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.