Feature Article of Tuesday, 12 February 2013
Columnist: Commey, Gideon
‘Cohort Replacement’: Why Ghanaians Won’t Stop Littering
“What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so” – Mark Twain
So many people I have interviewed about the issue of littering on the streets and gutters of Accra have indicated that people who litter have a bad attitude and must be ‘educated’. Well, some also think people who litter are indiscipline. That the guy who just dropped a water sachet into the gutter- the well built insurance guy in a three-piece black Hong Kong suit and a red shirt, matching a home-made shiny Ashanti shoes could pass as an ‘illiterate’.
There is certainly a diverse view about why people litter the environment and how they should be dealt with. A school of thought advocates for corporal punishment, a retribution for that offence. Others specify a fine in the form of money. If people know they will pay for littering, they won’t do it.
Over the few years, I have come to have a different perspective on the issue. I don’t think people who litter the environment will change their attitude, instead, frankly and bluntly, they would die off and pave the way to a generation that doesn’t litter. This mechanism of fundamental social change has been ignored or underestimated, but trust me, it works like melting ice on your tongue.
A very simple term for this mechanism is called “cohort replacement”, and defined as “the replacement of old guards of organizational members and leaders with newer cohorts who have different beliefs, opinions, and values.” People hardly change their minds when it comes to behaviors that have overtime become their habits. What is scary about the situation in Accra is even the fact that littering has become peoples’ personality. They are the quintessence of littering everywhere there is either no, less or more litter.
But for the section of people who believe that education could and is the solution, who does the education anyway? Politicians are distrusted by the public and as such are bad behavior change communicators. Civil societies can do a better job but the problem at hand