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October 2008

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In his ‘lame duck’ days President John Kufuor has been very busy racking up the frequent flyer miles. He’s ending his presidency just as he started it. In the beginning we were told that he needed to travel the world to “sell” Ghana to investors. But these days, there isn’t much focus on selling Ghana – if he couldn’t convince the investors to come here in the last seven years, what more can he do in his last days in office? So now, the emphasis seems to be on selling himself.

This, I think, has been part of the grand scheme all this while. Quite a number of Kufuor’s foreign trips seem to have been deliberately planned to make him ‘relevant’ in international affairs. Why else will he jump on a plane to help end post-election ethnic strife in Kenya at a time when the Kusasis and Mamprusis in Bawku were hacking each other with machetes?  
This week, his efforts were recognised by no less an institution as Britain’s Chatham House – a ‘think tank’ which specialises in international affairs. I don’t see how Kufuor helped to pull Kenya back from the brink of civil war. But the guys at Chatham House think he had something to do with it. If my grey and white matter have not been mixed up to form a useless mushy mess, my memory tells me that at the height of the Kenyan crisis, the two protagonists didn’t seem so interested in listening to him. They didn’t even want to sit down together with him. A minister said Kufuor had gone to Nairobi to drink tea. At his wits end, the president had to call in former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan – who eventually brokered the peace deal between Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki. I think Annan did more for the Kenyans than Kufuor did. But whatever the president did helped him to get the Chatham House accolade. Kenya, though, was not the only reason why our president won the prize from the “home of the Royal Society of International Relations”. Apparently, he also did a whole lot to help end the civil wars in Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire.
This week’s Chatham House award, I suppose, should be a big boost for the president’s retirement plans. I don’t think he’s so eager to retire into a quiet existence. I also don’t think the president is so keen on managing – or, at least helping to manage – his (son’s) hotel. He needs another job that will keep him travelling constantly around the world.
A few weeks ago, there was a story on the frontpage of the ‘Daily Graphic’ shamelessly proclaiming that the president was getting a lot of offers to work with some international organisations at the end of his tenure. Among the organisations offering Kufuor a post-tenure job, according to the newspaper, is an Italian organisations called Alliance for Africa.
I have ‘googled’ ‘Alliance for Africa’ but I got nothing on them. Isn’t it rather curious that an organisation being touted by our president as his next probable employer doesn’t even have a website? Well, the president is keeping hope alive.
“There are many things and if one more comes from the United Nation’s all well and good”, the ‘Daily Graphic’ quotes him as saying.
It seems to me that the president is angling for a job, preferably with the UN and that story in the Daily Graphic was only meant to notify the UN to act quickly – otherwise organisations like Milan-based Alliance for Africa for will snap him up.
Now, the question bugging my mind is this: why will the president not stay at home, enjoy his retirement, help manage his (son’s) hotel and just have fun? I have been thinking that if he doesn’t want to just be an idle old man – if hotel management won’t occupy him enough – he could as well use his retirement to revive and turn most of his failed “special initiatives” into resounding successes. I don’t think this has occurred to his special advisor, Mary Chinery-Hesse, just yet and so our president has been left with no choice than to look for an “international” job which will keep him travelling.
You see, a job with the UN (or that Italian organisation) affords the president another opportunity to enjoy one of the things he loves so much – getting paid to travel the world on someone else’s dime. So far, he must have made a fortune out of travelling – mostly from per diem, the daily allowance he gets for racking up the frequent-flyer miles. In case, you didn’t know, it doesn’t pay – at least from his perspective – for the president to stay at home. We don’t know exactly how much per diem he earns per trip but it is rumoured to be quite a lot.
A friend of mine put it this way: “assuming it [the per diem] is $1500 per day and he travels averagely four days per trip, and he has so far travelled not less than 140 times then the equation would be $1500x4x140=$840,000. Almost $1million in eight years. No wonder everyone wants to be president these days.”  
I think the president earns more than $1500 as per diem. And he definitely has travelled more than 140 times. According his vice president, Kufuor has been out of the country for at least two out of his almost eight-year tenure. As he prepares to leave office, we have been told that he has received several invitations to visit so many other countries. And, it seems, he intends to honour each of them. He has already been to America – at the invitation of George Bush. Before that he was in Germany – at the invitation of Angela Merkel and recently, he was in the Netherlands – at the invitation of Queen Beatrix. He was honouring a similar “invitation” to Equatorial Guinea when his plane developed a serious problem and was forced to return to base. I am certain they missed him very much during Equatorial Guinea’s Independence celebrations and I won’t be surprised if he arranges to go there before he leaves office. 
Perhaps, we must give him the benefit of the doubt and understand that as his term comes to an end, the president desires to make a last sales pitch for Ghana before he leaves office. But, don’t forget, he also needs a job that will keep him travelling.
That’s why I’m organising this competition… simply predict where the president will be travelling to next. All correct predictions will be entered into a draw and the first name to be picked out of the lot wins a handsome prize: a rare opportunity to be at the airport to wave ‘good bye’ as Kufuor jumps on the next available plane. Unfortunately, you can’t travel with him – unless you are a journalist he loves, a close friend, a family member, a minister of state or Duncan Williams. Whatever the case may be, we just can’t wait for a president who doesn’t actively seek excuses to fly away, can we?

As the candidates debated the issues, I had a chat about it with my friends – Nehemiah (in Lagos), Lamisi (in Accra), Raymond (in Kumasi), Yayra (in Hanover), Godwin (in Michigan) Ben (somewhere in the US), and Kwame (also somewhere in the US). The timestamps are GMT+1, since Nehemiah was the one who saved this conversation. If this doesn’t sound like crap to you, you may read on… and enjoy!

 
ATO: (7:26:01 PM): Joy is about to start broadcast
NEHEMIAH: (7:26:02 PM): Hi ,Kwame
RAYMOND: (7:26:07 PM): nothing like a Bud huh
KWADWO: (7:26:13 PM): yeap
ATO: (7:26:21 PM): Kwame, cud u tell us about u?
NEHEMIAH (7:26:34 PM): Kwodwo choose a colour for your font
RAYMOND: (7:26:43 PM): ok
NEHEMIAH (7:26:46 PM): Kwame please do same
RAYMOND (7:26:50 PM): 4 more minutes
ATO (7:26:56 PM): Yeah
RAYMOND (7:27:49 PM): Tell Matilda  that  my friend Blofo Correct wants some English tutorials
NEHEMIAH (7:28:05 PM): hahahahahaha
ATO (7:28:14 PM): Hahahahaha
NEHEMIAH (7:28:30 PM): the Game is on …ppl
ATO (7:28:51 PM): Nehemiah, I’d like u to keep the text for this chat
RAYMONG (7:28:53 PM): yeah
NEHEMIAH (7:29:04 PM): Ato, will do that
RAYMOND (7:29:21 PM): as long as i dont go offine
RAYMOND (7:29:30 PM): i will send you the chat log from meebo
NEHEMIAH (7:30:05 PM): both of us can do that..backup is always good
KWADWO (7:30:07 PM): i will be back in a few
NEHEMIAH (7:30:15 PM): not again Kwodwo
ATO (7:30:23 PM): Hahahahahaha
RAY (7:30:55 PM): try a Miller lite this time Kwodwo
RAY (7:31:02 PM): haha
ATO (7:31:09 PM): Hahahahaha
ATO (7:31:20 PM): Maybe Star!
NEHEMIAH (7:31:24 PM): ‘akowinsa fo wom’
NEHEMIAH (7:31:52 PM): Kwame , dont go silent on us
ATO (7:31:57 PM): Hahahahaha
RAYMOND (7:32:13 PM): I dont drink too
RAYMOND (7:32:21 PM): i just have a friend who collects beers
NEHEMIAH (7:32:21 PM): the graveyard experience isn’t expected
ATO (7:32:27 PM): Kwame is having some network issues
NEHEMIAH (7:32:32 PM): oh ok
RAYMOND (7:32:49 PM): oh Ghana
RAYMOND (7:32:57 PM): when will we get smooth sailing internet acces
RAYMOND (7:33:06 PM): hahahaha..Naija is burning Ghana
RAYMOND (7:33:22 PM): someone needs to ask about laying fiber optic cables from accra to the north
RAYMOND (7:34:06 PM): President Kuffuor was a good story teller
RAYMOND (7:34:28 PM): hmmm
ATO (7:34:36 PM): Hahahhaaha
NEHEMIAH (7:35:10 PM): na lie?
RAYMOND (7:35:24 PM): na true
ATO (7:35:29 PM): Yeah
RAYMOND (7:35:34 PM): i am now using two windows
ATO (7:35:50 PM): Just toget more money from vodafone
RAYMOND (7:36:03 PM): now  three
NEHEMIAH (7:36:07 PM): well….more kick back deals
KWAME (7:36:09 PM): got in
NEHEMIAH (7:36:24 PM): finally, Kwame..welcome
ATO (7:36:24 PM): Yeah
ATO (7:36:27 PM): Good
NEHEMIAH (7:36:31 PM): small intro
RAYMOND (7:36:32 PM): ok
RAYMOND (7:36:37 PM): we are all here
KWAME (7:36:37 PM): thanks people
ATO (7:36:38 PM): Welcome back Kwame
KWAME (7:36:49 PM): thanks Ato
KWADWO (7:37:27 PM): Cooba whats up?
ATO (7:37:44 PM): Welcome Yayra
YAYRA (7:37:57 PM): thank you
NEHEMIAH (7:37:57 PM): hi Yayra
YAYRA (7:38:04 PM): hi everybody
RAYMOND (7:38:08 PM): Ghana Man time as usual
RAYMOND (7:38:17 PM): hi yayra
RAYMOND (7:38:27 PM): hahahahaha
YAYRA (7:38:32 PM): no..just problems with my browser
NEHEMIAH (7:38:47 PM): are you using meebo?
YAYRA (7:39:03 PM): no yahoo im
NEHEMIAH (7:39:10 PM): ok
KWADWO (7:39:11 PM): welcome Kwame
RAYMOND(7:39:12 PM): i am now using a new chat window
RAYMOND (7:39:27 PM): how many invites did u send
ATO (7:39:48 PM): Ok
NEHEMIAH (7:40:01 PM): Yayra and Kwame…locations?
YAYRA(7:40:15 PM): i am in Indiana, USA
ATO (7:40:23 PM): We are going to get started in about 10mins
YAYRA (7:40:27 PM): sure
NEHEMIAH (7:40:28 PM): ok
KWAME (7:40:32 PM): great
KWAME (7:40:39 PM): any predictions people
NEHEMIAH (7:40:43 PM): kwame …location
NEHEMIAH (7:40:45 PM): ?
KWAME (7:40:46 PM): /
ATO (7:40:50 PM): Not yet
KWAME (7:40:54 PM): michigan…usa
NEHEMIAH (7:40:56 PM): ok
KWADWO (7:41:10 PM): of course Nana is a great orator so im sure it will translate
ATO (7:41:25 PM): Let’s start off with some basic introductions
ATO (7:41:44 PM): Yayra first
ATO (7:41:55 PM): Tell us about you
YAYRA (7:42:03 PM): My name is Yayra Tay and i am a freshman in Hanover College, Indiana
YAYRA (7:42:29 PM): I live in Adenta in Accra and i love Politics…a lot
KWADWO (7:42:34 PM): Im Kwadwo and im a political animal,im based in memphis
ATO (7:43:10 PM): U support any particular political party?
YAYRA (7:43:48 PM): No, i am unaffiliated and i just watch from the sidelines and critisize when it is due
NEHEMIAH (7:43:49 PM): I’m Nehemiah Attigah, a Microsoft Dynamics Nav consultant based in Lagos,Nigeria….just love to analyse …not a politcal animal
ATO (7:44:45 PM): Cool
ATO (7:44:58 PM): Ray?
ATO (7:45:07 PM): Kwame
ATO (7:45:26 PM): Tell us about yoursel?
ATO (7:46:06 PM): Nehemiah
ATO (7:46:16 PM): You there?
NEHEMIAH (7:46:21 PM): yeah am here
RAYMOND (7:46:28 PM): hi
NEHEMIAH (7:46:32 PM): …i thought i had done that already
NEHEMIAH (7:46:45 PM): do you want a copy and paste ?
ATO (7:46:55 PM): Guess we have the most stable connections
YAYRA (7:47:08 PM): i am still here
NEHEMIAH (7:47:14 PM): yes we do…GT guys are in trouble
ATO (7:47:14 PM): Ok
ATO (7:47:33 PM): Yayra, any expectations?
GODWIN (7:47:46 PM): can i take my turn?
YAYRA (7:47:55 PM): I am just hoping none of them mess up cos the vultures are witing eagerly
ATO (7:48:10 PM): True
ATO (7:48:34 PM): Won’t it be fun if some of them mess up?
NEHEMIAH (7:48:37 PM): i think Nana and Dr.Nduom will steal the show because of their public speaking skills
ATO (7:48:50 PM): Ok Godwin
ATO (7:49:00 PM): A bit about yourself
YAYRA (7:49:06 PM): Don’t judge in haste because some of the others are experienced as well
NEHEMIAH (7:49:32 PM): ok ..lets wait and see
YAYRA (7:49:44 PM): fair enough
NEHEMIAH (7:50:26 PM): hi
GODWIN (7:50:26 PM): I’m Godwin Agboka, a PhD candidate here in the USA
RAYMOND (7:50:36 PM): finally
RAYMOND (7:50:44 PM): ok
LAMISI (7:50:49 PM): i am lamisi dabire ,a freelance journalist
RAYMOND (7:50:59 PM): welcome Lamisi
ATO (7:51:16 PM): Lamisi is in Accra
RAYMOND (7:51:27 PM): ok
GODWIN (7:51:32 PM): nice
LAMISI (7:51:42 PM): thanks guys
ATO (7:51:52 PM): Is Godwin in here?
GODWIN (7:51:59 PM): yep
GODWIN (7:52:05 PM): did u see my intro?
RAYMOND (7:52:11 PM): i am raymond etornam agbeame , Level 400 cs major at KNUST,kumasi
NEHEMIAH (7:52:17 PM): yes Godwin
GODWIN (7:52:25 PM): cool
LAMISI (7:52:44 PM): welcome ray
RAYMOND (7:52:52 PM): thanks everyone
YAYRA (7:52:55 PM): welcome lamisi
ATO (7:53:20 PM): Ray any expectations?
LAMISI (7:53:25 PM): thanks
RAYMOND(7:53:40 PM): looking forward to a great debate
RAYMOND (7:54:00 PM): i want to see how sharp the candidates are
ATO (7:54:06 PM): Lamisi
LAMISI (7:54:14 PM): i am expecting all the candidates to exhibit a full graps of concerns of Ghanaians
ATO (7:54:34 PM): Ok
LAMISI (7:54:41 PM): health,sanitation,water,economic acceleration,
ATO (7:54:48 PM): For u what r the concerns?
ATO (7:54:56 PM): Yayra?
YAYRA (7:55:46 PM): well, i believe health and education are the basics but economic stability abd acceleration are also important
ATO (7:56:09 PM): Ok
ATO (7:56:16 PM): Nehemiah?
LAMISI (7:56:20 PM): increasingly corruption , accountability and drugs are becoming a huge concern with the propensity to derail all the agains we have made in the last few yrs
NEHEMIAH (7:56:57 PM): for me… accelerated development is crucial because it encompasses ..health,education,etc
ATO (7:57:12 PM): Ok
ATO (7:57:21 PM): Any predictions?
ATO (7:57:36 PM): Who will come up tops?
NEHEMIAH (7:57:38 PM): we will see who fits the bill tonight
LAMISI (7:58:11 PM): i expect prof,nana and Dr.Nduom to speak with clarity considering their exposure
GODWIN (7:58:13 PM): i am concerned about the economy and security. I want to hear from the candidates address how they will wean ghana off the IMF and other such agencies.

I am not looking forward to anything extraordinary. I am not going to hear anything I’ve never heard before. But I just can’t wait for the presidential debate with the four most serious contenders answering questions, asking questions of each other (hopefully) and having their ideas challenged.

Democracy has never had it so good in Ghana! For the first time, even the incumbent party’s candidate is taking part in a presidential debate.
In 2000, when the first one was held, Atta Mills pompously decided that staying at home to watch the debate was more important than actually taking part in it. He lost the elections. We can blame his defeat on his refusal to participate in the debate – people were just fed up with his mentor and didn’t want the shelter of the ‘umbrella’ anymore. In 2004, Mills decided that he just couldn’t afford to stay away from the debate. He took part but his main opponent and incumbent president, John Kufuor, chose to do what Mills had done four years earlier. Interestingly, the guy who didn’t participate in the debate actually won the polls.
So debates don’t win elections for anyone. Not even in America, I think. Most people have made up their minds already and it will take something very, very remarkable on a gargantuan scale (think of a candidate losing his cool and running across the podium to slap an opponent) for this debate to swing the votes in any significant way. It could win some votes, though, for some of the candidates – but not enough to win the elections anyone.
So why am I looking forward to it? Well, it presents the candidates in a completely different light. This is just one of two occasions on which they will share the same stage. We will see how they respond to each and observe their comportment, their temperament and their ability to think on their feet. This is not a campaign rally, so they won’t make sugar-coated promises and get away without being asked how they intend to fulfil them.
I will be watching and listening to the debate with rapt attention. But at the same time, I’d be chatting in cyberspace with a few friends of mine – on how it progresses: who’s making sense? Who’s blowing ‘jazz’? Who’s evading questions? Who’s trying too hard to impress? The text of the chat will be posted on this site, unedited and uncensored!
Let me say a big “thank you” to Lamisi Dabire in Accra, Nehemiah Atigah in Lagos, Kwadwo Yeboah-Gyan in Memphis, Yawa Yayra Tay in Hanover, IA, Raymond Etornam Agbeame in Kumasi and Godwin Jason Agboka of Chicago for agreeing to take part in this. With the exception of Lamisi, these are people I ‘met’ in cyberspace on the social networking site, Facebook! I’ve never ‘physically’ met any of them.
If we don’t suffer a power outage, we are going to have a lot of fun! At the end of the day, democracy wins and when that happens we are all victors!

Government has made its position clear: there are no plans to sell off the Achimota Forest. All well and good. But I am not convinced. First, there is the cock-and-bull story of a certain Nii Owu, the supposed original owner the property, demanding his land back. Then there is the information minister’s claim that there is a certain “woodlot” which must be differentiated from the “forest”. In other words, Nii Owu’s land – which government is allegedly thinking of giving back to him is a “woodlot” which is not part of the “forest”. Nice try, Mr. Minister. But I don’t buy it!

When I first read about plans to convert the Achimota Forest into a “shopping mall” – as the Insight newspaper called it – I hoped it wasn’t true. Then a few hours later, I saw a letter from Alhaji H. I. Baryeh, the executive secretary of the Lands Commission to the executive director of the Forestry Commission confirming that “a redevelopment proposal” was being considered.
“This has become necessary”, the letter said “as a result of a directive from the Office of the President requesting the [Lands] Commission to undertake a feasibility analysis aimed at converting the subject site into a high density commercial centre.”
No mention is made of any Nii Owu demanding his land back!
I won’t mention names but I know that in the JOY FM newsroom, a few government ministers were called to confirm or deny the reports that the Achimota Forest (or part of it) was going to be converted into a “high density commercial centre” – whatever that means. They all refused to talk. They thought that if they kept quiet the issue will die off. But they were dead wrong.
People were angry that the government – or the Office of the President for that matter – will even contemplate and entertain the idea of turning a forest reserve into a commercial centre. The NDC was the first to speak out. Its spokesman on forestry, Collins Dauda, made it clear that the party will oppose any attempt to cut down part of the Achimota Forest, which has been set aside as a forest reserve for well over 70 years. As expected, the environmentalists also joined in, threatening to take the matter to international corridors of power. Even two leading members of the ruling party – Yaw Osafo-Marfo and Nkrabeah Effah Darteh – publicly declared that the idea of turning the forest into a commercial centre doesn’t make sense. “We are lucky to have the Achimota Forest,” Mr. Osafo-Marfo said. “And for heaven’s sake nobody should dream of turning it into a commercial centre.”
It was only after this that the government decided to do some damage control.
First came a letter from the Ministry of Lands, Forestry and Mines. It was in this letter that Nii Owu was mentioned as the man who had demanded that his land be returned to him. Later, the public affairs director at the ministry, Charles Wereko, was on radio struggling to explain that the leaked letter which mentions the office of the president and the proposal to build a commercial centre was merely part of a consultative process to help come to a decision on whether or not the land should be returned to Nii Owu. Listening to Mr. Wereko’s incoherent rumblings I felt he either didn’t know what he was talking about or he didn’t know how to lie. He caused more damage than he had sought to repair.
Hours later, the Information Minister, Steve Asamoah Boateng was on air cleaning up the mess. He was emphatic that government has no plans whatsoever to build a commercial centre on the site of the Achimota Forest. But he insisted that there was a “woodlot” next to the “forest” and that the government officials might simply be engaged in series of consultations on whether or not to give this “woodlot” to its owner – Nii Owu.
So how are we to differentiate between the “woodlot” and the “forest”? Asamoah Boateng had no idea. And that’s why I think they are trying to pull a fast one on us. Imagine that we wake up one day to the news that a “woodlot” near the Achimota Forest is to be converted into a “high density commercial centre”. How can we tell that it isn’t actually a part of the forest which has been given away to a private developer? We may never know.
That’s why I think that the campaign to preserve the Achimota Forest should not stop. The environmentalists should keep a close eye on the whole area and continue raising alarm at any attempt even to return the so-called “woodlot” to Nii Owu – whoever he might be.
In an age when the whole world’s attention is fixed on climate change and its harmful repercussions the least I expect the government to do is to jealously guard our forests. If the office of the president is so bent on building a mall – or the “high density commercial centre” – they should break down “Hotel de Waawaa” and build the mall on the land the hotel currently occupies.
As for Nii Owu and hisfamily, government should make it clear to him – if he exists at all – that his land (whether it is part of the forest or it’s a woodlot) is serving a very useful purpose and he should be proud of it. He will neither get it today nor tomorrow. If it’s money he wants, government should find a way to pay him off. Government is unwilling to even broach the subject of returning large tracts of land – some of Accra’s most prized real estate – to their original owners even though they are not being used for the purpose for which they were originally acquired by the state. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to me that its officials will even be contemplating – or thinking about – the feasibility of returning this “woodlot” when it is being used as intended. 

In a “normal” country, a party’s position on a ballot paper means nothing to anyone. Even those who earn a living by interpreting the meaning of numbers do not often care a hoot about whether a party is number one or number eight on the ballot sheet. Ours, unfortunately, is not a “normal” country.

About fifty percent of our people can neither read nor write. That explains why a political party’s position on the ballot paper is such a big deal. It’s so important that a day before the parties were due to draw lots to decide the order of their vertical placement on the ballot sheets, the issue was being discussed on almost all the radio stations in the national capital. Party officials were busy predicting and analysing how certain positions would favour them. The CPP’s Kosi Dede, for example, said he would like his party to be fifth for the simple reason that raising the five fingers on one hand to indicate the party’s position on the ballot will make for easy recall.
As it turned out, the CPP drew for the 6th position. And now, we hear they are going to build a message around 6th March – Independence Day. Apparently, it’s a good omen that the party which led us to independence on 6th March occupies the 6th position on the ballot paper. I still can’t wrap my head around how this makes it easier for my father’s grandmother to remember to vote for the CPP. But politicians are never short of grand schemes and ideas so we will see how this works out for them.
The ruling NPP was clearly the winner when the lots were drawn. Selling their position as the number one party on the ballot paper will be very easy. They are already singing “Go, go high” so they are going to be telling their supporters to go to the very top of the ballot sheet – that’s where the elephant will be. We will also be hearing a lot of “Esoro ho” – or “up there” – chants as the election day draws near. In 2000, John Kufuor was bottom of the pile on the ballot sheet and the campaign messages said “Asie ho” – “down there”. It worked perfectly for him and he won. This time around, Nana Akufo-Addo is at the top. We shall see whether “Esoro ho” will work as well for him as “Asie ho” did for Kufuor.
I have been caught up in the predictions game somewhat, and I can’t help but think that maybe – just maybe – the gods are saying that the elephant came to power through the bottom and it will be kicked out of power through the top. My gods are often not sober enough so you can’t depend on their word.
The People’s National Convention (PNC) – the other Nkrumahist party in the race – drew for the second spot and for them it’s back to the past. In previous elections, their slogan was “Two-sure, two direct”. I still don’t understand why they like saying “two sure” but the PNC leaders feel that being second on the ballot is a clear indication that luck is on their side this time. They might have been doing something good that’s why the gods want them to continue shouting “Two sure – two direct”. This slogan won just about 1.9 percent of the votes for them in the last presidential elections. Perhaps, if they scream “two-sure, two direct” loud enough and manage to remove that dot between the one and the nine, they will be very lucky indeed. Unfortunately, if you ask me, Edward Mahama has no business being on the ballot paper. He’s wasting his money and our time – not to mention space on the ballot sheet. If he wins more than five percent of the votes in December, I swear, I will offer to carry pan latrines in Labadi for one week.
You might have heard NDC supporters shouting “Trinity” to sell their number three position on the ballot paper. They say that this is Atta Mills’ third try for the presidency and being on the third spot means that this time around he will win to serve the NDC’s third term in parliament. This is the positive spin. But look at the negative spin too. My little gods have told me – in their drunken stupor – that being third on the ballot sheet could signify that Atta Mills is going to be third time unlucky.
I don’t have much to say about the positions of the other parties. Even if they come up with the craftiest advertising messages “sell” their positions on the ballot paper, they stand no chance whatsoever of winning the elections. Ward Brew of the DPP is No. 5 and he must be very happy to have made it to the ballot paper this year. In the last election, he showed up very late at the offices of the EC looking scruffy and wearing a pair of ‘charlie wote’. He didn’t look like a serious candidate then and things haven’t changed much now. I doubt if any Ghanaian outside Mr. Ward-Brew’s circle of trust (his close friends and associates) will waste their votes on him. So no matter how high he raises his palms to show off his five fingers to indicate his position on the ballot paper, I will bet that Mr. Ward-Brew will not win more than 10,000 votes nationwide. If he finds it so difficult to shave off that uneven beard of his, I don’t understand why he thinks winning an election will be an easier endeavour.
The least said about the other candidates, the better. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but the DFP’s Ansah Antwi (number 4 on the ballot sheet), Kwabena Adjei of the Reformed Patriotic Democrats (number 7) and the independent candidate, Kwesi Amoafo-Yeboah (number 8) will never win this election even if their family members and friends were the only eligible voters.
So now, the question is: does a candidate’s position on the ballot really matter?
I don’t think so. In 2000 Dan Lartey was at the top of the ballot sheet. That didn’t win him the election. John Kufuor was last on the sheet and the conventional wisdom is that this helped him win the election. I disagree. In 2000, there was an overwhelming clamour for change. So deep-seated was the desire for a new regime that even if Kufuor had been somewhere in the middle (and not ‘asie ho’), I’m sure he would have won all the same. But remember, his victory didn’t come easy. In 2004, George ‘Comfort’ Aggudey, was ‘asie ho’ but he won a mere one percent of the total votes cast even though he kept screaming ‘asie ho’ at the least opportunity. Still in 2004, Edward Mahama was at the top but he could only manage a mere 1.9 percent. Kufuor and Mills – who were second and third respectively on the ballot sheet – polled the most votes that year.
In essence, therefore, our politicians and the Electoral Commission – not to mention the media – have made a big deal of something that should not even be an issue at all. Yes, we have an illiterate population. But most of them have made up their minds already and they don’t give a damn whether the elephant is at the top or bottom of the ballot sheet. Neither do they care whether the umbrella (or the cockerel) is number six or number three. They may be illiterate but they are not stupid and the party symbols will help most of them cast their votes just fine. So, I look forward to the day when the Electoral Commission will simply list the political parties in alphabetical order on the ballot sheet. No need for the lottery and the circus that comes with it!  
 

At the end of my ‘Newspaper Review’ programme on Friday morning, Israel Laryea walks up to me with a gleam in his eyes and a question on his mind.

“In the MV Benjamin case, who was known as the ‘Limping Man’?” he asks – as if I am some sort of an expert in the mysterious disappearance of 77 parcels of cocaine from the vessel.
I go into the deeper recesses of my brain, which has not been fully awakened for the day and somehow manage to come up with an answer.
“I think he’s the Sheriff guy.”
“Ahh…” Israel says. “I hear he has been arrested – in Achimota. Someone called to tell me.”
“Really? That’s some news,” I say.
“Who do I call to verify?” the CNN African radio journalists of the year asks again.
My answer: “Kofi Boakye”

Prof. John Atta Mills doesn’t look as healthy as he used to. But does it matter?

For months, people have been talking about Prof. Mills’ health. It’s been the subject of numerous newspaper headlines. ‘Prof. Mills in Coma’, one headline screamed rather alarmingly, suggesting that the former vice president and presidential candidate of the NDC had lost consciousness. But, as it turned out, all the story said was that he was seeking medical treatment in South Africa for some disease.
 
Prior to the publication of the latest wave of newspaper reports about his health (or lack thereof), Prof. Mills had been literally pummeled with sometimes embarrassing questions about whether or not he was fit enough for the rigours of campaigning for president. To one such question, he answered that he could run from Axim to Paga. That was an exaggeration on the part of Prof. Mills. I bet he can’t even run the length of the Accra-Tema Motorway. I believe he said he could run the entire breadth of Ghana out of exasperation. Why is Prof. Mills’ health an issue? I think it shouldn’t be.
 
We all fall ill once in a while. The fittest amongst us could be the weakest tomorrow. And the weakest amongst us will not necessarily be dumbest. Also the strongest amongst us might not necessarily be the wisest. I’ve seen strong people who are all brawn but no brain.
So whether Prof. Mills has a sinus infection or a weak heart or a pair of shrinking balls doesn’t matter. The real question is: is he mentally fit to make all the important decisions that affect us all if he’s elected president? So far he’s not given any of us any reason to think that he’s gone ‘gaga’ up there. I don’t think his grey matter has turned red. And that’s all that matters.
 
Even in the department of physical fitness, I don’t think he’s doing bad at all. I’m sure he can’t run 10 kilometres but the man has been moving from house-to-house, canvassing for votes. It’s not an easy thing for a man in his 60s to be walking such long distances, sometimes in the scorching heat of the sun. So let’s give Prof. Mills a break and stop asking if he’s healthy. If he was sick and dying, it wouldn’t need much telling, would it? You don’t go to a dying man to ask him if he’s healthy, do you? So if Prof. Mills is walking about, struggling to make sure that he doesn’t lose a third time, I don’t see the point in asking him about him if he thinks he’s going to die soon.
 
Prof. Mills might have lost some weight over the past few years (and I am sure it has nothing to do with him going to the gym every day). But he’s explained that he’s been receiving treatment for a disease of the sinuses. That’s all we need to know, I guess. I think in a country where our leaders refuse to tell us about their health conditions, it was admirable that Prof. Mills boldly told the whole nation what he’s been dealing with. It took quite him quite a while to tell us, but he finally did and that’s good.
 
Most of us will not go around telling people about our diseases. It’s only human. Political office seekers are not required to tell us what’s wrong with them and their job really is just to tell us only what (they think) is right with them. That’s the only way they would get our votes. So it’s truly a mark of strong leadership when people in power (or those who aspire to it) muster the courage to reveal the specifics of their physical frailties.
 
We are in Ghana but we know that the vice president of the United States has had a pacemaker for so long and he undergoes regular by-pass surgeries, which are often the subject of lengthy reports on the international news media. A few months before he left office, former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair was rushed to hospital after he complained of some dizziness. Nelson Mandela has been receiving treatment for prostate cancer for years. The current British prime minister, Gordon Brown is blind in the left eye. These people are among the most influential leaders of our time. We know what we know about them because they don’t mind letting people know that they are as human as we all are and, therefore, susceptible to disease.
 
The problem with us is that our leaders tend to want us to believe that they are demi-gods – nothing goes wrong with them. And that’s the reason why Prof. Mills’ opponents have been trying so hard to make the rest of the nation believe that he’s not a well man and therefore not fit to be president. It also explains why it took Prof. Mills quite a while to publicly admit that he’s been receiving treatment for some disease. I commend him for his courage and I think all our other leaders should learn from his example. Disease doesn’t necessarily translate into incapacitation. Dick Cheney, arguably the second most powerful man on earth, has a very weak heart but he does his job. Many will say not quite well, but he does it all the same. Parliament recently passed a Disability Bill and the idea is to stop discrimination against disabled people and make it possible for them to participate actively in nation building. It surely helps if our politicians stop creating the impression that a man with a sinus infection (or any other disease) cannot lead this country.
 
Furthermore, in a country where we are encouraging people to get tested for a disease like HIV and for HIV-positive people to help in the campaign to check the spread of the disease, it’s a curious contradiction for our leaders to be making political capital out of their opponents’ less-stigmatized ailments. If Prof. Mills is being derided for being sick, what would people say if Kojo Mensah came out to tell the whole nation that he’s HIV-positive? Would he even consider getting tested?
 
I hope that Prof. Mills’ (ill-)health is not going to be an issue in the electioneering for the December elections. If it ever comes up again at all, it should be because our political leaders want to use it to cause change in attitudes. In our culture, people with any form of disease or deformity cannot be chiefs. In a democracy things do not work like that. Otherwise, Gordon Brown wouldn’t have been at No. 10.
 
 
*First published on February 2, 2008
 

I’ve been very touched by the outpouring of support from a very large number of people who sent emails, left comments and even called to say a few words of encouragement to me after reading “Huhuhuhu doesn’t do me hu”. I have never been in any doubt whatsoever that I have a legion of well-wishers and I appreciate each and every one of you.

It is particularly gratifying for me that a lot of you said you’ve often had cause to disagree with the things I say and how I say them but you’ve never felt the need to ask me to shut up or be silenced. That’s the spirit. I have a right to express my ill-informed, misguided, often-biased opinions and you have a right to express your educated, objective, expert views. That’s why on this website, I’ve decided never to sift through the comments and take out the ones I don’t like.
It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s not about the so-called “big men”. It’s about a principle: speak your mind and let me speak mine. This is the principle that will move our nation forward (oops!) and change (another oops!) our country for the better.
I am more than grateful to those of you who accept the fact that it’s alright for me to be the “maverick” – even if you don’t like what I do. I am also grateful for those who “don’t get it” – as a friend wrote in an email to me. We may never see eye-to-eye. But I believe that without such diversity of opinions (and styles of expressing them) our nation will, as Robert Mugabe said, “move very well in the wrong direction”. Now we don’t want that, do we?
Once again, thanks!
 
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”  
– Attributed to Voltaire
 
 

The ‘Noko Fio’ Party has launched its campaign to gain power, promising to make sure every Ghanaian gets to “chop small, small”.

The campaign was launched on Thank God It’s Friday – the first time a political party has launched a campaign on primetime TV.

Ace newscaster, B. K. Oduro – who is the Noko Fio presidential candidate – was joined on set by the party’s spokesman, Ato Kwamena Dadzie to launch the campaign.  

Check out the ‘Videos’ section for footage of the Noko Fio campaign launch.

Here are the lyrics for one of my favourite songs from the ‘Dixie Chicks’. I love those ‘Chicks’ and this particular song, ‘Not ready to make nice’, which won a couple of Grammy Awards in 2007, speaks a lot about my sentiments now. Enjoy! If you get the song, please have a listen. 

Forgive, sounds good
Forget, I’m not sure I could
They say time heals everything
But I’m still waiting
 
I’m through with doubt
There’s nothing left for me to figure out
I’ve paid a price
And I’ll keep paying
 
I’m not ready to make nice
I’m not ready to back down
I’m still mad as hell and
I don’t have time to go round and round and round
It’s too late to make it right
I probably wouldn’t if I could
‘Cause I’m mad as hell
Can’t bring myself to do what it is you think I should
I know you said
Can’t you just get over it
It turned my whole world around
And I kind of like it
 
I made my bed and I sleep like a baby
With no regrets and I don’t mind sayin’
It’s a sad sad story when a mother will teach her
Daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger
And how in the world can the words that I said
Send somebody so over the edge
That they’d write me a letter
Sayin’ that I better shut up and sing
Or my life will be over
 
I’m not ready to make nice
I’m not ready to back down
I’m still mad as hell and
I don’t have time to go round and round and round
It’s too late to make it right
I probably wouldn’t if I could
‘Cause I’m mad as hell
Can’t bring myself to do what it is you think I should
 
Forgive, sounds good
Forget, I’m not sure I could
They say time heals everything
But I’m still waiting
 
– The Dixie Chicks