risks, not carrying within them either fire detectors for detecting incipient fires or sprinkler systems capable of putting fires out as soon as they start. To top this, our firemen are grossly unequipped. Without high-rise ladders, they are unable to combat fires at anything other than ground level. In fact, the risk that our firemen are put to, is tantamount to being suicidal.

There are those who may like to question whether high- rise buildings are what we need in a country that does not have a space problem. That is really a moot point because like it or not, we have some already and the trend is likely to continue in the future. Whatever may be the cause of the Cocoa House fire, it is unlikely that it will be the last of such fires. Then we should not just moan and fold our hands dejectedly while the high- rise burns to the ground, as we have done in the past.

Government has to take some strict action in order to curtail the damage to property and lives. A definite fire code has to be enacted and all high-rise buildings irrespective of when built must be made to conform to it.

Our fire services have to be equipped with high-rise ladders and high pressure water hoses and other modern equipment capable of combating high-rise fires. All inhabitants of high-rise buildings should keep their documents in fire-proof cabinets and safes.

It is commendable that the Oyo State Government has appointed a judicial commission of inquiry into the fire. We urge the commission not to relent its efforts until it unravels the cause of the fire. We hope that this time the report of the commission will see the light of day unlike those we had in the past for NECOM House and Republic Building.

It is a shame that Cocoa House had to go the way it did. Let us hope that in vital lessons from it, it shall be the last of our high-rise buildings we shall lose.

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