You're breaking up

On a bus ride to Koforidua, Francis Kokutse’s ears burn as his fellow passengers lie into their cellphones

It was a journey of less than two hours. But on that bus ride from Accra, Ghana’s capital, to Koforidua, several people in my earshot used their mobile phones to tell blatant lies to whoever they were talking to.

Soon after the bus left the terminal, a woman passenger loudly got the ball rolling.
She told her boyfriend or husband: “I am just going to see my friend, Edith, at Osu. I expect to be back home in an hour — but let me tell you that I do not want to see you because you showed me disrespect last night.”

The side of the exchange the whole bus could hear caused much laughter because Osu is in Accra and this lady, like the rest of us, was well on her way to Koforidua, 85km away.

The laughter didn’t bother her. Soon her phone rang again. This time it was her mother and she shouted: “Ei mummy! I am still at Mr Wiafe’s office and the secretary says he is at a meeting. I will call you immediately the meeting ends, but if it goes beyond 7pm, I will have to wait till tomorrow.”

I looked at my watch. It was already 6.30pm and whatever or whoever was taking her to Koforidua, she clearly didn’t want to be bothered when she got there.

About 30 minutes into the journey it was the driver’s turn. “Oh, the police have just stopped us and they took money from me, so I couldn’t get the bread.” He burst out laughing at his own comedy as soon as he ended the call—presumably to his wife.

At this point general conversation on the bus turned to the use that mobile phones were being put to. One lady piped up and told us that, once, she was spending the weekend with a prominent politician when the man’s wife called. The PP quickly shut the wife down with an indignant speech: “I told you I was away at this central committee meeting of the party and you call me now as if I am the only man who has left his wife!” Since then, the lady regaled the bus, whenever she calls the PP’s office and the secretary says he’s at a meeting, she leaves a message saying: “I hope it is not a central committee meeting of the party.”

My personal experience was with a police officer. Late last year I was investigating the kidnapping of an Israeli businessman from Accra. I called my contact at police headquarters to find out more. No response to my call, so I sent him a text message and quickly got a reply. ” I am in Abuja, Nigeria, for a meeting.”

To get my story, I decided to visit the head of the criminal investigations department—only to find he was also out of the country. Not knowing what to do, I decided to go to my contact’s office because his second in command knew me well and I thought he might be able to help. To my shock when I got to my contact’s office, I heard one junior officer say to another, “DSP has just left the office.” I walked straight up to the officer who had spoken and spluttered, “Hasn’t DSP travelled out of the country?” To my surprise, the lady replied, “You just missed him. He’s gone for lunch.”

All pretty amusing until the day my 15-year-old neice Abigail arrived at my office during school hours to ask me for money for a school trip that her father, my cousin, apparently didn’t want her to go on.

Her phone rang as she walked into my office. She ignored it. It rang again. The caller turned out to be her father. But Abigail was prepared. “Hello? Hello? I can’t hear you!” she shouted. Then she switched off her phone.

Francis Kokutse is the Accra correspondent for the Nation Media Group of Kenya

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