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October 2010

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Is it strange that a class three pupil (who might just be about eight years old) cannot answer a question like “who’s the president of the country?”

I don’t think so.

He doesn’t have a care in the world so why on earth must he care about who the president is?

Isn’t it odd that the ignorance of this child will force leaders of the ruling party into crisis meetings to deliberate on the best ways to let the children of this country know who their president is?

Yes, of course, it is.

For all intents and purposes, class three pupils are allowed NOT to know who the president of their country is. I don’t think that every 8-year-old in Britain knows David Cameron as Prime Minister. Not every 8-year-old in America knows that Barack Obama is president of the United States.

Apparently, Ghanaian children, the lucky ones among whom study in poorly ventilated classrooms, with insufficient lighting with little or no learning aids are supposed to be masters of current affairs. Their ignorance of who the president is gives cause for concern and alarm among government officials.
It’s very amusing the lengths government seems ready to go just to erase the permissible ignorance (and innocence) of children who don’t know who their president is.

First, we heard a district chief executive instructing school heads to make sure that pictures of the president are hanging on the walls of every classroom. Then came a minister, shouting his voice hoarse and deceiving us that when you go to America, the president of that country has his pictures hanging in every public place.

I stayed briefly in Washington DC, visited Capitol Hill and several government departments regularly as part of a study programme in 2008 and I didn’t see George Bush’s picture hanging in every public place.

Please, someone should tell Elvis Afriyie Ankrah, the deputy minister for local government, that he is not the only one who has travelled to America before. Barack Obama’s pictures are not hanging in every public place in America. If he wants to hang the president’s picture everywhere, he should go right ahead and waste the taxpayer’s money. It wouldn’t be the first time good money would be squandered on a silly venture. But he should spare us the lies.

The campaign to popularize the visage of the president has already started. The education ministry has confirmed the free distribution of tea cups embossed with the pictures of the president to school children around the country. That’s what I call a cup of Mills. Very soon, they might move to hanging pictures in classrooms and staff common rooms.

I don’t know where else they may go with the president’s picture after that. But I think it would be very good to have the president’s pictures hanging on electric poles, laundry lines and on the walls of chop bars and KVIPs. Imagine standing in a queue waiting to go do your thing and having the president staring at you. That will help keep ‘things’ in until you have to all clear to go and download.

Next time you go to a fetish priest or prayer camp, don’t be surprised if you see a presidential motif on the walls. I will be terribly disappointed if the government doesn’t start distributing chamber pots with the president’s picture embossed on it for use by infants. Catch them young, right?

How about getting some pretty chicks and getting their beautiful, well-rounded behinds embossed with the president’s picture? They will surely go places and the message will be sent out in a very shapely manner that our president is begging to be known.

A country where you have the president’s picture hanging everywhere is not a healthy country at peace with itself. Look at North Korea. It’s a terrible thing when the chief executive of the country needs to be so badly known (even among the non-voting population) that government officials decide to emboss his picture on tea cups for free distribution among school children. There is something terribly wrong somewhere.

This obsession with getting the president’s pictures out there in order to get every toddler to know who is leader of this country is a symptom of a very serious disease known as unfocused, short-sighted leadership. Why else would a DCE visit a school, overlook the serious lack of educational facilities and rather choose the absence of the president’s picture on the wall as his primary concern? Why else will a minister lie to the whole nation that the American president has his picture hanging everywhere and so we should do the same just to let the president be known.

The fact is a president should not be known by his pictures alone. By his deeds we should know him. It’s true that a picture speaks more than a thousand words. But a good deed speaks more than a thousand pictures. The president should fix the ills of this country. He should get the children better classrooms to study in, desks to sit on and motivated teachers to impart knowledge. He will not only be known. But he will be remembered by the current generation and those yet to come. Being known is fleeting. Pictures can be replaced. Some of the schools don’t even have walls for hanging the pictures. But let the president and his men focus on building modern classrooms, give us water to drink and heal the land they will never be forgotten. His pictures will not just be on our walls and teacups. They will be in a better place, where they can never be removed or defaced – our hearts and our minds. In that case, who needs a cup of Mills?

A little over ten years ago, I bought my first SIM card for the equivalent of today’s 70 cedis. It was a ‘Spacefon’ number and getting that SIM for my unwieldy Nokia 3110 phone was one of the best things that happened to me that year. At the time, I had just started working for Skyy Power FM in Takoradi and my salary was the equivalent of today’s 60 cedis. So I got that that SIM card after living like a miser for several months all in the name of saving. My hustling uncle in the UK got me the phone, which couldn’t fit in my pocket.

The telecom services then were terrible but I also wanted to get in on the fad before it faded.

The fad did not fade and 10 years down the line, SIM cards are selling as cheaply as one cedi and, in some cases, they are even being offered for free. ‘Spacefon’ is no more. It is now MTN and it’s still the market leader – as it was about a decade ago. But the monopoly it used to enjoy is all but broken and it’s facing very stiff competition.

Other telecom providers like tigo, Zain and Vodafone appear very determined to take as much as they can from MTN. The keener the competition gets, the more the consumer benefits.

Take the current race to be the network with the ‘lowest call rates’ as an example. For me, the clearest winner appears to be Zain, with Vodafone as a very determined Vodafone. MTN lost the race long before it began. In its complacence, MTN sat down and allowed the likes of Vodafone and Zain to drastically slash their call rates to a mere 8p per minute.

The price reductions are moving a lot of subscribers away from MTN. I’ve heard people say things like “My MTN is for receiving only” and “I am only keeping the MTN chip because I don’t want to lose my contacts.”

MTN is hurting but not so much as to be forced into panic mode. Now, it’s just trying to find ways to stem the haemorrhage. Its first attempt at this, though, has been a very bad step that amounts to ignoble deception.

For almost a week now, MTN has put out adverts claiming that it is offering the “best value”, urging you to talk for as low as 7.5p per minute – creating the impression that they have introduced a tariff regime that beats Zain and Vodafone. But their claims are not entirely true.

You see, while Vodafone and Zain offer 8p from the very first minute you start talking, MTN demands that you talk for at least three minutes before you can take advantage of the 7.5p/min offer.

That means that those of us who like to talk in short bursts are not covered. In the same advert in which they claim to offer the “best value”, MTN has two other offerings. Take either of these up and the so-called best value rates apply to only five numbers, which you would need to choose as so-called “family and friends”. Call any other number and you pay 10per minute.

How can any of this be “best value” for anyone?

Simply put, MTN’s offer comes with many strings attached – just like when SIM cards were sold for the equivalent of today’s 60 cedis. The difference between then and now, however, is that there is competition, there is choice and there is every indication that the days when the telecom firms took us for granted are well nigh over. Above all else, it is clear that the battle is not necessarily for those who have been around the longest. In fact, they are the ones who are grasping at straws and resorting to cunning deception. But they lie bad! The battle will be won by those who play it fair, innovate and offer real value – quality, dependable services at cheap rates. Best value, is in the eyes of the beholder and in my eyes MTN is far from providing that. Not now and definitely not with what they are currently advertising.

A lot has gone wrong for the NDC since they won power. The party has become more fractured in power than it was in opposition. We know who is in charge but we don’t exactly know who is in control. The centre is simply not holding.

The party’s so-called founder, Jerry Rawlings, has moved from barking to near-begging – just to maintain some relevance in the ruling party. The press statement he issued last week was as pathetic as it was unnecessary. After being ignored for close to two years by his protégé, President Atta Mills, you would have thought that he would get the message and walk quietly into his inner sanctum to watch, pray and hope that Mills fails so he could thump his chest and say “I told you so” to the whole nation. But Rawlings is nothing if not a fighter – all brawn, little brain. Or so I thought…

The guy is on to something. I can feel it. That press statement claiming that government and party functionaries have been going round the country discrediting him and his wife, seems to me to be part of a strategy to make his wife, Nana Konadu, the NDC’s presidential candidate for 2012.

In that statement he makes it clear that he doesn’t like the way Atta Mills (or whoever is controlling the government machinery) is running the show.

“Do I have a problem with Atta Mills?” he asks and then answers: “yes, I do.”

You may not like Atta Mills but I think he deserves full applause for the manner he’s kept Rawlings way beyond the touchlines. If it were a football match at the Accra Sports Stadium, you could say that Atta Mills has successfully kept Rawlings, his political benefactor, confined to the upper rows of the Osu popular stand. Mills has proved those who thought he would be Rawlings’ puppet (or poodle) wrong and in so doing he’s got Rawlings pissed off – big time!

So if Rawlings has a problem with Atta Mills it has as much to do with his exclusion from the administration as his own stated reason for those differences – that is Mills’ “refusal to pursue the moral mandate of the people – to reinstate truth, transparency and most of all justice into the fabric and psyche of the nation.”

Whatever that means.

Rawlings’ idea of dealing with the problem and getting himself back in power is to foist his wife on the party.

“Let me remind all concerned that we won all our elections,” he says in the statement last week, apparently referring to the elections he won in 1992 and 1996 and Mills’ electoral defeats in 2000 and 2004.

“We” refers to Jerry John and Nana Konadu and it’s quite annoying the way he tries to make the point to create the impression that he went through some bruising electoral battles and came up tops. In 1992 I was a teenager but even then I knew that those elections were a sham. In 1996 I was almost out of my teens and I knew that the polls then were a little more competitive than they were in 1992 but even so, Rawlings won because Ghanaians didn’t want set a mad lion on themselves. In 2000 we just could not wait to see him out of power and he (and his party) were shown the exit in a grand style.

Rawlings appears to be under the illusion that he and wife make a winsome pair and that if he campaigned and helped Atta Mills to win in two rounds, he can help his wife to win without breaking sweat. It is this illusion that has sparked the campaign, mostly run from his hamlet in Tefle, to get Nana Konadu to run for the presidency in 2012. It doesn’t surprise me that just days after issuing that “we won all our elections” statement, our street corners are strewn with posters and banners proclaiming Nana Konadu as the best leader for Ghana after 2012.

As the next elections draw near, those in the NDC and in government who are not so drunk on power must know that the party is on very shaky grounds. They need to more than double up to ensure that they stay in power. Even if that happens, they may need to bring up a new candidate because, on the ground, a lot of Ghanaians are convinced that Atta Mills is not providing the purposive leadership this country needs. Let’s just say he’s doing his incompetent best.

Atta Mills needs a miracle, the sort that saw Jesus feeding 5000 people with five loaves of bread, to win a second term. Personally, I’ve almost written him off – and it’s ‘almost’ because I believe that miracles do happen. Rawlings knows that a lot of people within the NDC itself have lost confidence in Atta Mills and for that matter there may be a vacuum that would need to be filled. Since he needs a proxy to bring him back to power, and with Atta Mills having ‘betrayed’ him so, he can’t trust anyone better than his wife.

But the NDC would make a big mistake to put up Nana Konadu as their presidential candidate. They are better off putting up a John Mahama or a Spio-Garbrah. Even Johnson Asiedu-Nketiah has a better chance of winning a presidential contest for the NDC than that wife of Jerry John Rawlings. They know this fact but the NDC likes to make mistakes. It seems to be one of their major learning aids. I won’t therefore be surprised if by dint of some monumental mistake and a heavy dose of manipulation (which has already started) Rawlings manages to get his party to select his wife as their presidential candidate. The reason why the NDC doesn’t want to create an electoral college like the NPP has done is because the status quo affords the Rawlings loyalists one of the best opportunities to get his wife to run for the presidency.

At the party level Rawlings can do his worst. But I am sure he won’t get his way at the national level – even if he puts in place a rigging machinery like he did in 1992 and ’96. Ghanaians are wide awake and the same vigilance that made it impossible for the NPP to pump up the figures from Ashanti in 2008 will not allow the NDC (and Rawlings) to tinker with the polls in 2012. Otherwise, we are doomed. If Nana Konadu rules this country for just three days she would set us back by 30 years. That’s like taking us back to the 1980s when her husband was riding roughshod over us with iron fists that struck anyone who dared to speak out against him. She won’t be any better. Besides frying ‘gari’ what does she know about leadership and nation-building? She and her husband led us for almost 20 years and took us nowhere. So, Nana Konadu for president? No way! I’d rather choose Atta Mills and write him off again!

A country where there is no potable water for the majority and nursing mothers sleep on the bare floor in hospitals and school children study under trees is nothing but one big village.

In the modern world people are travelling on speed trains, performing complex brain surgeries, using sophisticated technologies to control crime and they are even flying into space, not just for scientific exploration but also for pleasure and leisure.

In the villages of the world, people queue to go to the loo, people care more about culture (every function is an opportunity to demonstrate how the ancestors danced) than science and life, overall, is as “brutish and short” in the 21st century as it was in the 15th.

Our poor wretched country, Ghana, (and most African countries for that matter) perfectly fits the description of a village nation.

When others are building huge malls, we are content with simple dirty market stalls. The one we call the Pedestrian shopping mall in Accra is sort that was in vogue in France in the 18th century. We go around calling our hamlets municipalities and metropolises. The real municipalities and metropolises in the world, Rome and New York, for example, do not need titles to be recognized as such. Isn’t it a shame that our hospitals, won’t even pass for infirmaries in penitentiaries elsewhere?

And we say we are not in a village? Don’t be fooled by the smart suits, the mobile phones, the few tarred roads, the fast cars and the glass buildings. Whether you like it or not, Ghana is a village and every Ghanaian is a villager. It doesn’t matter whether you come from Akyerensua or Teshie Nungua, Adjoa or Nii Boi Town. Even if you come from British Accra, you are a villager. If you call yourself a Ghanaian, you are a villager. Simple!

So when a deputy minister goes to sit on radio and decides to run down people and refers to his opponents as villagers, that minister is only making a fool of himself, behaving like the proverbial kettle calling the pot black. When deputy tourism minister, Kobby Acheampong went on Citi FM and said the NPP general secretary, Kwadjo Owusu-Afriyie, had been behaving like a gentleman from a cocoa farm who had stayed in Kumasi for far too long and needed to broaden his horizon, he must have been thinking he was hitting his opponent where it hurts most. But that’s not all he did. He spoke a truth about himself, about his opponents and about all Ghanaians.

The fact is we all need to “broaden” our horizons. And that horizon broadening exercise should begin at the top with people like Kobby Acheampong.

Only villagers descend into pettiness when issues of great import like the performance of a leader are being discussed. When Kwadjo Owusu-Afriyie said President Mills deserved a grade A for doing nothing, he spoke with uncommon wit. The most appropriate response would have been for Kobby Acheampong to muster whatever little wit he has and counter the argument by stating what his boss had done. If this was too much for him to do and his choice was to rain invectives, he should have done so with more precision.

But Mr. Acheampong obviously lacks the basic intelligence which dictates that in your bid to insult one man, you should make sure that you don’t drag others along and earn disaffection for yourself from people you didn’t intend to offend. Mr. Acheampong wanted to insult Mr. Owusu-Afriyie. But he ended up insulting not just cocoa farmers but everyone who grew up or stayed in Kumasi.

If we weren’t in a village where pettiness marks our very existence, Kobby Acheampong’s silly comments would have been ignored with utmost contempt. In this our village, however, we get a whole bunch of MPs organizing an emergency press conference to demand the resignation (or dismissal) of Kobby Acheampong, who in the grand design of Atta Mills’ ever-fumbling machinery of governance amounts to nothing more than needless extra.

You may not like what Kobby Acheampong said. You may not even like him as a person. But, at the very least, you should agree with him on one point – horizons need to be broadened. When he said Owusu-Afriyie should broaden his horizon, he spoke the truth about all of us – including himself and the man who gave him the job he doesn’t deserve.

We all need to broaden our horizons and realize that the world is passing us by. People elsewhere are living life to the fullest. We are here consumed by want yet we waste precious time quarrelling over who is a villager and who’s not.

Indeed, the MPs who called the press conference to demand the deputy minister’s resignation – whether from cocoa farms or the sandy shores of a fishing community – need to broaden their horizons and realize that there are more pressing things they should be directing their attention at. Lives have been severely disrupted in West Gonja, our educational system is in deep crisis, everywhere you turn people are agitating for anything from water to electricity and better drainage, our roads are as choked as our gutters. We can’t even operate a simple rail system and our MPs organize a press conference over an issue as petty as an inconsequential rubble rouser’s reference to them as villagers from a cocoa farm?

I understand egos might have been bruised. But, please, let’s face it. You are not what you say you are. Neither are you what people say you are. You are what you do. We are all villagers not only by virtue of the fact that we all come from one hamlet or another. We are all villagers because we live like we are still in the 16th century. Let’s face it and start broadening our horizons.

…According to the Encarta dictionary, ex-gratia is “given as a gift, favour or gesture of goodwill rather than because it is owed”.

What this means is that the state is under no obligation to give ex-gratia to any MP, president, vice president, judge or any public officials for that matter – not after they’ve been paid monthly salaries in addition to several other perks.

SIGN the petition and let’s end the madness. Click on this link. >>> www.petitiononline.com/nogratia/petition.html

…And, please, spread the word – the more signatures we get, the better!

I want to apologise for the period of inactivity and the fact that the site went down for a couple of weeks. I won’t bore you with the details. The most important thing is that we are back.

I am grateful to all of those who called or sent messages enquiring about what was going on and offering support in diverse ways. As you can see nothing serious was going on and I wasn’t being gagged (or castrated), as some suggested.

I am happy the site is back up and, as ever, I am looking forward to interesting interactions.