Thursday, 17 May 2012

Going by the Polls to the Vision Thing

Last Sunday’s second round of voting in the French Presidential election was an excellent example of electoral protocol at its best. Even before all the votes had been counted, Mr. Sarkozy, the incumbent had accepted defeat. He conceded not by issuing a statement; he called the winner, Francois Hollande personally to offer him his congratulations. Shortly thereafter, two rallies were organised in two places one mile apart at which the winner and the loser addressed their respective followers. Then they went home. End of story.

Please take note: unlike Ghana in our recent electoral history, there were no rampaging foot soldiers besieging the Electoral Commission, nor were there any bitter accusations of rigging, vote-buying or any shenanigans before, during and after the voting. This did not mean that the losers did not feel the bitter sting of defeat. Indeed, many at the Sarkozy post-election rally were in tears, and there is no love lost between the Left and the Right in French politics with many genuine points of disagreement defining them, of which more anon.

So why is there such a contrast between the manner in which say, the French conducted their last election and the way in which we do our election business, especially the ending bit? Here, even when the losing candidate concedes, it is done rather grudgingly with an ungracious statement that usually loosely means, “I know you stole the election but because I love peace and under pressure from my people, I am conceding defeat, but I will meet you in court!”

Mr. Sarkozy did not concede so graciously because he loves peace more than our lot do, nor did the French system work the way it did and does because of some innate superior civilization. It worked that way because of two words: OPINON POLLS. Opinion polls showed Mr. Sarkozy trailing his opponent for most of the past one year and he knew that his one serious chance to overtake Mr. Hollande or even close the gap evaporated when he failed to land the killer punch in the final live television debate which took place a few days before the vote.

In the West, opinion polls are a standard survey by which politicians, the media, businesses and civil society groups try to find out what a population segment feels about an issue or issues from a particular sample. Opinion polls are usually designed to represent the opinions of a sample population by conducting a series of questions and then using the answers to reflect how other people similar to the sample would respond.

Polling started in the US nearly two hundred years ago, and has now been refined into both an art form and a science. Its modern form can be traced to the latter years between the two World Wars. Elmo Roper, an American pioneer in political forecasting predicted the re-election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt three times – in 1936, 1940 and 1944. Gallup launched a subsidiary in the United Kingdom, where it almost alone correctly predicted victory for the Labour Party in the 1945 general election, in contrast with virtually all other commentators who expected a victory for the Conservative Party, led by Winston Churchill.

Polling is a very important part of the political and electoral process since it helps to guide candidates and electors as well as the government in making choices, including in the allocation of resources. In sub-Saharan Africa, excluding South Africa, polling is viewed suspiciously because it is often used as propaganda instead of a guide. In the West, newspapers hardly conduct polls themselves but commission polls from specialised agencies such as Harris, Gallup or YouGov since these organisations have the expertise and prestige to present credible polls.

In the French presidential election, the actual result and final polls were very close, but the reason why Sarkozy conceded so readily was that he had his own polls which would have told him that the game was up. All good political organisations in the West commission their own polls from credible organisations because they know that information from their own party agents can be tinged with exaggeration. Sarkozy would have known, despite putting a brave face on things, even before voting started that he had lost.

The Vision Thing

Another contrast between us and the French in electoral terms is that the latter knew the clear choices available to them. On issues such as immigration, the economy, banking reforms, unemployment and labour laws there is broad daylight between the Gaullists on the Right and the Socialists on the Left. There are parties at various degrees of extremes to the left and right of the mainstream and they all have their different policy prescriptions. But more critically, they offer different VISIONS of the future. Here, all political parties PROMISE to build schools, universities, clinics, hospitals and roads. That does not amount to a vision. Even the colonialists built schools, hospitals and roads although their vision for us was completely different from what we wished for ourselves.

It goes without saying that some questions are more difficult to ask than others, never mind answering them. For example, when you think about it, there are two important questions we need to ask about the coming presidential elections in December. The easier one is: Who are we voting for? The obvious answer is that we are voting for a president and we get a vice president thrown in for free, sort of. In all probability and barring any unforeseen gargantuan occurrence of seismic proportions, the next President of Ghana will be either Professor John Mills or Nana Akuffo Addo. So we know more or less who we are voting for; the candidates of the CPP, PNC, PPP and all other smaller parties and independent candidates can huff and puff all they want but the thing is a done deal.

The question we ought to ask is why we should vote for them, or even for the candidates of the smaller parties who are generously offering themselves. What we need is what former US President George Bush called “the vision thing”, that is what, and we have not had that from any candidate in clear terms. For example, take discipline; we are in a nation in which everyone does that which will bring immediate satisfaction to them. If it means tearing up a newly built road, or cutting copper cables from high tension connections, so be it. Everyone does what they like because no one is leading the line against indiscipline. Passers-by pass by as people do unspeakable things because there is no vision for us on which to draw inspiration.

You can build schools without providing education; you can build hospitals without providing health; however you cannot develop a nation without a vision and looking for this vision should be the principal task of any people as they are called upon to elect a leader. Much of the talk from our politicians, especially of the NDC and NPP variety is: vote for me because I am not the other one. Ghanaians should take a leaf from the people in a village on the road between Atimpoku and Ho who every four years mount a road sign saying: NO TOILET NO VOTE. We should say simply, NO VISION NO VOTE.

Ghana on trial at the International Criminal Court

The Hague is one of a handful of places whose names begin with the definite article “the” which always starts with a capital “T”. Known as Den Haag in the Dutch language, the city of 500,000 people is also interesting for being the seat of the government of the Netherlands but not the capital city, which by constitution is Amsterdam. Another fact about The Hague is that it is, of course, the home of the International Criminal Court, which if the members of the Ghana Coalition for the International Criminal Court have their way will be the home of Mr. Kennedy Agyapong, MP, for the next few years.

Being laid low by an allergy last week, I was generally unaware of quite a few things, so I heard the news rather late that the MP for Assin North had been reported to the International Criminal Court. I thought at first that it was a joke, especially when I heard a wag suggest that someone else should report Mr. Lante Vanderpuje of Odododiodo fame for ethnic cleansing. But after a brief check I realized that it was true that Messrs Francis Kojo Arthur, Eric Akomanyi, and Fortune Sase of the Coalition had indeed referred Mr. Agyapong to the ICC.

The members of the Ghana Coalition of the ICC are probably sincere in their expressed belief that events in Ghana since 2009 give them cause to believe that “some politicians especially within the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP are plotting to unleash Violence, War, Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing either prior to or in the event that they lose the December 2012 Ghanaian elections”. Their petition goes on to claim that “Since losing the 2008 elections, the rhetoric of the opposition NPP and its leadership has assumed very inflammatory and alarmingly belligerent tones. Both publicly and in secret, they have urged their followers to resort to violence in order to win the 2012 elections”.

 There is no doubt that the trigger for the Coalition’s petition to the ICC is Kennedy Agyapong’s recent outburst on radio; they actually provide an English translation of the MP’s infamous statement for the benefit of the ICC, as a case in point. If this is the case, as one should believe it is, then the decision to petition the ICC is a strange one, which could lead to all kinds of speculation and interpretations. This is because Mr. Agyapong who provides the ready material for the Coalition’s worry has been arrested, arraigned before a court here in Ghana and bailed. Why was it necessary to petition the ICC?

The International Criminal Court was established by the Rome Statute as an independent tribunal to try genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, with the subtext being the international community’s desire to end impunity and avoid situations such as happened in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda in the past thirty years. The ICC is serious business designed to deal with cases that domestic judicial processes, for whatever reason cannot deal with.

I think it is important that I declare my interest in this matter. In the early 1990s, I was closely associated with the NGO Coalition for the International Criminal Court, CICC, which was organised under the umbrella of the Open Society Initiative with its headquarters in New York. Mr. William R. Pace, the Convener and a team of highly motivated individuals and organisations started the coalition which they have sustained till now. Today, the CICC includes 2,500 civil society organizations in 150 different countries working in partnership to strengthen international cooperation with the ICC. Its main remit is to ensure that the Court is fair, effective and independent and to make justice both visible and universal; and advance stronger national laws that deliver justice to victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

I have retained my personal interest in matters of the Court even though my core business these days is no longer directly related to its activities. However, anyone who is remotely interested in the ICC, as all of us should be, must be concerned that the venerable global court is not used for purposes for which it is NOT intended or that people who should promote its interests do not make a mockery of it.

Anyone remotely associated with the ICC, especially an NGO that has standing with the Court would know that the ICC is not the right forum for either the Kennedy Agyapong case or even for the perceived possibility of violence in Ghana; this must be obvious. The ICC is a Court of last resort; what this means in this context is that it has complementary jurisdiction. It can only take up a case for investigation if the national authorities are either unwilling or unable to investigate and prosecute. So the standard is two pronged: first ICC crimes must have been committed- Genocide, War Crimes, and Crimes against Humanity, and second, the national authorities must be either unwilling or unable to prosecute. The cases that have gone to the ICC and for which some people have been indicted involve countries and crisis-infected circumstances in which the luxury of normal judicial processes is simply not an option. This is not the case in Ghana.

My worry is this: by taking a Ghanaian case to the ICC at this time, irrespective of who is involved, is to signal to the world that our government led by President John Mills is incapable of handling the situation. The logic of international law is that the STATE has the responsibility to protect its citizens, therefore this implied indictment of President Mills and his government is both wrong and unfair. President Mills has on numerous occasions issued warnings about the effect of violent talk on the political climate in the country, and given the assurance that he is equal to the task of ensuring security for all under any and all circumstances. The Inspector General of Police has given muscular assurances to the same effect, and as we know, even from the Kennedy Agyapong saga, the police and courts are capable of dealing with the situation. So why is the Coalition dragging the reputation of the government in the mud?

That is not all. Consider the kinds of countries and situation that have landed people at the ICC. In Sudan we have Darfur; in DR Congo we have Goma in the East where a violent insurgency has been going since the eruptions in the Great Lakes Region some twenty years ago, in northern Uganda the Lord’s Resistance Army held sway for years kidnapping children and killing civilians; Ivory Coast and Kenya there have been post-election civil wars in which thousands of people have died. With the greatest respect to these countries, one has to ask whether Ghana is in the kind of crisis that has led to indictment of some people in the countries I have cited above?

The Coalition may say that we don’t have to wait for a civil war before we ask the ICC to intervene, and that is a fair point. However it is invalid insofar as the country’s legal and legitimate authority is able to deal with any matters that can be foreseen to arise at the moment. I repeat that it is not right to put the President to such unmerited ridicule.

My final worry is this: when you place your country at par in terms of security with Eastern Congo and northern Uganda you simply drive out investment, denigrate your economy and drive down the value of your currency. Is it any wonder that the value of the cedi is falling so fast against all other currencies? No, it is not surprising because the Ghana Coalition for the ICC and all those who are trumpeting the likelihood of election violence are telling the world that this is not a safe place to invest.

I do not necessarily subscribe to the view that the members of the Ghana Coalition for the ICC are working on behalf of any political party, however I am worried that this group could not be doing the ICC any favours here in Ghana. I suggest that they join hands with all those who want peace to avoid creating fear and panic, and not to undermine the authority of our legitimate institutions. As things stand, all leaders of political parties have sworn to ensure that violence will be averted. We need to remember that the cedi is already dancing azonto at the bar of international public and business opinion, including potentially in front of judges at the ICC – if the Coalition would have its way. Whether it will stand or fall depends on us.

There is a lovely proverb that says that we should not be deluded into thinking that we are enjoying the taste of meat when in fact it is our own tongues we are eating.


One question that has bothered and intrigued scholars of several disciplines over the past half century is the phenomenon known as the counter-culture of the 1960s. This was the movement of mostly young people in the Western world which challenged long held beliefs and used politics, music and alternative lifestyles as the driving force of their ideas to change the world. One certainty about the movement is that it was fueled in large part by opposition to the Vietnam War, and one of the movement’s most enduring slogan was “MAKE LOVE NOT WAR”. Perhaps the time has come for all of us, Ghanaians to focus on making peace, not war.

Last week, moved by a troubled and anxious week of which the Kennedy Agyapong saga was the lowest of several low points, I added my voice to the chorus of warnings about how the country is being pushed towards a fate that has befallen several African countries, but which is eminently preventable. I called attention to my personal experience of war torn countries and the possibility, indeed, the probability that those fanning war flames from both the NDC and NPP camps have not personally experienced such horrors.

The article got a mixed reaction from readers, judging by comments on a website that carried it, but one comment stung me into thinking. The writer called me a “prophet of doom”, and demanded rather angrily that I focus on peace. Incidentally, I had been thinking similar thoughts myself about the media’s impact when it reports a dangerously negative situation; does it make it worse by reporting or should remain silent? A friend living in another country posted on a website a demagogic diatribe written by a Ghanaian against marrying across ethnic lines. The man who wrote that piece of trash was keen to provoke a reaction from other people on ethnic lines; that much was obvious. So, was the friend right to post the article? In other words, in these sensitive times, if someone makes a statement that is negative about, say, another political party, religion or ethnic group, should the media amplify it by publishing it, or should it be swept under the carpet?

Writ large, the question is this: is the media’s emphasis on the possibility of election or political violence fueling it instead of preventing it? A case in point: a TV station posed as its question of the day on its Morning Show the following question: WHO IS TO BLAME FOR THE POLITICAL TENSION IN THE COUNTRY – POLITICIANS OR JOURNALISTS? Let us consider this: Mr. Kennedy Agyapong’s original harangue on his own Oman FM would have been heard by only those who had tuned in to that station that morning. However, by the evening of that same day perhaps every Ghanaian with access to radio, the internet or television would have heard the play and re-play of the MP’s voice across the airwaves. If a violent reaction had occurred to his statement most of those reacting would not have heard the original broadcast but the repeats.

And yet, clearly, the media should report things – that is its job. Commentators and columnists will also comment on issues in the public domain and throw even more light on the situations and issues at stake. The danger that such comments can inflame passions even further cannot be discounted, but on the other hand a free country in which freedom of expression is a guiding principle has no choice but to allow a wide range of views, including some that could be distasteful to many people, to be aired. However, even a democracy cannot allow people to proverbially “shout ‘fire’ in a cinema”, which will cause pandemonium and lead to deaths and injuries. So how do we deal with such situations?

The solution is to resort to the rule of law principles and establish the aspects or kinds of expressions that are not allowed and in what situations. We have said umpteen times that the absence of a comprehensive law regulating broadcasting is a serious drawback in the effort to ensure clean speech, especially on radio. A question frequently asked is what the National Media Commission or the National Communications Authority doing about this or that situation in which a radio station has abused its privileges. The answer, sadly, is not a lot because there is no law detailing what can be done to errant radio stations.

However, beyond the law, journalists (including radio producers and presenters) have a duty to “frame” in contexts that allows all sides of an issue to be canvassed or discussed. For example, for all the negatives that get reported in the media, there are serious efforts being made by thousands of organisations, institutions and individuals towards ensuring peace and development in the country. The problem we have in the media, especially on radio, is that journalists, presenters and producers appear to recognise that only political parties, and even then only the NDC and NPP have the right to comment on issues in the public domain.

The media should make more and better use of independent and expert sources instead of harking back to known and entrenched positions of the NPP and NDC. The conduct of “newspaper reviews” in most radio and television morning programmes is truly a pretext for confrontation. The same well known adversaries gather on the same day of every week to restate their rehearsed propaganda pieces with the same results. This is not meant to enlighten the public but to entrench prejudices even further in the body politic.

The person who described me as a “prophet of doom” had a point. The nature of the media makes us obsessed with the negative. For example, the TV station that wanted to know who to BLAME for political tension could as well, or even instead discussed, who is working for peace in the country. The media should report as much of what is happening but it has to ensure that there is balance, not only in how it reports what it chooses to report but in what it chooses to report as well. In that sense, we have to remember that another slogan of the 1960s counter- culture was “GIVE PEACE A CHANCE”.


Talking of emphasizing the positive, one initiative that is definitely in the right direction is a new initiative of the Media Foundation for West Africa on “Promoting Issues-based and Decent Language Campaigning for a Peaceful, Free and Fair Elections in Ghana in 2012,” funded by STAR-Ghana. The project involves daily monitoring of campaign language or expressions by politicians and activists on specific programmes on 31 radio stations across the country. The monitoring also includes assessing the conduct of the stations that are being monitored.

To ensure that the monitoring is reliable and credible, a comprehensive monitoring instrument was developed through the support of language experts from the University of Ghana, the Ghana Bureau of Languages and a Consultant from the School of Communication Studies. The main objective for this project is to contribute to ensuring issues-based and decent language campaigning in the 2012 elections, by monitoring and exposing political parties, activists and radio stations that use indecent expressions.  Weekly reports from all the monitors are analysed by the MFWA and presented to the public through the media.

The weekly reports are aimed at sensitising the public to know which political party, candidates or radio stations, are the most abusive in their expressions and are thus not focusing attention on the issues of importance to the majority of our citizens. This an initiative the media can follow because it is providing a solution to a problem. But equally importantly, that monitoring process has to be monitored, and this is a job that only the media can do; after all, the monitoring involves, to some extent, NDC and NPP, which appear to be the trigger alphabets for media reports.

The Nation Must Secure Nkrumah’s Diary

Regicide is the act of killing a king or ruler and in all ancient cultures regicide carried a curse, especially if the ruler was unjustly sent to the other world. Ghana, more or less, committed regicide on February 24, 1966 when the President, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was overthrown. The issue here is not whether he deserved to be overthrown, but six years later he died in a hospital in Bucharest of what Amilcar Cabral called the “cancer of betrayal”. Between 1966 and his death in 1972, Nkrumah expressed his political views publicly in a number of books, notably Dark Days in Ghana, Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare, The Struggle Continues and Voices from Conakry.

In none of these books did Nkrumah reveal his inner personal self and his thoughts on the fate that befallen him, his party and his family. It is known, for example, that the late President did not see his children again after his overthrow and subsequent exile in Guinea, and apart from a few letters he hardly mentioned his private thoughts and how they impacted on his very transparent political worldview. He probably went to his grave with those thoughts; or maybe not. If this determined writer was as faithful to his diary as he was to his publisher, the world should get a view of Kwame Nkrumah as he knew himself, for his diary which was stolen some forty years ago has been found and set to return to Ghana.

The story of the diary reads like a whodunit bestseller. According to media reports, the diary had been at the centre of a long legal battle between an American businessman, Robert Shulman and an African scholar from Kenya called Vincent Mbirika. Mr. Mbirika, who describes himself as “Africa’s Indiana Jones” is said to have succeeded in retrieving the diary from the American who has had it for many years. A judge in a Pennsylvania court has ruled that the diary should be returned to Ghana. Mr. Mbirika has reportedly contacted some Ghanaians to inform Nkrumah’s family to help him to retrieve the diary.

In most countries in the world, this news would be front-page stuff that would lead to rejoicing, at least in the world of scholarship and politics. In Ghana, it was tucked into the middle pages and largely ignored. We cannot afford to ignore this diary because its value is immense. Dr. Nkrumah died as not just the first president of Ghana but the Co-President of Guinea, a unique historical situation about which we would probably learn a lot from the diary. And, of course, Nkrumah was not only the leading proponent of Pan-Africanism but was voted the African of the last one thousand years by BBC listeners. Even his shopping list written on a scrap of paper would cause considerable stir, not to speak of his diary.

This is what I think we should do. The Nkrumah diary is a national asset, and by an interesting twist, one of Nkrumah’s brightest creations, the Institute of African Studies last Monday launched its 50th anniversary celebration programme. We should secure the diary to make it the centerpiece of the celebration. A conference and an exhibition can be developed around the diary which will attract thousands of scholars and pan-Africanists to Ghana. The diary can travel to other African countries and world capitals. Some countries have prospered on less.

The diary will also enable us to do some serious re-evaluation, not least because Nkrumah probably had some new thinking after his overthrow or even some unexpressed insights while he was in office. As for the curse of regicide, we know that the diary entry after his overthrow was that “…things will not go well for Ghana" and his "vision" for Ghana would now be "lost". Sadly, how true!

Marching us to war…

Arrests of politicians and the reactions that follow now go according to a pattern that has assumed the status of a film script. The dramatis personae and locale may change but the essentials of the script remain firmly in place. Scene one is often a TV or radio studio and the activity is a talk show. The main character (villain or hero, depending on one’s politics) is shouting loud imprecations against somebody, or even declaring war).

Scene two is a marvelous dramatic device which is the equivalent of the loud whisper; we should hear it although we know it is not meant for the public ear. This scene, which is the arrest is often like that – meant to be private but played out in the open. Scene three shifts back to the studio where presenters and serial callers loyal to the main character, by now behind bars at either the police headquarters or the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI), are calling out the party faithful. Scene four is often the front of the police headquarters on the ring Road in Accra where the mass ranks of the party faithful in response to the studio call gather to insist on the release of the incarcerated hero.

The latest enactment of this time-honoured drama was the arrest on Monday of the MP for Assin North, Mr. Kennedy Agyapong. The script was followed beyond the letter because in this particular case, the MP also owns the radio station on which he allegedly committed whatever offense took him into custody. Thus the commitment of his station to commit troops to the cause knew no bounds.

We have been here before. During the tense moments that followed the second round of voting in 2008, two radio stations which are vocally aligned to the two main political parties engaged in such abuse of their media license that the result could have been disastrous for Ghana. By a stroke of luck or genius, the Electoral Commission diffused the tension with the Tain tie-up; disaster was averted, but just. Is it the case that the armchair generals calling out the troops have no idea of real war and its consequences? I am reminded of the 1970 song/poem by Gil Scott-Heron:: The Revolution will not be televised/it will be live/there will be no replay.

I went to Afghanistan during the anti-Soviet Mujahedeen uprising in the 1980s and saw every other man without an arm or leg; I went to Liberia at the very end of the war in an uninsured airplane because no one was crazy to insure a plane going into a warzone; when we got to the bombed out airport outside Monrovia they collected our passports in a basket because there was no office to perform that role. I went to Rwanda and saw the church where hundreds were gunned down by the Interahamwe; their bloodstains were still on the wall; later, I reported the proceedings of the Rwanda Court in Arusha, Tanzania where I wept everyday listening to the testimony of those who lived to tell the tale; the judges wept, even the battle-hardened prosecutors wept listening to the horrors of the genocide. 

A real war is nothing like it says in the NDC-NPP radio script. It will not be like foot soldiers standing across the road in front of the Electoral Commission trading insults; it will not be like radio stations calling the troops out from the comfort of their studios. A shooting war, when it comes, if it comes to that, will not be like that. It will be live, in colour – the colour of blood, and there will be no replay.


In the lazy shorthand characterization of the different ethnic groups in the country the Akuapem people get a good rating. They are seen as quiet, affable and above all respectful. Indeed, they are said to be so respectful that they even crave your kind indulgence before they insult you. As with all stereotypes, this portrayal is both an exaggerated caricature but partly true. Even these days of mass indiscipline, a couple of rowdy youths doing the Akuapem equivalent of rampage, mild by Accra standards during the last Odwira, were met with knowing nods of disapproval by unimpressed onlookers. Such youthful misbehavior is par for the course in the nation’s capital.

It comes rather as a shock to see that something like a revolutionary movement has sprung up in parts of Akuapem, and this is happening literally on the road, and obviously with the tacit support of those who would normally show concern. If you have travelled lately on the Akuapem road you would notice that do-it-yourself speed ramps have appeared suddenly across the road from Gyankama to the end of Ahwerease; this expanse of the highway includes the passage in front of Aburi the Girls School and the Crafts village on the by-pass.

There are more than 60 of these DIY road bumps on a stretch of road which is less than two kilometers long. What on earth is going on? Strictly speaking, these are illegal obstructions on the road which you would not expect in Akuapem. By any standards, this number of illegal humps across a mere two kilometer road stretch is not only excessive but an affront to the country’s legitimate authority. Akuapem is not the only place where citizens have decided to erect these ramps but nowhere would you find so many of them over such a short stretch of road, but to find this in the placid Akuapem Hills calls for an investigation into What Went Wrong!

We are talking here not of properly engineered road bumps but hastily constructed ones made usually of dirt and in material that is mixed in the dirt at the time of collection. This sometimes includes glass and metal objects which can cause tyre punctures, but which is probably the whole point of the setting up the ramps whose object is to slow traffic to a crawl.

This is the background to what is going on. Akuapem is situated on the range of mountains that stretch from Kwahu through the Volta Region into Togo. Its cool climatic conditions acted as the main magnet for the earliest Presbyterian missionaries who established their first schools in the area. The Aburi Botanical Gardens which served as the resting place for colonial governors was built in the 19th century. Akuapem was one of the first places to be served with motorable roads in the country. In the late 1950s, not long after independence, President Nkrumah selected Peduase, a small village nestling in the crook of the hills as the site for a presidential lodge that would serve the same function as the Botanical gardens did for the colonial governors.

However, because it is a difficult terrain for more than a century, the Akuapem road remained a small, winding road with hairpin turns and gravely shoulders. Sometimes when the rocks fell during a rainstorm the road became unusable causing traffic to be diverted elsewhere. A constant feature in every speech delivered by the Omanhene at the annual Odwira durbar is a call to the government to improve the road. Those requests were normally politely acknowledged and ignored because of the cost and complexity involved. However, according to media reports, at his first Odwira as President, Mr. Kufuor accepted the challenge a new road was built from scratch from Ayi Mensah at the foot of the hill to Mamfe at the top.

All indications are that the people loved the road as did the hundreds of thousands of motorists who use it every year. The economic importance of a good road serving Akuapem and through to Koforidua cannot be overstated. The “Mountains” area has tourism potential in spades. Furthermore, Akuapem has become a dormitory area for the Accra conurbation – a situation that has been hastened by the arrival of the new road.

Unfortunately, the upshot of the illegal piling of dirt across swathes of the road is that it is being destroyed and potholes are replacing the smooth asphalt surfaces which were laid just about seven years ago. Some of these potholes have appeared   at Ahwerease and others are beginning to appear in the areas where the informal bumps have been erected. It is possible that the short hop in front the Aburi Girls School will be filled with ridges in the next few months. The question is, what is going on?

According to the residents of the towns mentioned, vehicles driving through on the new road drive as if they were on some uninhabited stretch instead of driving through populated areas. In the first two years of the new road several pedestrians were killed or seriously injured in accidents in which speed was the main issue. They say that they brought this to the attention of the authorities, including making several trips to the Ministry of Roads and Highways without any effect. The latest round of ramp construction apparently occurred when a young man was killed while crossing the road a few weeks ago.

It can be argued that the residents of these towns have a case, and may be they do. The responsibility for ensuring safety on the road should be shared, in the sense that the Ministry of Roads and Highways or its appropriate agencies should ensure that there is sufficient information and other infrastructural devices to alert drivers to their environment. Of course, this is what the residents have been campaigning for without success which has compelled them to resort to drastic measures.

However, the residents should not be allowed to continue piling dirt across a well made road. The effect of that method of road calming is the inevitable destruction of the road. Again, the Ghanaian mentality regarding road crossing has to be reformed because it is at the core of much of the road traffic accidents involving pedestrians. Akuapems do not want to turn their new road into potholes but they need protection. The appropriate agency must put alert signs on the road and do proper road calming methods where necessary. It is only through such sound measures that lives will be saved and the road not turned into a long parade of potholes.  

Let us be Wary of Politicians Bearing Tales of Woe

You have to feel a certain sense of weariness about Ghana these days. It is not exactly pessimism or despair, but the mood is definitely neither light nor welcoming. Let me put it this way: it is becoming increasingly difficult to find nice things to say about our country, and this despite the government’s efforts to convince us that we have never had it so good. Perhaps, our money side is as good as they try to convince us it is – what with oil and high commodity prices and the lot. The near-despair is due to one word: politics. Our politics is in a dark place the like of which we have not witnessed since the dark bad era of coups, rebellions and countercoups. A nation that cannot conduct an honest registration of voters is knocking at the gates of trouble. 

Let us consider what has been happening in this country over the past two weeks: potential voters have been invited to register. In essence, this is as simple as writing down your details such as name, age address and so on, taking your voter’s card and getting on with the rest of your life. Could anything be simpler? And yet when you open any newspaper, or especially when you turn on your radio in any direction on the dial you would think that a registration exercise is a cross between trench warfare and rocket science. It appears that all over the country some invisible forces are operating undercover moving people to places they have never been to register them for the December elections.

According to these reports, the invisible forces are not only distorting the internal arrangements ahead of the vote, but there are allegations of whole truckloads of people crossing our borders under the sponsorship of political parties or individuals to come and register illegally so that they can vote for their sponsors in the coming elections. If what we are hearing is true, it means that the December election is already flawed and the people, whoever they are, that will be “elected” to rule over us will occupy their positions by fraud. Think about it and think about it again. A nation ruled by fraud is doomed. This is not a melodramatic statement. It is a historical fact.

However, one has to believe that there is nowhere near as much fraud as is being alleged. There are irregularities, and we will come to that presently, but not fraud on a massive scale. It is true that here and there some minors have tried to register, and for the record we have had the odd non-Ghanaian also making the attempt, and the fact that these have been detected should be a plus for our system. However, as with most things in Ghana, what should be a plus has turned negative, fuelling wild allegations of fraud and badness of all sorts. So, what is really happening?

What is happening is the mood of near despair in which mutual distrust is the prevailing temper of public discourse and communications. In the era of the NDC and NPP it appears that nothing is as it seems to the rest of us. An innocent cock-up by the electoral commission or even a minor mishap by a minor official is immediately turned into a case for national upheaval because every politician is looking for a sign, not of a good turn, but of evil intentions on the part of the opponent. This is the way in which politics is being conducted in Ghana today – demonise the opponent in order to look good in the eyes of the voter.

It is a bad strategy because it is creating a mood of pessimism in the country, and this is bad for morale and business. Worse, it is creating an impression of suspicion not only of our politicians but of the political process itself. This is the source and result of the familiar resorts to abuse and insults that have become part of the political process; the process is no longer respected. If a proper poll of attitudes is conducted I am sure that politics and politicians – and journalists – would rate rather low in public esteem. Another spillover from the political mood is that mistrust is becoming the accepted way of interacting among citizens who are becoming suspicious of one another, usually not for any good reason.

It is into our fragile political atmosphere that cock-ups by the Electoral Commission and its filed staff come like petrol onto fire. It is understandable that a new system such as this biometric registration, being tried for the first time, would have some technical and operational problems. Normally, we should accept that as a natural part of the experiment, and in a more tolerant mood, Ghanaians are not too demanding. But politics is different, it appears. Politicians have whipped their followers into a zero tolerance for mistakes and every blunder, however minute, is magnified a thousand times in content and presumed effect. Radio 24/7 means that each technical or operational gaffe is immediately transmitted to an audience already primed for cynicism and trouble.

At the beginning of the registration exercise, there were reports from Bolgatanga of some serious trouble which, depending on the radio station, was either being resolved or worsened by different players in the political drama.  On one radio station there were frantic calls for the police to intervene as the numbers of people waiting swelled at some registration centres and people became frustrated. This led to intricate conspiracy theories being spun like spider webs. When I spoke on the phone with a friend who was in thick of matters he explained that he thought the EC had not tested the machines in the Bolgatanga heat, which on that day was touching 45 degrees Celsius in the shade. In those harsh conditions most computer hardware, not to speak of the human brain, would need patience. In our politics, patience is in very short supply.

This kind of frantic fear of being cheated, which is the result of our dishonesty, cannot be good for us. Consider this: all parliamentary candidates, including most MPs, District Chief Executives and perhaps most ministers, have gone to their constituencies to police the registration. This means that a fair chunk of government business, and business in general, has come to a halt or slow down merely because voters are being registered. What will happen when the election itself is close?

The blame for the dark mood in the country must be placed at the door of the kind of politics we have chosen to play. At a recent public event, Alhaji Ahmed Ramadan, Chairman of the People’s National Convention, put his finger on the issue when he observed that the first past the post or winner takes all politics is the source of acrimony and tension in our politics. He is right. We need to have a serious rethink as a nation about how we select those who look after our affairs. The winner takes all may work for some people, it is not working for us. There are alternatives to consider and we must not lock ourselves into only one option because it is the one “we have always used”.

In the meantime, we must not fall for the politicians’ Ananse trick of exaggerating every mishap into a crisis; it is in their interest to create a picture of direness from which only they can rescue us. Probably, I am wrong and things are as bad as they say. But I hope not. Let us be wary of the stories the politicians and their media allies, some call them the “rented press” on both sides, are telling us. That way, we can make some sense of the reality around us.


Ghana is an interesting country, or perhaps two interesting countries inhabiting one territorial body in the manner of a person with a split personality syndrome. Last weekend, the President of the Republic called on his party faithful to be gentle and respectful towards their opponents. He asked them not to engage in insults, lies and abuse. Two days later, his Minister designate for the Eastern Region admitted before a Parliamentary Committee that stories he published as an editor about former President Kufuor had no basis in fact. As I write, the President has not withdrawn the nomination of his errant minister designate, who has served for more than two years as an Ambassador.

Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo Addo, the opposition Presidential candidate has stated on more occasions than you can count that he did not endorse the use of violent language in politics and has said emphatically that he would not want to see a “drop of blood spilled” in his quest to replace Professor Mills as President of this country. However, he was standing right there beside one of his most vocal MPs, Mr. Kennedy Agyapong, when the latter let off a blistering attack on President Mills, although he apologised later, the MP was not rebuked.

On the face of it, both leaders of the two main political reasons are against the use of insults and other forms of verbal violence against their opponents, and both will protest if one was to accuse them of being complicit in the excessive use of insulting and rude expression in what passes for political discussions in the media. And perhaps, we should be charitable enough to believe them because they are honourable men. But every day we hear their followers trading insults on the airwaves. How do we square this circle?

In my mind Campaign 2012 is actually two parallel campaigns running in opposite directions and passing each other like ships in a night fog. Let us call them High Campaign and Low Campaign. High Campaign is your friendly, gentle, non-threatening friend; the one that is pushed out into the open when politicians mount their stage, or find a microphone next to their mouths. High Campaign talks about peace, policy and patriotism. Low Campaign on the other hand is the one we see more often; indeed that is the one live with – the ruthless, rude, boorish master of insults and abuse. That is ugly lover the politicians disown in the daytime but embrace behind closed doors.

The question of political insults has moved to centre stage and dwarfed the issues that rightly ought to be discussed – the grinding poverty, youth unemployment and the like – precisely because the politicians have found that as an easy way to confront one another without doing the hard work of assembling REAL facts and figures with which to persuade voters. There is another, more fundamental reason: in our minds, we tend to separate everyday life from politics such that whereas no Ghanaian of sound mind would routinely insult people of the calibre of President Mills and Nana Akuffo Addo, in politics these distinguished elderly gentlemen are treated like riff-raff by their respective opponents, especially on radio. A third reason is that during political campaign seasons political parties tend to be controlled by their extremists while the more emollient characters are pushed to the margins.

Normally, after elections parties re-adjust their balance, especially in government, in order to accommodate a wider view. The problem is that in Ghana there is nothing like a campaign period because the campaign starts the day after election results are announced with no period for rest and reflection for politicians and public alike, and in that case the extremists rule the nest forever and ever. In this scenario, most people believe that not a lot can be done about the insults situation.

However, the Media Foundation for West Africa appears to have found a way to address the situation using an innovative monitoring tool which was launched in Accra last Tuesday. The instrument is for monitoring the use of language on radio and it has selected 31 radio stations for the exercise. Previously, the MFWA had carried out a Media Improvement Project which had (hopefully) improved journalistic practice at some of the stations involved. MFWA has trained monitors, usually graduate teachers who live in the radio stations catchment area and understand the language of the station.

MFWA will compile and present a weekly report of the findings of its monitors at a press conference so that the media will let the public know which of the stations involved and which politicians or journalists are using abusive language. While it is true that the MFWA has no power to sanction errant stations or people the hope is that the naming and shaming at the weekly press conferences will guide the politicians in their use of language.

The question is why should this work while other such devices, including myriad codes of conduct failed? The answer is in the detail. This is a practical process which relies on the actual monitoring of the selected stations and therefore goes beyond the voluntary observance of a code. In this instance someone is listening and reporting. Furthermore, the monitoring is not based on vague notions of insult and unacceptable language; the language has been broken down into categories and those categories have been defined with examples.

To give a flavour of those categories and their definitions, here we go with a few examples:

 Insults are any words, expressions or language meant to degrade or offend others. Insults attack the person using words such as thieves, fools, stupid, greedy bastards, unintelligent people, etc.

Hate speech is using insults against a group of people based on their ethnicity, religion, etc. to degrade and/or offend them and hold them out to public scorn and hatred.

Prejudice and bigotry consist of expressing instinctive views or biases against someone based on preconceived ideas and/or unreasonable dislike for a group of people such as:

“Akyems are arrogant”

“Ewes are inward-looking”

“Ashantis have inordinate pride”.

“What else do you expect from a Northerner?”

These are just a few of the categories but these clear definitions and examples mean that a standard has been set for the monitors and those being monitored to know exactly what is being tracked on the radio programmes involved. It has to be explained that the monitoring is not being done in some hazy way depending on the mood of the person monitoring. The Content Analysis Coding Schedule has 26 questionnaire-type parts with several subsectors which have to be filled in by the monitors, and the academic who devised the code has assured Ghanaians that there are trick questions in there to catch a monitor who tries to cheat.

There is no guarantee that this will work, but then there are no guarantees that the millions of words been spoken by Imams and bishops will have any effect either, but we all have to try and stop those who want to drive this country towards a fate that has befallen too many African countries from doing so. The good thing is that it appears that events next door in Cote D’Ivoire have woken this nation from its normal complacency and our belief that God is a Ghanaian appears to have been shaken somewhat!

Unfortunately, realising that we are vulnerable is not the same thing as resolving to prevent the vulnerability from becoming real, not to those who place power above everything else. Perhaps, these insults and their attendant risk of provoking violence are inherent in the political culture we have selected for ourselves. However, the consensus must be that we are smart enough to know the difference between an insult aimed at a person and criticism of a policy or an idea.

Furthermore, we cannot and should not aim to kill genuine rough and tumble of debate from our politics but we should know where and how to draw the line. It is in that exercise that the MFWA coding instrument, which was drawn up with the participation of the parliamentary political parties, has its virtue. It also enables to those who truly are against insults to stand up and be counted on the side of the angels.

Ghana’s Manhood TV Shame

I love TV3 for its sassiness and zip; in the 1990s, the station was the first to let in fresh air unto Ghana’s rather arid television arena which had been dominated by GTV, which had been the only television station in the country since the inception of television in 1965. There have been many TV stations since TV3 broke the mould but even then its reputation as the station of choice for Ghana’s youth is perhaps unchallenged. Other TV stations have carved out their own niches but across the expanse of news and entertainment TV3 does its best to hold the competition at bay thanks to programmes like Music Music, Mentor, Ghana’s Most Beautiful and other Live and “reality” shows.

However, the station has been in the news lately for absolutely the worst possible reasons and it will take a lot of remedial action to restore it to its previous position of affection and acclaim. The issue at stake is the deliberate and provocative exposure of the genitals of a guest on one of its programmes. Public shock and outrage have been lessened only slightly by the suspension of the programme by the station but in the main, the harm has already been done.

It is easy to see this incident as a single isolated silly occurrence but it highlights a situation that is threatening to become even more rampant in the future. The underlying issue is the importation of a celebrity culture from Europe and the US which most people believe sits badly alongside our own cultural mores and ethics.  Personally, I am loath to blame other cultures for our own waywardness when it occurs but on this occasion I also think that the celebration of celebrity for its own sake is a model that has no value except for those media houses that hope to profit from notoriety and nuisance.

Fame is not new in this country and we have always had famous people who are celebrated for their achievements in various fields, but in the West, a new phenomenon arose and intensified in the last 40 years due to the influence of telecommunications and therefore of ideas around the world. This is the celebration of the celebrity, which is defined as someone who is famous for being famous. People who do ordinary things such as broadcasting, acting, music or playing sport are elevated into stardom by the media for the purposes selling newspapers or advertising time on radio and television.

The glamorisation of such individuals began in Hollywood where film studios deliberately transformed their actors into public icons and encouraged them to behave rather badly to attract public attention. This was a way to get people into cinema halls. The public via the media were made to be interested in the private lives of these individuals especially in their sexual indiscretions.  With time the celebrity disease spread from Hollywood to all points East, West, South and North. It has arrived in Ghana with a vengeance, and our media and the entertainment industries have set about the task of creating and setting up our own celebrities.

The process I am describing is not the same as celebrating people of achievement and there are some programmes that are doing that admirably. What I am describing is simply setting people up by convincing them that the public is interested in the details of their private lives. The worst of the genre is the Delay Show on which a musician known as Wanluv da Kubolor showed what the media calls “his manhood”, which to be fair, was a piece of human flesh hanging rather sheepishly in his groin. I feel sorry for the man because he is the latest victim of the relentless egotism of Ms. Deloris Afia Frimpong Manso, who is the only “hero” of the show. I had never watched the Delay Show but following the incident I have watched a few episodes on youtube and I am yet to be convinced that it adds anything to our store of knowledge, information or happiness.

I have read a statement issued by Ms. Frimpong Manso’s office in which she blames the media for providing misleading information, to wit, that the outrageous part of the show was not aired on television. That misses the point. Why was it necessary to ask the musician to show whether or not he was wearing underpants, which the programme host calls “a supporter”. What on earth does Wanluv’s “supporter” mean to the television viewer apart from the sheer nuisance value?

However, the blame for this episode goes much deeper than Delay and Mr. Da Kubolor; it is a systemic failure to draw the lines and limits - what is allowed when and how - in our media landscape. To start with, it comes as a surprise even to some of us that there is no broadcasting law in this country. This means that there is no limitation on what any radio or television station might decide to broadcast at any time of day, week, month of the year. This is unusual in broadcasting environments because normally, there are strict guidelines on scheduling which take account of say, when children might be watching or listening.

There is a place for risqué and unusual content in broadcasting as well as satisfying niche and special interest audiences, but that should be done through scheduling that takes care of sensitivities and vulnerabilities. For example, the Delay Show which goes out on Saturday afternoon cannot be anything but mainstream and family-oriented content. Indeed, in Ghana’s specific cultural context, the audience for Saturday afternoon television may be mostly children who don’t have to attend funerals and other social commitments. 

The other problem is the apparent lack of control over programmes put on radio and television by individuals and organisations that have bought the airtime. It appears that anybody can buy the airtime and put on anything of their choice irrespective of whatever “code of conduct” they may have signed up to and must be expected to respect. If our broadcasting institutions want to live up to their vision and mission statements which are loftily declared they cannot simply leave their content to people who may not live up to the standard to which they are committed.

I would want to believe that all of us, including our broadcasting organisations have learnt lessons from what we should probably describe as an unfortunate mishap, although most people are justifiably convinced that the programme host and her guest staged the event, which was premeditated. More importantly, it is important that policy makers go beyond the expression of outrage and ensure that we have the right legal framework in place to regulate, without censoring, broadcasting content.

I have heard an argument put out that the musician’s groin was blurred during the broadcast, but we need to impress on everyone that the public outrage is not related to how Mr. Wanluv’s manhood looked or was presented but to the clear disrespect shown to viewers as well as the preparedness to court unnecessary nuisance just to make the programme and its makers more “popular”. Ghana’s media image is not a healthy one at the moment; a public showing of genitalia, whether clearly shown or not, cannot be good for anyone. Not even for Delay.