Bogum Chugu – Fire/Safety

A parade within a fireworks show within an all night dance party within a diffuse riot within an 800 year old festival commemorating the landing of Noah’s Ark on top of Mount Ararat.

The Bogum Chugu is one of two major festivals in Northern Ghana every year (the other, Damba, is in two months). I missed it last year, but this year, without a small amount of trepidation, I decided to check it out with my friend (and barber) Dan. I won’t try to do it justice by describing it in detail, but you can read about the very interesting history here and here. Despite the many, manymany health and safety violations, crowds and confusion, this was an amazingly joyous and positive event from my perspective. I tried to stay on the periphery as much as possible, and went home before things got too intense, but it was still way outside my risk comfort zone.

This difference in perspective around risk and safety is one of the most pronounced I’ve experienced here in Ghana and I am still trying to come to grips with what it means. In the West, we generally take the view that things should be as safe as possible and have constructed an elaborate edifice of laws, rules, and regulation all driven by severe litigiousness and heightened risk aversion. Most of the time this works in our favour, but often safety and risk mitigation are applied for their own sake without asking what is actually needed. I found this a lot in engineering where compounding safety factors and code compliance led to ludicrous waste and inefficiency. The aggregate of all this “safety” did not even produce the most safe conditions in some cases!

In Ghana, while the legislation has been developed and a lot of the same systems and regulations exist, at least in theory, the application and enforcement is still catching up. Most people do not wear moto helmets, buckle seat belts, or wear safety equipment, but what is considered “normal” and acceptable is still fairly consistent and congruent across the society. While having people die every year at festival, should never be acceptable anywhere, I hope Ghana can find a better way of managing safety and risk than we have in the West. We all experience cognitive dissonance in regards to safety and partake in hugely risky behaviour (whether driving without a moto helmet or eating a steady diet of fast food), but it’s worth reflecting on where this behaviour comes from every so often.

It was not easy to get good photos in the darkness and confusion, but here are few that are hopefully illustrative: