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September 2008

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There are very few men on earth who can thump their chest and say: “I staged two successful coups in one country.” Jerry John Rawlings is one of them. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think he’s the only one. “I even gave advanced notice before staging the second,” he can boast. “And no one could stop me.”

Surely, living under the shadow of a man like that will be a nightmare for any president. And that, for me, explains most (if not all) of the Kufuor administration’s rush decisions against this legendary coup maker. Since he assumed office, Kufuor has had this morbid fear that he will wake up one day in the gallows with Rawlings back in charge.
Rawlings says “boom” and government officials are scurrying around like little rats, seeking cover from the former dictator. Rawlings says something about an “explosion” and government decides to withdraw his “privileges”. Rawlings meets some former senior and military officers and there are conspiracy theories flying all over the place that he might be plotting a coup. To stop the coup from taking place, the men who met with him are “banned from all military and police installations in the country in the interest of national security.”
I think government’s policy on Rawlings is “better look stupid than feel sorry.”
I don’t know the sort of intelligence that formed the basis for the decision the national security co-ordinator to come to the conclusion that banning people like Lieutenant General Arnold Quainoo, Brigadier General Nunoo Mensah and C. K. Dewornu will serve the interest of national security.
Rawlings meets with a bunch of ageing (and aged) former military officers and they think he’s going to stage a coup? I know Rawlings can’t be trusted. If I were president, I will give him “close marking”. And that, I believe, is exactly what Kufuor has told his security capos to do. He can’t afford to take chances. But, seriously, this ban on the men who had lunch (supposedly) with him is ridiculous. Some might say this is justifiable paranoia. I think it’s just petty.
General Nunoo Mensah has been making some noises about alleged plans to sell the property which serves as the official residence of the Chief of Defence Staff. He stayed in that house before and so he has a certain emotional attachment to it. I don’t agree with him that the building should not be sold. But he’s a Ghanaian and he has a right to speak his mind. He has also complained that he’s been trying to meet with the defence minister to talk about security issues but the minister doesn’t seem so interested. Last Friday, I heard him exchanging words with the defence minister on radio. They seemed to be having a friendly disagreement. Then suddenly… wham! He’s slapped with a ban, ostensibly in the interest of national security.” When did disagreeing with the defence minister become a national security issue? I think he is the main target of the ban and to make it look like something sinister is going on, they decided to bunch him up with the other oldies who met with Rawlings a few weeks ago. For good measure, they added a former police commander who was erroneously mentioned in a newspaper report as having been part of that meeting with the former president.
If Rawlings was planning something as sinister as destabilising the state (staging a coup or inciting a mutiny) why will he debase his legend and work with old dudes like Arnold Quainoo.
Remember him? Quainoo failed to stop Charles Taylor’s madness in Liberia when he was sent there as commander of an ECOWAS peacekeeping force. He came home limping. The story is often told that in one serious battle, Quainoo (also known as Buffalo Soldier) was allegedly found hiding under a table. And that was when he was young. I won’t plot a coup with a man like that.
Now, let’s assume that Rawlings is actually plotting a coup with those retirees and there is sufficient, dependable intelligence that they are up to no good. I am no expert but surely, if I were in charge of state security and I had good intelligence (and evidence), I will bring all the coup plotters in for questioning. If the plot is at an advanced stage, I will arrest them all without thinking twice about it and have them put on trial immediately. The last thing that will cross my fickle mind will be to prohibit them from entering military and police installations. Please, with Jerry Rawlings’ reputation as a legendary coup maker, I don’t think this ban will stop him in his tracks – that is if he’s really bent on causing any trouble. It all doesn’t make sense. Our ‘intelligence’ people are not as intelligent as they should be.
No Brigadier Nunoo Mensah thinks the ban is a “useless exercise” and that the National Security Council has “always got it wrong.” Clearly, he’s unfazed by the ban. What will he lose if he doesn’t go to Burma Camp or Kamina Barracks? A similar ban on Rawlings some years ago has not diminished his threat – that is in the eyes of the National Security Council.
If you happen to have some difficulty in your attempt to make sense of this ban, don’t worry. There is a moral in the story for us all: choose your friends carefully, don’t have lunch with just anybody ( and certainly not with someone who likes to use words like ‘boom’ and ‘explosion’) and don’t talk with ‘strange’ people about matters of national security – even if you know a thing or two about the subject. Otherwise, you will be ‘banned’ from strategic locations like the neighbourhood KVIP. Brigadier Nunoo Mensah and his friends can afford to stay away from Burma Camp. Most of us cannot afford to stay away from the KVIP!

 

Dear Papa Owusu-Ankomah,
I heard some disturbing news the other day. I am told you are thinking of placing a ban on second hand clothing, with particular emphasis on underwear – popularly known as ‘broni wawu pieto’.
I don’t think you wear anything second-hand. I have never seen your wife at the ‘bend down’ boutique so I’m sure she’s not into it either. I know your kids will never even be seen dead at a ‘broni wawu’ joint. So I am quite at a loss as to your sudden desire to clamp down on this all-important, inexpensive item of clothing, without which most of us will be walking around with unsheathed ‘langalanga’.
I am told you think second-hand clothing (the underwear in particular) is unhealthy and that they carry all sorts of health risks. Who told you that, my friend? Has anyone complained to you that his (or her) ‘koodoso’ was caused by second-hand pieto?
I don’t think you know a thing about ‘broni wawu’ so I am taking it upon myself to teach you some bend-down boutique smarts.
First, the fact that it’s called second-hand does not always mean that it’s been used before. A lot of the time, these are actually ‘store-rejects’ which will not sell in any shop in Europe or America. Out of his abundant wisdom, the white man knows that what he rejects a black man will gladly accept. This might be a problem for you bourgeois people who think ‘broni wawu’ is undignified apparel, and therefore, beneath you. But it’s not a problem for me and the millions of other Ghanaians who buy and wear them. We just love our ‘broni wawu’ and we warn you to stay off.
Secondly, every savvy ‘broni wawu’ buyer knows the “buy first, get fresh” principle. This simply states that if you want to get the best out of the bend down boutique, you have to be there when the bale is cut. This affords you an opportunity to get what we call “the first selection”.
Thirdly, you must also know that people don’t wear ‘broni wawu’ right off the rack. There is what we call “W.I.W.” – wash, iron and wear. This simply means that after making your (first) selection, you go home and get it washed to remove all bacteria and the other disease-causing agents that might have stubbornly clung to the clothing when it was fumigated before shipment. You use as much ‘parazone’ as necessary – not too much, not too little. Then you hang your selection to dry in the open, preferably when the sun is scorching and there is a gentle, warm breeze. When it is sufficiently dried, you iron it and you are, as the Americans say, “good to go”. It is only after ‘WIW’ that you can wear your second hand item of clothing, anywhere you want. 
I am told that you classify second-hand ‘pieto’ as “high risk goods” – in the same category as LPG, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals – because they have “serious health and safety implications”, according to a Ghana News Agency report. I don’t know the basis of your classification but take this from me: the health risks ‘broni wawu’ carries are far less than the “noises” you politicians make. The stench and the dirt we see all around pose more of a health risk than ‘broni wawu’.
I hope you realise that this ‘broni wawu’ trade provides a livelihood for hundreds of thousands of people around the country. And you are thinking of banning it because of a false perception of risk? Please, banish the thought. Any attempt to follow through with your threat will be fiercely resisted. I have never gone on a demonstration before but if you dare place a ban on ‘broni wawu’ you will see me on the streets in the oversized ‘pieto’ I recently bought at Kantamanto.

 

Hello Kwame,

First let me congratulate you for taking the bold decision to go up north to assess what’s happening there for yourself. But for God’s sake, where in heaven’s name is your brother, the president? I know you are interior minister and these things fall perfectly within your domain. But you don’t have as much clout as your brother does and I expected him to have been the first person to rush up there to help calm nerves. Instead, what did he do? He chose to go to Zambia to bury Mwanawasa. Does he care more about a dead friend than his living compatriots? Sometimes, your brother makes me wonder whether his grey matter has turned black!
Just around the time we heard the news that there has been a violent eruption in the north, there was also news that construction labourers working on the presidential mansion were on strike. Your brother immediately rushed to site to talk some sense into the labourers’ heads. Just a few hours after he left the site, the labourers were back at work. Shortly after he had persuaded the labourers to get back to work, he jumped on a plane. Off to Zambia he went to bury his dear Mwanawasa.
Obviously, your brother cares more about that mansion than about the people of the north. If this were not the case, he would have flown up there with the same urgency with which he raced to the Flagstaff House to talk to those striking labourers. But I suppose the argument, as always, would be that he is the chief executive and he has very capable line managers who handle these sorts of things and he doesn’t have to micromanage everything.
That’s true. But if this is the case, why will he even bother to intervene in a strike by a bunch of lowly-paid construction labourers working on a project he’s not even the one paying for? The strike at the presidential mansion did not make the international news headlines. The violence in Gushiegu and Tamale did. So, even in this fickle mind of mine, I know that people burning homes and chasing each other with bows and arrows is a greater cause for concern than 200 labourers refusing to work. When a president behaves this way, I’m tempted to think that either he doesn’t care or he doesn’t get it. In this case, I think it’s a little bit of both: he doesn’t get it and he doesn’t care.
And this sort of attitude by our leaders is one of the reasons why the people of the north, as those of us in the south like to say, “are fond of fighting.” They feel marginalised. I think they have been marginalised for far too long.
The first time I visited the north, it felt like I was out of Ghana. The roads there are the worst in the country. They do not even have hospitals which are as bad as the ones we have down south. Even in their big towns, people still live in mud houses. The schools there make the bad ones we have down south seem like Ivy League Universities. And to cap it all, there are no jobs there for able-bodied young men and women to do.
I’ve dealt with a few northerners and I find them to be the most hardworking people in the land. And they are honest. They are the sort of people any manager will love to employ because for them no work is beneath their pay grade. But all the jobs are down south and they are left up there with nothing to do. And you, your brother and your friends in government (and those before you) have done very little to end the marginalisation. After the floods of last year, your brother set up a northern development fund to help change the status quo. One year on, nothing has been done to get this fund to work for the benefit of our compatriots in the north. Even the legislative processes necessary for this fund to take off are yet to be initiated. Couldn’t you have done this with the same urgency you used to sell off Ghana Telecom?
A man with no job, no place to lay his head and no hope for the future will not think twice about setting his neighbour’s house on fire if someone relatively well-off (like a politician) asks him to do so in return for a cedi or two. He has nothing to lose – except his miserable life. For someone like that, death comes as a blessing and so living on the edge offers hope of a quick end to a wretched life. They have nothing to lose. And that’s why they fight over guinea fowls and lotto kiosks. That’s why they fight over who among two dead chiefs should have their funeral rites performed first.
Kwame, marginalisation is not the only cause of the sporadic violence in the north. At the end of your trip to Gushiegu, I heard you say on radio that “there are some people in the northern region, particularly in Tamale, who feel they can get away with murder… That is wrong but that’s a belief some people hold that they can get away with anything.”
This is called impunity. And you and your brother and his government are partly to blame for the growing impunity in the north. I was even surprised to hear you make a statement like that. At the height of the Dagbon crisis, the District Chief Executive for Yendi was accused by several people of alleged involvement in the instigation of the violence. No one bothered to investigate the allegations against him and the guy is still walking around a powerful, free man. In the recent outbreak of violence, about three people have reported that they saw the Gushiegu DCE allegedly pouring petrol around some houses. He also reportedly gave out weapons to some people and pointed out who they should fire at. Police extensively questioned the people who made the allegations against him but have not bothered to ask the DCE a single question. And you are telling me there are people up north who think “they can get away with anything”?
Please, spare me the long talk. You know who these people are. Deal with them and stop wasting our ears. Tell us something we don’t know. After all, you are the interior minister and you have “intelligence” we don’t have.
The children of Alhaji Jemoni, whose houses and cars were burnt at Gushiegu, still fear for their lives because those who destroyed their property (and tried to kill them) are still walking free. I bet you will give us another lecture on impunity if, tomorrow, Alhaji Jemoni takes an axe to the head any of those suspected to have taken away everything he has worked so hard for. Remember, and tell this to your brother, that there can be no peace without justice. And justice comes in many forms. If the state doesn’t deliver it, people will find other means of getting it. The latter option often leads to war and the shedding of blood.
Finally, Kwame, tell your brother if he even cares half as much as I think he should, he must get on a plane and go up north to talk peace with his fellow citizens. I can’t understand why your brother finds it easier to go to Kenya to talk to (Odinga and Kibaki) and to Zambia (to bury Mwanawasa) but finds it so difficult to take a 30-minute flight to the north to sit and talk peace with his own compatriots about peace. I think it’s because there are no five-star hotels up there. But that’s the point. He should go up there and live with them for a few days, look around and see the poverty and squalor for himself. For a man used to the comfort of the Waldorf Astoria, this is a tough thing to do. But he should try and go up north. He should go and sit down with as many of the people as possible – from Yendi to Bawku to Gushiegu – and talk to them about peace. They will listen. They may not immediately stop fighting. But such engagement, followed with sincere policy initiatives to bring development to the north will go a long way to calm nerves and bring hope to many of those up there who have nothing to live for.
For now, there is calm. But you and I know there will be another storm soon. Question is “where?”
 
It’s me,
Citizen Kwamena
 

 

If it were left to me to decide who gets a national medal, I will gladly hang one around Azumah Nelson’s neck every year. And I bet it won’t generate the sort of controversy that greeted President Kufuor’s decision to hang one of those medals around his neck. 
Correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t think there is an individual who inspires Ghana as much as Azumah Nelson does (or has done in the past). His rags-to-riches story doesn’t have any ugly sub-plots of indecent flamboyance, foolish arrogance, senseless substance abuse and irresponsible womanising. The man has money but instead of building several mansions all around the country, he decided to build a modern gym, where he helps other sports men hone their talent. It amazes me that even with his fame, stature and wealth, Azumah Nelson is still as humble as a houseboy in the home of a Presbyterian priest.
Growing up as a child, Azumah Nelson got me to stay up late into the night just to watch him fight. My mum didn’t have a TV set and so I usually had to go into a friendly neighbour’s house in Essikado to watch him beat people for money. I believe this was the case for many Ghanaians back then, when owning a TV set was considered a major privilege. Whenever he won a bout, the whole nation was thrown into celebration. The Monday after every Azumah Nelson victory, the frontpage of the ‘People’s Daily Graphic’ will most likely read: “Ghana goes gay.” That was long before we learnt that “gay” has another meaning other than “merriment”. And whenever Azumah lost, the nation was covered by a dark cloud of gloom.
I remember in those days, if Azumah fought in the wee hours of Sunday and I didn’t attend the mandatory Sunday morning service, I can go to school on Monday morning without a bible verse to recite, confident that my teachers at Essikado Bethany Methodist Primary will not punish me. Chances were they also stayed up to watch the bout and therefore didn’t go to church as well. But then, if they ask me why I didn’t go to church, I’d quite humbly reply: “I watched Azumah.” And they would understand and I will be spared the rod. My teachers were not as sympathetic on days I came to school on a Monday without a bible verse and told them that I didn’t go to church because I felt ill.
We all watched Azumah fight because we loved to see him win. But all those times I watched Azumah, I learnt some very important lessons.
First, winning is great but it’s not the most important thing. What matters most, Azumah Nelson taught me, was for you to do your level best and even when you lose, you won’t be humiliated. That’s why even when he lost, he returned home to an adoring nation. We knew he did his best.
Secondly, Azumah Nelson taught me that if you really want to win you create your own luck. After his first bout with Jeff Fenech, we all felt – like he did – that he had been cheated. When he agreed that the rematch should be staged in Australia, we thought he had lost it. But he knew it didn’t matter where he fought because he was bringing his own ‘referee’ along. And did he give Fenech a beating? When after the bout, he conferred the title of ‘Professor’ on himself, no one questioned him. Even ‘Prof’ Steve Adei of GIMPA had no such luck.
Thirdly, Azumah Nelson taught me that giving up should never be an option. On so many occasions we all felt the odd stack against him. But he never gave up. He went into the ring and did his best.
And finally, when he hanged up his gloves, Azumah taught us all an important lesson. It pays to leave the stage when the applause is loudest. At the time he quit, he still had a lot of strength in him. He could have continued to fight. But he would have risked brain damage. A young boy from some village in Costa Rica would have beaten him to pulp. He knew better so he quit at just about the right time.
That’s the mark of a true legend and hero. There is none like Zoom-Zoom. And from the bottom of my heart, I celebrate the life of one of the greatest human being I ever had the privilege of shaking hands with. Please, Mr. Kufuor, give him one of your medals. He deserves it more than you do.

I stayed up through the night last week to listen to Barrack Obama deliver his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. During the Democratic Party primaries in America, my bet was on Hilary Clinton – not Barrack Obama.

I am not one of the many Africans who support Obama because of a false hope that if he becomes the president of the United States most of us will get easy visas to America. I also can’t just support him because he’s of my race. My heart was with Hilary because that’s where it wanted to be.

But there is one thing I like about Obama. His speeches are well thought-out and exquisitely delivered. He’s unlike most of our politicians, who just get up and talk anyhow. Often they incite. Obama’s speeches, on the other hand, inspire. 

I found Obama’s speech last week quite profound even though it was directed primarily at an American audience. He didn’t say a single word about Africa – much less about Ghana. But somehow, I felt that some of his words were quite appropriate to Ghanaian electioneering.

Earlier in the speech – even before he actually got into his groove – Obama says: "Eight is enough… we are better than these last eight years."

Ouch! In Nana Akuffo Addo’s ears, this might have sounded like Prof. Mills or any of the other presidential aspirants speaking. Eight years of ‘waawaawaaa’ is enough. The NPP can talk about all the ‘good’ things they have done over the past eight years. But Ghanaians deserve better. That’s essentially what Obama was saying. It is true there is health insurance but people still die like hapless rats in our hospitals. Our health system is in no great shape so the very people who boast of health insurance would rather take their ailments to a house officer in a Johannesburg hospital than see a specialist at Korle Bu. We have the capitation grant but we still have too many unqualified or under-qualified, ill-educated, poorly motivated teachers in the system pumping a lot of crap into the heads of our kids. So, indeed, "we are better than these last eight years."

However, getting to the end of his speech, Obama says: "We cannot turn back. Not with so much work to be done."

Your guess is as good as mine. In Atta Mills’ ears this is Nana Akuffo Addo, saying: "we are moving forward." We cannot go back to the days of identification hair-cuts. We cannot go back to cash-and-carry and we definitely are not prepared to return to the days when a president took it upon himself to regularly intimidate business people, clergy men and journalists. A lot of work needs to be done. And Obama urges us to "march into the future." Akuffo-Addo should be grateful because Obama has put the wind in his sail.

You don’t need me to convince you that Obama is a gifted speaker and his oratory has no doubt helped him to come this far. Whenever I hear him speak, I wish we had someone like him in Ghana. God has deprived us of an orator for far too long, wouldn’t you say? Since Kwame Nkrumah, I don’t think we’ve had anyone who has mastered the art of public speaking to the extent that when he speaks, you hear a call to action and you are ready to put your shoulder to the wheel. I’m not talking about Rawlings’ revolutionary rumblings. They only made sense to the cadres. And they were too long, too dreary. But Kwame Nkrumah pulled the majority when he said "Independence now!" Fifty years after his death, his words still resonates around the world. He was a rubble rouser but he got people to act. If Nkrumah had asked Ghanaians to all jump into the Gulf of Guinea and swim to London to ask the queen for independence, very few would have hesitated.

But what do we see today?

When Rawlings speaks people rush to listen not because they expect him to be profound. People just listen to hear him "boom"! When Rawlings speaks, I ask myself: "Gosh, what in heaven’s name is he talking about."

Just listen to his last outbursts on July 1. They sounded like the incoherent ramblings of a man just coming out of a coma.

I only listen to President Kufuor when it’s absolutely necessary for me to do so – often because of work.    

Otherwise, I have better ways of wasting my time than listen to punctuate every word with "errrrrrrrrrr".

Well, as for Atta Mills… I’m not so sure what he wants. We’ve had enough of his supplications, haven’t we?

When ‘Asomdwehene’ speaks, he sounds like a man pleading for mercy at the guillotine.

How about Aliu Mahama? Well, I’d advise you not to listen to him if you don’t want to be seen as disrespectful. It takes the man more than 60 seconds to pronounce "respiratory". Just imagine what you’d do if you heard him struggling with the word.

Nana Akuffo Addo is about the only political leader in Ghana today with the ability to deliver moving speeches. The speech after his election as the NPP presidential candidate was exceptional. I still remember a few phrases from there.

Since I don’t often get to hear great speeches from our leaders, I don’t miss any opportunity to listen to people like Obama. That’s why I stayed up to listen to him last week. And I wasn’t disappointed at all. Stirring speeches do not a great leader make. Not necessarily. But think about this: if a leader cannot articulate his vision, why will you follow him? If your leader is trying to motivate you to reach for the skies and he keeps croaking like a frog, won’t you rather be deflated?