“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.