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May 2009

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In my last days in journalism school a man I admire so much came to my class and delivered what may be described as a motivational speech. His message was simple: “shake the basket”. I will never forget that day and that phrase. When the speech ended, I pondered how I could go out into the real world and “shake the basket” as the class had been entreated.

The guy who delivered the speech was – and still is – at the top of his game. I knew that I could do all the basket shaking I could but I would never dislodge him and gain the recognition he had. So I decided to stay in my small corner and do my job to the best of my ability, one day at a time. 
That was almost ten years ago. Today, I work in the same company as that guy who delivered that motivational speech – Kwaku Sakyi Addo. He does all the big interviews and asks all the right questions. If you think you have “arrived” and Kwaku has not interviewed you, I’m afraid you still have a very long way to go. Above all else, Kwaku is a master story teller – he doesn’t confuse, he doesn’t fuddle and he doesn’t tinker with facts and figures.
Kwaku Sakyi-Addo is the best journalist this country has ever had. Yet, he has his enemies. I have heard people say some pretty awful things about him. Come to think of it, Kwaku doesn’t actively seek trouble for himself. He’s opinionated but he often keeps his opinions to himself. He stays the professional course and hardly ever causes offence. Yet, many are those who hate Kwaku’s guts.
Contrast Kwaku’s career and professionalism with mine. I have opinions – very strong ones – and I don’t make any attempt to keep them to myself. Every day, I actively seem to seek out enemies for myself by criticising everyone and anyone – from the mighty to the lowly. I have been told that I talk on radio as if I was having a chat with my buddies in a beer bar. That is to say that I talk “by heart” on radio. Others say I trivialise important issues. I have been described as “uncultured”, “disrespectful”, “arrogant”, “too pessimistic” and “jealous”. Others say I am “biased” and “ignorant”.
Forgive me for being so presumptive, but when the president urges the “doom mongers to pipe down”, I take it that he is referring to people like me. I have been told that if I persist in my ways, I will never get to wine and dine with the high and mighty, I will never get an opportunity to travel with the president and I will not be “connected”. I have been threatened that if I don’t change I might die (an unnatural death) young and poor.
Some people take great delight in taunting me about my looks. They say I am  too ugly (and I won’t contest that) and this, apparently, takes away my right to talk and express my opinions in any way I deem fit.
I am very much aware of all the things people say about me. The last few weeks have been particularly nasty. But I’m unfazed. I take consolation in the fact that even the great Kwaku Sakyi-Addo has his enemies and there are people who think he’s not good enough. If Kwaku has enemies, don’t you think I deserve to have a lot of them, judging by what I do and how I do it?
I am also unfazed because I know that most of the threats I’ve had come from a few misguided bigots and some underlings eager to please their masters. I have no doubt in my mind that majority of right-thinking Ghanaians – even those who do not like what I do – will not hide behind secret phone numbers to threaten me.
I am also unfazed because I know that – whether I am right or wrong – I don’t need affirmation from any ‘big man’. I work to put bread on my table. I don’t go begging anyone for food or water or money. So my conscience is clear. I am nobody’s chorister and I am not in this job to sing people’s praises. It is not my job to make the so-called “big men” feel good about themselves. If I have opinions, I will express them and damn the consequences. If I believe a “big man” has acted foolishly I will say it – and laugh about it… with my “annoying” laughter, of course. My head is too big already and I can’t make it a warehouse for unexpressed opinions – it will only grow bigger. I can’t deal with that.
If you think I am arrogant, maybe I am. There is absolutely nothing you can do about it. The good news, though, is that I can’t force you to read my articles or listen to me on radio. You have a choice. Exercise it!
People who write on the comments sections of the various websites on which my articles appear often refer to how ugly I am. It’s almost becoming a regular mantra and I feel it’s some sort of psychological warfare that’s being waged against me. Some people think that by making derogatory remarks about my looks, I will be forced to back down. For God’s sake, I am 31 years old. People have been calling me “ugly” since I turned two. If it didn’t break me then, it won’t break me now.
I know that I was either created in a hurry or I was in a rush to get off God’s conveyor belt. If you think I am too ugly to appear on your TV set, switch it off when you see me on it. Better yet, take the damn set and smash it! If you think I am not good-looking enough to talk to you, just don’t listen to what I say and don’t read what I write.
If you feel libelled or defamed by the things I say (or write) take me to court. I will state my case, you will state yours and if the judge feels I’m an “albatross”, she will have me imprisoned. I will go in and serve my term. If I don’t die inside, I will come out and write a book!
If, on the other hand, you feel I don’t deserve a hearing and you want to make yourself judge and jury, I can’t stop you. Go ahead. Shoot me dead – if that will make you happy! Ram a truck into my car. Or set my house on fire. The choice is yours. Just don’t get caught. I am getting sick and tired of people hiding behind ‘withheld’ numbers, calling and threatening me. Just go ahead and do as you wish. Just stop wasting my ears. The bottom line is that, as Fred Addae said, “I don’t fear hu”.
 

>>> First published in October 2008

After sojourning abroad for well over 15 years, a young man returns to Ghana for a holiday. It’s Christmas – the season of giving – and he came along with a lot of goodies for a dear, old family friend and her household.

After distributing the gifts – including jeans, shoes and some jewellery – the young man is treated to a sumptuous bowl of fufu and palm-nut soup, which he thoroughly enjoys. After the meal he sits down with dear, old family friend for a chat about life abroad.

“You know what? It is just as well that I have no hope of going abroad and I’m still suffering here”, the woman says. “You see, God himself knows that the moment I land there, it will take a grader to make me return”.

The man tries to explain to her that life abroad is not all that rosy. It’s tough.

“Ah, my brother, no matter how hard life is out there, how can you compare it with life here?” she asks. “If it is that bad over there, how come you are still there over fifteen years after you left Ghana, eh?”

Most Ghanaians (and a good number of Africans living beneath the Sahara) see a chance to travel abroad, especially to Europe or America, as an escape to paradise. Some people give up all they have (which is often not much, really) on the services of so-called ‘connection men’ to help them get visas to travel abroad. In most cases, they get disappointed.

Others, who do not fancy their chances of acquiring a visa, take extreme risks just for the chance to see the paradise that is either Europe or America. For the risk takers, the journey to paradise isn’t complete without a stopover in hell – the treacherous desert, the choppy seas of the Mediterranean or, with limited supplies, the underbelly of a vessel whose destination they have no idea about.

After scheming, planning and plotting to get abroad, most African immigrants are often hit with the daunting realization that ‘paradise’, like they say in America, “is not all that it’s cracked up to be”. And that is the key message in Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng’s book, Abrokyir Nkommo – Reflections of a Ghanaian Immigrant.

It is an engaging collection of anecdotal pieces Nkrumah-Boateng has written over the years about life abroad – not just for him but for thousands of other African migrants. The articles draw a lot from his personal experiences (having lived under Queen Elisabeth’s government for almost two decades) as well as those of his close friends and associates.

Every immigrant from Oslo to Osaka and from Brussels to Brunswick will very easily identify with the stories he tells and his very intelligent observations and wisecracks.

For example, Nkrumah-Boateng’s conversation with his dear, old family friend, Akos (whom he considers a sister) will most definitely resonate with any migrant who has been away from home for any considerable length of time. It is often a very tough conversation. How do you convince someone who lives a life of penury in a third-world country with limited access to the very basics of life (water, healthcare, transport services, electricity, schools etc) that life at home is better than abroad?

“Life is hard, you say, but you are building a house, whilst the landlord of his ‘chamber and hall’ apartment is giving him grief with dark threats,” Nkrumah-Boateng writes in Abrokyir Nkomo. “Despite your complaints, you send money home regularly whilst he finds it a struggle to provide ‘chop money’ (housekeeping money) for his wife, even though he is a university graduate and he is working.”

In Abrokyir Nkomo, Nkrumah-Boateng raises several other difficult questions – not just for those who have moved abroad but also for the friends and relatives they left behind. He speaks vividly about the struggles of all those who have been forced by various circumstances to move away to a foreign land to eke out a living for themselves whiles thinking – constantly – of the best way to set themselves up for a possible return home. It’s a struggle and Nkrumah-Boateng captures it vividly in his book without any pretences.

For those, like Akos, who dream of a paradise abroad Abrokyir Nkomo offers an honest perspective on life abroad. Reading the book will not necessarily lead to a change of mind but it could serve as a useful guide for surviving (and, possibly thriving) in a foreign land.

For the immigrant who is struggling in the cold winter of Winnipeg and Helsinki, Abrokyir Nkomo will come in handy in those times when the spirit is low and the only way to lift it up is to feed the soul with some memories from back home. In such circumstances a reminder that you are not the only one caught up in the daily grind of life in a foreign land provides some consolation and the strength to keep on keeping on. Nkrumah-Boateng’s book provides such a helpful, friendly reminder.

There is even something in Abrokyir Nkomo for the foreigner, providing some insight about Ghanaian society and culture – especially for the first-time visitor and even those Ghanaians who have been away for far too long.

In Abrokyir Nkomo, Nkrumah-Boateng quite rightly strives not to pontificate – a product of the difficult conversation he had with his dear, old friend, Akos. “My encounter with Akos has stung me into a decision,” he writes. I no longer see any reason for actively dissuading anyone back home from travelling abroad to seek his fortunes. I don’t want to be called a hypocrite or worse, and I don’t want to lose my friends or my family relationships.” 

It’s a wise decision and it is exactly the reason why Abrokyir Nkomo is such an exciting, enjoyable and hard-to-put-down read.

Hello Kofi,

It’s been a pretty long while since we last communicated. Last time I wrote congratulating you on your graduation from law school, you threatened to sue me. The prospect of you taking me to court really delighted me so I called up my lawyer to start preparing my defence. Sadly, it seems you were just blowing hot air! I just want to let you know that I am ready when you are. I can’t wait to see you in the dock either as a criminal defendant or as a civil plaintiff.

I don’t know how you do it but there is something oddly admirable about the way you have managed to stay out of the dock even though none other than the Chief Justice of the Republic recommended that you should be prosecuted for your unholy dalliances with drug traffickers. If all suspected criminals could escape prosecution in the manner you have done, we might have to turn the Nsawam Prisons into a prayer camp and convert that new penitentiary they are building at Ankaful into a five-star hotel.

Don’t get me wrong, buddy. I am not saying you are guilty. Not yet. I believe firmly in “innocent until proven guilty”. My problem is that you seem to have so skilfully skirted the legal processes that should prove your innocence or guilt with the sort of dexterity that would amaze even the baboons in the Amazon. You also appear to have done a lot of work trying to get people to believe that you are innocent and that you actually did a fantastic investigative job that helped in the prosecution and conviction of your “brothers”, Tagor and Alhaji Abass. You further seem to have a legion of loyal, sycophantic friends in the media who have recently started to make a strong case for you to be reinstated in the police service. To cap it all off, you also have some very strong political forces (and some traditional rulers, I hear) standing firmly behind you.

Otherwise, why on earth would the former president – in his last hours in office – try to wring the hands of the one coming after him by authorising your re-instatement when for the best part of three years he was content with you being on interdiction?

The other day, I heard the former information minister, Nana Akomea, defending why you are not sharing bunk beds with your convicted “brothers” – Tagor and Abass. He said that the former Attorney General in his “wisdom” decided not to prosecute you because there was no evidence. I wish I knew the spring from which his wisdom floweth. I would have gone there to drink from it. Maybe, it will help me to better understand why you have not been put in the dock.

Tagor and Alhaji Abass were not caught carrying cocaine. They were convicted primarily on the basis of the words they spoke on that secret recording of the meeting you had with them in your house – over bottles of whiskey. On that tape, they seem to admit involvement in the drugs trade. Your supporters want us to believe that the meeting was some sort of an undercover operation you spearheaded to unravel the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the parcels of cocaine from the MV Benjamin.

This is one of the lousiest cock and bull stories I have ever heard. Even the toddlers at Jack and Jill will smirk if you told this tale to them. Yet, your backers expect a nation with 12 million registered voters to believe this sort of crap.

First of all, the smart guy you are should be aware that a very public police officer – with his pictures on TV and in the newspapers – cannot go undercover. Yours was a remarkably miraculous first. You went ‘undercover’ when your cover had already been blown. Add that to your CV.

Secondly, anyone who listens to that secret recording will be quite surprised – if not shocked – by the conviviality between you and the drug dealers. You offered them drinks. You drunk expensive whiskey with them. And you all talked and said things you wouldn’t have said if you knew there was a JOY FM reporter around with a tape recorder.

“I wouldn’t hide anything from you,” you said on that tape. “The whole thing is that we are brothers and that’s why we are sitting here.”

On that same tape recording you are heard saying: “Alhaji once called me about a case I never understood. About five days ago, he told me that his friends had informed him that there was some business in town and that if I knew where the goods were, I should come and seize them so that he could also get his share as a mediator.”

We don’t need a mind-reader or a professor of linguistics to help us decipher the meaning of those words. Here is what I think. If Alhaji called you to “come and seize” the goods (and I know that he wasn’t talking about ‘broni wawu’ goods) it means that you have either been seizing stuff for him in the past or he knew he could count on you to help him seize other people’s stuff. Officers who act in such manner are commonly referred to as rogue police.

The point I am driving at, Kofi, is that I don’t believe a word your backers say. I think you have a lot of questions to answer. But you are one hell of a lucky guy and I really envy you. Instead of being put in the dock to answer all those questions, you continue to draw a hefty salary as a senior cop, you live in luxury in accommodation provided by the police service and you enjoy all the privileges of a senior police officer. And all this for doing what? Absolutely nothing!

You seem untouchable. Everyone tries to avoid talking about your case. Even Kufuor was so scared he didn’t want to handle it until just a few hours – in his lamest of lame duck days – before he was due to pack out of office. That was when he instructed that you should be re-instated.

Luckily the man who followed Kufuor has been so busy trying to get up after hitting the ground (and failing to run) and so he can’t be bothered about you. That man doesn’t even have time to interview his own information minister and so you are last on his list of priorities. Instead of staying in your small corner and enjoying what you undeservedly get, what do we hear? That you are in a limbo?

Stay there!

You are now a lawyer. Last time I wrote to you, I advised that you should put your new skills at the disposal of your “brothers”. I suppose you think I am a ‘nobody’ to advise you. Perhaps, your “brothers” are pushing you to do everything to get your job back. They think you will serve them better in a police uniform than you will in those silly wigs lawyers crown their heads with. After all, they can call on you anytime to “seize” things for them to get their share.

But don’t push your luck, buddy.

In case you didn’t know, there is a new government in town. They have vowed to deal with the drugs menace with all the venom they can muster. I don’t know how sincere they are but for me, the manner they handle your case will be a real test of their commitment to fighting the drug barons. If they allow you back into the police service, I’d say they also want to ‘sniff’ some of the stuff. If they put you in the dock, I’d say they are damn serious. And on this matter, I hope that the fountain of wisdom the current attorney general drinks from is different from the one which quenched her predecessor’s thirst.

In fact, the least I expect the government (and the police council chaired by the vice president) to do is to kick your butt out of the police service – that’s if they can’t deal with the snowball your prosecution will cause. Your re-instatement will do the police service more harm than good. It will dampen the morale of officers and it will not in any way help in the campaign against illicit drug trafficking. You dug your grave and you must be thanking your stars that you have not been forced to lie in it. Just count your blessings and quietly stay in your limbo!

If you don’t like what I have written here, Kofi, sue me. My lawyers are still on standby.

Dis-regards,
atokwamena!


Finally, Befakor has decided to do what is right. It’s too little too late but the decision by the former speaker to return items he took away from his official residence should, hopefully, help him regain a modicum of the respect he has lost. But what will help him most is a public display on contrition.

In a letter to the Parliamentary Service Board, the former speaker continues to shamelessly speak (through his lawyers) about what he deems as his “right” to literally loot state property. Such posturing will win him few sympathisers – even from his own party.

He also suggests that the Parliament should arrange for its officials to go and collect the items. That doesn’t make sense to me. Why can’t he just pack the items onto a truck and return them to where he took them from? Let’s see how the PSB responds in the days ahead. I doubt if we’ve seen the end of this matter… for now, just ‘enjoy’ his letter which is reproduced below…

REQUEST FOR COMMENTS ON THE WHEREABOUTS OF FURNISHING ITEMS IN THE OFFICIAL RESIDENCE OF THE SPEAKER OF PARLIAMENT

We act as solicitors for and on behalf of Rt. Hon. Ebenezer B. Sakyi Hughes, the former Speaker of the Parliament who has instructed us to further respond to yours dated 5th May 2009, regarding the above subject matter.
Our client instructs us that during his tenure as the Speaker of Parliament, he was given a briefing relating to the provision of soft furnishing and other amenities and the disposal of same to the leadership and senior officers of parliament. It is on record that some retiring and exiting leaders and officers of Parliament have in the past benefited from this practise.

Informed by the above, our client on 26th February 2009, in leaving his official residence took away some furnishing and other amenities in the official residence of the speaker.

Unfortunately, this claim of right has generated some furore. Our client attempted to clear the misinformation and to set the records straight. For some strange reasons, it appears that the misinformation has sunk rather very deep to the extent that the hard-earned reputation of our client is being tarnished. It is regrettable that well placed and responsible men in authority are even imputing criminality to him.

Our client will not want to feed the frenzy of those who believe that without scandalising others their own prominence will be diminished.

Accordingly, for the sake of good governance, the integrity of the high office he previously occupied and in good conscience, our client states categorically that he is no longer interested in the items he took from the Speaker’s official residence, bona fide.

We respectfully invite you to arrange for the collection of the items from his private residence in Accra, at your earliest convenience, on agreed time schedule.

Counting on your highest sense of professionalism in the resolution of this unfortunate matter.

Yours faithfully,
For: Zoe, Akyea and Co.
Signed: Atta Akyea


In a few hours, all of us on this wretched continent will be celebrating African Union Day. May 25th will be a public holiday in almost every country – except in Morocco, which is not a member of the AU. It’s a commemoration that is supposed to remind us to focus on the need to unite as one big nation. After all, they say, we are one people – torn apart by colonialism and slavery.

I am looking forward to May 25th. Who doesn’t like a public holiday? But I’m so not looking forward to what that day represents – one big United Republic of Africa. I am very sure it will not happen in my lifetime.

Just about two years ago, when African leaders gathered in Accra they chose to turn a blind eye to all the major challenges confronting the continent at the time. Darfur was on fire, Mugabe was delighting himself by plunging his country deeper into economic and political chaos and Somalia was (and still is) every brute’s paradise.

If our leaders had been wise and perceptive, they would have seen the global food crisis and the escalating fuel prices coming. They would have deliberated on how to deal with the impending crisis. Now the crises are here and look at them scrambling around like frightened rats.

In July last year, all they wanted to talk about was ‘African Unity.’ Our leaders look at the European Union and they think they can easily replicate it here in Africa. They even want to go further and create one big African nation. It took the Europeans 50 years to build their union. Mind you, it’s not a big federation yet. But, our leaders – always with warped ambitions – think they can achieve what the Europeans have not been able to achieve in five decades.

Those few days of the AU summit (which, by the way, was very badly organised) made the rest of the world wonder whether there were more ostriches than human being in Africa. Why ignore today’s problems and spend the whole time thinking about how to force a dream to come true? The world laughed at us.  Between July 2007 and now, a lot has happened on this continent that demonstrates clearly that we are a bunch of jokers who like to dream silly dreams and talk and talk and talk about everything and nothing.

Take the recent attacks on African migrants in South Africa as an example. For more than a week, South African gangs have been attacking their fellow “brothers and sisters” from other African countries, accusing them of literally taking over their country. According to the rampaging mobs, the other Africans have left them jobless and spouseless whiles contributing to the increasing crime wave in their country.

It’s a strange case of xenophobia which doesn’t really surprise me because Ghanaians can be very xenophobic too – especially to people from other African countries. For example, there are a lot of people in this country who talk about Liberians as if they are aliens from another planet. Just cast your mind back to the recent incidents at the refugee camp at Buduburam. Even government ministers were spewing xenophobia all over the place. The Interior Minister was throwing tantrums because the Liberians had dared to say that Ghana is not good enough for them. Ghana is not good enough for even Ghanaians so what’s so strange about refugees saying that they do not like to stay here any longer? For daring to complain, our own government, which prides itself in pushing the African unity agenda, is feverishly preparing to send back more than 20,000 Liberians to “their country”, according to Nana Obiri Boahen, a ‘hanger-on’ minister at the Interior Ministry.

After all the talk of African Unity one would have thought that Africa is for all of us and that Liberians are supposed to feel at home in Ghana, my compatriots should feel at home in South Africa and Ethiopians should be able to settle in quite nicely in Eritrea. Thanks to xenophobic attitudes like what we saw with the Liberian incident and what we are seeing in South Africa, Africans cannot help but feel like strangers in their own land.

Where there is no xenophobia, you see major strife that makes the whole idea of African Unity appear like an attempt to build a mansion without a foundation. For example, Chad and Sudan are threatening to go to war. Sudan’s president, Omar Al Bashir, accuses his counterpart from Chad. Idriss Derby, of sponsoring and arming a group of rebels who almost took over Khartoum a couple of weeks ago. Last year, when some rebels came so close to his palace in N’Djamena, Mr. Derby blamed it on Mr. Al Bashir. Can anyone realistically expect these two ‘warlords’ to bury their differences for the sake of a united Africa? They should but they won’t. Ethiopia and Eritrea are still sworn enemies. Add all the civil wars to these and you will see that we surely have a long way to go.

Even in the sphere of economic co-operation, which should form the basis for future political integration, our continent is not doing as well as it should. Nigeria will not allow textile from other African countries. They will not even allow us Ghanaians to sell our tomato puree in their country. And we in Ghana do not want Nigerians to engage in buying-and-selling in our country – unless they can pay a fee of 30,000 dollars. The Lebanese can afford to pay. But for our average brother from Naija, this is more than his working capital. A few months ago, police men went about closing down the shops of Nigerians who had not paid up. It was yet another eloquent demonstration that we like to talk more than act.

Just a few months after African leaders had discussed their grandiose African Unity plan Stanbic Bank of South Africa put in a takeover bid for our Agricultural Development Bank. The very same people who were arguing for African Unity turned around to say that “Ghanaian banks like ADB should remain in Ghanaian hands.”

To make it even worse, the political sphere in most African countries is a chaotic mess. It’s true that some of us have taken the democratic path. But dictators are large and in charge in several other countries. Mugabe has no intention of ending his madness anytime soon in Zimbabwe. If he hadn’t been acting so silly for a man of his age, Zimbabweans would have had no reason to go to South Africa to add to the number of illegal immigrants there. No African leader is willing to call mad Mugabe to mellow. The problems he has caused in that country will take a long time to heal.

Almost every African country has major problems that will take decades to be resolved. For most of them, there isn’t even a resolution of any sort in sight. Somalia is one of them. So is DR Congo. And Chad. And Djibouti. And the Comoros. And Sudan.

This means that if the unity they talk about is to be achieved anytime soon, the chaos in Somalia, the genocide in Sudan, the xenophobia in South Africa and the corruption in Nigeria will all be problems for that one United Republic of Africa to deal with. And come to think of it, is there anyone amongst our current crop of leaders who can serve as the first president of the United Republic – thinking more about the welfare of the people and less about himself? Kufuor buys jets when his hospitals are collapsing, Mbeki can’t see a crisis where there is one, Kibaki won’t concede defeat, Odinga comes in and appoints all his cousins as ministers (and gives each of them a fleet of official cars) and Mugabe, well, doesn’t seem to have his head screwed on properly.

If what the AU has achieved in over 50 years of existence and what it is noted for is anything to go by, then we are better off being a disunited Africa – each nation for itself and its citizens. This is how it will be long after I’m even dead and gone.

A United Republic of Africa will not happen anytime soon. But if our leaders push it to boost their egos, I’m sure it will turn out to be one hell of a chaotic, banana republic. I definitely do not want to be a part of it!

>>> First published in May 2008 in ‘The Daily Dispatch’. It’s been republished here with a few modifications.   

Hundreds of young Ghanaian men and women are resorting to get-rich-quick schemes, popularly known as ‘sakawa’. Most of these schemes are hatched and executed on the internet.

In internet cafes from Accra to Agona Swedru and from Kumasi to Keta people are using the World Wide Web to defraud people of money and other worldly possessions. ‘Sakawa’ is the latest craze in town and even teenagers are getting hooked. A colleague of mine in the JOY FM Newsroom recently interviewed a 13-year-old boy who spoke about how he poses as a woman to dupe white men in Europe.
“They send me a lot of money,” he says. “I use to pay my school fees and buy things for myself.”
Thanks to ‘sakawa’ school dropouts have suddenly become millionaires, driving in posh Mercedes and BMWs. They are buying houses whiles graduates who are honestly earning a living struggle to pay their rents.
It’s a major problem and government has to deal with it – and soon. Because of Ghana’s growing reputation as a major ‘sakawa’ base, most e-commerce websites do not accept transactions from Ghana. Paypal lists Niger and Togo as eligible countries. Ghana is not. I cannot use my debit card, issued by VISA, to renew my Norton anti-virus subscription or pay the company that powers the podcasts on my site because Ghana is essentially blacklisted.
There is a police cybercrime unit which is supposed to be clamping down on this problem with venom. But it has neither the personnel nor the equipment to go after the criminals. They do not even have regular, dependable access to the internet so they are operating like highway patrolmen who cannot get on the highway.
Alarmed at the rate young people are resorting to ‘sakawa’ some of the youthful officials in the Mills administration called a press conference this week to talk (yeah, just talk!) about the subject. In all their speeches, the young ministers put themselves up as worthy role models who have made it without resorting to “sakawa” or (fraudulent) get-rich-quick schemes.
Listening to them, however, I couldn’t help but ask: isn’t politics in this country essentially an easy way to riches?
Politics is supposed to be a noble call to service. Not here in Ghana. Most of the politicians in this country are a bunch of dignified, ‘sakawa’ fraudsters who are every bit as criminal as those who prowl the internet in search of idiots to dupe. They come to us (like the ‘sakawa’ boys do) with promises to give us more than we have. They use cunning and deceit to win our votes. But when they’ve gained our confidence and we’ve given them what they want (power) they start plundering our wealth, which they use to surround themselves with ostentatious luxury.
Politicians are contributing in various ways to the fast spreading epidemic of get-rich-quick schemes in this country. We see our politicians driving in the latest luxury sedans. They have become so filthy rich that they prefer to seek treatment abroad at the slighted hint of a migraine. They engage in corrupt practises that earn them money they do not deserve. And they even greedy enough to use the law to demand that we give them “ex-gratia” – gifts we cannot afford to give. Even those who claim to have made their riches before entering politics are stealing every state property they can lay their hands on.  
Young men and women, fresh out of the university, who have never held down a job, are driving around in posh cars simply because they could shout the loudest in defence of the indefensible.
Our government officials have fleets of cars parked in their homes as our police cry for patrol cars and logistics to fight crime. Our politicians live like kings in grand mansions where they never suffer blackouts like most of us do, their taps constantly flowing they can even afford to cultivate plush lawns whiles most of us struggle to get water to drink.

Politics is one of the easiest and fastest routes to riches in this country – besides drug trafficking and internet fraud. So why when I hear a group of politicians telling young people to look up to them and stay away from get-rich-quick schemes, I feel like reaching out for a pinch (at least) of salt.
It’s not really a bad idea for the likes of Samuel Okudzeto-Ablakwa, James Agyenim-Boateng and Elvis Afriyie-Ankrah to want to put themselves out as role models. But talking is not enough. If they really want to be seen as worthy examples, they should voluntarily publish their assets so that we all know what they have now. They should also make known their salaries as government officials. And in four years, they should publish their assets for us to know what they acquired in the period they were in public office. This is the only way for them to prove to us that they didn’t get into politics to pull a fast political “sakawa” on us – like NPP men who claimed to be “self-made” did with impunity and without shame.
 

It’s been well over three months since President Mills delivered his first sessional address to parliament. But that speech is very much the subject of conversation between many Ghanaians – most of whom are still laughing at the major slip of tongue that made him say “ecomini” instead of economy.

That slip is proving to be one of the most enduring presidential soundbites – ever!  
 
And now that some ingenious DJs have managed to remix the gaffe with Asem’s ‘Give me blow’ instrumental. The product is a ring-tone of about 35-second, which is fast becoming one of the most popular in the country today.
 
I have uploaded the remix in the audio section – just for your listening pleasure. Go on and have a good laugh. You can even download it and save it on your phone. It’s all in good fun.
 
I really feel sorry for those who think it’s not right for us to be making fun of the president’s gaffes. They don’t know what they are missing. In these tough times of ‘ecominic’ hardship, when it’s so hard to come by some ‘orpepepeepeee’, it’s almost suicidal to refuse to laugh when you get an opportunity to do so.
 

For eight years, we had a president who took an inordinate pleasure in racking up the frequent flyer miles. Few Ghanaians – except those privileged enough to have travelled with John Kufuor – will let go an opportunity to criticise him for travelling like Gulliver. Most of his journeys were mere tourist expeditions cloaked as useful investment tours that were meant to encourage people to come and do business here. I believe the investors are seldom swayed by presidential persuasions – if they will come, they will come; if they won’t they won’t.

I suppose President Mills is aware of this and that’s why he has decided he will only travel when it’s absolutely necessary. And it was absolutely necessary that his first trip outside Africa as president , was to the land of our former colonial masters, wasn’t it? He went to beg the descendants of the colonialists for cash to prop up our ailing economy (like Kufuor did). The trip also made it possible for him to take a breather from all the nonsense over cars, the criticism over his failure to hit the ground running and the petty wrangling over the appointment of district chief executives – among so many other issues that will make any man feel like reaching out for a few tablets of APC.
President Mills’ visit did not attract much attention from the international media – we just don’t matter as much as we think we do! He wasn’t on CNN and he wasn’t covered as extensively on the BBC as he would have loved (except for those short interviews on TV and radio, both of which could as well have been recorded in Accra).
The British Prime Minister had very little time to ‘waste’ on an African president whose country is neither strategic nor mired in conflict. Gordon Brown, who supposedly invited Mills to the UK, met briefly with our president at No. 10 Downing Street and made a few promises to fill Ghana’s cup with money, which, many would say, his forebears stole from us. As for the queen, she had better things to do – like knitting mitts for her grandchildren – so she didn’t even allow our president to drop by at Buckingham Palace to say “hello”.
The President also took time to look around London a bit, delivered a few speeches here and there and met with some business executives (most of whom are too busy thinking about how to survive the economic crisis to bother themselves about whether or not to come and invest in Ghana). And, like the one before him did, President Mills also met with some Ghanaians in the city of London.
Nothing much will come out of the visit. If presidential visits are half as beneficial as they want us to believe, Kufuor would have taken us to nirvana. Where in the world did he not visit in eight years? He visited almost every major country on the planet, yet he left the country in no better shape than he found it – we still don’t have water, electricity supply is erratic and we still can’t seem to figure out how to get ourselves out of this mess of backwardness and underdevelopment.
Very much aware of the uselessness of these presidential travels, the opposition media has been very busy kicking a fuss over the cost of President Mills’ trip to the UK. They started with claims that Mills was wasting about three hundred thousand dollars on hotel bills in a luxurious presidential suite. The president dismissed this as a ‘distortion’ of the truth. But his critics wouldn’t rest. Now, they are questioning the number of people who went along with him.
I think they should give the president a break and spare our ears the needless politicking.
In four months, the man hasn’t travelled half as much as Kufuor did in his first month in office. We don’t have the exact the number of the president’s entourage because his press secretary has quite incredibly (and regrettably) decided to keep the number to himself as if it were an important state secret al-Qaeda could use to destroy our Twin Towers – those two short structures that make up State House. Mr. Ayariga claims it “doesn’t matter”.
But it does.
If only he would just do his job and set the records straight, a number of tongues that have set themselves needlessly wagging over this issue will be clammed.
The grapevine has it, however, that there were just about 30 people in the delegation – including nine journalists. That means that the original delegation comprised just about 21 people. This is quite impressive and it’s a far cry from the large entourage Kufuor Travel and Tours used to sponsor to travel on our national dime whenever the former president felt like going out to chill!
However small Mills’ delegation was, it is important that we all get to know how much the trip cost the taxpayer (both Ghanaian and British). There is nothing secret about this and there is nothing wrong with us knowing. So the sooner the government released the figures the better. Otherwise, we are going to be walking around with the notion that they have something to hide and the suspicion will do the government no good. If they are not concealing anything they should tell us and stop the opposition press from peddling senseless untruths.
I hate it when politicians use the wrongs of the past to justify present misdeeds. But I think it is alright for any government to use past mistakes as benchmarks for doing what is right. Kufuor travelled needlessly and often with too many of his cronies. Clearly, Mills is trying to break with that tradition. The opposition press – most of whose “managing editors” only reached for their reporters’ notepads when they got an opportunity to travel with Kufuor – have no moral justification to criticise the president for doing (or seeking to do) what is right. They are only grabbing at straws and on this issue, if they don’t just give up, they will drown. They are very jealous that on the issue of presidential travels Mills is doing what is sensible – and Kufuor did not!

Monsieur Wenger,

Because of you and your little boys, je suis tres embarrassed et humiliated. I have become a laughing stock among all my mon amis who ne comprend pas my continued support for Arsenal Football Club, which has not won any trophies in almost five years. 
I have supported this great club for well over dix ans and most part of it has been tres, tres enjoyable. I am not one of those fair-weather supporters who only stick with l’equipe when things are going so well and trophies are being won. Je suis tres loyale. That’s why I have stuck with this team since the last time we won a trophy – and that’s was in deux mille cinq. That’s quite a long time for a great team like ours to go sans silverware. C’est ne pas normale. Despite all the disappointment, I am staying with this team.
I have resigned myself to the unpalatable truth that my club here in Ghana, Sekondi Hassacas, will not win any trophies for a long time. As for the Ghana national football team, the Black Stars, they have been so busy basking in past glory that they don’t even realise that I’ve written them off. The only team that fills my heart with la joyeaux de football is Arsenal.
Recently, however, your team has left me humiliated, dejected, disappointed, heart-broken and sick on more than one occasion. I am therefore writing this letter to let you know that I am not very heareux with the way the squad has been playing lately. It is almost as if our players do not like winning trophies.
Don’t get me wrong, Monsieur Wenger. Our players always dish out an entertaining game and their dazzling passing game will delight even a blind man. But Monsieur Wenger, your boys seem to have grown averse to winning. They will play the best passing game and take the ball to the opponents’ 18, only to kick the ball back to the centre circle – like they don’t want to score any buts. Sometimes, they draw intricate circles around their opponents and play as if they want to dribble right into the net – a strategy even the great Brazil abandoned after they won the 1970 World Cup.
I have never been to a coaching school and I will never presume to know how to coach a football team. But if I were given an opportunity to say a few petite words to the likes of Adebayor, Walcott and Bendtner, I will tell them to learn to shoot from anywhere around the opponent’s penalty area. It just doesn’t make sense to me that our players will like to dribble every member of the opposing team before scoring. Just look at the goal our former player, Nicolas Anelka scored against us last Sunday. It was a fantastic goal, scored from far afield by a sensible player who knows when to dribble and when to shoot.
Please, we need goals to win games – and trophies. I don’t know whether this simple fact is lost on you but at your next training session tell the players to take their chances and stop dribbling and passing on end. I’d rather we play ‘buga-buga’ and score than string scintillating passes which will only lead us into defeat and despair.
One of the major criticisms against you, Monsieur Wenger, is that you’ve been recruiting too many teenagers whose bones still have a fair amount of cartilage in them. I have been hearing some rumours about why you recruit teenagers – rumours I can’t repeat here – and I hope to God they are not true. But I still wonder: why can’t we recruit strong, experienced players like Alex (of Chelsea) and Berbatov (of Manchester United)?
The likes of Nasri and Walcott have great potential. They will be great players in the future and I pray they stay with our team for the rest of their careers. But, please, you and I know that these youngsters can choose to leave anytime – especially when they have blossomed to the stage where we can call them veterans. Arsenal is not a kindergarten for other football clubs, you know. Do go out there and hire some experienced players. I have had enough of these les enfants-induced heartaches to last the rest of my vie! I miss the days of Bergkamp and Henry. Those guys knew how to play to win and we won a lot with ‘em. Don’t you think we need people like them back in the squad?  
Your penchant for les enfant players who have no desire to score goals (and win) has left me a little bit worried about you, Monsieur Wenger. It seems to me that you’ve lost the passion to win and I wonder why? The last time you said “on a gagné” was five years ago. That old brat called Ferguson is winning all the plaudits for himself and for his club and all you’ve been doing is running a professional football nursery – hiring teenagers, grooming them and passing them on to other clubs. I am sure there is a better way for you to end your career.
If you feel you’ve won enough trophies, we the supporters of the club are still very much interested in winning more. We are getting increasingly frustré and if you don’t get us back on a winning trail anytime soon, a lot of us will soon die of cardiac arrest, hypertension and humiliation. The taunts from our Chelsea and Manchester United friends could also drive a lot of us to suicide. We are giving you one last chance to prove that you still have got what it takes for us to win trophies. Otherwise, Monsieur Wenger, pack and leave quietly before we start looking for ways to get your French behind kicked out! Compris?
Gunner for life,
atokwamena
 

I was quite shocked and disappointed when I heard the news that the Shama District Assembly had rejected the nominee for District Chief Executive, Emelia Arthur.

I have known Miss Arthur for almost a decade. I have never gone out with her for a drink but whenever we meet, we can keep a pleasant conversation going for quite a while. Last time we met was about a year ago at the departure lounge of the Kotoka International Airport. I was going to the US. I don’t remember where she was going to. As we waited for our respective flights, we had a pretty nice chat about politics in Ghana and all the fantastic things she’s been doing to touch lives – mostly in rural communities.  
I think Miss Arthur is one of the finest, young female politicians in this country. Yale-educated, Miss Arthur has a very sharp mind and she really cares about people. It’s a pity that the people of Shama do not see the potential in her. In 2000 and 2004 they refused to vote her to represent them in parliament and now this…
When I heard Miss Arthur had been nominated to be the DCE for the new district, I thought she would sail through without much of a struggle. But she didn’t. Only seven out of the 17 members of the assembly voted for her in the nomination ballot. The assembly members feel that Miss Arthur (one of the young activists who broke away from the NDC in 2000 to form the Reform Party) has not demonstrated sufficient loyalty to the ruling party. It has also been suggested that she refused to pay bribes to the assembly members most of whom were allegedly selling their votes for one thousand cedis each.
Whatever the case may be, Miss Arthur is taking the assembly’s rejection in her stride. I am writing this because this is a woman I deeply admire for her sharp intellect, her honesty and her unflinching desire to serve her people.
I also respect her because she refuses to play the political game like most other politicians do. She doesn’t buy votes and she’s very sincere with the electorate. If she sticks to her guns, she may never win an election. But that’s the way to go. Politicians who want to serve do not pay their way through the polls. Only those who seek to plunder and enrich themselves deceive the electorate and buy votes.
Whether this changes or not, I am really looking forward to the day when Miss Arthur would get an opportunity to prove her worth. For now, I just feel that the members of the Shama District Assembly have done their community a great disservice. After the rejection of his first choice for Shama DCE, President Mills will really struggle to get a replacement as qualified, committed and selfless as Emelia Arthur.
 
PS: Just so we are clear, I don’t have a crush on Emelia Arthur. She’s too young.