If nothing else works, it’s time to get naked
Professor Birmingham, who lectured us in microeconomics at the National University of Lesotho, would mesmerise us when talking about perfect markets. Four years later, in 1980, at the University of Ghana I would be similarly mesmerised by the Makola Market.
As far as the eye could see there were so many suppliers and so many buyers that not one actor could influence the price at which goods were exchanged.
That is proof there can neither be a monopsony nor a monopoly.
But this behemoth of retail trade in Accra carried fault-lines in the political economy of Ghana. Most importantly, the Makola women, who to date wield not only economic power, but political power from this retail conurbation, are arbiters of these fault-lines.
Each time I am in Ghana I draw inspiration from this vast market of determined women. When pushed to the limits by the political system the women use the power of statistics to win their battles. They have done so with successive Ghanaian regimes.
The power of statistics is in bearing the raw and embarrassing facts publicly, thereby making the issues at stake transparent, but also calling for accountability, action and remedy. Such a point comes about often times when political systems have their ears blocked with elbows and retinas suppressed with political thumbs. Hear nothing and see nothing. Statistics are about removing the elbows from the ears and thumbs from the retinas.
In Giyani, they have a ritual to call on God to cause rain, with a unique confession. The entire elder community would convene at a spiritual rock where the confession is performed naked, with men and women separate.
They would bake themselves over this massive and blazingly hot rock, baring all to the gods in prayer that they have nothing to hide and thus informing their counterparts they are not withholding the rains from falling.
At the end of this ritual they would walk back to the village, convinced that they bore all the facts about themselves among themselves and to God and he has heard them and should in his powers cause it to rain.
This method of going naked is about transparency to counterparts and to God. It is also a method of protest which the Makola Market women of Ghana use to seek transparency and accountability when they are gatvol with government obfuscation.
In the book titled The Political History of Ghana (1950 – 2013), the former President of Ghana, Agyekum Kufuor, is said to have resigned from the Provisional National Defence Council of Ghana from 1981 – 1992, because the Makola Women promised to show him pepper – “he didn’t want to see nude market women any longer. Horror of horrors!”
Last year, some Makola Women traders at Dome market in the Ga East Municipality of the Greater Accra Region threatened to embark on a massive naked demonstration.
This time around it was against the Metropolitan chief executive, Janet Tulasi Mensah, who wanted to impose a market queen on them while they already had their own.
This method of protest was also directed at the much-publicised fourth edition of the World Summit of Mayors of June 2015. The protest was against an imminent removal of the market operators from the land they operated from. There is indeed power in baring the vital statistics.
But should women be forced to and let it come to that? Yet it did at the summit on gender-based violence against women and children held on November 1 and 2 in South Africa.
The summit had President Cyril Ramaphosa and the Speaker of Parliament, Baleka Mbete, emotionally shell-shocked, perplexed, transfixed, tearful and with nowhere to hide as one of the speakers boldly bared it all to the thousands congregated.
There were no parliamentary rules of “out of order” nor parliamentary guards to lift up the naked woman, who was addressing the audience.
The language of violence and arson has been with us and we have gotten used to it.
The language of looting and state capture and a ruling party that facilitated it have been with us and we have gotten used to it.
The language of a Parliament and an executive that has violated its oath of office, including unashamedly lying under oath, has been with us and we have gotten used to it.
We have left women no option, but to display how we have vulgarised their most inner of emotions and those of their children.
Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa.