Africa / Health

The Absence of Policy

I have sat for the whole day in a regional meeting about cancer registries in Africa, hosted by the West African Health Organization (WAHO). This is the health wing of ECOWAS. I have heard several presentations from delegations representing different countries on how to implement new changes in different communities but very little word of policies. Even if they add policy work to their strategies, it is only mentioned at the end of their presentations, and very briefly. It makes me think.

We are a people so desperate, impatient, rash and eager for change so much so that we are moved by what we see. Yes, change must be visible but we should also be aware that sustainable change is what we seek. We do not want to find ourselves back at the place we are in now. We need to stop this kind of “people-pressure”, as I call it. We judge governments by what we visibly see and not by the structures they put in place, neither do we judge leaders by their content of character nor their vision in speech. We need to become a deeper people, a reasoning people, a nation of farsighted individuals. We need to ask ourselves not “What is in it for us?” but “What is in it for our children?”

If governments didn’t feel like they should prioritize what “looks good” vis-à-vis what actually IS good, we wouldn’t find ourselves complaining about roads with potholes when it rains, the traffic and congestion around Tetteh Quarshie and Accra Mall because the road network wasn’t done according to the initial “spaghetti bridge” plan, as a result of shoddy work to appease people and cause long term problems and inefficiencies. We will not be selling out our lands to Chinese to build on so fast because they will complete in a month what should be done over a year. We might then avoid another big Melcolm building collapse or having to find and expel 200 illegal miners.

If we knew for ourselves that we are not competing with anybody but ourselves, that we are in no hurry to sabotage the long-term dreams of our nations for short-lived luxuries, and that, the inheritance we leave for our children deserves to be bigger and better than what we ever get to experience in our lifetime … Perhaps, it is only when we understand these things, and we believe in them, that we will begin to see the way forward, out-think and outsmart people detrimental to our development as a nation and make our nations truly, what they deserve to be.

To our politicians and “development experts”, please put the structures in place. Please do not take us for political puppets who do not see that the new school in our area built last week is just for the upcoming election next month and isn’t providing quality education to our kids. We are smarter than  that. We deserve better than that. For instance, I was shocked to discover the dirt road leading up to my church untarred when I got back to Ghana. You know why? this rocky dirt road was completely tarred with laterite, asphalt, graphite (you name it!), just before the election, and guess what? Right now it is untarred! Yes, it is just back to its old rocky, dusty dirt path that wrecks my car shocks everytime I drive on it! 😦 So basically, people spent time, and money only to impress people for elections. But seriously, isn’t it tedious to go back and “untar” a whole road?! Is that even a word in the dictionary – “untar’?

If we don’t see the changes in your first 4yrs, can you please find solace and strength in the fact that you dug and planted the roots, and in years to come, the flowers ad fruits will blossom in due season?

I have heard often that policy is just beautiful words on paper. We don’t have time for policy because we, as Africans need to move into action. We are a people driven by the adage “action speaks louder than words”. We forget that the “wise make no haste without thought, and the prudent, take no steps without calculation”. I think we need to change our mindsets to begin to value policy way more than just the paperwork. We need to value policy as the infallible infrastructure that will hold the reins of our nation for many many years after we are dead and gone, or after political party “A” loses the next election to political party “B”.
Please, choose long-term over short-term. Choose sustainability over temporality. Choose substance over sweetened words. Choose depth over cursory promises.

I know it is not that simple. I wish it were. I know you may be giggling at how banal or simplistic this all sounds. Yes, I am truly oblivious to the complications and I do not purport to know anything at all. But I am increasingly beginning to learn that, keeping your motivations sincere and deeply mulling over them, is worth the money.  I wish it was that simple but let us all think, Africa! Think!

In all the country strategies and presentations I saw at WAHO, developing policy and strategy was always the last point. Shouldn’t it be the first?


2 thoughts on “The Absence of Policy

  1. Reading this makes me very proud and hopeful about the future. Very insightful and timely words. The importance of effective policy and appropriate institutional structures and processes to ensure the long-term success and sustainability of any development objective cannot be overstated — whether across healthcare, education, access to energy, agriculture, you name it. Guard these thoughts though…for in not too long, you too will be up there among the key actors and decision makers. What will YOUR legacy to posterity be? Keep up the great work.

  2. Pingback: West African Health Organization: Think, Africa, developing policy and strategy should always come first – Metty Markwei |


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