Friday, 9 November 2012

On the go

Blogging on the go will never be easier. With this app I will never walk alone!

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Shaking Hands and Issues Arising

The Guinness Book of Records should establish a record for the person with the most shaken hand and the first winner by a mile must be the current (sitting) President of Ghana, His Excellency John Dramani Mahama. In the course of the past three weeks, and counting, the President must have shaken more than 10,000 hands. By the time you read this article The Funeral is almost over and the number of hands he would have shaken would get him Olympic gold for the hand shaking category.

President Mills was famous for shaking the hand of every employee at the Castle at the beginning of every year; in Ghana we use the handshake as a mark of friendship. However, it is even more de rigueur in funeral situations. For President Mahama, the handshaking started from the moment the late President died because in all our funeral customs failing to shake the hand of the Chief Mourner raises serious questions about relationships with the dead and social and cultural continuities among the living. Shaking every proffered hand was a symbol of friendship towards all and recognition of everyone’s contribution.

Ghana has matured in the past three weeks in ways that more than 50 years of statehood had not prepared us for; as we all know, when a person loses a parent that person has to learn to behave like an adult because of the loss of parental protection. Ghana has learnt so stand up and be counted as a fast maturing democracy in the eyes of the world. US President Barak Obama has led the chorus of praise for Ghana’s growing democracy describing it as a model for Africa and an article in the latest issue of The Economist magazine makes the point: “On two occasions in the past 20 years, power has peacefully changed hands. Elections have been run by a genuinely independent commission and deemed free and fair. The army is out of politics. Judges often rule against the government. The handling of the first death of a leader in office has confirmed the stability of Ghana’s institutions”.

The smooth handling of the death of President Mills and the subsequent transfer of power to President Mahama and Vice President Amissah Arthur are unprecedented in Africa. While not wanting to thump our chest too hard, we can point to transition crisis in at least ten African countries in recent years where a leader’s death or the aftermath of presidential elections has led to deaths and suffering. Malawi’s case is similar to Ghana but handled in a completely different way. When the former President of Malawi Bingu wa Mutharika died of a heart attack in April this year his body was apparently taken from his country to South Africa so that his closest allies could buy time. This shenanigan was undertaken in order to subvert the national constitution because the Vice President Joyce Banda had fallen out with the late President whose allies wanted to install his brother, Professor Mutharika, the Foreign Minister, as the new leader. Fortunately for Malawians, some ministers in the Cabinet and the military brass refused to go along with the plot and Joyce Banda was allowed to ascend to the top job.

The morale of the Malawian and Ghanaian “case studies” is that Africa will become stable if we allow our institutions to work. Every instance of instability and strife in the continent has come about through an attempt to subvert the constitution in some way. This was the case in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, and most recently in Mali, just to cite a few cases. It is a lesson that Ghana must learn and take to heart and assume as a national credo. We will only progress if we allow our institutions to work, and change things that do not work to make them work. That is the only way.

This is a lesson that we can learn even from the recent sad but heroic events. It is obvious that this being an unprecedented situation a lot of improvisation was done, usually based on a combination of constitutional guidance and traditional practices. However, there were new situations that neither the Constitution nor tradition alone could provide answers or even guidelines. For example, according to most Ghanaian cultural traditions the burial of a dead body is the sole business of the “family”. Here family has several meanings, but generally speaking, it refers to the deceased’s paternal antecedents. In a situation where a person is so obviously a national figure, decision making would have to go beyond the family, but balance and proportion are important sensitivities in this respect.

What the government and nation have gone through should be systemised into a loose protocol template that can be used in similar situations. The public and even much of the media have not been privy to the behind-the-scenes negotiations and discussions about the funeral but snippets of unconfirmed information lead to the conclusion that there were muddled moments regarding the burial, especially the eventual destination of the body. Perhaps, some amount of wrangling would be a feature of any such funeral but it can be minimized if there is broad public understanding of what is happening or expected to happen. Take the funeral of any traditional ruler: mostly the process is unwritten but moves with clockwork precision because everyone knows the functions and offices of the process, and information is provided to all stakeholders.

The formation of a Planning Committee to plan and oversee the funeral has become part of the Ghanaian way of doing things but are there not state institutions that have the mandate to do these things? The worry that leads to this question stems from the lack of institutional accountability with the formation of ad hoc committees for such huge and national undertakings, and this is without questioning the competence or commitment of the members of the committee. One of the lessons learnt from the Ghana at 50 celebrations must be that a more institutionalised pattern of representation would have saved the nation some of the embarrassment that has turned memories of the golden jubilee so sour for many people. At the risk of sounding like a broken gramophone, one has to repeat: We must allow the institutions of state to work.

Money, especially public money, is an important issue in every such undertaking and it is even more so in our specific circumstances when it is such short supply. Ideally, the budget must anticipate such unforeseen events and make provision for them so that such expenses are covered even before they are spent. This would also ensure that they are being spent by appropriately mandated authority and institutions. Perhaps, this was the case in this situation otherwise the right things must be done so that the memory of our President’s funeral does not become one of a political row over money.

In the same vein, we must honour the memory of President Mills in a lasting and fitting manner, but the naming of streets and roundabouts and suchlike must be done more systematically and institutionally. We all feel very embarrassed that we hardly use location addresses in this country, preferring instead to locate places by using trees and kiosks as markers. So, there is the need to sort this mess properly. More importantly, it is important to create a heritage system that includes naming streets, buildings and other monuments in memory of important personalities and events, but this has to be done properly, if we want the names to endure. People of a certain age would recall that in the wake of two sudden and violent deaths, the Accra International Airport and a roundabout in Accra were named after General Emmanuel Kotoka in 1967 and Captain Thomas Sankara 20 years later. While Kotoka remains the name of the Airport (with serious contentions from some quarters), Sankara has disappeared as a name from the map of Accra. President Kufuor named a street in Accra after the Nigerian leader Olusegun Obasanjo although I don’t know of anyone who calls it by that name. It is ok to show emotions but things done in emotional moments do not always endure.

Taking all for all, this nation has conducted itself with maturity, unity and purposefulness. In church, it is at this point that the pastor tells the congregation: shake the hand of the person standing to your left and right and say a blessing. Ghana should do this to itself. (Note the new email ad)

The Nation Must Pull Together for a Very Kind Man

Diary 25/07
The death of President John Atta Mills hit the country like the proverbial ton of bricks, especially because he had celebrated his 68th birthday a few days before and had seemed to be in good health despite murmurings about his health. He appeared primed to lead the country for the rest of his term and had set out a robust programme towards that end. My initial feeling of grief gave way to fears that the President’s death could lead to some kind of destabilisation, but just seven hours after the sad report, I was able to tweet about my pride in Ghana and hope for the future.

What happened during the few hours between the announcement of the President’s passing and the swearing in of Mr. Mahama at Parliament assured Ghanaians that our grief would not be compounded by any untoward tragedy. That calm and peaceful cooperation among all stakeholders that led to the extra-smooth transition was a mark of respect for a man whose life was characterised by one word: kindness.

Professor John Evans Fiifi Atta Mills has often been described as humble and peaceful, and while both words are valid attributes of our fallen leader, I think such qualities emanate from his essential natural kindness rather than cultivated behavior. The late President gave of himself freely and without regard for the status of the person receiving his favour. It was this quality that enabled him to move in all circles with such comfort and confidence. The point here is that the late President had not cultivated humility and peace-lovingness as vote-winning devices; he was a natural when it came to opening his heart.

I first knew Dr. Mills, as he was in the early 1970s, when I entered the University of Ghana. Interestingly, I initially mistook him for the University Sports Coach and it took a couple of weeks before a law student friend told me that the man who was always wearing sports shorts with a towel draped around his shoulders and invariably holding a football was indeed a law lecturer. The reason he was always so sportily dressed was because he was a sportsman and also at the time, the President of the University Amalgamated Sports Club. Legon was then a small community, small enough for students and lecturers to have at least a passing acquaintance of one another such that by the time I joined his wife on the teaching staff at Aburi Girls Secondary School, Dr. Mills and I knew each other.

However, it was during his frequent visits to Aburi that we became friends to the extent that on some occasions, he would stop first at my flat before going on to see his wife Mrs. Ernestina Naadu Mills, who was then as now, a quietly spoken but very respectful and respected member of staff. Dr. Mills’ visit brought me some benefits such as the beer he paid for and the occasional jollof rice packed for me by Mrs. Mills to take home with me. But it was the humour-packed conversation that marked the joy of his visits.

I left Aburi and Ghana and did not meet Professor Mills again for many years, but my next meeting with him astonished me with its gift of care and friendship. It was during the 40th anniversary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and I had gone to Addis Ababa to report the occasion for a London-based publication. This was in 1997 and Professor Mills was representing Ghana as Vice President. There were hundreds of official delegates, civil society groups, UN diplomats and journalists, so there was no reason why the Vice President of Ghana would notice a journalist going about his duties in the huge conference hall, even if he was an old friend.

After the first plenary session, the dignitaries filed into their cars to be whisked away for lunch somewhere special. As we say, I was “standing my somewhere” near the press entrance when the convoy of heads of state and their representatives started moving, each with their country’s flag flying on the front of the car. I noticed that one of the cars had veered off the convoy’s route and coming in my direction. I looked again and realised that the flag was the Ghana flag and my heart jumped. What could it mean? In no time, the smoked glass window was wound down and the Vice President of the Republic of Ghana was talking to me: “Gyan, na ɛre ye den wɔ aha?”; he wanted to know what on earth I was doing there. The convoy had to move so even before I could stammer my answer, he told me to meet him at the banquet being laid on that evening at the impressive Addis Sheraton Hotel.

The Sheraton Banquet Hall was packed with the usual suspects – presidents, vice presidents, ministers, diplomats, officials, journalists and the like. The South African trumpet maestro Hugh Masakela was belting out a popular tune and people were doing serious networking around the cavernous hall. I spotted the Vice President as soon as I entered because he was among a group of high-powered people who were standing in a reception line at the far end of the room. I decided to wait until it was convenient for me to go and greet Professor Mills, although I knew that at that sort of place, the chance would probably never come.

Then I realised that he was craning his neck as if looking for someone. I got a bit closer and when our eyes met, I realised he was looking for me! He beckoned me to come over to where he was standing. I went closer and realised that his immediate neighbours included the then UN boss Kofi Annan, a high Ghanaian government official Dr. Mrs. Mary Grant and the Prime Minister of Ethiopia Mr. Meles Zenawi. He introduced me to all of these dignitaries and cracked a joke about how I was giving the government a lot of “trouble” in London. The irony was that Vice President Atta Mills knew that I was not on the list of journalists likely to receive Christmas cards from his government so he was being his generous self with a fellow Ghanaian and a friend.

In the last few days, I have spoken with a number of people and heard some tributes about Professor Mills in the media, and realise that his kindness was no fake or fluke but a genuine genetic trait that was as close to him as his skin. The late President’s generosity extended to everyone he came into contact with and was the tool with which he battled the adversities that came his way.

It is too early to assess President Mills’ influence on this country’s historical path, but in the last few days, I have come to understand the President in a ways that eluded me when I had to evaluate him in the heat of the political battles that Ghana appears to live through permanently in the last ten years. I have been critical of the President because I expected him to be tougher in some circumstances. But now I realise that our late leader’s politics was not distinct from life as he led it. With him, what you saw was what you got. With his kindness came an honesty that does not belong to the political arena. Perhaps, his real gift to us are first lessons in another kind of politics. The only way to make sense of that is for this nation to pull together for a very kind man.

If only we will learn…

President Mills… Damirifa.

Judgment Debt – The Play: (Sombre, Absurd and Hilarious)

I want to write a play about judgment debts, and given the seriousness of the subject and its rather grave impact on our economy and society I believe that the drama should be a dark tragedy. As I see it, Judgment Debt, the Play should be all dark, sombre and moody with the characters moving in shadows like silhouettes against a fading wall. It will be silent and the only sound will be of wailing, as of the Bible passage in Matthew 2:7:

“A voice has been heard in Rama, weeping, and great lamentation: Rachel weeping [for] her children, and not be comforted, because they are not”.

Our tragic wailing would be long, tortured and hollow – unforgettable screeches of Ghana weeping for her children but she would not be comforted because prosperous they are not. The play would begin with a long parade of famished children carrying their broken chairs to schools under trees, followed by unborn babies who have died and gone prematurely to Heaven because of lack of medicines and hospital equipment; unpaid teachers, contractors, and national service personnel would follow; farmers, fisher-folk and all kinds of victim-folk would have their dismal turn on stage; potholes dressed as pots with holes will strut upon the stage; coming at the rear would be the unemployed, or the de-jobbed masses (with apologies to Wendy). The play being a Greek tragedy the rest of us who fall somewhere in between the cracks vacated by the main dramatis personae would form the participating chorus.

As with all good tragedies we need a hero and a foil, which will be easy casting in this case. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, or in this case, cometh the men because ultimately, the drama has to be about two men – Messrs Agbesi Woyome and Martin Amidu whose places in history will forever be tied securely to the anchor of judgment debt no matter which way the billowing gale of history will blow. In true tragedy fashion, different people will have different heroes depending not on the unfolding drama but their personal faiths and beliefs. That is the real character of politics in Ghana in the second decade of the 21st Century. Let us hear this verdict from the Qur’an Chapter 4, Verse 85:

"Whoever recommends and helps a good cause becomes a partner therein, and whoever recommends and helps an evil cause shares in its burden."

There is another way of looking at this drama. It is the theatre tradition known as the Theatre of the Absurd, in which nothing makes sense, perhaps except to a small band of insiders who are playing roles only they can understand. In this version it would be hard to tell whether we are celebrating or lamenting judgment debt because the lead characters would go looking for debts all night long and hug them like long lost relatives who will be presented to a bemused nation every morning. New revelations of judgment debt would be met with fanfare and ice cream for the children and champagne for the adults. Days without new judgment debts would be days of woes. Judgment debts are like the Prodigal Son – the longer they have been away the bigger the welcome party, and indeed the more profligate the better.

Once again, as with the Greek tragedy, in this absurdist version, we the people will duly constitute the participating audience; now passive, a bit talkative when required; show us the money and we will talk. If you will be my paymaster I will be your long-lost serial caller. We the people, just like the main characters will not have a clue what the fuss is about but we will jabber on because the chorus has to say or sing something for Christ sake. Sure, we understand it is all about power and the use of same to get rich quick. We understand it is not about us at all; indeed we might as well, as Bertolt Brecht advised, call on the politicians to elect a new people to govern since we have become useless bystanders looking on as they amass power and wealth and rub it in the sores of our wounded dignity.

That ought to be the proper tone for Judgment Debt – The Play, but unfortunately, the play in my head threatens to become a comedy every time I give voice to the characters. It cannot be anything but comic to imagine another hero of the Judgment Debt Movement, Mr. Okudzeto Ablakwa, whose daytime Job is the Deputy Minister of Information, spending night after night going through the archives looking for judgment debts. On stage we could put his feet in buckets of cold water and give him loads of coffee and colanuts to keep him awake as he goes through his onerous but patriotic task.

Comedy is about role reversals and making the improbable happen such as the Minister of Information reportedly introducing his own deputy at the latter’s recent judgment debt show. However, in the stage version all this would be cleared up in a few revelatory dialogue lines:

Questioner: Minister, may I ask you why you had to introduce your deputy and be the MC for him at this press conference?

Minister: Are you referring to my colleague Minister as my deputy?

2nd Questioner: Minister, the previous questioner was referring to your deputy sitting next to you…

(The Minister bends left as if to take instructions from his deputy)

Minister: Aha, I see your confusion. My so-called deputy is actually a full minister

Chorus: How? What? What do you mean?

Minister: Yes, Ghanaian journalists are complacent. If you had paid attention you would have noticed that my so-called deputy is now the Minister for Judgment Debts, a position that has been created secretly by His Excellency the President in line with the Better Ghana Agenda.

3rd Questioner: Minister…!

Minister rises to his full height.

Minister: ladies and gentlemen, you may have forgotten that His Excellency the President studied at the feet of our former mentor, the Master Strategist himself, who taught us that the most valuable military tactic is surprise and attack. In secretly creating a Ministry of Judgment Debt His Excellency the President deployed this tactic to great advantage and the enemy has been outflanked. At the end of the day, if the media are circumspect with their reportage and everything inures to the benefit of the nation as a whole we will all appreciate the wisdom of His Excellency the President… 

Chorus: What? How?

Minister: Well, my young deputy here is in actual fact my boss, and indeed the boss of a certain former attorney general who was not privy to the strategy…

As he speaks, the curtain draws slowly. The legend JJ – Jaguar Jokers is embossed on the velvet curtain. The chorus breaks into Ephraim Amu’s eternal anthem:

Yɛn ara asaase ni/Ɛyɛ abɔdenden ma yɛn/Mogya a Nananom hwie gu,/nya de too hɔ maa yɛn

Aduru me ne wo nso so/Sɛ yɛbɛyɛ bi atoa so/Nimdeɛ ntraso nkotokrane/ne apɛsɛmenkomenya

Adi yɛn bra mu dɛm ama/yen Asaase hɔ do atɔmu sɛ

Ɔman no sɛ ɛbɛ yɛ yie/oo Ɔman no se ɛnyɛ yie oo/Ɛ yɛ sɛ na ɔsɛ, ɔmanfo bra na ekyerɛ

In translation: This is our own cherished land/ acquired through the blood our ancestors shed for us/

It is now our turn to continue what our ancestors started/ Pride, cheating and selfishness has scarred our character/ and diminished our affection for our land.

Whether or not this nation prospers/ Depends on the character of the citizens of the nation.


One of the worst things a state can do is to introduce a law it cannot implement. Ghana is often guilty of this action, none as blatant as the recent ban on using mobile phones to make or receive calls while driving. The new law is part of a raft of regulations that took effect last week Wednesday. It is a brilliant idea because research has long established that speaking on the phone while driving is a major cause of accidents. In Ghana, using the phone while driving is standard practice, even a status symbol; banning it would require more than pronouncing a new law. There are good reasons to fear that this law is redundant at birth.

In the first place, exemptions from the law will rapidly undermine its effectiveness. According to media reports, “security agency officials would be permitted to use their phones when they are driving to execute their duties”. Who are security agency officials, and how do we determine that they are driving to “execute their duties”? Has anyone ever seen a police officer driving normally in a traffic queue and obeying normal traffic rules? Police officers always take advantage of their status to drive in the middle of the road with lights blazing going nowhere official. When a police officer enjoying a social conversation on a mobile phone while driving knocks down a pedestrian he or she would claim that the conversation was duty related and would probably be believed; this being Ghana the poor pedestrian would either be dead or maimed while the police officer goes free.

Here is the danger. Once “security agency officers” are exempted, the law would be broken routinely by every policeman and women, every military officer and soldier, every immigration officer, every CEPS official, every fire service person, every prison officer, not to speak of the motley quasi-security agencies and even private security personnel who already behave as if they are above the law in this country. When that happens and hundreds of thousands of Ghanaians break the law via their uniforms, there will be no moral restraint on other citizens from doing the same. As I never tire of explaining, bad driving behaviour on the Spintex Road persists because the biggest offenders are those who believe that they are too big to be accountable to anyone. This mobile phone driving ban will go in that same direction of creating a two-tier society of those who can and those who cannot. Therefore, the exemptions make it a bad law.

There is no indication that security training modules include the use of mobile phones while driving, therefore a security person using a mobile phone while driving is just as dangerous as I am when I do the same thing. However, the result may not be the same because I, at least, would know that I was breaking the law while the security person would be acting with impunity. If we believe that instant communication facilitates the work of our security personnel, then we must fit ALL official security vehicles with the appropriately safe hands-free devices that enable them to work without posing a danger to themselves and others. Otherwise the law must apply to all drivers; simple. In any case, hardly would any security personnel “drive to execute their duty” singlehandedly, except in a few cases no security person will need to drive and use the phone at the same time.

In total, exempting security personnel of all descriptions would mean allowing more than a quarter of a million people to use their phones while driving. If you add medical personnel who can also claim exemption, journalists, electricity engineers, water and sanitation inspectors… You get the drift; we all perform work that can justify the use of mobile phones while we drive. Therefore exemptions of any kind will undermine and endanger the intentions of the law.

Another reason why this could be a divisive regulation is that it says nothing to reinforce the ban on tinted windows, if it is in force. There is no way a police officer or anyone can tell if a person driving a vehicle with tinted windows is speaking on the phone. Unless the use of tints on windows is banned (or the ban reinforced) this being Ghana, the number of such vehicles will increase astronomically within weeks just so people can get round the mobile phone ban. Again, there will be no point exempting some categories from the ban on tinted windows, apart from perhaps the President, the Vice President, the Speaker of Parliament and the Chief Justice. The rest of us should drive in transparent vehicles if we have nothing to hide. Plainly, unless we can ensure that we are all obeying the law, it is useless to have it on the statute.

Last Tuesday, the police Motor Traffic and Transport Unit belatedly announced a three-month period of public education on the law and other recently announced traffic regulations. Such reverse communications strategy is strange, to put it mildly. One would have expected the education to precede the law, or at least to start with the announcement of the law. Public education campaigns work best when they precede the action or event about which the public are to be educated. Take the switch from left to right hand driving in Ghana in 1974, which is an example of how good this country was in the past. Months of public education campaigns led to a massive switch in which not a single accident was recorded because the campaign was an integral part of the switch.

Now that the MTTU is going to embark on public education, what happens to the law? In the same announcement about public education, the MTTU said its own personnel “are now to educate themselves on the provisions of the new law…”, which begs the question – What do we do in the interim while they are studying the law? Is the ban in force or has it been suspended while the police study the law, or while we wait for the promised public education? To be fair, we have to acknowledge the MTTU boss’s responses in a recent media interview but they leave us no wiser about the main issue of whether the police know what they are doing? ACP Angwubutoge Awuni said that the police would arrest offenders because there were existing provisions that criminalized using phones while driving. The question is, if those provisions were adequate, why did we need a new regulation? When the police arrest me, would it be under the old ineffective law or the new one which the police are now studying?

It is obvious that this law is not ready for implementation, and its desired impact cannot be realised unless the ground rules are laid for it to be applied to affect every driver equally. After all, if the purpose of the law is to protect people rather than just arrest drivers, then it cannot do its work when thousands are exempted by law or hiding from it behind smoked glass. It is could be a bad law not because of its wording or the underlying principles but because of inadequate thinking and preparations. NO EXEMPTIONS, NO TINTED WINDOWS, EDUCATE THE POLICE, EDUCATE THE PUBLIC – IMPLEMENT. 

Hollow Words Darken ECG’s Vision

Red Auerbach, one of America’s most prominent basketball coaches, observed that “the only correct actions are those that demand no explanation and no apology”. Somebody ought to be kind enough to bring this piece of wisdom to the attention of Ghana’s monopoly electricity company which these days, produces more regrets and apologies than actual electricity. Another advice for the management of ECG is to match words with deeds.

I humbly invite you, dear reader, to come with me on a journey through ECG’s website and gape at the wide chasm between words and deeds. In fact, I wish to help ECG to make some amendments to parts of its website in the company’s own interest because it will be far easier for ECG to amend the lofty declarations on its website to reflect its real actions and capabilities. This is what the ECG’s website says is its vision:  

To achieve customer satisfaction by providing services which fully meet the expectations of our customers.

I knout that somebody at management level at ECG probably has a keen sense of irony but customer satisfaction as ECG’s vision is uproariously funny. I don’t believe that ECG will recognise customer satisfaction if it came face to face with it at high noon. Now, listen to what ECG says is its mission, but please don’t laugh too hard otherwise you will split your side. Here we go – Mission Statement:

 To provide quality, reliable and safe electricity services to support economic growth and development of Ghana.” 

This is pure fantasy, but it gets better with what ECG says is its Values Statement (note the capital letters): We are passionate about our customers. OUCH!

Personally, I don’t think I can take any more of this absolute drivel but if fantasy is your kind of diversion, you can see more of this daydreaming on their website. My point is this: knowing that it renders appalling service at best, ECG could at least speak the truth. Its Mission Statement ought to read something like:”To undermine Ghana’s economic development and increase the personal misery of Ghanaians by providing lousy and unreliable electricity to most of our victims”. At least with such a factual statement, ECG will enhance its credibility which at the moment lies in tatters.

The real irony is that people in ECG’s management probably believe the meaningless platitudes on its website because to organisations such as ECG, the customer exists as an abstract notion so they are unaware of the impact of their action and inactions on real human beings such as me. This is why I am happy to tell them my story.

I am an ECG victim; needless to say, I pay a lot of money for the privilege. Where I live, we suffer the indignity and oppression of power cuts at least once every day, and if it is a weekend then it goes without saying that at least a couple of power cuts will occur in the course of every single evening. There are no announcements before and no apologies ever after these power cuts. Sometimes I call ECG’s helpline even though I know it is futile but just to do something, anything. A disembodied voice answers promptly – you have to give the devil his due – but always and always it says the same thing: “Sorry about this but the engineers are working on it la la la.” Perhaps, ECG has just programmed a response voice to utter this completely meaningless sentence.

The impact of these power cuts has been immensely disruptive. It is impossible to plan anything with any degree of confidence. You cannot tell when the power will go so you cannot invite friends, family or colleagues around for any socializing; you cannot plan to write because you don’t know when the power will disappear and how long the computer battery will last… you don’t know when the next power cut will prevent you from using any power utensils in the kitchen, or watch television or listen to the radio.

The moment the electricity goes off, I either have to abandon my house or close every possible gap in every wall because my next door neighbour starts a generator which can supply power to a sizeable village. For health reasons, I am unable to tolerate the smoke spewed by this humongous generator; not to speak of the noise. In short, where I live, one has no life because of ECG’s incompetence and its nonchalance attitude to the hand that feeds it; yes, mine is the hand that feeds ECG just like yours.

Here is a question: What would you do if you handed your money over to me expecting me to perform a service but I failed to deliver every time? Would you continue to pay me more money? The answer is obvious. Only a fool would be parted from his or her money in such careless fashion. On this ground, I don’t know what to call the majority of Ghanaians who ever so often hand over precious money to the Electricity Company of Ghana despite the repeated failures of the company to fulfill its side of the bargain. Better still, I don’t know how ECG bosses see us – perhaps as suckers for handing over our monies to them and been paid misery in return. Why do we allow it to happen? The answer is that we are powerless to do anything apart from giving it to God; and they know it.

However, it need not be this way. ECG has a boss who has accepted the responsibility to ensure that customers receive a service, so when the boss fails, he or she must be held accountable. Come to think of it: we spend a lot of money and effort to select our members of parliament who in the short term, have only a marginal impact on our lives but when we deem them to have failed we remove them after four years. The boss of ECG has an immediate and profound impact on our lives but he/she is not even vetted by parliament for appointment so we have no say in how long this boss stays in office whether he or she performs well or not.

That must change. Is anything stopping Parliament from vetting the bosses of state-owned enterprises as part of their appointment processes, or even a public forum at which the appointees spell out their actual vision and the benchmarks by which to evaluate them? For example, the boss of ECG could be asked to tell the nation how many power cuts would be normal in a year and if he/she said 365, then I would know that at the current rate, ECG is on course otherwise it would be within my rights to seek redress, and please dear Lord, let no one mention PURC, I beg.

As for ECG’s vision, well, it looks rather clouded.


Ghana’s first ever world boxing champion David Kotey, popularly called D.K. Poison, is a man who brought joy and prestige to Ghana in the mid-1970s when he became the first Ghanaian to win a world boxing title. At the age of 60, Kotey is a broken and bitter man, but he is not asking for charity and handouts but justice and his money.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Why we must elect the boss of ECG

I have an idea. In the last one week not a single day passes without power being cut in my house, sometimes for more than four hours at a time. My calls to the ECG "helpline" provided no help at all. Meanwhile, in all probability, the family of the ECG boss would be enjoying air-conditioning and wall-to-wall lighting. Why don't we set targets for bosses of public corporations in the same way that private companies set targets for bosses and their subordinates?

 Think about it this way: I don't know my MP, and I have to look up his name just to remember it. He had only a notional impact on my life. And yet we go to great expense and lengths to elect our MPs whereas people like the ECG boss whose performances have immediate impact on our daily lives are not accountable to us directly. Ministers are supposed to take the political heat for the non-performance of officials in ministries, departments and agencies under their watch but it doesn’t work like that.

My suggestion is that we have to have a say in the appointment of public sector bosses through direct elections. It can be done. However, before we get to direct elections we can have a halfway house situation in which Parliament would vet all top bosses of public corporations so that they go on the record about the benchmarks by which we can judge them.

Fear and Panic of Ethnic Tension in the Country

On Thursday 5, the United Nations office in Ghana organised a meeting with an intriguing purpose – to craft peace messages to be targeted at four information constituencies or publics (in communication-speak) before, during and after the elections. These targets are youth, media, women and political parties. They brought together people from the media, NGOs and individual communications experts. The subtext of the event and the choice of publics is the fear of election-related violence in the coming months.

It is a sensible attitude that commends the UN for acting outside the restrictive box of reactive thinking, and it is an approach that should be recommended to the government of Ghana, not because of the possibility of election violence but because violent conflicts have broken out in too many places at the same time in recent weeks. We can no longer pretend that this is a peaceful country; while it is true that armed hordes have not camped on the steps of the capital, it would be untrue to argue that all Ghanaians go to bed and sleep in peace. Not if you lived in parts of the Upper West, Central, Upper East, Volta and Northern Regions in the past two weeks.

In the course of researching a subject early this week, I typed the words “Ghana news” in the Google search and among the top 25 stories that showed up were the following:

·        Two people are feared dead with several others critically injured after renewed ethnic clashes in the Mfantseman West district of the Central ...

·        One dead; six wounded in Kokomba, Bemoba clashes

·        4 dead in clashes between two Upper East communities ...

·        Four people have been confirmed dead in renewed clashes between residents of Namoligo and Shea-Tindongo in the Talensi-Nabdam district ...

·        Central Region: Two killed in ethnic

·        Two people have been killed in ethnic clashes between Ewe and Fantse communities at Akumfi in the Central Region. The clashes ensued ...

·        Ekumfi clashes: Ama Benyiwa Doe appeals for calm

·        Tribal clashes in Central region: 2 shot dead, 1 beheaded ...

·        Hohoe clashes: Women; Children flee; one person shot dead ...

·        Clashes force Nakpanduri SHS to close

This is just a snapshot of clashes in the country from a single search; it is possible that violent clashes are even more widespread than what has been captured here, and of course this list excludes the usual suspects of Bawku, Dagbon and a myriad of chieftaincy disputes that erupt into violent conflict every now and then in several parts of the country.

What on earth is going on? On the face of it, these different instances of violence are part of the same syndrome, different aspects of interlinked causes and effects. The first possibility as a cause has to relate to youth unemployment in the country. The profile of the person who is most likely to pick up a weapon unlawfully is that of a male aged between 18 and 30, although of course older men and women are almost always stoking the fires from some unseen headquarters. So although the unseen heads behind the violence are likely to be older ones, the hands that actually wield the weapons are young and idle. That is the clue: idle.

Too many young people in Ghana are unemployed, of whom a sizeable percentage is unemployable, of whom more anon. Government spokesperson have claimed that more than a million and half jobs have been created in the last two to three years but despite this unconfirmed claim hundreds of thousands of school leavers go onto the job market every year with no hope of finding a suitable job or any job at all. You just have to visit the centre of every village, town and city in Ghana and what strikes you is the sheer number of virile young men sleeping under trees or hustling furiously between sleeps when hunger and the spirit move them. It is not a pretty sight.

Youth unemployment has been described as a time bomb, but that is an optimistic assessment insofar as it expects the bomb to explode sometime in the future. This bomb is active and exploding now; it has no future, neither do the rest of society unless it is tackled now. The irony is that although this is an election year and campaigning is in full swing, no political party appears ready to provide any working solution. This is not surprising. Across the world, youth unemployment is proving to be an intractable problem for governments and societies. However, unlike other places, we have no safety net to cushion vulnerable people to prevent them from crash landing into crime and other unsavoury activities. In that way, we have created a bumper crop of strong young men ready to do the bidding of anyone who has money or excitement to provide some diversion, even if short lived.

The situation has not been helped by the educational policy that does not appear to take the needs of the country into calculation. In any case, there are two or more educational “systems” running in the country but these can be grouped into two broad categories, which can be neatly labeled as rich and poor. The rich policy is tailored at preparing the children of rich people for plum jobs in the future. The poor policy is for the children of the poor so that they will continue to be poor. Of course, what I am saying will be denied and perhaps I will be excoriated for saying it. But this is the effect of our educational policy on the ground, as we say. This is the reason why despite impressive growth rates in several African countries over the past decade the gap between the rich and the poor is growing bigger. The wealth being generated by growth is not being shared equally but is being appropriated by those with access to it for the use of their families.

The mass unemployment of young people and the un-employability of a large percentage are feeding into the indiscipline that is engulfing this country. The idea that anyone can do as they please has become a cancerous growth on our social psyche and spreading venom through the body politic.  To put it bluntly, everyone feels entitled to do whatever they like without fearing or feeling for the consequences of their action. This is why violent eruption has become the major means of seeking redress to the extent that no one appears unduly surprised to see a group of young men holding deadly weapons marching up and down town and city roads protesting against somebody or something. It does not matter who gets hurt.

In the main, people get away with such action and sometimes do get their way as well, which then encourages more of such action. Somebody profits from every situation no matter how bad it may be for the rest of society. Some people are harvesting the bumper crop of unemployed youth for their own benefit, but the chickens are coming home to roost. The time has come for this nation to craft peace messages of our own to reassure the youth that they have a stake in the future of Ghana. More importantly, we need to find the answer to the creeping violence because while from an Accra perspective such violent acts appear to be happening in faraway places but when the reserve army of the poor is mobilized no one will be safe. This is not meant to cause fear and panic.

The Case for Leveson-Style Media Probe in Ghana

Three months ago, His Lordship Sir Brian Leveson was an obscure, albeit a senior judge on the British Bench but today he is one of the best known personalities in the UK with his face as familiar as a relative to people even outside the borders of the UK. Politicians and media people hang on his every word as if it were holy script because those words may have implications for people in high office. Mr. Leveson is the Chairman of an Inquiry into Media Ethics in the UK. The Inquiry was set up after it was revealed that some newspapers hack into personal phones of celebrities and people in the news in search of information.

The Leveson Inquiry is more generally a response to the public’s anxiety that there is something not right with the way media institutions and media people operate. This disquiet reached its height at the death of Princess Diana when it was revealed that she was being pursued by a hoard of photographers, collectively known as the paparazzi, when her car crashed into the tunnel in Paris. People believe that in many ways media people have overstepped an ethical red line for far too long. In the UK and other Western countries it is customary for governments to respond to such perceived institutional breaches with formal inquiries in order to find solutions to the wrongs that the inquiry unearths.

This is a sound method of government which is largely missing in this country; here such inquiries are not popular because they are often perceived as instruments of politics and likely to be denounced by the party in opposition as a witch-hunting exercise. We ought to change this attitude, and we can do this by setting up our own version of the Leveson Enquiry into Media Ethics in Ghana.

Perhaps such an examination is long overdue but it is now more urgently needed than ever before. Complaints about the media come in barrelfuls per day and these have become accentuated by the abuse of media by politicians and media people especially in election years, but the things that are wrong with our media go beyond politics and cannot be fixed with the usual calls on “the media to be circumspect in their reportage”, which is a nice-sounding but meaningless phrase at the best of times.

One often hears that the Ghanaian media is one of the freest on the African continent, which is true if by free we mean it operates in a free-for-all dog-eat- dog unregulated terrain. But free as an expression of quality and access would need to be looked at a bit more closely. As with everything in Ghana, what you see is sometimes completely different what really exists; the freedom of the Ghanaian media, even when used to mean insulation from government may not tell an accurate story. We do not know; which is why a full-blown enquiry is required.

The impression that the Ghanaian media is free comes from two premises. In historical terms it is valid to speak of two broad eras where the media is concerned; pre- and post- 1992. Contrasted with the pre-1992 era this is supposed to be the golden age of the media mainly because the excessive use of state power to lean on the state-owned media has been lifted by constitutional guarantees but whether this constitutional insulation has been effective needs to be discussed. Despite the presence of the National Media Commission a careful reading of the state-owned press reveals that editors and editorial minders still work under pressure, which may or may not be justified.

In many ways, saving the media from the state is the easiest of the many-sided nature of the Constitution’s purpose regarding the media. If for no reason at all, the state’s influence is both predictable and visible, if we care to look closely. What is more insidious is the influence of the practice of media corruption, commonly referred to in Ghana as “soli”, but which is more generally known as “brown envelope journalism” in media studies across the world. The phenomenon has become so pervasive in Africa that it now has its own academic discipline complete with gurus who pronounce on its every historical twist and development.

In Ghana we turn to treat “soli” as merely a sick joke or perhaps a moral failing on the part of journalists. But “soli” is a greater threat to the freedom of the media and expression than state officials and politicians abusing their positions. This is because whereas we all condemn state intrusion, which forces the state to find covert means of controlling the media, “soli” has a direct effect and does not hide its face. Indeed, you can meet “soli” everyday wherever a public event brings media people face to face with benefactors in the shape of events organizers. No amount of preaching against “soli” has shifted the ground one bit, so rather than condemn the practice blindly we need to delve into it, alongside the many other media ills, in a structured way.

You would notice that throughout this article I use the term “media people” instead of “journalists” because the former has become a vague and amorphous description of a whole lot of activities and occupations within the media landscape. In the olden days we had the “press”, and those who liked me reported and wrote news and features were known as journalists. In the course of the past 20 years this term, “media person” or its even elongated cousin “media personnel” is used to refer to disk jockeys, journalists, news readers, advertisers, actors and many others, especially in broadcasting. These are all important functions but the term “media person” is not only bereft of specific meaning but is adding to the confusion and anxiety about the media.

In addition to the above, a frightening development (I don’t know how long it has been) is the demand for “soli” money from journalists by their non-editorial colleagues who argue that because of their peripheral duties in the gathering news they are also entitled to “soli”. On the one hand, this we-are-all-in-it attitude makes sense; after all without the driver the reporter would not get to the assignment which yields the “soli”. On the other hand, this is a dangerous trend because it puts principled journalist under pressure. Last week a journalist told me about the time the driver refused to drive back to the office after an assignment without his share of the money she refused to take. She had to give him money out of her own legitimate earnings. As if that is not enough, apparently, typesetters and other ancillary staff at newsrooms all demand their share or else…

We cannot blame reporters or even drivers for being greedy because the story is far more complex. This is just the tip of the iceberg. We have stories of newspaper owners telling their journalists that their business card is their pay. In other scenarios news editors are said to demand their share too before a news report is published. If you add all these to allegations that newspaper vendors dictate front-page headlines it is not difficult to conclude that what you are being offered as news today is a compromised product and not the result of the application of true news values. We need an official inquiry so that our media can be strengthened to play its proper role in our lives. To paraphrase a famous statement, the unexamined media is not worth our respect.

Who owns June 4th?

Something strange has happened to June 4th over the years since the day it was immortalised as an important historical date in 1979. Speaking on various radio stations in the run up to the controversial 33rd anniversary, Mr. Kofi Adams, the suspended Deputy General Secretary of the NDC who is also a Special Aide to former President Jerry John Rawlings, many times used the word “we” to denote what a group of people, including himself, had done in preparation for the Aflao celebration. For example, he said on Peace FM: “We have spoken with the Paramount Chief of the Traditional Area”, “We have already sought police permission…” Who exactly are the “We” in the Adams discourse?

On the face of it, the “We” should be the National Democratic Congress, whose Constitution claims June 4th as the Party’s provenance. However, as we all know, the “official” NDC, which suspended Adams, virtually dissociated itself from the June 4th rally at Aflao. This means that the “We” probably refers to either the Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings wing of the party or the office of the former President which employs Mr. Adam. The NDC will probably say that there is no Konadu faction but it will be hard to convince anyone that her faction does not exist.

It is now equally difficult to say that the NDC party as a whole agrees that June 4th continues to be as important as it was vaunted to be in the past. It now appears that former President Rawlings and his household and office, rather than the party as a whole, have appropriated June 4th as a personal symbol and resonance of what the former President claims to stand for. No one can blame President Rawlings for feeling protective of the legacy of June 4th, or even for feeling that the day belongs to him. In truth, he may not have claimed it; it has been thrust on him by default or national acclaim, for the annual ritual of “boom speeches” if for no other reason.

Back when the NDC was being formed, it must have seemed like a good idea to source its umbilicus to June 4th, although it is also possible that this idea could have been the singular brainchild of the Founder. It has served the former airman well by giving him a separate platform on which to extend his battery life beyond his constitutional mandate, assuming anyone expected Rawlings to shut up after his presidency ended. But until now, it was not obvious that this was more a personal and political platform for Rawlings instead of one that meant the same to the NDC as a party. On recent evidence, it can be said that June 4th was never a serious issue for most members of the NDC.

The question is this: How did such an important historical event come to be owned so exclusively by one political party, or even one political family? The answer can be supplied by one simple fact: June 4th has been misread as a historical phenomenon for a long time and in the process, June 4th myths have supplanted facts, and the wonder is how academia and the media have allowed this to happen.

This is not to argue that Rawlings was not central to the June 4th story. He was. Obviously, the motivation for the troops getting out of the barracks on June 4th was to free Rawlings from detention at the Special Branch (now BNI) for leading the aborted 15th May uprising. Obviously, therefore, Rawlings, despite being central to the drama that unfolded subsequently, could not have been the “architect” of June 4th. Unfortunately, over the years, the idea has taken hold in the public imagination that Rawlings planned and executed the June 4th Uprising.

The issue though is not about who planned and executed the Uprising. Rather, the focus should be on the historicity of June 4 within the country’s larger chronological narrative. What produced June 4? Did Jerry Rawlings and Co simply wake up one morning and decided to “do” June 4? Rawlings and Co caused the June 4th Uprising at the tail end of a relentless display of discontent by all sections of society against the political and economic policies of the Supreme Military Council (SMC).

In January 1972, Colonel Kutu Acheampong seized power from the Busia government and installed his National Redemption Council in power. This was composed of young officers who without espousing any specific ideology, made efficiency and the need to grow our own food the cornerstone of its policies. In 1975, the top brass of the military staged a quiet coup and put themselves in power as the SMC pushing out the mildly nationalist NRC into the background.

Things went pretty downhill, especially with the economy in tailspin. The reasons for this are complex but not the subject of this article. Under pressure, General Acheampong (he had promoted himself and all his cronies) decided to replace the known constitutional arrangement with something known as Union Government packaged to be an inclusive government of the military, police and civilians. A referendum was held to test public opinion on the issue. The referendum was a farce. If anything, it showed that Acheampong did not know how to rig elections.

Protests in the form of demonstrations, strikes and even sabotage ensued. Students, civil servants, workers, doctors, teachers, engineers, the business community, and all manner of people apart from the few who benefitted from the regime, joined the protests. The military mainly supported Acheampong and his cronies as far as we could glean from their public behaviour, although many soldiers privately were sympathetic to the dissidents. In July 1978, Acheampong was replaced in a palace coup by General Akuffo and it is instructive to recall that Flt Lt. Jerry John Rawlings was the young officer who led General Akuffo to inspect the guard of honour at the airport on the latter’s only foreign trip as Head of State to Senegal.

University campuses, not the barracks served as the cradle of the revolution that everyone expected. The People’s Movement for Freedom and Justice was formed in 1977 as a coalition of those who opposed the SMC. It was led by Professor Adu Boahen with Nana Akuffo Addo as the General Secretary but it was a broad-based group which had in its ranks people of all political shades and opinions. However, many groups operated underground on campuses, workplaces and in the military. Some were linked in a network although in the main, they were independent of one another. It was during this ferment that the late General Akwasi Afrifa predicted in a letter to Acheampong that one day soon all senior military officers would be rounded up and shot. Afrifa was not alone in prophesying apocalypse sooner than later. He was rounded up and shot.

In a sense, almost the entire country expected something to happen although no one could have known the form it would take. Obviously, a military solution was always in the offing and students in particular goaded and needled young military officers into doing something. The need for that something receded somewhat from early 1979 because the regime under General Akuffo had already announced elections to return the country to constitutional rule. June 4th was therefore a response to the people’s call for dramatic change. In the course of the tumult and agitation that preceded it, people confronted the regime in diverse ways and some lives were lost. By the time June 4th occurred, the political battles had been fought and won not by soldiers but civilians.

June 4th therefore is a very important date in Ghana’s history and significant because it was the culmination of a long period of protests by a large section of society, including many conservative elements who would normally baulk at the idea of revolution. Former President Rawlings and his friends are right to tie June 4th to the need for accountability because that was also the rallying cry of those who confronted the SMC for four years before 1979. The historical essence of June 4th should therefore be seen in a clearer perspective and not to be confused with what happened on that day and subsequently.

The nation must deal with June 4th in that way because although it is now a divisive issue, back then in 1979, even a bewildered nation knew why it had happened. June 4th had no political programme and the limited nature of its self-declared mandate can be gleaned from the term “house cleaning” which was used to describe its purpose. People who supported it are today found in all political parties, but more importantly, June 4th was the product of a historical period and process to which several people and parties can lay claim. Ghana and Ghanaians as a whole should own June 4th, which is perhaps the message of boom speeches past and present. Therefore, the idea is that the entire nation could observe June 4 as National Accountability Day.