Wednesday, 31 August 2011

From my Archives 1 - The Big Tree Could be a Bigger Draw (29/07/2008)

Everyone has something they have always wanted to do but never found the right moment or the time to do it. For me, visiting the Big Tree on the Oda road in the Eastern Region has been one such unfulfilled wish. I first heard about the mythical Big Tree reputed to be the biggest in West Africa, several years ago and it has been on my wish list for decades. I had my wish last week Saturday, and what an anti-climax.

My disappointment was not so much with the tree itself, although I must confess that it did not meet my huge expectation. I can’t blame the tree for that; after decades of building up that tree in my mind, the reality was never going to equal the fantasy. But it is a big tree, and definitely very tall. It is the biggest and tallest tree I have ever seen. I will tell you more about the tree but first let us hear it for the disappointment.

Tourism as an income earner is an article of faith with all Ghanaian governments since independence but when the chips are down, we all know that Ghana is not in the premier league of natural wonders of the world. We don’t have the Victoria Falls of Zambia and Zimbabwe, the Kilimanjaro of Tanzania, the Nile of Egypt or the Safari parks of Kenya, Namibia and South Africa. Even Afadjato, which every school pupil knows to be the highest mountain in Ghana, is perhaps in Togo.

However, that does not mean that we cannot celebrate the natural attributes that God gave is. I remember trying to entice a British university professor who was in our US State Department Study Tour several years ago to visit Ghana. He threw me a challenge: why should he spend his precious money to visit Ghana instead of Kenya or Tanzania. I had to think quickly, so although my answer was pure chauvinism, I have no regret.

I said that what Ghana uniquely had was the “the people”. It was a vague and even fatuous prescription but it seemed to work. This appeared to impress the professor and he asked me to expand on my idea. I told him about our rich culture and traditions, our hospitality and sense of fairness towards all, especially foreigners.

Then I also told him that although we are not great on the mountains, lakes and rivers side of things, we boast some impressive phenomena such as the biggest tree in West Africa. I had never seen the tree myself so when he asked how big, I was able to draw an imaginary big circle on the San Diego beach and claim that to be the circumference of the tree.

I don’t know if the Prof ever made it to Ghana but he did say that he was definitely going to make the Big Tree one of his “must see” sites in the world. Ever since that that encounter several years ago, I have felt guilty that I recommended a site I had never visited to a potential tourist.
Last Saturday, the opportunity came my way as I was travelling to Oda for a social occasion. As I hinted you, I was disappointed with the whole experience. The first thing you notice is what you don’t see. Let me explain: it is also an article of faith with all Ghanaian governments and tourism experts that internal tourism is the key that will unlock the tourism potential as a whole.

That makes sense: foreigners will want to see what we are flocking to see. But people will only go and see something that they know exists. Unfortunately, apart fro a couple of puny signs advertising a related restaurant there is no big notice board advertising the tree site itself. Now, without a big sign advertising it no-one will notice the signboard at the entrance because drivers will be doing 120 km as they whiz past.

To be fair, during his tenure at the Ministry of Tourism Etc, Mr. Jake Obetsebi Lamptey built a number of reception centres at most tourism sites to serve the needs of tourists. But as far as the Big Tree is concerned he could have saved himself the effort and the money. There is no signpost to the centre apart from the self-same restaurant sign, albeit the restaurant is at the centre. So, on the way to Oda we zipped past both the tree and the reception centre as if they didn’t exist. Thousands of potential visitors must have done the same. Perhaps, it is a good thing they did because the experience at the reception and the entrance to the tree site disappointed deeply.

As we were looking for it on the return journey, it was easier to stop at the reception centre where we hoped to eat lunch at the advertised restaurant. The first thing we noticed was the absence of tyre marks amid the rain ridges that form the car park. Nonetheless, we soldiered on. There were three people sitting at the centre, two of them at a table: we thought someone else ate there – a good sign.
We were wrong. All three either work there or simply hang about the place – in short they were not customers. But there was nothing to show that they worked there either. The first person we saw was a young lady sitting under an umbrella selling phone cards. There was no sign of welcome so we went past her to one of the many vacant tables around.

It was only then that the young lady reluctantly came to stand at our table. She offered no welcome; she just stood until we asked for food. Yes, they had food but what food? Well, plain or fried rice. That was it – you either eat it or beat it. You could tell that she did not really care one way or the other. She made no effort to convince us to eat. It was painfully obvious that she wanted us to leave so she could go and sit under the umbrella selling phone cards.

We decided to leave the reception centre for the tree site. The scene there was hilarious. There were two cars parked on the road so obviously there were other visitors. When we got to the gate an argument was raging between the tourists and the two gatemen over the one Ghana Cedi charge. The two gatemen were as drunk as lords on a Sunday afternoon and smelled as if they had spent their formative years in a distillery. More to the point, these were perhaps the two last persons you would put in charge of receiving visitors. But there you have it; they were in office!

Finally we saw the tree. Majestic, yes but so what? The trouble with our tourism is that it is not properly conceived and there is no addition of value to whatever is there to be seen. There was no guide to explain anything about the tree, no T-shirt, no postcard, not even at the reception centre. The dirt track to the tree was so muddy that we had to hold other people to stay steady.

Meanwhile, with proper planning and marketing of spin-offs, the Big tree could be drawing bigger crowds and providing employment for scores of people. The two drunken guides provide a metaphor for how we treat our heritage assets – bumbling, reckless and incompetent are kind words.

Monday, 29 August 2011

A Place for the President to Lay His Head

Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng

The recent spat over the President’s Regimanuel “mansion” or “security outhouse”, depending on who is telling the story, highlights a very simple issue, which is where the president of this republic must officially reside and work. This is a historic problem, but currently framed in the inevitable NDC-NPP rivalries. References to presidential residences are often limited to the tenures of Messrs Rawlings, Kufuor and Mills who all have had “issues” with their presidential living arrangements, but the matter goes much further than present politics would suggest.

In fact, the question of where the nation’s leaders live has never been settled which is why we have these periodic bouts of embarrassment over presidential residences. Kwame Nkrumah lived in a house in Accra New Town when he was Leader of Government Business” and shared power with the Governor between 1951 and 1957. He worked at the Castle but did not live there; Christianborg Castle at Osu was the home of the Governor. When he became President Nkrumah turned Flagstaff House, which had been the headquarters of the Army into his presidential palace where he had his office and residence. He also built the Peduase Lodge as an official retreat and a place to receive foreign dignitaries.

Older citizens recall that none of the following heads of state and government lived in an official residence: General Joseph Ankrah, General Akwasi Amankwah Afrifa, President Akuffo-Addo, Prime Minister Prof. K. A. Busia, General Kutu Acheampong, General Akuffo, Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings, Mr. Hilla Limann, Mr J. A. Kufuor and now Professor John Atta Mills who, like others, shares his time between the Castle and his own house.

In effect, in a country steeped in traditional cultures revolving around palaces and their occupants there is no officially designated place for the leaders of the nation and their families to lay their heads. This contrasts sharply with the practice in most countries where the official residence of the nation’s leader is either coded into law or steeped in convention and cannot be changed at whim. Some of the most famous residential addresses in the world fall into this category including the White House (USA), 10 Downing Street (UK), Aso Rock (Nigeria), State House (Liberia), the last two being in our own West African neighbourhood. It had been hoped that this problem would be resolved from 2009 but the NEW Flagstaff House remains free of the presidential presence, and so we have to say that there is still no properly designated presidential palace. The question is, why?

Part of the answer is history, part is security and the third could be politics. The state being a seamless and continuous entity, one government simply carries on from the last and it is convenient just to carry on also where the last one functioned. The sheer volume of work in relocating a presidency must be a deterrent to making the move. In 1951 the African Administration shared government with the colonial government which retained important portfolios of defence, foreign affairs and the Interior. Therefore, naturally, Nkrumah had to share the Castle working space.

The move by Nkrumah to Flagstaff House was strategic and tactical for political and security reasons. The Castle, with its associations with colonialism and slavery was not the ideal working space for a radical pan-Africanist, and it was also said to be rather unsuitable for doing presidential business. In addition, apart from escape by sea, a leader under attack would not have the open ground that the location of Flagstaff House afforded. Furthermore, Osu did not have the space to house the presidential guard that developed opposite the Flagstaff House. (In today’s overcrowded Accra, these advantages are seen as serious handicaps for the place to house the presidency, of which more later).

Nkrumah’s successors, who overthrew him chose not to work at Flagstaff also for political and security reasons. They were soldiers more comfortable at the Barracks, and largely detested Flagstaff for its associations with Nkrumah and the CPP. On returning to civilian rule in 1969 both Dr. Busia and Mr. Akuffo-Addo, who was a ceremonial president, worked at the Castle, although Busia, who was not a head of state, had to travel daily from his Odorkor residence outside Accra to work, braving cruel abuse from political opponents who took vantage positions along his route.  

The idea of a permanent home for the country’s leaders, if it was ever on the cards, evaporated completely with the overthrow of the Busia-Akuffo-Addo government in 1972 because the National Redemption Council men who took over power were of pure military stock with no pretensions to civilian oversight of any sort, and that included consolidating the ascendancy of the barracks. These were the men who supervised the caning of civil servants for coming to work late. For them, ruling the country from the Burma Camp was both a matter of honour and an article of faith. The Supreme Military Council that took over from the NRC in a palace coup was even more conservative in drawing a clear line between the military and civilian regimes; for them living away from the barracks would have amounted to abandoning their first principles.

In all of the above cases, the bottom line was politics and security, which we ought to have confidently assumed to be resolved, or resolvable with the return to civilian democratic rule in 1992, except that with Flt Lt Rawlings still in charge and he had long established his comfort zone – a combination of the Castle, Gondar Barracks and his Ridge residence. The nation ought to have drawn the line after Rawlings and insisted that the President, whoever he or she was, being the first Servant of the people had to live in a place designated as the Presidential Palace. Alas, no such place was prepared or proffered and so Mr. Kufuor opted to stay at his own house and trek daily to work at the Castle.

In the second half of his eight-year tenure, Mr. Kufuor turned his attention to this problem and secured financing from India to build what many hoped would be a permanent seat of government for Ghana. In his last weeks in Office, the former President made a great show of what his government chose to call Jubilee House, the choice of name signalled that this house was not built on a politics-free foundation; in 2007 the NDC members of Parliament, then in opposition, stormed out of the House during the final debate on the loan for the presidential palace.

Today, part of the palace, renamed Flagstaff House, houses the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after its own offices were razed in a fire. Experts say the new place is not suitable for use as a presidential palace as it is situated rights smack in a traffic zone and close to a major road and shares a wall with the French Embassy. Furthermore, they point out that much of the interior work in the residency is either uncompleted or not fit for purpose.

Of course, no one can force President Mills or any president to live in a house he does not want, but this country has to go past the indignity of its chief executives being officially homeless and leaving them to make embarrassing compromises on their residential arrangements. If Flagstaff House is unsuitable let us agree to build a new acceptable palace or for ever declare that the colonial Castle will remain the official residence and offices of the Presidency so that anyone wanting to be president would know that it is part of their responsibility to live there.

As for the almost empty Flagstaff House it would make a lovely national arts house which can host galleries, museums and various bits of our national heritage. With its iconic shape and situated in a very accessible place and in potentially lovely grounds, such an arts house would be the centre of tourism to Accra; at the moment there is no such place. Think of the Louvre in Paris or the National Gallery in London. We would be up there with the best of them and this house, currently unloved by a large part of our population could be a unifying symbol and will, with time, pay its way in the world.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

So, What Exactly is a Sod?

“Poor sod” is a familiar English expression used in dismay or pity, but in Ghana the sod has come into its own and has taken centre stage in our political debates as projected in the media. Poor sod is being cut left right and centre by the President and this has brought it right smack to the centre of the constant political quarrel between the NDC and NPP. But what exactly is a sod? I was moved to ask this question when I heard a very amusing comment by a newsreader during an Akan radio news bulletin. According to the newsreader, the NPP had said that President Mills “has become so fond of sod-cutting that he does not leave home without a sod” (sic). I decided to pay attention to the sod debate, especially as conducted by “commentators” and serial callers on radio. Basically, the argument runs something like this: According to the opposition NPP, President Mills is on a meaningless sod-cutting spree which merely disguises the lack of progress on real issues affecting the people of Ghana. The NDC retorts in the opposite direction, as you would expect: according to the government party, the President’s sod-cutting across the country is the manifestation of the action year which President Mills promised at the beginning of 2011. Sods are cut for projects which the government has initiated for a better Ghana and the NPP is jealous that the NDI is doing so much for a better Ghana for the people. That is the NDC view. As usual, there is a lot of angry but futile frothing on the subject as on much else that forms the substance of political discussion in the media in general, but especially on radio. If you track the issues that have dominated our media discussions over the past few weeks, none of them deserves to be given more than a passing reference in any serious political and policy discourse. Even where there is a serious point to be made, the treatment is often limited to the superficial and sensational aspects of what could be an important point of politics or policy. A case in point is the current focus on the reported rift between President Mills and his mentor and party founder, former President Rawlings. For a couple of days last three weeks the centre of attention was on a perceived snub of the President by Mrs. Rawlings, his putative challenger, who is reported to have sat when the President entered their party caucus instead of standing as demanded by protocol. This issue was chewed to the marrow when all the meat on it had been devoured by the media vultures on the lookout for any juicy bit of flesh. No-one can argue that the NDC’s intraparty squabbles are not important; there are key issues there, including the effect of a serious rift in the governing party on governance at the national level, but these have been downplayed or ignored. Instead the sitting versus standing debate ranged all over the place; Mrs Rawlings said she did not see the President enter while her detractors said her sitting was a snub or protest of some sort. The issue at the heart of this perception was only skirted. It appears that our politicians and their media allies are more comfortable with superficial and sensational stories as a means of avoiding serious inquiry into matters that really affect our lives. There is almost no independent investigation into aspects of the economy and economic performance, including inflation and job creation, both of which remain deeply controversial and contested politically. A case in point is a media report in November last year which claimed that 100,000 jobs had been created in the first nine months of 2010 through foreigners investing in our economy. The story was sourced to Mr. George Aboagye, the Chief Executive of the Ghana Investments Promotion Centre. According to the story, the number of jobs created by the same route in 2009 was 20,000. You don’t need to be an economic genius to spot the questions that should have been asked: where are these jobs; what kind of jobs; what accounts for the jump from 20,000 to 100,000? These important questions were not asked; in fact the story did not register at all on our political Richter scale because the political “aspect” did not arise or perhaps it came at a time when neither Rawlings nor Nana Akuffo-Addo had said something or another to which the media would latch on, and which – let’s face it – would not require the kind of brain and leg work an economic enquiry would require. Another case in point: a recent case of mob justice involving the extreme molestation of an alleged female thief at the University of Ghana horrified the country and was condemned by most right thinking members of society. What a surprise therefore to learn that there was a party-political angle to this story. I didn’t get it then, and can’t get it now, but Mr. Kofi Adams, Spokesperson for the Rawlings Family had to deny that the former President had any political interest in this issue. Is there no limit to politicisation of issues in this country? Getting back to the sod, the cutting of which is an issue, it is obvious that something very interesting is being revealed in that rather fatuous debate. Obviously, the government feels that the electorate would be impressed when the President is unleashed on the country cutting sods all over the place, and they may well have a case, or at least reinforce a point. Ghanaians appear to judge a government by the number of infrastructural projects that are delivered in their constituencies and districts in the life of every government. Given that a government has four years, which effectively means about three years of serious work, it is a tough task to find a project for every nook and cranny of the Republic and so the government has to find as many clinics, roads and bridges as it can to commission or inaugurate. Since there are not enough to go round, sod-cutting comes in very handy as a political insurance of the future. You can cut the sod anywhere and anytime because essentially sods are cut for future projects. So the government can decide that a mighty nuclear station would be built at say, Asamankese in the next 20 years but decide to cut the sod just in time to wow the voters in 2012. So, cue the brass bands, party flags, bring out the chiefs and people – and bingo – His Excellency cuts the sod for a nuclear station. The nuclear station may or may not be built, but that is beside the point. The sod is the point. This is why the sod has allegedly been cut several times for the same project. This may be a cynical view but it is how the opposition sees it, and by opposition I mean, in short memory terms, the NDC before 2009 and the NPP at present. If you play back radio tapes of “debates”, say in 2007, you would hear almost word-for-word the same arguments being made by the NPP and NDC today, only in reverse order. A simple formula would read thus: The holder of the power cuts the sod; The loser of the power hates the sod! In truth, the preeminent place of the sod in our body politic may be completely misplaced and based on a long-held misperception of the role of government. This misperception is based on the assumption, fuelled by political propaganda, that a government’s main job for which it should be judged is the BUILDING of things. This is leading to all kinds of confusion of expectations and performance criteria. For example, a government can build schools and yet fail to provide education, or build clinics but fail to provide health, etc.

In fact, building things – schools, clinics, roads and the like – is the easiest part of the government’s job. The harder and more important work may be invisible to the eye. Governments must reform how we respond to threats from within and without on all fronts as at all times. In other words, the government’s main job is to protect the people, and that is not limited to building things – not even police stations.

So, what exactly is a sod? Sadly, it is not something kept in the boot of the presidential car; it is a piece of earth covered by a tuft of grass. Poor sod.

We Need to Know if Judges Are Corrupt

Lawyers and judges may or may not know that we ordinary mortals live in complete bewilderment of the legal profession. From their ridiculous attire to arcane and incomprehensible language, nothing about lawyers appears straightforward to the layperson. In fact, if truth be told, we suspect that the whole legal setup is designed solely for our confusion and puzzlement. A friend of mine spent one whole evening wondering and worrying whether to address the magistrate he was going to face on a minor driving charge as “Your Honour”, “Your Worship”, or possibly “Your Lordship”. He agonized further about what to say if the magistrate was a woman.

The recent brouhaha over the allegation of judicial corruption appears to be equally confusing and frustrating to us the lay members of society. It is not the allegation per se that is the trouble. In fact, our difficulty has to do with why anyone should be surprised or even offended at the claim. This is something we hear every day at the market, Lorry Park, beer bar, stadium and at home. So what’s new?
It appears that what’s new is that the four people men claiming that there is judicial corruption - Dr Raymond Atuguba, Mr. David Annan, Mr. Abraham Amaliba and Mr. Laary Bimi are lawyers – that is what has upset the General Legal Council and magistrates and judges in the country. As I understand it, magistrates and judges say they will not hear any cases in which the four men appear as counsel.

The first of many questi
ons we must ask is this: why are lawyers and judges so angry at allegations of corruption that have been made thousands of times in private and public? Why now? One understands that these allegations of corruptions gain serious credence coming from lawyers, but even the Chief Justice has more or less said the same thing in the past without attracting the opprobrium of her peers.
The four lawyers have been asked by both the General Legal Council and the Association of Judges and Magistrates to provide evidence or proof of their allegations, which is fair enough; after all the dictum that the one alleging must prove is derived from sound moral reasoning. However, the four lawyers are not the first to make these accusations, or to put it more properly, to express this concern because this is a fine and important distinction to make.
I was told by a cousin some years ago that a magistrate had demanded money through a court registrar in a case in which my relative was involved. I did not doubt my cousin, but I did not also investigate. It was the closest I have ever come to having a direct encounter with purported judicial corruption. However, I have heard hundreds of such allegations – enough to enable me to express concern without a corresponding ability to provide proof or evidence.
I was not in a position to hear the manner and the context in which the four gentlemen made the claims, and it is possible that the circumstances meant that they were referring to specific rather than general incidences of corruption on the bench. Even so, they were adding to general concerns expressed almost universally about judges in this country. It is understandable that judges and magistrates should feel particularly stung by the accusations coming from their own kind.

That is one way of looking at it: that the four men have betrayed their own kind and in doing so could have broken a lawyer’s omerta which is meant to protect a near-sacrosanct profession from the prying eyes and ears of the masses. Another way is to look at the allegations coming from within as an opportunity to get to the bottom of the concern and thus get rid of the bad apples in the barrel from which the stench emanates. It is obvious that magistrates, judges and most of the legal establishment have taken the first option; in doing so they have turned the spotlight on the four lawyers instead of keeping the focus on judicial corruption.

Judges are not the only professional group accused of impropriety in this country; journalists and the police are probably lower in public esteem. In the case of journalists the Ghana Journalists Association accepts that accusations of corruption are not mere fabrications; the union also knows that it would be unfair or even futile to ask every single alleger to provide proof of name, where, when and how the alleged act of misdemeanor took place. Demanding such proof is correct and morally defensible, but in a case in which the GJA believes that such accusations could be true, the union prefers to deal with the issue in a generic manner. I feel that the GJA should go further, and I will explain why and how.
Mr. Haruna Iddrisu, the Minister of Communications put it in plain language in a radio and television discussion the other day. The judiciary, he said, in paraphrase, is composed of human beings and in that case it would be extremely difficult to argue that there is not a single corrupt person on the bench. That should be the beginning point, which alone calls for humility and reflection on the part of those responding in any way, shape or form to these accusations because they cannot assert the contrary to be true.

Unfortunately, and by both extrapolation and common street-level expressions, not one but many judges are BELIEVED to be corrupt. This is unfair because I don’t believe that this is true. Remember that I have had only one and very indirect evidence of judicial corruption coming via a cousin who had reason to believe at that time that all judges were monsters from another planet. However, this has not stopped me from believing, like most people, that the judiciary is corrupt.
If lawyers then say what is commonplace among Ghanaians and get sidelined and ostracised for it, this provides the accusations with legs to run and run. That is not what judges, lawyers, or Ghanaians in general want. What we all want is to know the truth and thereby clean the bench of any people sitting in judgment over us with tainted hands. The way to go about it is not to make victims of those alleging; not in this case.
The magistrates and judges, or the Judicial Service or any of the parties can set up a partial public enquiry to collect evidence on the matter. Indeed, I believe that the same should be done by the GJA so that the profession can rid itself of those who have infiltrated it with the aim of serving their own selfish interests through unprofessional conduct. The journalists union can and should do this if it is serious about establishing a standard to which all professional journalists in the country would adhere.
However much we may decry the impact of journalistic corruption on its victims, those victimized by unprofessional conduct by the bench would fare much worse. Furthermore, the implications of judicial corruption impact directly on our democracy in a way that corruption elsewhere cannot compare. For these and many reasons, I would suggest that a presidential commission should be instituted to establish the true state of our judiciary. Those in the know say that that judicial corruption is not limited to the conduct of judges and magistrates but to the clerical and support staff as well.
This matter is too grave to be allowed to turn on the fate of four lawyers who may be silenced in the courtroom or in the society of their peers, which would in turn stop others from making similar public claims. Stopping the four lawyers from doing their jobs may be part of the legal profession’s mysterious disciplinary processes but it leads us no closer to knowing whether our judges are corrupt or not.
As Judge Mills Lane from the American TV Courtroom show said: “…Society is headed in the right direction or wants to head in the right direction, and judges have an obligation to try to help it head there”.
Can’t put it better.

*This article appeared in the Daily Graphic (P10) of Saturday June 4 2011

Can the CPP Save itself from Fantasy?

Media mention of the Convention Peoples Party (CPP) has been unusually high recently, which is perhaps the clearest sign that the 2012 election season has arrived since the CPP only manages to rouse itself for the quadrennial electoral competition. Much of the media coverage has centred on the forthcoming election of party officials, especially due to the excitement caused by Samia Nkrumah, the party’s sole Member of Parliament. While the media and politicians may be excited about the CPP’s Congress slated for late July, the public appears nonplussed and bemused by it all. The media and politicians are understandably excited by gossip and information in their tiny village which they mistake for the country at large. Every morning, while they talk themselves to near-death on radio and television, the citizens go about their normal lives only stopping every now and then to smile or even chuckle at a striking comment. The media and politicians think this is the life; the citizens beg to differ. So, when the CPP party officials become frenzied by preparation for Congress and who might become party chairperson, they might do well to stop and ask the public what they think.

I did just that. I know it is not a scientific poll but I spoke with a good number of people and asked them if they thought the election of any one person to the Chairmanship of the CPP would change the fortunes of the party. Most people couldn’t care less, although there is a general sense of disappointment that the CPP has become so marginal to the country’s politics. There is name recognition of some of the prominent people in the party, and of course, there is always the harking back to Nkrumah. That is about it. The question that draws a blank and on which the CPP needs to dwell is the simplest one: what is the CPP for? This should be the starting point of any serious political crusade but unfortunately beyond a vague sense of values and rehashing of ancient ideological verities, the CPP has floundered in the identity department. This leaves room for all manner of speculation and guesswork mostly fuelled by uncoordinated statements and attitudes of party officials as projected in the media.

For example, a number of CPP officials participate in the inescapable morning political discussions on radio and TV but it has never been made clear whether the things they say represent the CPP’s position or their own views on current issues. They never make it clear whether they speak for the party in such circumstances, and it is a claim they cannot make because the format adopted by radio and TV “newspaper reviews” would make any such claims absurd. Almost all radio and TV stations have adopted a routine by which certain people appear on certain days irrespective of the topics to be discussed. If it is Monday it is Amma; if it is Wednesday it is Kofi, that sort of thing. This means no party can send the appropriate representative to speak on its behalf. This means that CPP “commentators” are speaking for themselves.

This format works well for the media because they don’t have to do the difficult work of having to invite appropriate people to their discussion forums. It also suits the NDC and NPP because their positions are basically to oppose each other; the public knows instinctively what the NDC and NPP would say on almost every issue even before the panellists take their seats. This is not good for the CPP which needs to create a strong sense of identity in the minds of the public. It is this lack of clarity that has caused the electoral disasters that continue to haunt the CPP. The CPP mounted a slick professional campaign in 2008, but it was largely perceived as Dr. Nduom’s own personal campaign and did nothing to consolidate any ideas about CPP values or direction. The campaign rallies attracted huge crowds but crowds don’t vote; individuals do, and once they leave the clap-sing-and-dance ambience of the rally people ask themselves why they should vote for the CPP. It is the answer to that question that the party has to work out and present in clear and unambiguous terms. The undeniable fact is that the CPP has failed as an electoral machine, having not once gone even up to five percent of the popular vote. There are both electoral and historical reasons for this abysmal showing. Historically, Ghana has always had two strong parties in the arena vying for voters’ loyalty and support. Today, the NDC and NPP occupy the two slots, and in such situations the two parties need only define themselves by not being the “other”. In other words, it is sufficient for NPP core voters not to be NDC and vice versa. In elections, it is important for the two top parties to convince the electorate NOT to vote for the other as much as they make the case for themselves. In our polarised political circumstances, even floating voters are floating only between the NDC and NPP because electorally it would not make sense for them to “spoil” their vote by voting for what they consider a “hopeless case”, especially if they believe that their vote could be critical in deciding which of the top two wins. If the CPP has conducted a post-mortem of the 2008 election it probably has documented thousands of such instances in which people who had pledged their support switched at the last minute.

The CPP is not alone in this sort of electoral no-mans-land. Third parties and smaller parties all over the world suffer from this malaise and can overcome it only through two options working separately or together. These are the adoption of an alternative voting system or the espousal of radical political platforms. Examples of the latter abound, especially on the right in Europe where Marie Le Pen’s National Front Party in France and the British National Party have made strong electoral showings by distinguishing themselves through radical platforms. I believe that the CPP, in its own interest and in the interest of a purer and more inclusive democracy in Ghana should have spearheaded a campaign to change our electoral system from first past the post to proportional representation. It is not my intention here to go into the details of proportional representation but it is fair to point out that in a strictly proportional situation even a one percent vote in a 230 member parliament would entitle a party to two parliamentarians. However, a campaign by the CPP for proportional representation would give the party the much needed visibility and an issue that distinguishes it from other parties, plus of course a much larger share of the vote because every vote will count wherever it is cast. The CPP has not taken this road, indeed it is nowhere on the party’s radar and when the opportunity came during a debate organised by the Editors Forum and the IEA, CPP officials present appeared not to understand the significance of the moment.

The other option available to the CPP is to adopt a strong radical programme. In fact, the people of Ghana, if and when they think of the CPP, associate the party with strong and radical leadership. This means that the CPP must distinguish itself from the other parties by championing the cause of the voiceless and marginalised not in words but in a demonstrable and deliverable programme that gives the people grounds to switch their allegiance from other parties with confidence. The CPP must come up with radical policies on education, health, infrastructure and the general direction of the state and society in ways that correct the imbalance against the poor.

Of course, if the CPP will survive as a credible party it has to have members but I wonder if any constituency holds regular meetings, or whether the party head office writes to its members or even collects dues. As far as I can recall, there has not been a single media report of any CPP public event; not even a village football match. If such meetings have been going on then they have been a well kept secret.

The CPP can only survive if it has the numbers. The old way of believing that one powerful individual can emerge and take the party on his or her mighty shoulders is a mere fantasy, as is the phantom belief that there are millions of people waiting to vote spontaneously for it in 2012. It didn’t happen in 2008 and nothing has changed.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

A Dismal Economic Outlook – What is Africa’s Response?

The world is not in a good shape. Perhaps this is the "final" crisis of capitalism long prophesied by Karl Marx and eagerly awaited by his ideological and spiritual heirs down the ages. Perhaps not. But whatever its description and origin, no country or region in the world is immune from the effects of the financial and economic crisis in which major world centres find themselves.

It is acknowledged almost by all experts and commentators that the current international quagmire poses a grave challenge to the post-war laissez faire economics and the faith that has been reposed in the “market”. The basic idea has been that there is no limit to growth and that growth by itself will at certain points deliver quality. China appears to prove the latter point, but unlimited growth is suffering from a serious credibility gap.

In the last two years, Europe and the USA, and to a lesser extent countries in South East Asia, China, India and some other economies have been grappling publicly with how to meet these challenges in the near and far future. As everyone knows, the defining divisions in politics in many countries such as the USA and the UK will be how to accept the unpalatable conclusion that unlimited growth has ended, perhaps for all time. The inevitable consequence of accepting this reality is the lowering of expectation; the question: whose expectations should be lowered?

We have already seen how that question translates into politics in the US. Basically, President Obama and the Democrats want to raise taxes, especially from rich corporate bodies to plug the tax hole while the Republicans have ruled out tax increases. However, the Republican position amounts to a tax on poorer people since budget cuts disproportionately affect people who depend on the state for some of the most essential services such health care and education. A similar situation is in Britain at the moment, and the riots that rocked British cities is seen as an early indication of the political and social cost of these policies.

The worry in all of these for us in Africa is that we do not appear to be learning any lessons from what is happening elsewhere. Even worse, there is no discernible preparation for the inevitable fallout that will hit us sooner or later. Bad economic situations in the countries to which we sell our produce such as cocoa, coffee and the rest means that they cannot buy as much as they used to or as much as we would wish them to buy. The result would mean less money for us. Another obvious consequence of the crunch in those countries is a cut in their aid budget.

This is tricky. Although there is a considerable opinion out there against depending on aid money, in truth our governments depend on them for major infrastructural works and so a diminishing of money from such sources will affect us rather badly. This too has already started happening with cuts in the aid money going to some countries severely reduced or removed completely. In the case of the UK cuts, even some projects that were thought to be untouchable in the past have been cut, including the funding of the BBC’s World Service.

So, what should Africa’s response be? Despite the differences in economic strengths and particulars, African countries share some common features that should enable a common response or formulated understanding to be possible even without burdening the African Union or even the UN’s ECA to harmonise or coordinate. It should be possible to draw simple lessons from which every country could tap needed strategies or policy prescriptions.

The first of these lessons is that it is better right from the start (start being where we are today) to build social equity into economic frameworks. For too long, we have been made to accept as almost an inviolable truth the assertion that trickle down works, and that if we stick at it long enough limitless growth will ensure that even those at the bottom of the socio-economic pile will rise. There is considerable evidence to support the notion that this is fiction, or perhaps fantasy, but it persists because it buys the advantages for wealthy today while postponing the anger of the masses. The current crises should tell us that it would be better to build in systems that avert social crises instead of postponing them.

We know from the current crises that contrary to assertions by market fundamentalists, the system has no self-correcting mechanisms. The theory is that internal workings of the market, such as demand and supply will always iron out any distortions over time and this self-correction would ensure prosperity and happiness for all. This lie has been exposed.

The current situation provides ample proof - via the massive bailout schemes that the US and Europe deployed to balance the books and save major financial institutions from collapse – that the state has a role to play in the ordering of social and economic priorities across the globe. The African state has been urged over the past four decades to abdicate its proper place as the fulcrum on which should rely efforts for equity and social well-being of all the people. In its place assorted non-state interventions have been promoted.

Today, the result of neoliberal economic policies that our governments have been forced to swallow is there for all to see. Paramount among them is the mass unemployment, especially among young people. It is estimated by most experts more than half of all unemployed people are under the age of 40, and this rate, at nearly 30 percent is rising. This is the time bomb on which most African countries are sitting.

It is only an ill wind that blows no good, as the saying goes. So Africa can make something positive about this dismal prospect but only if our governments will be bold enough to learn the lessons and apply them to real situations as opposed to applying prescriptions that do not work even for oversimplified synthetic situations. The choice is ours.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011


Once upon a time a competition was held to determine which country's chief crab catcher had the best crabs in the world. A chief crabs’ examiner was appointed to lead a team of international crab inspectors for the competition which was held at a big stadium in a country somewhere in the world.

The inspection team went round, first to the Ivorian stand where the Ivorian master crab catcher opened his barrel to showcase his crabs. The crustaceans started rushing up in a desperate bid to escape from the basket. The examiner awarded marks and hastily replaced the lid on the basket. The same thing happened at the Nigerian stand, the British stand, the Chinese stand and the Croatian stand.

Gradually, the examining party made its way to the Ghana stand where the Ghana chief crab catcher received them and took the lid off the basket. No crabs scrambled out. The Ghana crabs lay very quietly at the bottom of the basket barely moving. The puzzled international crab inspectors asked the Ghana crabs boss what he had done to keep his crabs so docile.

 Me? He asked throwing his arms wide open. I haven’t done anything to them.

When one of them starts to climb up the others gang up and pull him down. After several times trying they all give up and lie still at the bottom of the basket.


Monday, 15 August 2011


Lessons from the London Street

msluluroseLulu Rose (Twitter):

The Youth of the Middle East rise up for basic freedoms.

The Youth of London rise up for HD ready 42" Plasma TV

Were they riots, demonstrations or protests? The thing that hit London and other cities in the UK this week has been a long time coming. It may yet find a name when sociologists and policing theorists get together to define its limits and extensions; when politicians profess themselves satisfied with the results of the inevitable enquiries, the thing will be named like a sudden newborn infant finally brought out of incubation. But this baby-thing is not of sudden birth; we can say the mother looked away despite the signs that a monster was within her body politic.

If we may now drop the torture of metaphor, we can put it like this: in London, as in other cities, groups of young men, intent of bending society to their will have taken over not just the street but the defining agenda for the coming generation. The tactics and motivations and timelines may differ but in essence and effect, what it means is that people’s lives are shaped, often by a small number of people whose instinct has led them to the conclusion that the street is the centre of all struggles. It is simple: however we live our lives, unless we are committed to a reclusive ideal that keeps us ensconced in a monastery we are bound to mix it up in the street – as both metaphor and physical space.

It doesn’t matter whether it is Cairo’s Tahir Square, Accra’s Kwame Nkrumah Circle or Trafalgar Square in London, people know the spaces from where to take effective control of the street. This, after all, is the rationale for holding demonstrations in the street and public spaces, and equally the reason why, especially in dictatorships, the police are commanded never to cede the street to dissidents. In London, the street has been ceded long ago to hooded young men but the authorities and parents pretended not to know.

The thing – when it acquires a name – will become part of the political folklore: that poverty drove these kids to want to break shops and make away with IPAD 2 and the latest mobile phone from the trendiest shop on the high street. Political parties will claim to have learnt lessons and think tanks and academics will write books about why groups of young men broke homes and cars and shops and looted from their own neighbourhoods. In effect society will say it understands why these young men effectively declared war on their own communities.

I keep referring to young men although TV pictures have shown a few young women and girls mixing with their male counterparts especially in the looting sprees. This is because at the core of these troubles is how young men and boys are brought up and regarded in society. Anyone who has used the London Underground train service would recognise the scene I am about to describe. In the twilight of late autumn and early winter evening you emerge from the underground station and the sight that greets you is a group of teenage boys all wearing hoods around their heads. They speak in rumbling tones as they smoke cigarettes and other substances or swig alcohol from bottles hidden in brown paper bags.

The sight is terrifying because you know they are not up to much good and anything could be the spark that starts something nasty. Nearby there may be a couple of police doing the local beat on foot but they don’t want to make trouble so as long as the boys are not actually assaulting any one even the police look away. We all look away and walk very fast away from the potential menace. No one drives them away because no one could dare. We know someone ought to tell them to go home to their parents, perhaps watch TV or even read a book. But no one dare. We look away.

Even in the broken parts of British society that the Prime Minister David Cameron has been talking about, girls are brought up a bit differently. There are some girls and young women who have also embraced the yob culture and do what the boys do, but they stand out because there are not that many of them in any community. The machismo that defines and motivates the boys in urban badlands of Manchester and London is not a girl thing.

You may think London is a world away from Ghana and that we can scoff at the excessive “human rights” and the softly-softly approach with which parenting is done in the Western world. We may think that the scenes of nightly violence gratuitously dished out randomly will not happen here. But think again. The seeds of generalised bad behaviour have long been sown and we may soon be reaping its whirlwind blowing our way. The way young men behave must give us cause to be worried. As we all know, if you want a group of people to cause any trouble for whatever reason there are young men who act as a special reserve force ready to be mobilised for rewards as little a t-shirt or five cedis apiece.

As in the UK, there may be a myriad of reasons why young men, or anyone for that matter may decide to join a group but the readiness with which boys and men between 13 and 30 are ready to put their bodies on the line suggests that there may be biochemical factors at play here and those may be moderated only through social conditioning such as training and education. But whose definition and characterisation of education and training are we talking about here?

The violence seen on the streets of UK cities stems from a culture of both entitlement and impunity which are both causes and effect of sheer bad behaviour. For too long liberals, conservatives, socialists and social democrats have looked away from the plain truth that stares at all of us from train stations, lorry parks, football stadiums, and all other places where young men congregate not only in Britain but across the world.

The behaviour of a certain type of young man during World Cup victory celebrations last year is a case in point. These people usually arrived on motorbikes or as a horde on foot and simply created mayhem and chaos. That they were able to steal from people in the disorder they created was not their main point. They simply terrorised everybody because they were allowed to. This is what is happening in the UK where the authorities finally cottoned on to this truth and put 16,000 police officers on the streets in London.

Here in Ghana if a group of young men decides to go on the rampage, say in Accra there will be no stopping them. Again, during the last World Cup, despite the foreknowledge that the Accra suburb of Osu would be the action spot whenever Ghana won, there was no police presence during the celebrations that followed the win over Serbia. It took a strong media campaign to change the situation on subsequent Ghana match days, although there was no change in the behaviour of the rampaging hordes.

While they look for answers in the UK and elsewhere for why young men go round destroying shops and homes in their own communities let us not be smug here. I know that perhaps these are wasted words because our authorities are not only generally slow to catch on to trends there is no visible interest in society and culture as such. Our governments generally prefer to encourage us to judge them by the physical infrastructure such schools, bridges, clinics and the like that are built during their time in power. However, as we have seen, even the strongest house stands little chance when they come face to face with badly brought up boys intent on doing harm just out of sheer bloody-mindedness.

POEM: Talking to Ghana


Talking to Ghana

The sharpest trick in town is to have two radios

One on the left the other on the right

Talking loudly at the same time in the same room

Speaking for our two great patriotic parties – the NPP and the NDC.

Left says stupid and right says foolish

Both are talking to Ghana;

One shouts we made that road, the other claims the road for itself.

Meanwhile that road now belongs to potholes and an absconded contractor.

When the shouting gets over-much

And no one can make head or tails

Of what our two great parties have to say,

You do your other enthralling party trick:

Both hands outstretched to switch off the radios

And simply put one finger on the dial for the BBC.