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April 2010

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I was amused beyond hysteria when I heard that government was planning to organise a policy fair. I scoffed at the idea because it didn’t make sense to me. But I thought my opinion would change when the event got underway. Three days into the policy fair and I am still at a loss as to why government is wasting the taxpayers’ money on such a pointless endeavour.

I have seriously pondered over the necessity for this fair even in my loo – where, incidentally, every silly idea tends to make sense. Unfortunately, the policy fair hasn’t quite made the grade even in my small room.

We are told it’s a fair to bring government policy closer to the people. It’s novel only in the sense that Ghana is perhaps the only country on earth where government officials feel the need to put policy documents on exhibition under the same roof. Once again, it seems, we’ve scored another negative first. And government officials are grinning, flashing their gums like the policies they are supposed to be exhibiting at the fair.

“The initiative is underscored by the conviction that the enterprise of nation building is a collective effort of its population,” vice president John Mahama says. “Government expects to use this policy fair to further open up governance and get the ordinary Ghanaian to be part of the development process of this country.”

Many other government officials and hirelings have said all they can to justify why we need a policy fair. Yet the whole thing still doesn’t make sense to me. Even if they crack my skull and force their justifications into my medulla oblongata, the idea won’t make any more sense than it has so far.

Two reasons may account for this: either the whole idea of the fair is crass or I am a nitwit for whom very little makes sense. The latter is quite likely but I can bet my last pesewa that the former is most probable.

However you look at it, the policy fair is a bad idea that is being forcefully implemented to throw dust into our eyes and give government something to boast about. We are “engaging the citizenry for a better Ghana”, government officials and members of the ruling party will say.

It’s almost like John Kufuor basking in the adulation of a partisan crowd at a so-called ‘People’s Assembly’ and turning around to claim that he opened up governance. He was also supposed to be explaining government policy to the ‘people’, right? But what good, really, did the ‘People’s Assembly’ do for the country?

Five years from now, mark my words, we will look back and realise that the policy fair was a worse idea than the People’s Assembly.

Perhaps, that will be when Ghanaians will start screaming at the top of their voices that we are sick and tired of these tokens that politicians like to throw at us.

We already know that we have great policies on paper. At least that’s what the experts keep telling us and from all indications, that’s the message government wants to put across. Fair enough. But what is a policy if it’s not being implemented in a sensible, effective and effectual manner to affect the lives of the people? Why should I care about the water policy, when I can’t even remember I saw water drip out of my tap? Seeing the water policy on exhibition at the International Conference Centre will not quench our thirst.

So what we expect the government to do is to get to work and implement them with urgency and in a cost-effective manner. We’ve lost too much ground to be wasting more time – and money – on trivial pursuits like a so-called policy fair.

Her steady hands, intelligent mind and elegant professional poise kept the vessel of the nation’s number one radio news team sailing in glory on the rather choppy waters of Ghanaian journalism for almost five years.

It wasn’t always smooth-sailing but even in the most difficult of times, Matilda Asante maintained a calm composure, rallied her team and kept their focus on the bigger picture – keeping the nation informed, serving the national interest. If doing so whipped up a great controversy and annoyed the nation’s powerful elite, so be it.

Before she took up the job of a news director – and even long after that – Matilda Asante (we love to call her Tilly) enthralled the nation with her tough, probing interviews and comprehensive reportage on business, politics and society.

When the Kufuor administration was deceiving itself about a loan it was chasing from a company known as CNTCI, it was Tilly who knocked some sense into the government’s head with a single news report from London. The CNTCI loan had raged for months. At the time she was studying at Cardiff. But she travelled south to London to investigate the company that was promising the country so much. Her discovery stunned the nation and brought a definitive end to the raging controversy. It turned out, Tilly reported, that CNTCI was a phoney company, operating from a hairdressing salon in a seedy district in London.

Throughout her career, Tilly enjoyed nothing more than getting to the bottom of every matter that interested her and her teeming audience on radio and TV. By so doing, she has been more than a great example to dozens of her colleagues both inside and outside of Joy FM. There are many up-and-coming journalists today who will point to Matilda Asante’s style and professionalism as the motivation for their decision to become newshounds.

Sadly, after just about a decade of helping shape radio journalism in Ghana, Matilda Asante says she’s had enough. She called it quits last week with her last news broadcast on Joy FM, ending the bulletin by saying: “I am out.”

With those three words, Joy FM lost its news editor. But Ghanaian broadcast journalism lost a veritable icon. I wish she had stayed on longer to teach and inspire more people. But I perfectly understand why she has to go.

Journalism in this country can be pretty dreary sometimes. This is because nothing in this country seems to change. We have the same conversations with the same people about the same issues year in, year out.

It can be very boring and it gets to a point where you feel you are wasting your mind and your time. The best way to rein in your sanity is to call it quits and seek a different challenge. This is one of the reasons why Matilda Asante has resigned after serving for almost a third of Joy FM’s age as the station’s news editor.

I have long admired Tilly for her impeccable work ethic, her caring humanity and her sense of style. She always carried herself like a lady should. But she had no qualms about taking off her high heels, pulling up her skirt and getting into the ditch to help get the work done. I have worked with dozens of female journalists but none struck me as intelligent and as hardworking as Matilda Asante did. In more than a decade of knowing her, I’ve never met any female journalist like her.

She always strove to get the work done right, the first time. But through it all, she never lost her personal touch. Behind that tough exterior many hear on radio is one of the sweetest, caring friends anyone would ever be privileged have. She cared and she showed it by sharing – sharing her intellect, her money, her food. And she’s a darn good cook.

From the first day I met her at Joy FM, Matilda has been a dearly beloved friend. Leaving the newsroom will take her out of sight but she will never be out of mind. It was fun working with her. She taught me a lot. I am really going to miss working with her. But through it all, I can’t help but believe in my heart that our professional paths would cross once again – someday, soon. Until then, all I can do now is wish her all the best, from the warmest and deepest point in my heart. She deserves nothing less than success and happiness.

It was in February when I got a message from the German Embassy to meet with the deputy ambassador. At the meeting, the diplomat and his special aide told me about an upcoming programme for bloggers from around the world and asked me if I would like to attend.

They said they had searched the Ghanaian blogosphere and found no blog as worthy of the programme as atokd.com. I was flattered. I felt honoured. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. And so I said “yes”.

But since it was such a big programme for a few people, I had to go through a selection process supervised by the German Foreign Ministry. Today, I am pleased to announce that I am among the selected few.

And so for ten days in May, I will be the guest of the German government, receiving training on the use of the internet to promote democracy and expand the frontiers of free speech. About a dozen bloggers from around the world will also be participating in the programme.

On afrigator.com, where African blogs are ranked, atokd.com is currently ranked number 3 in Ghana and number 55 in Africa. The top two blogs in Ghana are run by an American and a Nigerian respectively. Ethan Zuckerman (www.ethanzuckerman.com) and David Oluniyi Ajao (www.davidajao.com) are veteran bloggers. Together, they have been dons of the Ghanaian blogosphere for more than 10 years. Considering that I’ve been a blogger for just a little over a year, I am not ashamed to be trailing them.

My selection for the programme in Berlin is yet another testimony to the success of atokd.com over the past 18 months or so. It isn’t much to be proud of. But I want to use the opportunity to express my gratitude to all those who religiously visit this blog, contributing to making it the irrepressible arena of free expression, where people are not afraid to think out of the box.

Like they say in Germany, “Danke”. Thank you and keep visiting.

The decision by the Food and Drugs Board to outlaw the sale and consumption of turkey tails (popularly known as ‘chofi’) makes very little sense – if any at all. It’s completely uncalled for.

Yeah, we get it. ‘Chofi’ is fatty and could therefore be unhealthy.

But alcohol poses a greater danger to health. It destroys vital organs and kills more people. Cigarettes are even more lethal. It can destroy the human in more than a dozen ways.

If the FDB hasn’t outlawed smoking and the consumption of alcohol, (particularly, the local gin, ‘akpeteshie’) what business do they have trying to stop people like me from buying, selling and enjoying fatty, delectable ‘chofi’?

I love my ‘chofi’. Many Ghanaians do too. I have met very few people who don’t like ‘chofi’ and a chunk of these people, by the way, are vegetarians who don’t eat scrambled eggs either.

‘Chofi’ is the best accompaniment, with ‘shitor’, for fried yams. It’s cheap. It’s filling. And it’s good to share. Almost every Ghanaian has enjoyed ‘chofi’ at one point or another. Yes, it’s a national delicacy. It’s unhealthy. But we like it in much the same way as smokers like to light up every now and then.

Beyond the claim that ‘chofi’ is unhealthy because of its high cholesterol content, the FDB is yet to present any empirical data to show that an inordinately large number of Ghanaians are dying or suffering from health complications occasioned by the consumption of turkey tails.

There is more compelling evidence that cigarettes and alcohol cause more harm to Ghanaians. There isn’t a doctor in Ghana who hasn’t seen people with lungs and livers damaged by smoking and alcohol, respectively. Yet there are bars and ramshackle kiosks strewn across the country which sell cigarettes and alcohol to millions of Ghanaians every day.

For years, there have been proposals for the FDB to make sure that a law is passed to ban smoking in public places. No such thing has happened and many Ghanaians are forced to become passive smokers every day.

Instead of pursuing hapless ‘chofi’ sellers, the FDB should make sure that passive smoking becomes a thing of the past. I should be able to walk into a bar – or any public space, for that matter – without being forced to inhale someone else’s toxic cigarette fumes.

The FDB should also go after those fake drug dealers who have infiltrated the market with pills that kill instead of cure.

The FDB should leave us alone to enjoy our ‘chofi’. The many obese people walking around didn’t get that way from the consumption of turkey tails alone. Most of those walking around with blocked arteries threatening their hearts didn’t get sick because of ‘chofi’. Any type of meat can cause obesity and lead to the blockade of arteries. ‘Chofi’ is just one of them. But why should ‘chofi’ take the fall for eggs, bacon and the rest.

In all of this, I feel ‘chofi’ is being victimised.

Of course, we know that ‘chofi’ is fatty and unhealthy. But like everything else, we only need to enjoy it in moderation. That’s the key. And that’s what the FDB’s message should be. A blanket ban on the sale of ‘chofi’ is as disproportionate as it is an insult to our intelligence.

Mr. President,
You have sprung quite a number of useless surprises on us lately and I feel obliged to write and plead with you to stop wasting your time and ours. I hear that you have a lot more up your sleeves. Please keep them there. What we’ve seen so far have impressed few people outside the umbrella family and impressing a few partisan citizens is not what a president should be wasting his time on.

You started dishing out your surprises by visiting the Psychiatric Hospital in Accra. Your choice of that place as the point to start springing surprises on public sector workers struck me as quite strange. Hopefully, the problems of this country are not driving you so mad that you chose to visit the Psychiatric Hospital to have a special place for you just in case you can’t take it anymore.

Two weeks after you went to that hospital, I am hearing that you didn’t even visit the wards and that you just visited the admin block and left. For your information nothing has changed and my ‘mental’ friends there are still counting on your promise to ensure that they are adequately and professionally catered for. I’ve warned that not to expect too much. Otherwise, they’d be sorely disappointed.

But in my heart of hearts, Mr. President, I’d rather that you disappoint me instead. Prove me wrong, because I’ve heard so many people call me “mad” over the past few years that I feel a time would soon come when I’d have to spend about a year of my life in a psychiatric facility.

After the mental hospital, Mr. President, you went to the finance ministry and the revenue agencies, where you blew a lot of hot air at CEPS, speaking about old issues as if they had just come up. By the way, the quick trial of the CEPS guys who were caught on Anas’ camera is really an ace. If only you had dealt with Muntaka the same way, we’d have seized Kufuor’s medals of shame and moulded them into a monument of anti-corruption glory for you.

You’ve also been to the Tema Harbour, where we hear people started running running helter-skelter when they have you had ‘dropped’. Few listened to you but most of them didn’t get the point – of your visit and of your message.

I hear, from your spin doctors, that your surprise visits are meant to encourage people to work harder and with a greater sense of purpose. Mr. President, trust me, no such thing will happen with a mere presidential visit. That’s why I insist that these surprise visits are unnecessary – a complete waste of your time and ours. If the Chief Executive of the Tema Port cannot keep his staff working as professionally as they should to earn their keep, I don’t see what difference a presidential visit can make. Sack the guy. If the commissioner of CEPS will look on unconcerned as his officers allow smugglers to have their way, why are you entertaining him? Give him the boot. Keep sacking underperforming people until you get people who would perform to your expectation – and ours. Surprise visits won’t do.

But then, just when that message – about the needlessness of the surprise visits – was sinking in, you ‘surprise’ us again by jumping on a bus. Your NDC papers have hailed that bus ride was a “historic” testimony to your legendary humility. Maybe it was. But what’s the use of a historic presidential ride on an air-conditioned bus in the company of his friends? What makes that bus ride even more preposterous is that after taking the bus to the retreat with your ministers, we are hearing that you drove in your luxury sedan back to the Castle. So what was the point again? I don’t get it.

I don’t know why suddenly, you feel like springing surprises on us, Mr. President. Is it because you are bored? Do you have too much time on your hands? Or you are just so overwhelmed that you’ve decided that you could as well have all the fun you can before Ghanaians come to the realisation that you are not leading us anywhere. Sometimes, that’s how I feel, you know. Many other Ghanaians feel the same and the sooner you took steps to change their minds the better – for you, your party and our country.

How do you do that?

Well, I think you can start off by springing some surprises we actually need on us.

For example, we’d be very pleasantly surprised if we woke up tomorrow to the news that ‘electricity comes and goes’ (ECG) is a thing of the past. Just last week, I had to do ‘aworshia’ because they took out my power without any notice. I have friends who were deprived of electricity for 72 hours or more. We are told it’s not a crisis, but you go around town, Mr. President, and you hear a lot of noise from electricity generators. There is no electricity and yet we are told it’s not a crisis. Whatever the case is, Mr. President, ending the power outages will be a welcome surprise.

Mr. President, how about going to stay in Bawku or Dagbon for one month? Tell yourself that you are going to spend about 30 days up north and keep talking with the warring factions in Bawku and Dagbon, knocking some sense into their skulls and bringing them to the realisation that war helps no one but hurts us all. It’s easy for you to sit in Accra and call for peace. But when they see you living with them (in a hut) they’d realise that you mean business and that you are not merely spewing platitudes when you say “I care for you”.

However, Mr. President, if electricity supply or conflict resolution is not your calabash of palm wine, my final suggestion should strike a chord in your heart. Most of us will be pleasantly surprised to see you in a KVIP queue one of these days. Try it. It’s an experience you would never forget. Hundreds of thousands of Ghanaians go through the indignity of queuing to, pardon my language, shit everyday in smelly public toilets we call KVIPs. The stench from the KVIP could make you forget your two middle names.

Joining a KVIP queue, Mr. President, will put you in touch with a very poignant Ghanaian reality and it will show the people that you are truly ‘down with the clique’. Whiles there you can even win some of the floating voters in the queue. If you are unsure about which of the KVIPs to visit, just ask General Mosquito. He can point you in the direction of one of the KVIPs your NDC hoodlums have seized.

Waiting to be impressed,
atokwamena.

When President Mills promised to bring those who killed Ya Na Yakubu Andani to justice, he picked up a very hot potato and bit more than he could chew.

The recent arrest of suspects and their arraignment before court is an indication that he is swallowing something he has not taken sufficient time to chew on. He’s going to choke and there could be dire consequences – for the president, his party and the country.

Finding the culprits behind the murder of the Ya Na and punishing them will send out a message to all Ghanaians, especially those in Dagbon, that impunity will (and should) not be tolerated in this country. It’s the president’s job to send that message. He can try, but with Dagbon he seems to have taken the wrong path in his bid to get the message across.

The Dagbon conflict is complex. It’s incomprehensible, perverse and intractable. I don’t see it getting resolved – ever!

The Dagbon conflict would have confounded the wisest man who ever lived. It would baffle the United Nation’s chief peace negotiator and get the Israeli and Palestinians patting themselves on the back for, at least, agreeing to sit down every once in a while in an attempt to make peace.

The justice President Mills and his government are seeking with the prosecution of the nine Abudu men who were arraigned before a magistrate court in Accra last Monday will only damage the fragile peace Dagbon has enjoyed over the past couple of years or so.

It’s often said that without justice, there cannot be peace. But this does not hold true all the time.

In Dagbon, justice for one faction means injustice for another.

In Dagbon, ‘justice’ – the sort the president wants to achieve – will not prompt a peaceful settlement. Of course, it will gladden the hearts of the Andani factions but it will fill the Abudu with volatile bitterness. On the other hand, if ‘justice’ is not achieved (that is, if no one is punished for the Ya Na’s murder), the Abudus will sit pretty while the Andanis brood over what they rightly perceive to be an injustice.

It was a volatile situation at the court premises when the Abudus who are being prosecuted for their alleged roles in the Yakubu Andani’s murder were first arraigned before a judge. There were Abudu youth who were ready to fight and, possibly, die for their kinsmen. They couldn’t do much because security forces at the court precincts had superior fire power. Back in the dry, near-desert plains of Dagbon there is what many describe as an “uneasy calm”. But beneath the calm is anger and bitterness that will explode with the tiniest spark.

That spark could be any hint that the Abudus are merely being prosecuted to appease the Andanis and to give the president a trophy to point to as proof that he has (tried to) fulfilled his campaign promise to deal with those who killed the Ya Na. The Abudus, clearly, have made up their minds that there is a certain unfairness in the whole process and they are not going to stop agitating until government takes some steps to change the perception that the Andanis are being favoured. So far this is what everything points to.

The arrests carried out on Saturday were, at best, random and didn’t seem to have been informed by any serious intelligence work. Otherwise, 40 people wouldn’t have been arrested for only nine of them to be hauled before court. And in court, prosecutors came with no evidence whatsoever. They argued for the suspects to be held in prison whilst “investigations” continue.

If the state was so sure of its case, it would simply have presented its evidence for justice to be delivered swiftly. But, alas, that’s not the case. With one of Ghana’s foremost litigants, Atta Akyea, on the side of the Abudus, you can be sure that this is going to be a long drawn out legal process which will set a lot of people’s blood boiling.

The reported attempt to arrest the regent of Dagbon, the Boli Lana, without an arrest warrant will not help matters. If this whole process is not handled well and with utmost fairness, it will make the situation in Dagbon worse than it already is.

The cure President Mills and the NDC are offering will end up being worse than the disease. The quest for justice would have endangered peace. And what would have been achieved? More chaos, probably.

The best way for the government to handle the Dagbon issue is to do nothing. Both the Abudus and Andanis are not ready to make the compromises that will ensure lasting peace. In such circumstances, even King Solomon would have thrown his hands up in despair and frustration. The eminent chiefs Kufuor appointed to help resolve the dispute have all but lost hope. This conflict will not end anytime soon. President Mills and the government should just give up and let sleeping dogs lie.

The people of Dagbon have lived in peace without justice for the past two years or so. It’s not an ideal situation. But serving justice to endanger peace is worse.

Just a couple weeks after the Andani royal family complained about President Mills’ apparent lack of interest in fulfilling his campaign promise to bring those who killed Ya Na Yakubu Andani to justice, scores of suspects were arrested. Many have since been set free and others are still in detention, awaiting prosecution or so we are told.

It’s been eight years since Yakubu Andani, the paramount chief of Dagbon, was murdered in cold blood – his body hacked into pieces and set on fire. Forty of his elders and aides were also killed.

The failure of the state to prosecute and jail anyone for planning and executing that dastardly act has been an intensely political issue. The Andani side of the Dagbon royal family is said to be aligned with the ruling NDC whiles the Abudu side is alleged to be in a certain deep friendship with the opposition NPP.

The Andani believe that the Kufuor-led NPP administration didn’t care much about justice, even though Kufuor set up a commission to look into the Ya Na’s murder and tried, albeit disappointingly (or some might say, half-heartedly), to prosecute some people. Those prosecutions ended in embarrassing failure because the state didn’t have much evidence for conviction.

The promise to do differently was a big vote-grabber for the NDC – at least from the Andani ranks. Having taken the candidate for his word, they have been expecting the president to act from the minute he took the oath of office.

Just a week before Easter, the Andanis called a news conference and expressed disappointment that so little has been done to bring the Ya Na’s murderers to book. They demanded immediate action from government to demonstrate the president’s willingness to fulfil his promise.

That action, it seems, is what we saw over the weekend.

In a series of dawn swoops, police in the Northern Region rounded up about 40 ‘suspects’ on Saturday. Most of them were questioned and set free, supposedly on self-recognisance bail. But seven of them have been detained and are due to be charged someday soon.

All well and good.

The Andanis must be happy and the president and the NDC can claim that they are fulfilling their promise.

But are they, really? Not quite. Eyebrows are being raised.

The weekend arrests seem deliberately timed to appease the Andanis and get them off the back of the president for a while. They also seem to be an attempt by the police (and national security) to deflect criticism that they are losing control over the law and order situation in the country – after the mess they created in Techiman-Tuobodom (the national security advisor didn’t even know what was going on there) and the rampant killings in Bawku.

Ghanaians are asking: why now? Would the arrests have been made if the Andanis had bottled up their frustrations and kept them somewhere in the four corners of the Gbewaa Palace? And do the police have any real evidence to prosecute?

Answers should be forthcoming soon.

In the meantime, Ghanaians must be worried that these arrests over the Ya Na’s murder seem to have opened some fresh wounds in Dagbon. The situation in Dagbon has suddenly turned volatile again. The Abudus feel the arrests of their kin are politically-motivated and they have served notice that they are not going to give up without a fight – literally.

Lives could be lost and limbs could be broken.

The next few days are going to be tough – both for the security agencies and the people of Dagbon. Hopefully, there is some good reason for these arrests. Otherwise, heads must roll if they were just made for political expediency and to just prove a point that the security agencies are on top of the situation.

All that should be known when the suspects make their first appearance in court. Hopefully that should be as early as the next few days.