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March 2009

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Since he was sworn-in, President Mills has been holed up at the Castle for weeks – hardly venturing out. Then suddenly, he decides to embark on his first regional tour and where does he go first? The Central Region, his home region.

A few hours before going to the region, he cancelled a scheduled trip to the oil rig at Cape Three Points (which should be one of the most important economic installations in the country). No explanations were offered so I am presuming that he was too busy preparing for his the trip to Cape Coast to bother. Or perhaps, getting acquainted with what goes on at the rig is not much of a priority. After all, it’s just oil! Who cares?
 
In Cape Coast, the chiefs of the Central Region held a durbar in the president’s honour and conferred a special title on him. All this was done in the name of the chiefs and people of the region, including those who didn’t even vote for him. They congratulated him for having “braved the storms of life” – including the rude electoral shock delivered by the region in 2004 – to become the president of the Republic.
 
As they conferred the title of “okunyin” (or great warrior) on the president, the chiefs asked him to do well to solve almost all of their problems – which include a petty grievance over the decision by the Kufuor administration to build a stadium with a capacity of a mere 15,000 in Cape Coast. President Mills promptly promised to look into that. He also expressed his deep appreciation to the people for voting for him in the last election and even confessed that there was a time he felt neglected by his own people.
 
It was a beautiful ceremony which should have warmed the president’s heart a great deal. But the whole spectacle also left with a bitter aftertaste.
 
What happened in Cape Coast over the weekend was a full demonstration of the provincial small-mindedness of the Ghanaian. Too many Ghanaians are afflicted by the pesky habit of thinking first about which part of the country they come from before realising that their tribes do not provide them with passports – or roads and schools and hospitals. Too often, people forget that they are Ghanaians first. It’s nauseating (and scary) to hear or see people so passionately proclaim the superiority of their tribes whiles putting down other ethnic groupings. It is a national malaise that needs urgent treatment. President Mills’ homecoming parade and coronation cannot be part of the prescription.
 
The NDC campaigned in the Central Region by telling the people there that “adze wo fie a, oye” which loosely translates that “it’s good to have a good thing at home”… Essentially, the NDC campaign teams told the people (usually not on public platforms) that they will be better off if the head of state happens to be from their part of the country. The NPP used similar tactics. I heard their vice presidential candidate telling his tribesmen in the north that “if your mother is in the kitchen you’d never go hungry” – which essentially means that when one of your is in charge, you will get almost everything you want.
 
It’s hard to tell whether (or how) such campaign messages influenced people’s voting choices in December. The NPP lost miserably in Bawumia’s home region and the NDC only barely managed to carry the Central Region.
 
Mills victory in the Central Region was key to his victory. We may never be able to accurately determine whether or not the people there voted along tribal lines. But what happened on Saturday seems to suggest that they did and the unspoken message to non-Fantes who watched was that it pays to have one of your own as president of the republic. The event seems to have been organised provide a platform for the chiefs (and the people) of the Central Region to lay a special ‘claim’ to the president and tell him that if  he has gotten what he wanted, he should live up to his side of the bargain.
 
In an election, every vote counts. But I think the votes from the Volta Region helped Mills more than the votes from his home region. The Volta voters overwhelmingly backed Mills and the NDC whiles those in the Central Region were dithering. If there is any appreciation to be offered, it should first have gone to Volta – not Central. Even the voters in the three northern regions seem quite unwavering in their support for the NDC – and Mills. So they should have come before Central. But the president chose Central for his first regional tour because they are ‘his people’ and he felt obliged. And that is wrong. By simply playing along as his people waved the tribal card in what might appear on the surface to be a harmless gesture of a group glorifying its kin, the president gave his ethnic group a carte blanche to lay a special claim to him. This does not auger well for the onerous task of using more than 40 tribes (some weak, some strong) as the basic blocks for building a strong, united nation.
 
I’d rather that the ceremony we saw over the weekend had taken place in Ho or in Tamale. It would have made a greater impact and caused less of a worry – if any at all. The president has to find a way to tell the people of the Central Region that they will not have any more special access to him than any of the people from the other regions will. He should let them know that “adze wo fie a, oye”  was one of those empty statements that are made by politicians to only win votes and that he will be as good to them as he will be to all the other tribes… And I am speaking as a Fante with roots in Elmina. Does that make me a bad Fante? Cool! I’d rather be a bad Fante and a good Ghanaian.  
 
If they feel that “they have arrived” because one of their kin is at the helm of the nation, someone should quickly tell them that they are mistaken. As the latest “great warrior” in town, the president should be the one telling them. If, for any reason, he cannot muster the necessary candour to tell ‘his people’ what they must hear, the least we expect of him is to stop playing along as they indulge themselves in needless tribal aggrandisement.
 

I read the following article on the blog of Mustapha Hamid, who was Nana Akufo-Addo’s spokesman in the run-up to the December polls. I found it very interesting and quite refreshing that an NPP stalwart – no less a person than Mustapha – questions some of the choices former President Kufuor made. He only stops short of saying that Kufuor cost the NPP the election last year. I think he did. This is not a partisan piece, by any measure and I feel it’s a good sign that our democracy is growing. That’s why I decided to share it with visitors to this site… Enjoy >>>

 
“When a country ceases to be merely a country and becomes an empire, then the scale of operations changes dramatically…I speak as a subject of the American empire. I speak as a slave who presumes to criticise her king”. These are the words of Arundhati Roy when she delivered a lecture titled “Instant-Mix Imperial Democracy: Buy One Get One Free” on the 26th of May 2003 in Harlem, New York where she launched a tirade against former President Bush.
 
I want to borrow her words but re-order them to suit my discussion. So I will say, when a man ceases to be an ordinary citizen, and becomes the embodiment of a nation’s hopes, fears and aspirations, then the scale of the operations changes dramatically…I speak as a subject of Ghana and a bona fide member of the New Patriotic Party. I speak as a patriot who presumes to contribute his quota to a raging debate.
 
And the raging debate is the issue with President Kufuor’s self-allocated office or is it bungalow? My understanding is that this bungalow is the one in which the late Hawa Yakubu lived. When I heard about it I exclaimed Wow! This bungalow has a penchant for being the subject of contention. For sometime it was a subject of contention between Hawa Yakubu and Kwadwo Mpiani when the then Chief of Staff wanted Hawa to quit the bungalow because she had over stayed after she was no longer a Minister.
 
Today this same bungalow is the subject of contention between former President Kufuor and the new NDC administration. Apparently, the former President had appropriated it to himself even before he left office. He had predetermined that it was the facility he wanted to use as his offices. If this bungalow was human, we would have called it controversial. As I pondered over the arguments and counter arguments, I began to recall all the controversies that former President Kufuor has been steeped in since he became President of Ghana. After recounting the few that I could remember, one word came to mind-judgment.
 
One of the very important principles that I learnt at the feet of Prof. C.R. Gaba is that “you cannot always do with life what you want to do with it”. Only Allah is capable of boasting that “when he decrees a thing, he only needs to say, be and it is”. As humans we have no such luxury. The Economists call it “opportunity cost”. We have to lose one thing as a result of getting another. This is where the question of judgment occurs. We constantly have to determine for ourselves what we should forgo for what and at what expense.
 
Once we make that judgment and consequently the choice, we must live with the consequences. Our life is always as a result of choices and judgments that we have made in the past. For example whether our marriage is a happy one or not is as a result of the judgment that we made in the past as to which woman we chose to marry. Whether we are struggling through school or not is as a result of the judgment we made as to which course to pursue. One of my favourite quotations from Shakespeare is the one that states that, “there is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads to fortune, omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and misery”.
 
The examples of marriage and choice of course are examples of everyday judgments that ordinary people make. But when it comes to a President or even a former President, “the scale of the operations changes dramatically”. This is because a President’s higher than ordinary status makes the consequences of his judgments enormous. As I stated earlier, a President embodies the fears, hopes and aspirations of the people he leads. He is the commander in chief of the armed forces. If he makes a wrong judgment and pulls the trigger, the lives of millions of citizens will be “bound in shallows and misery”.
 
For me therefore, one of the important qualities a person must possess in order to be President is judgment. And when I say judgment, I mean that he or she must judge correctly most of the time if not all of the time. Otherwise he or she destroys the aspirations and hopes of the people that he or she leads. In the course of former President Kufuor’s tenure he was hit by certain controversies which in the future will be central to the verdict that the jurors give on his tenure as President.
 
Judgment Number 1
 
President Kufuor judged wrongly in allowing his son to buy that hotel. Yes, as a young enterprising Ghanaian, there was nothing wrong with him putting together a consortium of banks to buy a hotel. But this was no ordinary Ghanaian. He is the President’s son. And nobody is deceived that his relationship with the President did not play any part in him obtaining that facility from the banks. At the time that Chief Kufuor bought the hotel, there were a number of more enterprising NPP activists who were striding the stairways of banks looking for ridiculously lower amounts of money to start street corner businesses who did not get a hearing.
 
As for the President’s public declaration that his son worked with PriceWaterHouseCoopers, the least said about it the better. Until the President said that I did not know that place of work is accepted as collateral for anything. It attracted for him and the NPP a lot of opprobrium. What impression did it leave in the minds of Ghanaians? “The President and his family are a cheating, looting lot”. It was bad judgment.
 
Judgment Number 2
 
President Kufuor judged wrongly in not sacking Anane. Again let me state that Anane did not engage in corrupt practice. Indeed the courts said so. But whether or not we like it Ghanaians had come to the conclusion that somehow or the other Anane had used his office in ways that were unethical. And at a time when Ghana’s ranking on the World Corruption Index was low, President Kufuor needed one tough action to signal his commitment to fighting corruption. The Anane case was his opportunity to do so. He lost it and left a rather wrong impression on the minds of Ghanaians that he condoned or indeed supported corruption. Ghana’s ranking on the World Corruption Index further plummeted. His decision not to sack Anane was bad judgment.
 
Judgment Number 3
 
President Kufuor judged wrongly in buying two Presidential Jets in an election year. There is still a pervasive poverty mentality in Ghana. Not just the mentality, but indeed there is pervasive poverty. And in an election year when world oil prices had been unkind to our fragile economy and when a desperate opposition was capitalising on the situation to incite hatred against the government, it was simply bad judgment to order not one, but two Executive Jets.
 
Judgment Number 4
 
President Kufuor’s decision to confer an award, the nation’s highest award on himself was bad judgment. It is simply not done. All the time former presidents wait for their successors to come after them to give them awards for their services to the nation. Indeed no one ever marks his own script. But not President Kufuor. He determined that he had done well and proceeded to confer an award on himself. The majority of Ghanaians were appalled. It left only one impression on the minds of Ghanaians: President Kufuor is a self-serving, self-aggrandising president. It was bad judgment.
 
Judgment Number 5
 
President Kufuor’s decision to appoint his own advisor to determine his ex-gratia together with others known as article 71 office holders was bad judgment. The public simply saw it as a “scratch my back, I scratch your back” kind of deal. Was it surprising therefore that the product of that process outraged Ghanaians? It is simply not done. I am sure if some other person had chaired that committee other than Chinery Hesse but came out with the same result, the response from the public would have been different. It was bad judgment.
 
Judgment Number 6
 
When Kufuor was President of Ghana, he deserved all the protection that Ghana could muster. Indeed the constitution decrees that the President of the nation takes precedent over every other citizen. So the President bought three BMW cars with one armoured plated for his protection. This was not just good judgment, but it was absolutely necessary and crucial. But it was bad judgment to have gone home with the cars. There can only be one President at a time. Today, the President is Atta Mills. It is only common- sensical a car meant for the protection of a President is used for the protection of Atta Mills and Atta Mills only. Logically, the state security apparatus had to go after him to collect them for the President of Ghana. Period!
 
Judgment Number 7
 
President Kufuor’s decision not to wait for the new NDC administration to implement his ex-gratia and his decision to appropriate a government bungalow to himself which he has started using as his office is bad judgment. Then we are told that he wrote to the government asking to be allowed to use the facility as his office. But to have gone ahead to start using the office without waiting for the government’s response was bad judgment.
 
Considering the fact that the Kufuor administration had attracted a lot of opprobrium for itself for selling government bungalows to its functionaries, it was bad enough that the president himself is seen to have appropriated one for himself. At least the former president could have found space in his wife’s Mother and Child Foundation office in the mean time or better still rented some temporary place. Perhaps President Mills could have later decided that the house should reimburse him with the cost of the rented office. It was bad judgment.
 
The point I have been trying to make by these illustrations is that “there is a way that seems right unto men, but the thereof is bad”. In all these cases that I have illustrated former President Kufuor did nothing wrong, at least in legal terms. But the fact that all these judgments attracted a lot of opprobrium shows how bad those decisions were, judgmentally. It is part of presidential character to have good judgment. Unfortunately former President Kufuor did not have a lot of it.    
 
 

Someone wrote the following about me (and to me). It was published on myjoyonline.com yesterday. Since it’s about me I asked him for permission to put it up here and he consented…   

I have been reading a lot of articles from Ato Kwamena Dadzie for quiet some time. First of all let me commend all frequent web bloggers for the good work in taking time to write in order to inform and educate Ghanaians both at home and abroad on pertinent issues bordering on national developments. Also I think all our web media centres are doing a great job as well. Kudos. 
 
I must mention that people like Ato Kwamena Dadzie have a strong role to play in the national development agenda of Ghana. Whether you love or hate Ato you will still like to read his articles. A bit like Jose Mourinho isn’t it? He has a peculiar style. The boldness to write and take on anyone irrespective of their position is worth noting. I am a believer of freedom of speech but I sincerely believe that this must be done in a very civil way without resorting to any form of sarcasm and rudeness.  
 
The first article I read about Ato was when he wrote an article about Archbishop Nicholas Duncan Williams (The Archbishop does it Again). The way Ato lambasted the Archbishop was very disturbing. I took the pains to cross check some of the opinions raised by Ato but found them to be false. 
 
During the days of President Kufour and the NPP, Ato continued to cast insinuations at the former President and some of his officials. This has certainly continued to the tenure of His Excellency President J.E.A. Mills. The words with which Ato describe some past leaders like former President Rawlings amongst other leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Personally I don’t have a problem with asking insightful questions and probing corrupt practices and judgements by public officials after all that is the main reason why we all write. However, the way and manner it is done is very important. 
 
Ato, I read your article titled ‘Stumbling, fumbling and rambling’ in which you really castigated President Mills. In fact I felt so sorry for the President. You wrote: ‘’He had the written oaths in his hand. All he had to do was to follow the lead of the Chief Justice and read out the words, inserting his name where appropriate… We don’t know exactly why. Some say the president’s auditory canals need as much desilting as the Korle Lagoon. …But I thought that was why the oaths were written out for him. The idea was for him to look at the damn booklet and just read’’. Unfortunately, Mr. President didn’t have his reading glasses on. The pair he wore are like mine – they only help you to see farther. Therefore, the president was very seriously handicapped – in his ears and in his eyes – as he took his oaths of office. As a result, he resorted to mumbling words which were not supposed to be in the script’’. Ato, I would like you to reflect on this quote of yours for a few days or hours. Check if this remark was made about an elder in your family how will you feel. I have to say a leader with rhetoric prowess is good but that is not a guarantee for national development. 
 
Ato I think we don’t have to take the press liberalisation for granted and use it to attack people’s personal disabilities. We all know President Mills’ has eyes problems and this should not be used to attack him should he make a reading mistake. We are in Africa, and in Ghana for that matter, where respect for age underlines and moderates our culture. Ato, liberalisation comes with responsibilities. I remember you mentioned Kweku Sekyi-Addo as a mentor. Certainly, I know Kweku and I sincerely believe he will not toe this line. I can go on to show numerous lines you have done which deviates from a more honourable professional journalistic best practice that is if you would like to be taken seriously. Please add a bit maturity to your sense of humour and journalism and I believe you can go very far if you do so. Remember the child that washes his hands well can dine with adults. Ato I agree with most of the points you raise sometimes but not the tone and manner in which you express them. I hope you also read the feedback people leave on your articles and would realise they will be saying the same thing. Your tone! Your choice of words and expressions! 
 
Your colleagues like Anas Anas have set a good standard in Ghana, risking their lives for the right reasons and I think people like your good self can contribute to that positively by reporting things the way they are without degrading our good morale ethics in the Ghanaian society. We don’t have to copy anything we see from the West, let’s be selective in our quest for supremacy. Even in the west where they have enjoyed press freedom for a very long time, journalists and social commentators hardly become so overly personal in expression except in comic relief shows. I not saying be timid or don’t say it as it is or choose who write about, I believe you have your style and would like to maintain it but be very circumspect in your choice of words and expression some of which is not good for private consumption let alone for the public to digest.
 
A lot of people are reading including children and journalism students. Who knows how many people you will be inspiring wrongly to start castigating people at will just as their mentor Ato is doing. 
 
Sir, you would realise that I have made my point to you objectively as my name goes without insulting your personality or physical outlook. I think you will be a great asset to modern day journalism if you cut down on the excesses and youthfulness exuberance that drives your write ups. I think if you want people to take you seriously when you write and would not think you are trying to crack jokes or have a go at peoples’ genuine disabilities you have to take this advice seriously. As an old saint, twin-city and Fantse brother I hope this advice helps. The wise always heeds to the right advice. 
 
Please forgive if you find any of this advice offensive. I hope you take kindly to this advice without hitting back in your own style. Anyway I would certainly love to hear from you. Thank you very much from a concerned brother.
 
Kweku Objective
Ato’s response: Thanks for writing, ‘Mr. Objective’. I always say that if you feel that what I’ve written contravenes any law, take me to court. It’s as simple as that.
If we take former president John Kufuor to one of those ‘aladura’ churches, one of the first demons they will cast out of him will be the demon which made him place his luxury and comfort above the basic needs of the people he governed. It is this demon that made him decide that it was more prudent for him to spend millions of dollars to build a presidential mansion when that money could have been used to renovate and equip the most important health facility in the country.
 
Just imagine what 60 million dollars would have done for the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital. Pregnant and lactating mothers wouldn’t be lying on the bare floors. Husbands wouldn’t be forced to carry their pregnant wives to climb stairs because of malfunctioning lifts. All the regular announcements we often hear about the closure of the emergency ward would be a thing of the past. There will be no need for footballers who get injured on pitches in Ghana to travel to Togo to have their bones scanned. Our politicians wouldn’t have to go and die in Johannesburg or London – usually after a short illness.
 
If Kufuor bribes me with his head and ‘nuts’, he still cannot convince me that building that presidential mansion was one of the wisest decisions he ever took. It was a big mistake. In all my foolishness, I would never have taken that decision if I were president – not when school children study under trees and our hospitals lack basic sterilisers.  
 
That mansion is an obscene and insulting reminder of Kufuor’s profligate vanity. So vain was he that he decided to ‘commission’ the project even when it had not been fully completed. He didn’t want to share any of the ‘credit’ for building what he considered a glorious edifice. And he so badly wanted to be the first person to use it. Blame it on the demons…  
 
When Kufuor decided to build the mansion, several Ghanaians criticised him with varying degrees of vehemence. Amongst the most outspoken critics of the project was the then leader of the main opposition, John Atta Mills – who is now president of the Republic. In the run up to the elections, Mills was asked if he would ever stay and work in that opulent palace after he had heaped so much ‘dungified’ criticism on it. He often responded that he would have little choice than to move into it because it was the taxpayers’ money which was used to build it.
 
Shortly after he won the election, Mills visited Kufuor at the presidential palace. Kufuor took him on a tour of the facility, thinking that Mills would be so anxious to move in. He was wrong.
 
Since he was sworn in, Mills has not shown any interest in moving into the mansion. He seems quite comfortable in the “slave castle” Kufuor told us was not fit for human – much less presidential – habitation. And, now, it seems Kufuor raised a ‘white elephant’ – every pun intended! If you thought Ghanaians chased the ‘elephants’ into the bush think again: there is one big white one in Accra.
 
Mills has every good reason to stay away from the palace.
 
First of all, the presidential mansion is still work in progress. It was officially declared open just to satisfy Kufuor’s vanity. It’s true that some of the facilities there are ready for use. If President Mills decides to move in, considering his world-acclaimed modesty, he’d get a place to lay his head (which always needs a good night’s rest after a hard day of incessant swinging). He’d also get a modern, fully-fitted office – complete with video-conferencing facilities – to work from. But the fact still remains that an estimated 12 million dollars (according to NDC kingpins) is required to bring the project to full completion. Government officials say it is not wise for the president (however modest and spendthrift he considers himself to be) to move into an uncompleted building. And with the economy in such dire straits, he’s not ready to sign a cheque for 12 million dollars to bring Kufuor’s vanity to fruition. He’d rather sleep on a carpenter’s bench and run the government from his wife’s kitchen.  
 
Most significantly, President Mills has no immediate intention of moving into the mansion because he’s confronted with a very serious dilemma, which if not handled properly could cost him some political capital. If he moves into the palace today, the NPP supporters who defended the crass decision to build the mansion will taunt him for using a facility he so severely condemned as needlessly extravagant.
 
It’s a daunting dilemma, indeed. But the only one way out is for President Mills to move in – and soon. He cannot spend the taxpayers’ money to make the Castle fit for presidential habitation whiles the presidential palace stands idle.
 
If Kufuor managed to get a donation from a certain farmer to refurbish his private residence, Mills should be able to get some of his generous buddies to contribute to this wasteful venture without necessarily spending the taxpayers’ money. Maybe he should go to India and tell the government there to come and complete what they started with Kufuor. Whatever the case may be, there is a groundswell of opinion that President Mills should swallow his pride and move into the mansion. I think he should. Otherwise, 60 million dollars will go waste. Ghanaians will blame the bulk of that wastage on Kufuor but Mills will not be forgiven if he allows the facility to rot away.
 
Should the president, however, opt to stick to his guns and avoid the Flagstaff House at all costs, he should come up with some creative, alternative use(s) for the facility – just so it doesn’t go waste. For example, we could rent the mansion out to be used as a four-star hotel so that any Ghanaian who feels up to it can go there for a presidential treat.
 
The facility could also be used as offices for some state agencies. How about moving the waste management department of the AMA there? We could even rent out a part of it to Zoomlion.
 
We could also decide to convert the whole facility into an ultra-modern health facility. I suppose a few architectural tweaks will turn it into one of the most modern healing centres on the African continent. When that is done, the president wouldn’t need to travel all the way to South Africa for whatever he goes there to be treated for. If that place becomes a hospital, I will gladly fall sick every day.
 
The president might also consider turning it into a prayer camp. I am sure it will encourage T. B. Joshua to pass by more often. I can see a lot of miracles coming out of that place.
 
Finally, since we are having such a hard time deciding where Kufuor should have his ex-presidential offices, how about offering him a few rooms in the palace for a start? After all he built it. We may also want to move Rawlings’ offices there. And when Mills leaves office, we’d get him an office there as well. Before long, the facility, which was originally meant to be the presidential palace would become an ex-presidential asylum where all our former leaders will be helped to get over the withdrawal symptoms suffer after getting out of power. Let’s start with Kufuor. He would be more than happy to move into the mansion his demons made him build.

The verdict is unanimous. From my count, most of those who visit this site are in no mood to welcome any “guest bloggers”. Last Monday, I introduced one of such guests and few thought it was a brilliant idea. Most others thought it was nothing but a stupid move. So far, only two people have shown interest in being guest bloggers and they’ve sent me articles. Sadly, I can’t publish them because that’s not what visitors to this site want.

Quite a good number of the comments to the first guest blogger article indicated that the idea doesn’t sit well with visitors.
“Publishing article from (other) people will not help you,” Dela-Fills wrote.
 
“I love your articles because they are not usually one sided,” Lina says. “If you decide to publish such articles some of us will lose interest.”
 
I’ve received several other emails expressing similar sentiments.
As I am a confirmed populist, I have decided to go with the overwhelming popular opinion and trash the guest blogger idea.
 
The idea is not bad in itself.
 
I thought about it for a while and discussed with few in my ‘inner sanctum’. But none of us imagined that it would be so overwhelmingly rejected. I’ve considered all the pros and cons and I’ve come to the conclusion that I won’t lose much if it’s completely abandoned. And that’s exactly what I’ve decided to do – in a sudden burst of populist fervour.
 
 
Thanks to all who helped me come to this decision.

Northern Regional Minister, Samuel Nayina, quite rightly, is determined to take away the illegal weapons in circulation in that part of the country. But, quite frankly, he is using the wrong approach. Shortly after assuming office, he gave the people a 30-day ultimatum to voluntarily surrender their illegal weapons.

“One month from today, surrender all guns in your possession and thereafter, we would hunt for the guns ourselves,” he said. “There would be no limited period for the hunt.”
 
No one paid him any heed. Not even a single crooked AK-47 rifle was handed in. Few are surprised.
 
You see, the people of the northern Ghana love their guns. Without the weapons they feel vulnerable and powerless. Having a gun or two means you have power and influence. Those without weapons don’t often get the justice they deserve. In an area where common sense appears to have taken a long (indefinite) vacation and intra-tribal enmity easily provides an excuse for landlords to evict their tenants you need all the protection you can get. In the Northern Region, an AK-47 offers the protection most people can’t get from either the police or the justice system.
 
Ordering them to hand in their weapons, therefore, is worse than asking them to give up the roofs which cover their heads. Only a fool will do that. That’s why when the regional minister issued his 30-day ultimatum, I concluded – without pondering for more than sixty seconds – that it wouldn’t yield much. Sadly, I’ve been vindicated. But I am not gloating. I am rather saddened that Mr. Nayina and the Northern Regional Security Council have taken another false step which will not take us any closer to resolving the senseless conflict in Dagbon.  
 
I was expecting that after the failure of his ultimatum, Mr. Nayina would proceed to do what he said he would do if the people failed to hand-in their weapons after 30 days – “hunt for the guns”.
 
When he spoke about 30 days ago, Mr. Nayina talked tough. Regrettably, it seems, he was only blowing needless hot air. Instead of the “hunt” he threatened, he’s literally offering to buy back the weapons. Anyone who hands in a weapon gets a cool GHC300. You might say that the hunt is actually on and the money is only meant to be the bait. But I am not so sure. Enticing people with money to surrender weapons they have acquired illegally, especially in northern Ghana, is one of the dumbest things I ever heard.
 
These people hold on to their weapons because they feel their very existence depends on them. Give them a pot of gold for each weapon they hand in and they will only turn around to buy more AK-47s. They are not keeping their weapons because they need money.
 
In any case, GHC300 is peanuts, considering the amounts of money some of them save over a long period to be able to acquire their guns. Recently, I heard the story of a poor man who approached a police officer and offered to buy his (officer’s) gun and cartridges. I know he’s poor because he told the officer that he could only pay in installments. Just when the transaction was about to be concluded, he was arrested and he is being prosecuted. He is in the grips of the law because he spoke to an honest officer. If he had spoken to a rogue police man he would have bought an AK-47 for GHC500. For a man like this, so desperate that he would ask a police officer (of all people!) to sell him a gun, no cash reward is sufficient motivation cause him to hand in his weapon.
 
Others who didn’t spend their own money to buy weapons but were rather supplied by “warlords” wouldn’t dare give up what their masters have given them to work with – that is wreak havoc, spread fear and torment people.
 
The ‘cash for guns’ initiative is not a novel concept. It’s been tried elsewhere. The fact is that it hardly works. There is a chance of a marginal success in areas where the flames of conflict have been completely extinguished and the combatants are beginning to learn to live at peace with each other. Dagbon – and the whole of the northern Ghana – is no such place. No amount of persuasion will get the people to surrender the weapons they hold so dear. The best we can expect is for a few dozen old, rusty and faulty guns to be handed in for wads of cash.
 
At this stage, it is very clear that persuasion has failed. And what do they say about “when persuasion fails”? I don’t think it’s “give ‘em cash”. Yes, when persuasion fails, the coercive powers of the state must be applied. I thought that what Mr. Nayina meant when he threatened to order a “hunt” for the weapons. He seems to have backtracked and this sends a very bad signal that the political authorities are powerless and at their wits’ end.
 
Instead of buying back the guns, Mr. Nayina will be best advised to stick to the original plan. A concerted operation should be mounted by all the security agencies to seize as many of the illicit weapons as they can lay their hands on. A sudden dawn raid will help retrieve more weapons than the ‘guns for cash’ initiative. But that will only be scratching the surface of the problem.
 
As I wrote a few weeks back, the whole nation has to make it clear to the people of Dagbon that we’ve had enough of their nonsense and it is in their best interest to stop slitting throats and pulling the trigger at the least provocation. The war between the Abudus and Andanis makes sense only to them. It doesn’t make sense to most of Ghana and it has made them a laughing stock. The earlier they sit down as brethren to resolve their differences the better.
 
Secondly, it is most important that conditions are created to reduce the peoples’ dependence on guns for power, security, justice and influence. This means removing the political shield that covers and emboldens certain people to commit crimes with impunity. So far, the rhetoric from the government has been very good – that no criminals will be protected by virtue of their political affiliation. But words alone are not enough.
 
The last time fighting broke out in Gushiegu, for example, the district chief executive was openly pointed out as one of those who instigated violence. That man is still walking free and no one has bothered to investigate the allegations against him. In a case like this, those who pointed fingers at him fear for their lives. GHC300 will not encourage them to hand in their weapons that make them feel safe. The accused has also become a target and for his own protection, he will want to keep a few guns strapped around him everywhere he goes. He won’t give up his guns.
 
What’s happening in the north is a very complex problem, indeed. There are no easy solutions. ‘Guns for cash’ is too much of an easy solution and I shudder to say that it won’t work.

From today, I intend to publish the writings of one or two “guest bloggers” every week. If you are interested in being a guest blogger, send me an email through ato@atokd.com. Today, Clement Appah, who is studying at the University of Lancaster, starts us off by writing about President Mills’ rather uncharacteristic outbursts last Tuesday. He describes it as a “blunder” and urges the president to never do it again…

 

Dear Prof. Mills,

I think you got it all wrong. What were you talking about? Who is usurping your power? Why did you threaten Ghanaians? Who, in particular, were you referring to?

We fought for and decided on living in a country where we will be free to assemble and free to make our views known. THAT SHOULD NEVER BE LOST ON YOU, Mr President.

I have been very much ashamed of some of the issues that have occupied the Government since they came into office. I used to talk to my supervisor about Ghana with Pride. Now I purposely decide not to mention Ghana when we meet because of the pettiness that has characterised the activities of functionaries of the Government. Why the morbid fascination with putting the former president on the spot all the time? Why is it that everybody from your office, Mr President, has something different to say about what should be given to the former president (Office space, car, etc)? In my view, these are some of the things that have kept the tension simmering in the country.

I have also been worried because it appears, Mr President, that by your silence over the Kufour-benefit and by allowing everyone in your government who can talk to come on air to say what s/he thinks about things relating to Mr. Kufour, you are perpetuating a situation that we were hoping will end. I mean the situation where Mr. Kufour and Mr. Rawlings were not on good terms.

One more thing that has kept me worried for some time now is the rate at which respect for the aged is eroding in our country. I really wonder if Mr Kufour were not the former president and had remained a private person any of those people – Government functionaries and others – would have been able to stand and virtually insult him, the way they do now. I think, a seventy year old man should deserve our respect. But, what do we see? People who could pass for his (grand) children, in the name of politics, say anything they want about him and to him on air. Mr. President, you have not found it necessary to call your men and the whole nation to order.

Don’t you realize, President Atta Mills that Mr Kufour’s silence over the past two months is an invitation for you to call for sanity in the discussion of issues relating to the former president? Don’t you realize, J. E. Atta Mills that it is in your own interest to uphold the honour of the office of the former president? Do I have to say that on these matters I have been disappointed by your deafening silence Mr. President?

Now, with all that has gone on, I doubt if the window of opportunity offered us by providence to have a sitting and former president live peaceably is not fast closing.

The first assignment for the Council of State, in my opinion, is not the review of the Chinenry Hesse Committee report on emolument for former office holders. Their first assignment, as I see it, is a review of the way things concerning the office of the former president are handled on radio. We need to have some sanity in the relationship between our former and sitting presidents

With all the things I have noted above that are causing me and, I believe, a great many others, untold shame and worry, the least I expected, Mr. President, was a threat from you.
Who is threatening you? Who is attempting to usurp your authority? Did you have to remind us that you are the president of Ghana?

If by threatening us, Mr. President, you hoped to prove that you are powerful, then you have failed miserably. This is a blunder that, in my opinion, should not EVER happen again. We know who is in power. You won the election in December 2008. We are aware of that and need not be reminded of it.
When people are worried about anything and they talk, the least we expect from you Mr. President, is to make them aware that you will take care of their concerns.

I will not want to talk about what the Minority in Parliament complained about. They did not say anything new. It is true that they (the minority) should take some of the blame for some of the issues they raised in their press conference and I did not quite agree with their saying that they will advice themselves. But, the truth is they are no longer in power; you are. They no longer control the security forces; you do. So, please understand that you were not voted into power to tell us how you can deal with those who make their views known. I suggest that you were voted into power to address the concerns/problems of those who will have the temerity to make their views known to you. And even more, to listen for the unspoken heart-felt needs of those who would not/cannot so much as lift their voices to express their views.

Mr. President, did you realise that the journalist there in the Castle clapped for you when you spoke? I heard them clap. I want to suggest to you that you were so much out of character that they felt you were acting. I want to suggest that, as a nation, we want to be assured that we will not have to endure any more of the aberration in character that occurred on Tuesday, 17th March 2009.

I will end here and hope the Council of State will do what they have to do on this matter.

Yours Sincerely
A Worried Ghanaian

Today, I saw the most horrific pictures I’ve ever set eyes on. They are images of young, vibrant men and women who are hanging on to dear life after being caught in a huge ball of fire at the Winneba Junction. A gas tanker collided with a salon car, leaving a trail of death, excruciating pain and unimaginable trauma.

Eleven people died instantly – mostly people who were just strolling around. The pictures I saw (taken by my friend and colleague, Yaa Asamoah) are of those who barely survived the accident. They are being treated at the Korle Bu Teaching hospital. Sadly, the prognosis is not good. And it wrenches my heart.
 
Sadly, this may not be the last horrific accident we see on this particular stretch of road at the Winneba Junction. About one or two accidents occur here every week.
 
Obviously, there is a problem. Sadly, no one seems to have a solution and lives are being lost at such an alarming rate.
 
It’s just not right!  

President Atta Mills is a very angry man. Someone has gotten in his nerves and it is so serious that when he met with the executive of the Ghana Journalists Association he made no attempt to conceal his anger. His voice was shriller than usual (almost to the point of squealing), his head was swinging like a pendulum – as usual – and he was quite hyperactive with his gesticulations.

The President made point of emphasising that he’s the man in charge and he made it clear that he will “apply the law to the letter” to hold (former) public office holders to account and punish those who foment trouble in the country. At the end of his presentation, it was clear that he was very annoyed and he was issuing a stern warning to someone or some people. The question is: who was he speaking to or about? Certainly, it wasn’t the journalists who were seated in front of him. The president was loud in his presentation but his message wasn’t clear enough. It was laden with hidden meanings.
 
Castle press secretary, Mahama Ayariga, tried to offer some clarification by saying that the president was speaking to the members of the opposition. According to Ayariga, recent pronouncements by the NPP minority in parliament seemed to suggest a certain “resistance” to the authority of the president. He says a sentiment as simple and harmless as “we will advise ourselves” undermines the power of the president. I think it doesn’t. Under Kufuor, Rawlings called for “positive defiance” and warned of an impending “boom”. Then his remarks scared the hell out of Kufuor. They also seemed quite treasonous. But Kufuor didn’t come out to speak with as much impassioned anger as President Mills did on Tuesday.  
 
In his entire speech to the GJA executive President Mills’ had only one message for the NPP opposition: you have a lot of questions to answer, so prepare for what’s coming.
 
“Where public officers have to account for their stewardship, I will support any legal measures to make sure that the accounting is properly done,” he said. “If one wants information so as to be able to present it to the people that, in my view, is not harassment.”
 
This is clearly in reference to the decision by the former chief of staff, Kwadwo Mpiani to pull out of the transitional talks on the grounds that the NDC side had turned the whole process into an “inquisitorial venture”. With the process over, the president seems to be preparing the grounds for the real inquisition, which might just be a few weeks away.
 
“We have just finished the transition; a report has been sent to me,” he said. “I want to make sure that we study this report and that in doing so one is objective, one is transparent and one is impartial. Once this has been done, the law must take its course. I am not going to witch-hunt anybody.”
 
Apart from telling the NPP and members of the previous administration to prepare for what’s coming, I get the sense that much of President Mills impassioned outpouring was directed at members of his own party and one man in particular – Jerry Rawlings. Since Mills was sworn in Rawlings has been most outspoken, expression his displeasure with how “slow” the new president has been. At one point, he said even though the NDC had won power, the NPP was still in control. This was after President Mills had very wisely asked District Chief Executives – who had been appointed by Kufuor – to stay in office for a little while until he had settled in. Behaving like a spoilt brat, Rawlings also decided to go around town ‘visiting’ vital installations to assess the state of affairs for himself. He even went to the airport to take photographs in restricted zones, with his aides claiming that he was gathering information – just in case the new president came to him for advice.
 
On the other hand the leading opposition figures – John Kufuor and Nana Akufo-Addo – seem to have taken a couple of chill pills each. Kufuor has been busy renovating his new offices and trying to keep BMWs which do not belong to him. Nana Addo has just returned from vacation. Neither of them has been behaving like a president or talking like one – at least not publicly. Rawlings has been throwing himself about like an authority figure, needlessly breathing down the neck of the sitting president.
 
For me, therefore, when President Mills says “there is only one president in this country”, I feel he’s speaking more to Rawlings than anyone else. “The people of Ghana spoke and we accepted the verdict,” he said. “They installed a government in this country. They did not install number one government and number two government.”
I think most members of the NPP (more especially Kufuor and Nana Addo) have resigned themselves to the fact that they are no longer in government and they have been adjusting quite well to life in opposition. Rawlings, however, seems to think that he can use the Mills tenure to plaster his footprints on the governance of the country once again. Rawlings fails to realise that President Mills’ wants (and needs) to be his own man and his seeming slow pace, is not, in his words, a mark of “weakness, timidity or unwillingness or inability to enforce the law.”
 
As shrewd as he is, I think, President Mills decided to couch his message as if it was directed at the opposition when, indeed, it was aimed at people closer to him. He must be hoping that those concerned will get the message and stop breathing down his neck and leave him to run the country the way he wants.
 
He says he’d welcome “healthy criticism” (that sounds like music to my ears) but he would not tolerate any overbearing posturing that seem to suggest that this vessel called Ghana has more than one captain. If Rawlings, gets the message (as I expect him to) he will not be happy. As the president said, Rawlings “may not be happy that Atta Mills is the president [being his own man]… but that is the fact.” The vast majority of Ghanaians are living with this fact and wishing that something good comes out of it. Rawlings appears to be one of the few who have not adjusted to this fact and the President Mills is not happy with that. A public demonstration of anger might be completely out of character but he has made his point. He needed to.  
 

The MP for Akyem Abuakwa South, Samuel Atta Akyea seems to be quite adept at making enemies for himself. He drew the whole nation’s ire when at the height of the electoral tensions he went to the court on a holiday to try and file a writ to stop the Electoral Commission from declaring the results of the presidential elections last December. If the judge had not wisely thrown him out, the stories from the elections wouldn’t have been entirely blood-free.

Shamed, Atta Akyea retreated to join his NPP colleagues to lick their wounds from a closely-fought electoral contest, which they lost by the whiskers. As he licked his wounds, Atta Akyea must have known that all was not lost: his party had lost power but, fortunately for him, his political career was just about starting.
 
And what a start it has been?
 
In parliament, the ‘freshers’ are often consigned to the back-benches, with the unspoken edict to just sit back, watch and learn from the ‘front-benchers’. So far, Atta Akyea has proven himself to be a different breed of ‘fresher’.
 
As a member of the appointments committee of parliament, Atta-Akyea, has demonstrated a knack for stepping into the spotlight – something first-time MPs rarely do. As nominee after nominee appeared before the committee, Atta Akyea has literally tormented a good number of them with his searing questions and what many might consider to be his abrasive posturing.
 
Unhappy about the way he’s made some of the nominees twitch and stutter, a good number of the ruling party’s followers are angry with Atta-Akyea. Some say he’s “too known” and others accuse him of using the nomination hearings to build his political profile.
Following his heated exchanges with deputy finance minister-designate, Fiifi Kwetey, a group within the NDC (Forum for Setting the Records Straight) has gone as far as demanding that Atta Akyea should be kicked off the appointments committee.
 
They accuse Atta Akyea of making “unfounded allegations” against Mr. Kwetey (who, incidentally, used to be in charge of the Forum for Setting the Records Straight). The group insists that Mr. Atta-Akyea has brought the name of parliament into “disrepute”.
 
“We believe that Attah Akyea’s removal would restore some modicum of respectability and credibility to the august house,” the spokesman for the group, Mohammed Nurudeen, said at a news conference in Accra. 
 
I can understand why Mr. Nurudeen feels the way he does about the Abuakwa South MP. But his insistence that the MP should be withdrawn from the appointments committee is mere political gimmickry.
 
To begin with, committee members in parliament can only be withdrawn if they breach rules and procedures and/or engage in violent acts. Asking probing questions doesn’t exactly pass for breaching procedure and so far Atta Akyea has rained punches on anyone (like Rawlings did to Arkaah). The gentleman is only doing his job – and so far he’s been darn good at it.
 
The NDC Forum for Setting the Records Straight (whose leader, Fifi Kwetey, appears to have twisted a few records: did the gold reserve disappear?) will want us to believe that with his conduct at the appointments committee, Mr. Atta-Akyea is “not contributing to the development of “a better Ghana.” I beg to differ. Our democracy will not grow without people like Mr. Atta Akyea. He will not always get it right and he might just be doing it to score some “cheap political points”. But he is not in any way detracting from the effort at building a “better Ghana”. He is contributing his due. At the very least, he has re-written the rule book for first-time MPs. He has also struck shock and awe in some of the majority MPs and that, in itself, is a very good thing. The majority will most definitely have its way but with the likes of Atta Akyea around, it will not always be an easy way for them.
 
I’ve heard the accusation that Atta Akyea has something “personal” against someone like Fifi Kwetey. He doesn’t. Similar accusations were leveled against him when he grilled Betty Mould-Iddrisu about her litigation experience. Truth be told, I have a very soft spot for the Attorney General. When Atta-Akyea descended on her during her nomination hearing, I didn’t particularly like it. But he was only doing his job. Fortunately, Mrs. Mould-Iddrisu acquitted herself very well and gave Atta-Akyea a good run for his money, even though she seemed ruffled at some point. It never crossed my mind that he had something “personal” against Mrs. Mould-Iddrisu. In fact, that sort of grilling helped bring the best out of her. That’s what opponents are for: they bring out the best in us.
 
If what Atta Akyea does in parliament brings out the best in government and he doesn’t care two hoots about the enemies he’d make along the way, then he has earned my respect. I can only wish him a long and successful parliamentary career.