Sunday, 9 June 2013

Why Akua is looking for Little Kwaku’s Father (07-06-13

Why Akua is looking for Little Kwaku’s Father (07-06-13)

Kwaku is five years old but that is not his real name. His mother is Akua and that is not her real name either but they are real people and their story is real. Kwaku’s father has effectively abducted the child, but Akua does not know what to do or where to turn for help. This is Akua’s story.

She has two children both with the same man. They lived as man and wife although the man had not performed any rites. They come from adjoining villages in the same district and had known each other “back home” but their relationship had been formed in the hard setting of Accra’s unfriendly suburbs. Let us call the man Emmanuel; he is a tradesman having learnt carpentry and other crafts at various apprenticeships since he left school.

Emmanuel came to Accra in 2003 or 2004 to join his cousin who had arrived two years earlier and stayed at Ashiaman. Akua also arrived a year or so later but the two met and developed their friendship sometime in 2005. They had a daughter in 2006 and little Kwaku followed two years later in 2008. Their daughter, Amma is seven and the boy who is at the centre of this story’s main sub-plot is five. After months of quarrelling, usually over money, the two drifted apart with Akua unofficially but firmly and inevitably retaining custody of the two children.

Emmanuel was an on-off father for a few months after the on-off relationship kind of ended; he paid money for the partial upkeep of the children as and when he was harassed by Akua, especially after he was rumoured to have taken up with another woman. One day, or so it appears,  Emmanuel vanished from the lives of Akua and the children and he made sure to consign his mobile phone number to the garbage heap of history. But Akua is a determined woman and managed after months of hard detective work to get her hands on Emmanuel’s new telephone number.

He said he was living in Kumasi after receiving Akua’s surprise call. He explained that he had left Ashiaman under considerable financial pressure but had now found employment in Kumasi and promised to do his fatherly duty. Meanwhile, Akua’s mother had taken Amma with her to the village, so Emmanuel came up with a suggestion: since Amma was struggling to look after the boy, would it not be better if he took little Kwaku to live with him in Kumasi? Akua said a firm no. Emmanuel used the new idea as a bargaining chip. He would stop looking after the children altogether unless he Akua agreed to given custody of Kwaku to him. She reluctantly agreed because she did not want the entire clan blaming her if Emmanuel used her refusal as the excuse for not looking after their children. One day Emmanuel suddenly came to Accra to take the boy to Kumasi. That was the last time Akua saw her son or his father.

Three months ago, Emmanuel played a cruel trick on Akua who had been pleading with him to allow her to pay a visit to her son. He agreed to let her see him so Akua bought some nice things for Kwaku and set off for Kumasi. She got there in the evening but by then Emmanuel had done it again; his mobile phone had gone stone dead and has stayed dead up to this minute. Akua stayed at the bus station overnight and continued her futile search for her son the next day until she realised that Emmanuel had pointedly punished her for wanting to see her son. What could Akua do? She returned to Accra a dejected figure. No amount of cajoling and pleading with Emmanuel’s relatives and friends has given her even a morsel of comfort.

On the face of it, Akua could have recourse to the law and this is what I suggested when I got to know of her case. But she has spoken to people who have tried the police route and they have persuaded her to the view that it would be a waste of both money and time. She told me poignantly that “in Ghana poor people have no rights”.

Akua is not alone in her predicament. Just by looking around my own circle of friends and acquaintances, I am astounded at the high number of women who have been left by their children’s fathers to look after the children on their own. What is worse, it appears that this is a taboo subject which is hardly addressed publicly. It is a question of family honour, someone has suggested; families do not want to wash their dirty linen in public and so while they try to support such women if they can, in reality most of them have no real support and are on their own.

Emmanuel is not alone. The one good read reason Akua thinks she was so badly treated in the Kumasi fiasco is that Emmanuel is living with another woman, who if his relatives are to be believed, is also not his wife. Emmanuel has moved on, at least in his own mind. As he sees it, he is looking after Kwaku while Akua’s mother is looking after Amma in the village. That for him is the end of the matter.

There are hundreds of thousands of children in such “domestic limbo” who are denied full parental care by both parents; more importantly they are left in the care of these young women who themselves are barely making a living. These women feel trapped and do not know where to go. The Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit of the Police Service is often recommended to such women to report their AWOL menfolk but this unit is probably not the most appropriate institution for resolving such difficulties.

In many ways the Ghanaian state has abdicated its responsibilities in the social sector as if to say that there should be no or minimum public interference in people’s private lives. However, part of the social contract by which we are governed expressly expects the state to protect people even from their own weaknesses and follies.

The problem of fatherless children is an epidemic in our society and we can no longer pretend the phenomenon does not exist. At the same time it is neither correct nor enough to treat this as a moral issue in which young mothers burdened with bringing up these children are cast in the role of villains who “brought it on themselves”. Obviously the problem relates to several other causative factors including unregulated rural to urban migration, lack of proper educational opportunities, the need for decent accommodation for young people, sex education and general solidarity and fellow-feeling for one another in society. There are many causes of this problem and the government would do well to commission a formal study into the many dimensions of this problem. 

In the meantime, somewhere in Kumasi, or more likely in one of its suburban badlands, is a man who has effectively abducted his own son and denied the child’s mother visiting rights. We have called him Emmanuel but we could call him a hundred other names all of which he would answer to because there are so many of such fathers. We have to find and HELP them to do their duty, but where encouragement fails they have to be compelled by law.



Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s Founding Fathers is credited with the famous quotation “Nothing in this world can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”. Mr. Franklin was a very clever man – scientist, inventor, editor, politician and more, but he did not know of one of life’s main permanent features: the incompetence of our very own Electricity Company of Ghana. This is probably a little harsh so let us look at it another way. Given that ECG does not produce any electricity itself and does not know how, when and how much of the stuff it markets and distributes is produced, the company ought to be made the Eighth Wonder of the World.

Or perhaps a better way to look at it is that in ECG’s failures we are only feeling the sharp and bitter end of national incompetence. To put this in perspective, there are said to be 24 million Ghanaians, although no-one can be sure of this because the last census was bungled, but let us accept that there are 24 million of us. Out of this 24 million Ghanaians some are very clever indeed. We have produced great teachers, stylish coffin makers, mathematical geniuses, farmers and fishermen, scientists and technologists, great mechanics, medical doctors (other doctors in various shapes and guises), pastors, evangelists and prophets, lawyers (you can find them examining pink sheets on any normal day), even journalists and politicians. And yet, despite this abundance of talent and genius we cannot PLAN how and when electric power may be put off and on!

This is a national disgrace; there is no other way to put it. We accept that there is not enough electricity to share among all of us; in any case we are short of everything you can think of: water, clean air, fuel, healthcare, teachers and money, to name a few, so being short of electricity is only a further and better illustration of what we have in a basket of goods and services in chronic shortfall. We accept that this shortfall will affect us in one way or another. But can’t we be spared the spontaneous and unplanned nature of our suffering? Or is it really as unplanned and spontaneous as we allege?

This was a question I put to a chap at one of ECG’s Call Centres in the middle of the night last Sunday. You can argue on humanitarian grounds that it was probably not fair to confront the man at one hour past midnight, but I was left with no choice. The power had been taken, as they say in Nigeria, two nights out of three, and this was the third night in 96 hours that we had been deprived of electricity. This was strange even if the power outages were occurring randomly. The law of averages states that over a period of time the occurrence of the same event will even out. This means that it is most unlikely that the same area would suffer DUMSO three times in a row even if it was occurring unplanned. The conclusion therefore was that our area was being unfairly targeted for power outages.

As a socialist I can mentally agree with the choice of our area for such execution, if the idea is driven by revolutionary principles. I live in an area where a small but powerful minority of residents (I am not in that group) can boast a disproportionate consumption of electricity because they have more of everything; fridges, air conditioners, lawnmowers, deep freezers, electric toys for Junior, electric fences and windows and perhaps electric shavers and Jacuzzis. Ironically, these same people own the biggest generators God has placed at the disposal of the Third World, so when the power goes they race to put on their gen sets and sleep to the sweet sound of wealth. The point is that when power is taken from my area the reduction in the power consumption may be so noticeable that the people who take the decision do not have to worry about anywhere else. This was my theory when I called the Call Centre.

Before I go on, let us look at the idea of the call centre, especially as it relates to our ECG. I have taken the trouble to check the Wikipedia definition of “call centre” and this is what it says: “A call centre is a centralised office used for the purpose of receiving or transmitting a large volume of requests by telephone. An inbound call centre is operated by a company to administer incoming product support or information inquiries from consumers…” It appears to me that a company that has no information or product support has no business setting up a call centre. Those who want to experience ECG’s rich provision of information and product support can call their call centres on 0302611611.

Let us give credit where credit is due. ECG has trained its call centre staff very well in how to mention their names and greet you courteously when they are responding to your call. That is the only thing they can provide; from there things go downhill very quickly. They cannot tell when the power is coming back because that is down to Gridco or someone else. Can we find out when next we will be taken off? The answer is no; that is down to Gridco… Their strategy is to wear you out without providing a single shred of information useful or otherwise. The only important information I got from the gentleman at the other was that the call centre staff had recommended to the bosses the need for a free telephone line for customers but the bosses had so far not agreed to do this.

My conversation with the call centre supervisor told me a number of things. The first is that the electricity problem is probably much bigger than the ECG and the authorities are making it out to be; that it is a management and political problem disguised as a technical one; that there is neither rhyme nor reason in the whole operation and therefore complacency could be the default position, and that ECG is wasting our money by setting up useless call centres.

However, there are 24 million of us. Someone somewhere can surely do a better job than what we are being offered at the moment. In simple and plain language, no matter the difficulty with producing electricity it should not be beyond our collective ability to plan it the way it was done in the Kufour period when we knew almost precisely when our power would go off and come back on. This, as they say, is not rocket science; talking of which we even have a rocket scientist at NASA.

It is just that whoever is “managing” this situation is taking us for granted and making life unnecessarily tedious for all of us.


Tomorrow June 2nd is a GAW Sunday at PAWA House, Roman Ridge in Accra. GAW Sunday is a literary and cultural entertainment event organised by the Ghana Association of Writers on the first Sunday of every month. Tomorrow’s activities include poetry, book readings, storytelling and a book launch. Admission is free and children and young people are especially welcome.


“All-things” Nkrumah Website to be Launched Wednesday (22-05-13)

“All-things” Nkrumah Website to be Launched Wednesday (22-05-13)

A website dedicated to “all things Kwame Nkrumah” will be launched at the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana, Legon on Thursday morning. The event will kick off the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now the African Union (AU). The Kwame Nkrumah “Infobank” is an outgrowth of the Nkrumah Centenary celebrations and its development has been has been overseen by the Centenary Planning Committee with Professor Akilagpa Sawyerr as Chairman; the Website Committee is chaired by Professor Esi Sutherland-Addy. The technical development of the site has been undertaken by Techcom Visions, a group of mainly young and dynamic IT and management specialists.

As explained by Professor Sutherland-Addy, the launch on Thursday May 23 will be the beginning of the website because this “website will be a dynamic space that will continue to grow as more materials are included. The website is more about the future than the past because it is aimed at preserving the legacy of Nkrumah and his times in order to present them to the coming generations”.

Indeed, the website design has made room for almost every possible permutation of information and circumstances linked to Nkrumah and his times but the opportunity to include new research material and “live events” reporting of events on Nkrumah-related topics makes this an exciting adventure into the long future. The website’s content revolves around five main headings and these include all the papers delivered during the colloquium and other events of the centenary celebrations as well as press reports and pictures. This is an excellent way of bringing the centenary to a wider public in an organised manner.

Naturally, such a website is an archive and already the site can boast of a good collection of archival material, including Kwame Nkrumah’s own writings and books, a selection of essays on Nkrumah’s life and times, Nkrumah and Culture, politics,  spotlight on women, the CPP, and his contribution to the fight for continental unity and pan-Africanism.


However, Professor Sutherland-Addy is quick to stress that the archive “will always be work in progress because we know that there is a vast Nkrumah archive still to be discovered or recovered, so with this website now in place we can only hope that a worldwide trawl for Nkrumah material will bring a good yield. There must be people who may have an Nkrumah letter or handwritten note or lectures in their possession and we will appeal to such people to get in touch with the administrators of the website”.

The website makes provision for interactive activities and it is the hope of the developers that the site will become a major space for broadcasting and webcasting major live events such as conferences, symposia, book launches and lectures related to the themes connected to Nkrumah such as pan-Africanism and African unity, international progressive politics and solidarity, non-alignment and the like. The interactive section will enable bloggers and writers to create their own spaces in order to generate opinion pieces, discussion and even controversy.

The website will also have multimedia functions such as video streaming, maps and virtual tours of “Nkrumah’s places”. The developers have explained that some of the multimedia features will be added as the website is further developed. Indeed, it is a feature of such heritage and archival websites to add new material and curate new concepts and shows all the time in order to keep the alive and fresh for new audiences and generations.

The launch will be held at the Kwabena Nketia Conference Room at the Institute of African Studies at 9.30 on Thursday May 23, 2013. Guests are expected to be seated by 9.00.


How many times we we not heard it said that Africans are not writing? Well Accra has been enjoying a sumptuous literary and cultural treat since Thursday. An important international symposium of women writers from Africa and its diaspora has been going in at the Physicians and Surgeons Hall in Accra since Thursday; it still has today and tomorrow to run and who have not yet savoured the heady steam of intellect and fun can still get their share before it closes tomorrow, Sunday evening.


The symposium is co-sponsored by New York University’s Institute of African American Affairs (IAAA), NYU Africa House, NYU Accra, and Africana Studies Program; it is hosted by Mbaasem Foundation founded and run by our own redoubtable literary icon Ama Ata Aidoo; and presented by the Organization of Women Writers of Africa Inc (OWWA) with partnership from the Women for Africa Foundation. Yari means the future in the Kuranko language of Sierra Leone, and Ntoaso means understanding and agreement in the Akan language of Ghana, thus the subtheme of the conference – Continuing the Dialogue.


The symposium includes panels, readings, performances, and film screenings. Yari Yari Ntoaso is a gathering devoted to the study, criticism, and celebration of the creativity and diversity of women writers of African descent. The conference is paying tribute to the co-founder and president of the Organization of Women Writers of Africa, Inc. (OWWA), poet Jayne Cortez, who recently made her transition. One of Cortez's many important contributions was the many conferences she helped organize at New York University with IAAA. She was working with IAAA on this third Yari Yari conference in Ghana, which is now being held in her honour.


The symposium is based on this thought eloquently expressed on the organisation’s website: “The 21stcentury has witnessed the creation or reestablishment of women’s and writers’ organizations throughout Africa and its diaspora. Often these organizations both support and are staffed by emerging writers or those whose writing has yet to receive international recognition. Yari Yari Ntoaso marks this moment and provides an opportunity for these organizations, as well as individual writers and scholars, to share information and to build international networks”.



Angela Davis the African-American activist, scholar and author who first shot to prominence more than 40 years ago as a key figure in the black Liberation and civil rights movement in the United States will speak at the Du Bois Centre in Accra this afternoon at 4pm. You cannot miss this one. Come and listen to a global icon of the struggle for social justice talk about issues of contemporary relevance.   

Yari Yari Ntoaso is going on at the College of Physicians and Surgeons. It is free.


On Selecting Which Laws to Obey… (15-05-13)

On Selecting Which Laws to Obey… (15-05-13)

This should have been the exception but sadly it has almost become the rule. The lights at the Regimanuel Junction, aka Cylinder Junction, turned green for those entering from the Estate Road into the Spintex Road but those on the main road disregarded their “red” signal regardless until one of them chose to stop under pressure from the aggrieved drivers from the side road. The last driver to go through the red light was a policeman driving a police vehicle. On the same day, on the same journey a collection of motorcycle riders rode past me at the Accra Mall end of the Spintex Road and not a single one of the riders wore a helmet. Standing by and chatting among themselves was a group of young policemen but not one of them paid the least attention to the motorcyclists who were so obviously breaking the law.

These scenes are replicated around this country every minute of every day without any apparent concern from those who must enforce the law. Indeed, the STATE of Ghana – in the form of the security forces can arrest or even brutalise you and me at any time and under any pretext but cannot enforce its own laws even when such laws are being broken in broad daylight. It begs the fundamental question: what is the purpose of government? This is a basic question that every person must to ask several times in order to understand the existential conditions to which we are subjected as human beings and citizens of a particular state. 

Every second of the day we are breaking the country’s laws with impunity and it is not just young men on motorcycles who are breaking the law; the rule of thumb appears to be that the higher a person’s social standing the greater their ability to break the law. Another example taken from everyday street-level observation is the tint on car windows. This is said to be against the law but you would be pardoned for thinking that the practice is rather compulsory for those with expensive cars in this country, especially the cars that were bought for the “owners” with our public money.

The question we have to ask is this: why do we go to the expense of installing traffic lights when we have no intention to obey its command? Indeed, why do we keep laws that cannot or will not be enforced? Still staying with traffic examples I have cited, there are good reasons why motorcyclists are required to wear helmets. Years of research have shown that in an accident a person wearing a helmet on a motorbike is less likely to die from head injuries than one without. This is incontrovertible, and so after years of ignoring this important fact the government of Ghana imported this practice into the country. However, the conditions under which the law can be enforced are simply not here. Let us ask ourselves what those young policemen could have done to the helmetless motor bikers at Tetteh Quarshie? Apart from shouting at them, which the offenders would not have heard there is nothing they could have done. I doubt that our policemen and women routinely carry writing equipment to write down numbers of vehicles whose drivers offend against the rules. It would surely be too much to expect them to carry communication equipment to report such infractions to headquarters, as we see in done in the movies.

Similarly, there is a good reason why it is a bad idea to tint car windows especially in a country where traffic rules are routinely ignored. I once saw a driver knock down a pedestrian without stopping. The car’s windows were as dark as sin so we had no way of telling whether the runaway driver was a man or woman, white, black, yellow or brown as the car sped away and passers-by had to attend to the victim lying on the ground. Without the tint we would have had a better chance to identify the driver. This law is also good for the occupants of a car if they need help in an accident or a crisis. There have been many recorded cases in which distressed children left in cars have been rescued by people by people who casually peeped into such cars. Usually, people who drive cars with tinted glasses are criminals such as drug dealers who have good reasons to want to hide from the law. In Ghana, it is the rich and the powerful and their wannabe pretenders who imitate this mafia practice.

Indeed, the most important traffic rule, the one that says we should drive on the right is also selectively obeyed. We all know that it is important for public safety and order for all of us to agree to a set of traffic rules which must be obeyed at all times except in exceptional circumstances. Those circumstances must be known and accepted by all. In Ghana this simple and straightforward rule which says we must drive on the right and the only times that rule can be disobeyed must be in highly exceptional circumstances. In this country even this fundamental rule is routinely disobeyed, especially by people in uniform or those with influence through power and money.

It appears that in Ghana everyone can do just what he or she wants to do regardless of what the law says or what the effect would be on other people. This apparent lawlessness has gone beyond perception and become a daily reality of our lives. This brings me back to that most elemental of questions: what is the purpose of government. The answer is that in a society individuals give up some of their freedoms in return for guarantees of safety and happiness. In practice, this means that the government, however it is defined and understood at all levels, should use its laws to protect those individuals who are part of this contract. They are called citizens, and include others who may be residents or visitors in the jurisdiction.

This is why the agents of the state can arrest us if we do something wrong. In return the state must use its laws to make sure that we can live in safety. What happens when people select which laws to obey? The answer is a journey into anarchy, “a state of nature” in which everyone follows his or her desires. In that kind of state those who have power, money or influence do whatever they want at the expense of the poor and the vulnerable.

On the face of it, it may look as if there was a million mile gulf between everyday law breaking such as we find on the road and the mega-corruption which the World Bank says is the curse of lot as a developing nation. However, there is a direct link between the situation in which young men refuse to obey a simple rule to wear helmets and go unpunished when the don’t to the other situation in which powerful people misuse money meant for our general good and also go unpunished.  What happens when we are allowed to select the laws we want to obey is that people take advantage of the lawlessness at the level at which they operate. Therefore the generalised state of lawlessness has got consequences, which is why we must do away with laws that we do not or cannot enforce so that we know the true state of our capacity to protect this nation.



The Bloody Ingrate by Sylvanus Bedzrah is now in revised edition and approved by the Ghana Education Service as a supplementary reader for schools. This fiction takes you into the world of a promising Senior High School teenage student whose dreams and aspirations het thwarted because of some wrong choices she made at school…

Sylvanus is a talented young writer whose first book was published when he was just 14. The Bloody Ingrate is published by Mini-Star Series Publications and available in all good bookshops.

Lest We Forget – 1983 - Thirty Years Ago (08-05-13)

Lest We Forget – 1983 - Thirty Years Ago (08-05-13)

The year 1983 perhaps was the harshest year in Ghana’s modern history. In some countries there would be retrospectives, symposia and other kinds of public reflections on this most devastating year in our collective memory. When I say “collective”, I am referring to those who have not forgotten because they were there and those who have chosen not to forget because they remember. There cannot be many of the latter because general amnesia is another Ghanaian strategy for enduring the pain of the recent past, especially those for whom remembering the past is inconvenient.

The year 1983 did not start well. One of the harshest droughts was in progress. There had been little meaningful rain since 1981; that is it has either rained little or the rain had come at the wrong place and time. The drought could not have come at the worst possible moment.

To understand the full import of what happened, a bit of history is in order. The most unsettled decade for this country has to be the 1970s, the years during which for good or ill, the chickens of the Nkrumah overthrow in 1966 came home to roost. Maybe the Progress Party government of Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia could have succeeded in its policy of rural development but we have no way of knowing because it lasted only 27 months. In the meantime, it managed to sell off state assets in a manner that foreshadowed other economic controversies, some would say disasters, in the following decades.

In January 1972 Colonel Kutu Acheampong and his close friends staged a military coup and took over the country. They did not appear to have any development strategy but they managed to infuse a sense of purpose and urgency around their slogan of “Operation Feed Yourself”, and a mild form of pan-Africanism and Nkrumaist orientation, later to be described as “domestication” by the late Dan Lartey who was one of their civilian advisers. In 1975, Acheampong’s closest comrades in their National Redemption Council government were demoted to a second-tier of government in palace coup staged by the most senior officers in all branches of the military. They formed the Supreme Military Council, still with Acheampong as head but without the esprit de corps he enjoyed with his demoted friends, who quietly left the centre stage of government. The SMC had no policies except staying on in power through some of the most disastrous economic crises we have ever known. This article is not the place to go into the details of those policies and their consequences, except to remind us that almost all sections of society rose up against the government.

Trapped and with nowhere to go, the SMC tried one last trick; this was “Union Government”, (UNIGOV) an ill-defined coalition of civilians, soldiers and police officers. A botched referendum was the last straw and yet another palace coup overthrew Acheampong in 1978 and replaced him with General F.W.K. Akuffo, who was generally acknowledged to be a first-class military officer but untested as a political leader. He is the man who used military discipline and precision to lead Ghana’s switch from driving on the left to the right in 1974 without a single accident on the day of the change. However, his attempts, first to continue the UNIGOV scam under a different guise, and then to absolve the military of blame did not sit well with soldiers and civilians as well.

On June 4 1979, a fortnight before the first general elections in a decade, a group of young soldiers overthrew the Akuffo government as they successfully released a certain Air force officer from custody at the Special branch headquarters where he had been held since leading a failed insurrection on 15 May that year. That young air force officer, of course, was Flt Lt. Jerry John Rawlings who needs no introduction in this discussion. On the last day of the year 1981, Rawlings who had been retired from the military led another insurrection to overthrow the Limann-led Peoples National Party government which had been in office since the Rawlings insurrectionist gave up power three months after their coup.

Flt Lt Rawlings announced at the beginning of his insurrectionary regime that it was a “revolution”, and the revolution’s first year saw the country economically destabilised partly by the revolutionaries own activities and by international pressure. Squeezed by international commercial lenders, Ghana’s credit dwindled and disappeared. Our credit was not a lot to start with; Nigeria had to bring in truckloads of gifts including toilet rolls to soften our difficulties during the Christmas! Understandably, life got very difficult for most citizens of this country. In the meantime, as lack of raw materials shut local production of everything we could make ourselves there was no money to import anything and yet warehouses had been emptied by revolutionaries pursuing social justice.

The revolutionaries had a point even if it was excessively expressed. Ghana could not continue on the path, whichever it was, that had driven us that far. The nation needed restructuring and whether a political revolution was the ideal way to perform this all-out change in those circumstances, still needs to be debated in this country. There is a Japanese proverb that says “although the sign reads do not pluck these flowers from this garden, it is useless against the wind which does not read”. The drought did not read the revolutionary script and deepened as 1982 turned into 1983.

There had been little notice in the Ghanaian media that Nigeria had given a very strict and final ultimatum in 1982 to foreigners there to “regulate” their stay or be kicked out early in 1983. It is difficult not to conclude that Nigeria’s actions were in some way retaliation for Ghana’s own eviction of foreigners, mostly Nigerians some fourteen years earlier. More than one million Ghanaians had to pack bag and baggage and head home. They came into an empty country. Food was scarce and disappearing fast and although our “returnees” came with some nicely painted bags known as “Ghana Must Go” and many stories of atrocities, none brought a morsel of food to add to the national stock.

It was in that period that the term “Rawlings Chain” was coined to describe the deep gorges formed around people’s neck’s when their emaciated skin exposed protruding collar bones. It is the look of refugees on television, but the famine of 1983 was not a television play; it was real. Most Ghanaians of a certain age will have their own stories but the most enduring scene from that year is the long queue formed not of human beings but by discarded objects and stones to stand in the place for people because those queues would not move for hours on end. The queues were mainly for uncooked kenkey; yes, we stood in line for hours just to buy the raw fermented corn dough to take home to cook. It was a privilege.

Nineteen-eighty-three also saw interesting changes in social attitudes in the country. In hospitality, the norm in Ghana pre-1983 was to offer food to any guest who entered your house. Indeed, the host was often offended if the guest refused to eat. In 1983 and after this turned 180 degrees as people hid food under chairs and even beds and waited until the departure of any friends and family who had chosen to visit at mealtimes. The indiscipline that has become a byword in Ghana dates back to that period when family structures collapsed; it is obvious that a father who could not put food on the table would command no respect.

We have to remember 1983 - those of us who can; those who cannot remember because they were not there must be told the stories, and those who have chosen to forget must be reminded because unless we learn from history it is bound to repeat itself. There were political, economic and environmental mistakes that had been made many years before that disastrous year. We did not absorb all the lessons and we have still not learnt from them.

In 1983, we had only one TV news channel and before the evening news broadcast the following ditty would be rendered…

Ghana People make you stand up

Make you fight

For your rights

We no go sit down make them cheat we everyday…

I don’t know what to make of that today.

Nineteen-eighty-three, 30 years ago – lest we forget!


An Intimate Portrait of a Dumso Victim (01-05-13)

An Intimate Portrait of a Dumso Victim (01-05-13)

People often wonder how Ghanaians keep an outward display of cool in the face of some of the most intractable challenges known to humankind. We may whine and moan from time to time but by and large, we grin and bear it. The secret is humour. We joke our way through national crises and catastrophes, and the current electricity cuts popular called “Dumso” (literal translation: “off and on”) has spawned more jokes than any other national problem in recent memory. Even a picture of a signpost showing the way to a town called Dumso which I posted on Facebook courtesy of Nanabanyin Dadson, is making waves.

However, we all know that this thing, far from being a joke, is a national calamity. Here is the logic of pain and loss which this nation is bearing with the usual dose of humour mixed with fatalism (give it to God)—and helplessness. If electricity contributes anything to the social and economic wellbeing of this country, it stands to reason that any reduction in electricity supply must have a negative impact on our development. In some countries, it would be possible to quantify the extent of the negative impact and its multipliers as they work their way through the different levels of the economy.

Even without having any such statistics to work with, we know that some people are losing their jobs because of this prolonged power cut situation, and with no solution in sight, more jobs will be lost as employers see no point in holding on to redundant staff over the longer period of inactivity. Even people in regular employment, especially in self-employment such as hairdressers, barbers, dressmakers, mechanics and the like are all working on half-time and sometimes less because electricity is useless to their work if it comes back at ten at night.

So the big picture of loss at the national level must be obvious and it will be surprising if the Minister of Finance manages to tell us that we have hit any of our economic and financial targets at the end of the year. In economics language, we could call the national pain as the “macro-pain”; but there is a more intimate pain at the personal “micro” level of dumso victimhood that is immense but hidden from view. I am a victim of dumso and I am sure my experience is similar to that of most Ghanaians except perhaps politicians, preachers and sellers of power generators whose fortunes are on the up and up.

The effect of the dumso pain can be debilitating. I have had malaria twice in a month which I link directly to dumso. I live with a small colony of mosquitoes in my house. I suspect that they are from one family and they have been living behind a bookcase for a number of years. I even believe that the numbers of the original invaders have been bolstered by other mosquito families joining the colony in the last few years. My mosquito guests and I have an unwritten agreement to keep to their side of my living room while I leave them alone. We arranged this agreement after I failed to dislodge them with every form of weapon of mosquito destruction at my disposal. I have tried to zap them with insect sprays, swat them with brooms, and hose them down with water. Still they flourished. In the end, we settled for a non-aggression pact of sorts which is generally observed by both parties.

However, anytime dumso strikes and the room becomes dark, hot and humid, the mosquitoes consider the atmosphere either provocative or inviting and the end result is they break our agreement and invade my patch. In the rampaging humidity, a mosquito does not need direction or better and further particulars. A mosquito that has been deprived of human blood for a considerable mosquito-time bites with the ferocity of a politician returning to power after years in opposition: it is all or nothing. The result, with greedy politicians and mosquitoes alike, is an unbearable condition—in this case, malaria.

Malaria is a dangerous disease but it can be treated; and when treated, you feel better again. The more treacherous dumso-related disease is one neither a microscope nor a doctor’s feel can detect. It is the energy-sapping syndrome of random dumso panic attack. Under normal conditions, a human being going home has every right to feel joy in his or her heart, except if you suspect that a creditor is lurking in wait to pounce! I used to set off for home with only one fear in my heart—the dreaded Spintex Road traffic but even that can be tolerated because at the end of it is home where a football match, a good book or even the GTV News await. But now there are two fears—the traffic and the possibility of dumso.

The fear of RANDOMISED dumso attack is an unnecessary condition because after years of practice, our beloved ECG should be able to give us far more precise information than they provide at the moment. Take what happened last Monday night. I drove home with the old traffic fear in my heart, and soon got the confirmation that the dreaded dumso was indeed on. That was not a problem even if it meant enduring four hours of high decibel neighbourhood generator engines accompanied by filthy gaseous fumes and an imminent attack by my mosquito house mates. The rule of thumb is that power would return at ten that night. But ten came and went. A quarter past ten passed; ditto ten-thirty.  I decided to call the ECG call centre where a melodious voice responded only to tell me “it will come, maybe in the morning”. This was no good and getting nowhere so I asked to speak to a supervisor.

The supervisor came on the phone and told me that ECG cannot EVER predict when power will be restored to any area because “it depends on how much power we are able to generate before we decide where to restore”. So could he give any information at all with which citizen-victims might plan their lives? The answer was ‘NO!’ I asked him if the ECG was, in effect, operating a lottery with the power supply; he said he wouldn’t “go that far.”

Folks, I will go even beyond that and argue that the real tragedy is not with the power rationing but its randomness that is a cruel mistreatment of customers. After years of operating power on a deficit, ECG ought to give us a more precise time table than merely depending on luck, God-willing, Insha’Allah, and maybe.

As a victim of this randomness, it is not the power outage that is playing the havoc; the problem is not knowing when the last mosquito would understand that the lights are coming, redemption is at hand, and a Better Ghana is really just around the corner.


The news of the Convention Peoples Party victory in the Kunbungu Constituency is splendid not only for supporters of that party but for our politics in general. That seat has always gone to the NDC and the CPP victory signals that the stranglehold of the NDC and the NPP can be broken by the so-called smaller political parties. The good news for the NDC is that all over the world, third parties often win by-elections against the two main parties; the bad news is that such by-election contests often serves as referenda on the performance of the party in power.

In that sense Kumbungu is a message to the government that people are not happy, although the government did not need an electoral defeat to get the message; it has to listen more to the people and less to its own propaganda machinery.

For the CPP, victory for their candidate—Mr Moses Yahaya, an Assemblyman for the Saakuba Electoral Area—gives them a seat in Parliament again and potentially revives the party’s electoral fortunes. But they would be the first to know that unless the party works hard, such by-election gains do not last long.

Why NGOs Need Sustained Help (24-04013)

Why NGOs Need Sustained Help (24-04013)           

Sustainability is a big word in any dictionary or language but it looms even larger if you are an NGO trying hard to survive against the odds. Conventional businesses such as limited liability companies operate on the basis of profit and profit projections but NGOs survive on the most elusive of all possible outcomes: sustainability. This is the ability of the organisation to guarantee its existence and continue its activities into any kind of future without depending fully on external aid. Like profit, sustainability is difficult to acquire and most NGOs die under the weight of its considerable lack thereof!

The term NGO is an acronym for non-governmental organisation and is applied to any organisation registered legally as not being under government control. In cases where an NGO is funded fully or partially by a government it has to maintain its independence by excluding official government representation from its controlling structures. Another important aspect of NGO identity is that such organisations do not exist to make profit but to pursue wider social aims. Most NGOs aim for political impact although they are not political organisations themselves.

The term NGO once had a rather restricted usage, and was almost solely reserved for non-state institutions that were accredited to the United Nations when it was created in 1945. In the last 30 years the NGO world has grown astronomically and the term itself has undergone rapid transformation.

Today, according to the UN, any kind of private organization that is independent from government control can be termed an "NGO", provided it is not-profit, non-criminal and not simply an opposition political party. These include even professional associations, faith-based organisations, social entrepreneurs and other private setups whose primary objective is not to make a profit for shareholders. Estimates of the worldwide spread of NGOs differ but the number must be vast; a Wikipedia article puts the number of NGOs operating in the United States as 1.5 million while Russia has 277,000 NGOs. India is estimated to have had around 3.3 million NGOs in 2009, which works out at one NGO per 400 Indians.

The NGO world has spawned its own acronyms such as CBO (community based organisation), INGO (International NGO), TSO (Third Sector Organisation), CSO (Civil Society Organisation) and my all-time favourite QANGO (quasi Autonomous Non-Governmental Organisation), among several others.

NGOs come in different sizes from the behemoths such as Christian Aid, Oxfam, Greenpeace, Amnesty International and others two small community associations in villages. The story is told of a man and his wife who printed calling cards and simply wrote: Mr. and Mrs. XXX, NGO. But whether it is a budget-endowed organisation or a man and his wife operation in a tiny village all NGOs have to pass the sustainability test at some point in their operational lives. It is not an easy rite of passage because sustainability determines whether an NGO can work on its own or must rely on external funding or bust!

In Ghana the number of registered NGOs is reported by to be around 5000, and the number is said to have jumped by about 30 percent in five years. There is no record of the number that perishes every year along the way for lack of sustainability or of those that can only operate as and when some donor funding becomes available. Last week STAR-Ghana, the multi donor mechanism for funding civil society organised a meeting in its ongoing effort to address the issue. Billed as an “experience-sharing and lessons festival“, the meeting brought together 43 organisations from different social sectors who are all STAR-Ghana Sustainability grantees and some donor representatives. This was the first opportunity for the organisations to get together since they got these grants which are meant to help them improve their sustainability or their chances of survival without depending on external aid all the time for all of their operations and other expenses.

Sustainability comes in different shapes and sizes and any organisation that hopes to achieve this elusive status has to touch all the bases. There is financial sustainability, which is perhaps the one that is most easily recognised and whereas it is the anchor of an organisation’s overall fitness, it is not the only measure. There is project sustainability which is how an organisation sustains its operations one project at a time and links them together to provide a seamless fabric that covers the range of its basic mission and purpose. There is sustainability in people and human resource which can have the most deleterious effect on small organisations that pay only a fraction of what experienced personnel are paid elsewhere. But the mother of all sustainability headaches is organisational and institutional sustainability which is the sum total of all other concerns that should make or break an organisation, including its internal culture and how it responds to external stimuli.

Conventional wisdom holds that NGOs have a lower threshold for professionalism than for-profit businesses but this notion was easily dispelled at the STAR-Ghana meeting when organisation after organisation presented professional sustainability performances similar or even better that what you would expect from a corporate entity. And across the expanse of social concerns NGOs address, they have to provide ancillary services, supervise staff and clients, and motivate partners in addition to their core projects. Then there is the fundraising which is the most backbreaking of all NGO undertakings, and for which reason STAR-Ghana is a blessing to civil society – and Parliament – for whom it provides funding.

However, despite the nice presentation and performance indicators presented at the meeting in question the fact remains that even the best NGOs cannot become fully self-sustaining over the long haul. This is not for want of trying but the very nature of social change and its management means that NGOs will forever be catching up in their effort to meet new challenges all the time. Unlike the corporate world, NGOs cannot claim success when the bottom line is black after 12 calendar months. Therefore, our government and donor partners must accept that funding these vital social institutions is going to require increasing support; not less, and funding organisations like STAR-Ghana and others need replenishments to sustain the social sector.

Another way to support the NGO sector is for corporate bodies to channel their social responsibility funds through established funding structures such as STAR-Ghana and others because they know which organisations are performing where and how. NGOs are not without their critics but the role they play far outstrips and reproach that may be directed at them. There are parts of this country that owe most of their development infrastructure to civil society and corporate social responsibility and communities across the country would become sustainable if the two ideational engines of social change work together. Even so, it is still very important for civil society to demonstrate responsibility and accountability as measures of their effort towards sustaining what they do, and this column hopes to be able to chart their progress in the coming months and years.



Woeli Dekutsey is a publisher well known for establishing the Woeli Publishing Services but few people know that the man is a writer and poet in his own right. Last week he published two books for the youth literary market which also launched the Great Ghanaian Series. The two books are biographies of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of Ghana and Dr. James Kwegyir Aggrey, the world famous educator who became Assistant Vice Principal of Achimota College.

Although the two books, Kwame Nkrumah – the Great African and Kwegyir Aggrey – His Life and Achievements – are nominally targeted at young readers, they are indeed good books for all ages. Even for those who know the Nkrumah and Aggrey stories will be surprised at new insights in these two books. I recommend them highly as they become available in all leading shops.


Tribute to Uncle Blair of Okuapemman School (17-04-13)

Tribute to Uncle Blair of Okuapemman School (17-04-13)

William Blair Butterworth who died on Good Friday in Seattle, Washington State in the USA was a huge influence on the lives of hundreds of men and women who were lucky to be his students at Okuapemman School in the early 1960s. I was one of those and wherever and whenever we have met in the years since, Uncle Blair as we called him, has always been part of the conversation. It is strange that I only knew him for only one year because his inspirational impact on me has been disproportionately large.

In a sense, although Blair stayed in Ghana for only three years, this country also loomed disproportionally large in his own life which has been cut short tragically by cancer at the age of 74. He had an enduring love affair with Okuapemman School and Ghana and visited this country at least three times after he finished his stint as one of the first batch of Peace Corp Volunteers who arrived in this country in 1961. If my memory serves me right, he was perhaps the only PCV to stay for an additional year after the customary two years ended. His last visit was four years ago when he came to open the ICT laboratory in the school which was built on his inspiration, mostly with his funding and now bears his name.

He was larger than life in all senses of the expression; definitely when I went to Okuapemman School he was the one person you would not miss. He was tall and big in the way only Americans grow to be and added to his physical presence a booming voice that would often be heard in laughter. He represented for us “America” at that time in the first 20 years after the Second World War when US power was unrivalled and still in the ascendancy. People like Uncle Blair were the reason why despite years of political disdain for some of America’s imperialist excesses many people of my generation still have a profound love for the American people and way of life.

Blair was a Kennedy American. He was only 25 when he was made Assistant Headmaster at the school. This was rather unusual; assistant headmasters in secondary schools used to be dowdy catechist-type teachers of the old school. They were usually the ones who meted out the most extreme punishment for the least infraction of the rules. Assistant headmasters of the time did not laugh much, not in front of students because laughter would be interpreted as a sign of weakness. Assistant headmasters did not have to show LOVE for their students even if they felt it. That was the way it was. Blair was different. And that is why and how he became my hero for life. He made school a lot more fun to be at and many of us followed him like the guru he was just to hear what he had to say.

At Okuapemman Uncle Blair taught a number of subjects including English, English literature and French but it was his running commentary on current affairs, especially the struggle of Black people in America for justice and equality in the US that struck a chord. It was from him we learnt about Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. He was a huge fan of Muhammad Ali and I remember that he was probably the only person in the whole school who predicted that Ali, then called Cassius Clay, would defeat the fierce Sonny Liston who had made mincemeat of some serious heavyweights in the ring. Blair typically used the Clay-Liston fight to explain some of the changes going on in America and the future represented by Clay and his type.

He told us about Jack Kennedy and on the night we learnt of Kennedy’s death Uncle Blair became our immediate target of sympathy because he was for us what we felt Kennedy stood for: youthful idealism, coexistence, respect for our different cultures, but above all, a subtle form of subversion of the old order and an impatience to change things. When I think back on it, “change” was his message. He introduced new ideas and concepts, including teaching French by gramophone records known as the “Assimile” or immersion method, which was revolutionary then and still widely used for rapid language learning in some countries. He would play rock and jazz on his gramophone for us and run his usual commentary on Satchmo or whoever he was playing.

One particular day stands in my memory and I have written about it in this column and elsewhere for its magical effect. Before Blair poetry for me and my fellow students was known as “recitation”, a mindless act of memorising verse and reciting it mostly to satisfy the curriculum but with no aesthetic effect. Uncle Blair was the first teacher to introduce us to poetry as a beautiful piece of art that speaks a language of intelligent emotion. On this day he decided to to introduce us to Edgar Alan Poe via Annabel Lee:

It was many and many a year ago,

In a kingdom by the sea,

That a maiden there lived whom you may know

By the name of ANNABEL LEE;

And this maiden she lived with no other thought

Than to love and be loved by me.


I can still see him even today reading from the book with that twinkle in his eyes and booming that magic stanza to his students. It was calculated to have an effect. It did. Back in the dormitory that evening I picked up my pen and started writing a poem. Yes, a love poem. When you discover the power of poetry at the age of twelve that is what you write, or think you are writing. But the effect on me was instantaneous and magical and has not waned to date.

We missed him dearly when he left at the end of the first year but I reconnected with him albeit briefly five years later when I went to America to attend Camp Rising Sun at Rhinebeck in New York State. He visited the camp and stayed at the Guest House overnight and participated in a few of the events before leaving for Washington DC. He invited me to the US capital before I returned to Ghana and what happened at dinner was pure Uncle Blair. He took me to the nicest restaurant I had even seen, let alone enter, at that point in my life. When the waiter came for our orders Uncle Blair ordered steak and I said “the same”. The waiter asked “rare or well done?” and Uncle Blair said “rare”. I said “the same”. When the food arrived it was a piece of red meet bathed in what looked like a pool of blood! Uncle Blair burst out laughing. That was the occasion to explain American culinary complexities, but meanwhile he had secretly ordered a “well done” for me knowing that would be more to my taste.

Five years ago when he visited Ghana he brought his two sons to show them the country he had told them so much about. He decided to help Okuapemman School in some way and at the suggestion of his sons settled on setting up an ICT laboratory which has since been furnished and equipped with funds provided by Blair and some past students. But what stands out is his exceptional quality as a loving human being. He just loved his students and the opportunity to impart new ideas to his young charges. There was no boundary about subjects or topics he could discuss. That was his legacy: learning and cultures have no boundaries.


Parliamentary Pay and Perks – Matters Arising (10-04-2013)

Parliamentary Pay and Perks – Matters Arising (10-04-2013)

The subject of MPs’ pay and other benefits is a topic of hot public interest in all democracies. In the UK, the MPs expenses scandal which rocked Westminster in 2009 is too well known to recount in full but at the core of that trouble was public outrage at expenses claimed by members of the British Parliament, especially for accommodation costs "wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred for the performance of a Member’s parliamentary duties”. The scandal led to some members from both the House of Commons and the House of Lords going to prison and several resigning or being made to pay back monies illegally collected. It has generally been agreed that the scandal, which led to the 2005 Parliament being described as “rotten” led to a crisis of confidence for Parliament and politics as a whole.

In Ghana, MPs’ pay and allowances has taken centre stage lately and all indications are that the issue is not going away any time soon. No one has suggested that MPs in Ghana have done anything illegal but the immediate reason for the brouhaha was the disclosure that MPs have received (shock and horror) IN FULL their ex-gratia allowance totaling more than 40 million cedis at a time when the government is struggling to settle pay-arrears for the likes of teachers and doctors. Naturally, MPs defended their right to the money arguing that since some part of the amount paid was deducted to defray previous loans, the money could not be said to have been paid in full.

The debate was pitched as a contention between morality and value-for-money. It is both and we need to have a proper adult and non-partisan discussion about it. There are a number of questions that need to be answered; principal among them being whether the payment of the ex-gratia in addition to a basic monthly pay of 7,200 Ghana cedis is warranted. At the very least, we need to know what the money is intended for and whether that purpose is best served by this method of payment. The same can be said of the build-up of other expenses such as for accommodation and relocation.

Ex-gratia is Latin for “out of goodwill” and ex-gratia payment is defined by the online Business Dictionary as “a sum of money paid when there was no obligation or liability to pay it. For example, a lump sum payment over and above the pension benefits of a retiring employee”. In other words, an ex-gratia payment at all times is a privilege and not a right even when it has been conferred by the Constitution because it is money the recipient has NOT worked for or earned in any way.  We can understand why giving this “free bonto” money to MPs would have looked like the right thing to do in the transitional climate of 1992 when the present Constitution came into operation. Is it still the right thing to do? There has to be a reason why such ex-gratia payment to MPs can be justified in 2013 when public salaries and other payments have been restructured and rationalised in the years since the first Parliament.

Let us assume that the ex-gratia is a kind of end-of-service benefit paid to MPs. Why should it be paid automatically to all members including those who are still in service? Unless I have completely misunderstood the situation, every four years, ALL members of Parliament are given an ex-gratia payment that can best be justified as an end-of-service benefit. Would it not be more morally justified if that payment was made only to MPs who are retiring from Parliament?

Another point: all MPs receive a housing allowance said to be 50,000 Ghana cedis to help them find a place to live. This makes sense because the majority of MPs come from outside the nation’s capital where Parliament sits but since the allowance is not means-tested the same sum is paid to all MPs irrespective of their personal circumstances and needs. Thus, whether the MP is a youthful recent graduate or a serial polygamist who is the father of many children, they receive the same amount for accommodation. Question: is this fair and equitable?

Question: Do Accra MPs receive this allowance too? The question of MPs “second homes” was one of the most contentious issues in the UK scandal because it was claimed by MPs who were not entitled to it and grossly abused by some who did. Should MPs who come from Accra also receive a housing allowance to find accommodation in Accra? We have to assume that MPs were not homeless before getting elected into Parliament or must they necessarily have to change their living quarters just because they have become MPs?

And another question: do ALL MPs receive in the ex-gratia package an amount described as “re-settlement allowance”? What does the resettlement mean? These people are neither refugees nor internally-displaced persons; they are honourable men and women who after the privilege of serving their constituents, are presumably going back home. So how are they going to be “resettled”? This is an important point because in the course of their tenure in the House, MPs are expected to visit and interact with their constituents on a regular basis. If they do this as expected, why are they being “resettled” in a place they have never truly departed from? Can these “resettlements” be legal where there is no resettling to do?

Members of Parliament are public servants and we must ensure that they do not become a class apart from the people they are representing. No one begrudges MPs the special privileges they receive in the course of their work but there has to be a democratic principle implicit in the social contract that enjoins them to understand the pressures to which their constituents are subjected in their lives.

Here is an example: Why can’t MPs arrange their own mortgage just as other people do? Indeed, even the ability to arrange a mortgage in Ghana is a rare privilege given to a small minority of the people. Is it too much for MPs to be allowed to go to a bank to arrange their own mortgage, or will the privilege of a cool GHC50,000 housing allowance be granted to all public servants?

The above are among several questions that we must examine if public confidence in Parliament and politicians in general is not to be completed eroded. However, in the course of the recent public upheaval, several MPs were heard in the media displaying considerable annoyance that “We the People” dare raise these issues. One MP was particularly strident in denouncing the Public Affairs Division of the Parliamentary Service for not “explaining” to the public that the ex-gratia went into paying loans contracted by MPs already. She appeared to fall into the category of people who seemed to think that questions asked about MPs pay and perks are about procedure and process. In fact, they are about morality, equity and value-for-money.

In the course of her spirited defence, the MP said that, among other things, she and her colleagues had borrowed money to finance their election campaigns and therefore needed the ex-gratia to repay. This raises a serious political point: who must finance political campaigns in Ghana? The MP was saying in effect that the tax payer funds or must funds MPs re-election campaigns; the question is, who finances the campaigns of the MPs opponents who have no ex gratia to fall back on?

If we follow the logic of her argument, the ex-gratia, in effect, undermines democracy by ensuring that incumbent MPs have an unfair advantage over others who might want to challenge them for their seats. This means that only government ministers and others wealthy people who also have access to serious money can challenge sitting MPs for their seats. This is the surest way to morph democracy into oligarchy.

The tone of the discussion thus far does not betray a bitter or envious edge; perhaps it is a good idea to pay free money to our MPs as often as we like but given our needs and scale of priorities is it the best way to spend 40 million Ghana cedis every four years? That is the question.