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February 2011

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When John Kufuor arrived at the Osu Castle to meet with John Atta Mills, the two men were all smiles. They were behaving like old buddies who hadn’t seen each other in a long while. It seemed like the perfect photo opportunity for a nation badly in need of a thermostat to help cool down escalating political temperatures.

“I invited him so that we discuss matters of mutual, national and international interest,” President Mills said. “Pure and simple.”

“The two of us are joined by the national interest which must be managed with necessary decorum and circumspection,” Kufuor responded. “You don’t play it in public.”

And with those few words, the two men went into a closed-door session with their minders and advisers in tow.

Later, the hangers-on on both sides came out of the meeting room – leaving the two men alone to speak one-on-one, eyeball-to-eyeball.

No one will tell us exactly what they spoke about. But there is a lot of speculation going on.

From the grapevine, it seems Atta Mills wanted Kufuor to tell Akuffo-Addo to stop saying “all die be die”.

“Why not go and tell him yourself?” Kufuor might have asked.

The former president had other things on his mind.

“Where is my ex-gratia,” he might have asked. “It’s been two years already. Do you want me to go and chew grass? If you don’t get me that ex-gratia, I will also be singing ‘all die be die’ pretty soon. And you don’t want that.”

The body language of the two men at the end of the meeting, suggests that the meeting didn’t go the way they both expected. But it seems Mills was more bruised: Kufuor, reportedly, told him off. So at the end of the meeting Mills’ smile had disappeared. Kufuor had a smug look on his face and he was more than willing to say a few more words to the media. Mills, who was all chatty before the meeting started, decided that he would rather not say anything about what had transpired.

In the media, however, Atta Mills seemed to be winning. His people were claiming the fact that he invited Kufuor for the conversation makes him a unifier. People have been praising him – left, right, centre. As usual, the NPP are not so impressed.

By and large, it seems, Ghanaians feel this sort of tokenism is good. I’ve heard some think-tank officials tanking in their thoughts – along with some religious leaders: the meeting will reduce the political temperature in the country.

But the political temperature in the country hasn’t gotten to boiling point where we’d so badly need a thermostat. Even if the political temperature was so high, a short meeting between Mills and Kufuor would be of little effect – if any at all. If handshakes and photo-ops were peace-brokers, the Middle East would have been one of the most peaceful corners on earth.

The fact is that Atta Mills has not been the fatherly figure he promised to be. In fact, under his rule, this country has become even more divided than ever before. What with the NDC and its footsoliders thinking the whole country and everything it has to offer should be handed to them – seizing anything from public toilets to cars meant for auction? Being portrayed as a unifier was the last thing on Atta Mills’ mind when he offered to meet with Kufuor. But that’s the windfall benefit he’s reaping.

So let’s stay on that for a while.

Any country which makes as big a deal as what we are seeing and hearing about this simple closed-door meeting between Mills and Kufuor, is a country on a very weak foundations. It is not the first time, is it? George Bush comes around. Rawlings shakes Kufuor’s hand over dinner and Ghanaians start jumping around excitedly, claiming it’s a sign of hope – only for Rawlings to turn around to say or do something outrageous to tell us that anyone who thought he had patched up with Kufuor was fooling himself.

The fact that people get excited and start singing songs of hope and unity when they see a sitting president smiling with a previous one indicates that there is a certain yearning in Ghanaian hearts. We want to see our current leader working closely with those who came before him – tapping into their experience, making good use of their knowledge, learning from their failings. Show me a country where current leaders don’t see those who have gone before them as enemies and I will show you a country destined for greatness.

Ours is not such a country.

Rawlings saw those before him as saboteurs and killed most of them. He made sure that the one he didn’t kill lived in ignominy and died in penury.

Kufuor saw Rawlings as a threat and withdrew all his ‘privileges’, calling him ‘sasabonsam’ (the devil) in the process. Mills looks upon Kufuor with a certain suspicion and sees Rawlings as a threat – even though the Mills we know today is a creation of Rawlings.

This “they-against-me” mentality draws us back. There should definitely be a way for Mills to tap into whatever experiences Kufuor and Rawlings garnered with their joint 27-years in power.

If we left it to the sitting president to decide how he works with his predecessors, he would tell them all – especially those who are not in his party – to go to hell. So let’s force him to work with his predecessors. Legally. Constitutionally.

We have a Council of State which is supposed to be advising the president. I think every former president should automatically become a member of the council of state. With such an arrangement the sitting president will be forced – in the national interest – to hear the opinions of those who have gone before him. He cannot decide to meet with them just to pull a publicity stunt when he sees his popularity plummeting.

Getting former presidents to serve on the Council of State would also force the likes of Jerry Rawlings to put on the cloak of elder statesmen and stop talking ‘by-heart’ at the first opportunity. Knowing that they have a particular, dignified forum to air their views on pertinent issues would be some sort of restraint against corrosive speeches and un-statesmanlike conduct. They can still choose to do their politics. But they will talk as wise men and their words will carry more weight.

Secondly, I think we should do as the Americans do and make it mandatory that every former president gets regular national security briefings. Former presidents who handled the security of the nation for years need to be kept in the loop on anything that threatens to tear the nation apart. If situations crop up that they faced previously – perhaps wrongly like how Kufuor handled Dagbon – the wisdom of hindsight helps prevent a repetition of previous errors. There may be fears that someone with the temperament of Rawlings could abuse the insider information he would be given, using it to sabotage the establishment. Under a democratic arrangement, it’s hard to see any former president decide to cut short the enjoyment of his retirement (getting paid for doing so little) to engage in subversive activities. If Rawlings hasn’t done it, I don’t see anyone else doing it in the future. In any case, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces should be able to deal with anyone, former president or Regular Joe, who tries to abuse a privilege like receiving regular national security briefings.

Finally, it should be mandatory for the government to invite former leaders to every major national assignment. This should not be left to vindictive sycophants in the office of the president to decide. Attendance to national events should be a right every former president must enjoy.

Serving on the Council of State, receiving regular national security briefings and actively participating in major national events, would foster the culture of inclusivity this country so badly needs. We need every functioning brain we have to push us forward – it doesn’t matter whether it is hiding under an umbrella or sitting on an elephant.

It takes more than the president having an occasional brunch with his predecessor to get all brains (and hands) on deck. Let’s start by tapping into the vast experiences of our former leaders; let’s give them bigger, legally well-defined roles and we’d be all the better for it. After all, we all agree that “experience is the best teacher”.

Successive government’s over a period of about 80 years built six public universities – most of them overcrowded, ill-equipped and poorly-staffed.

At the nation’s ‘premier’ university, it’s a common sight to see hundreds of students crammed into one small lecture hall, craning their necks and twitching their ears to see and hear what their lecturer is straining his vocal chords to say. Public address systems are a rarity.

In power for less than two years, President Atta Mills wants to build two more universities. If he succeeds, Ghana would have eight public universities – 25 percent of them constructed under the presidency of one man: John Atta Mills.

It’s impossible to tell whether this is the dubious reputation President Mills is aiming to achieve. But whatever his motives, it’s clear they have a slight political tinge to them. The administration is building universities to win votes. Just check out the words that were spoken at the groundbreaking ceremonies for the two universities.

In both Ho and Sunyani, the chiefs and people were happy and full of gratitude that they were getting their “own” universities.

The Daily Graphic reported: “President Mills said the people of the Brong Ahafo Region deserved the Energy and Natural Resources University…. The Brong Ahafo Regional Minister, Mr Kwadwo Nyamekye-Marfo, stressed that the realisation of the university project would not only boost the standard and access to tertiary education in the region but also create economic and employment opportunities for the people and, indeed, those from other parts of the country.”

The least said about the university in the Volta Region, the better. But it’s worth pointing out that the decision to build a university in Ho is in fulfilment of a campaign promise to give the region, the stronghold of the ruling party, its “own” university.

It makes little sense that while existing public universities students are crying out for equipment and improved facilities, government thinks it is more prudent for it to spend more money to build new universities, which would end up just like the ones that exist already. Instead of throwing good money after bad (literally!), I think it would have been wiser for the administration to equip the old, existing universities to bring them up to scratch.

If history is anything to go by I am prepared to wager. Ten years from now, the new universities in Ho and Sunyani would be as poorly-resourced as any of the public universities before them – lecture halls crammed, students craning their necks and twitching their ears to see and hear what their lecturers strain their vocal chords to say – no public address systems.

By the time the nation realises the folly in building new universities, which will turn out to be as bad as the existing ones, costly harm would have been done and much more money would be needed to turn things around – money another ill-advised government might want to spend to build new universities to win votes. The cycle is hard to break.

Nana Akuffo-Addo is usually a measured gentleman who chooses his words carefully. His speeches are often laced with quotable quotes for everyone to mull over. But his recent address to supporters in Koforidua came with just one quotable quote, which, unfortunately, is the worst I’ve heard from him – “All die be die!”

It’s so bad because, to begin with, it’s not original. It’s the sort of gutter language reckless people use to defend or justify their dangerous deeds. Ask any anti-HIV campaigner and they will tell you that a lot of men say “all die be die” to justify their inability to keep their ‘langalanga’ zipped up.

A potential president never says “all die be die” – not even in jest. If we ever get a President Akuffo-Addo, he cannot stand anywhere to tell Ghanaians to lead healthy lives and make safety a cardinal principle. If a President Akuffo-Addo stands in front of any driver to plead for caution on the road, he will get either a slap or an emphatic exclamation: “all die be die!” The words might be followed by a slap – two for the price of one.

The context within which Nana Addo said “all die be die” seemed so ethnocentric that it made him sound like a divisive bigot – not the unifier a prospective president is supposed to be.

“They have made up their minds that they will intimidate us in 2012,” he said. “They believe that we Akans can’t stand pain and that when you scare us and injure one or two of us, the rest will run away.”

I have a feeling that, perhaps, he really didn’t mean to be ethnocentric. But the fact that he mentioned ‘Akans’ makes it difficult, if not impossible, for Nana Addo (or anyone close to him) to explain his words any other way. He can’t tell us that he had no intention to create the impression that in the murky arena of Ghanaian politics, one tribe is ever-so determined to ride roughshod over another. It doesn’t help that he seemed to be urging his followers, ostensibly the ‘Akans’, to fight back.

“Our forebears who formed this party and made it the biggest political movement in Ghana, were not people who hid under beds,” he said. “We must muster courage and show that for the 2012 elections all die be die.”

Nana Addo is not exactly asking Akans – or anyone of his supporters for that matter – to pick up cudgels and start smashing the heads of their opponents. So he cannot be the warmonger he’s being made out to be. But he clearly spoke out of desperation, urging his people to fight back when they are attacked. He practically asked his people to take the law into their own hands.

Nana Addo is a former Attorney General. He’s supposed to be one of the last people in this country to ask his followers to fight back. I expect him to tell his follows to constantly seek refuge in the law and in the law enforcement agencies.

By urging his supporters not to hide under beds and fight back, Nana Addo has told Ghanaians that he is the most desperate politician in Ghana today. What else would make a man who proclaimed a few years ago that no Ghanaian blood should be spilled because of an election to turn around and urge his followers to fight back because “all die be die”?

Time is not on Nana Addo’s side. 2012 will be his last chance at the presidency. It’s an election he must win. And with Atta Mills and his men fumbling all over the place, citing ground-breaking ceremonies as achievements, Nana Addo must be feeling that he’s most definitely going to be sworn-in as president in January 2013. And he doesn’t want anyone or anything to come between him and the presidency. Anyone who threatens violence to prevent him from becoming president, must be faced by courageous men. But no one should sacrifice his life for Nana Addo to become president. In fact, no one should die for another to achieve his political ambitions. That’s a foolish death.

Nana Addo should be well reminded to go back to that fantastic, conciliatory speech he read after he won the NPP’s presidential primary in December 2007. That was more of a dignified posture from a man ready to serve every Ghanaian. Now, with words like “all die be die” Nana Addo sounds like a desperate, selfish tribal bigot seeking only what is best for himself and his people – the ‘Akans’ – even at the cost of human life. Anyone who doesn’t mind the spilling of human blood and recklessly proclaims that all “die be die” doesn’t deserve the mantle of leadership.

I expect any man who wants to be president of this country to exhort his followers to seek refuge under the law – not to muster courage and fight back. If Nana Addo truly believes that all “die be die”, he should get rid of his bodyguards and move into the next political hotspot he hears about. Getting himself killed will convince us that all die, truly, be die. Otherwise, I insist that some deaths, especially for a politician, are foolish deaths.

The battle against corruption is tough even for advanced countries. It’s just human nature that people don’t like to miss an opportunity (or resist the temptation) to skim a few dollars. As Anas Aremeyaw Anas’ latest covert journalistic operation has shown, such temptations abound in a place like the port, where people have to pay to get certain services rendered.

In such places, officers have developed a system of creating temptations where none exists. They have made the system so inefficient and unwieldy that to get what you want you must pay for a certain unofficial ‘premium’ service, which is nothing more than the basic service they are supposed to render.

If you have a container-load of perishable goods worth 200,000 dollars waiting to be cleared, would you rather pass 200 dollars under the table for the official to cut through the red tape quickly for you or would you rather stand, watch and lecture him on principles of integrity as he takes his sweet time to do things as slowly as he can while your apples rot?

As expected, Anas’ investigation has sparked a wave of consternation. What’s most surprising is that almost everyone seems surprised at the level of corruption captured on tape. The president is miffed. The opposition – the ones who claimed some years back that ‘corruption is from Adam’ – is trying to make some political capital out of it. The radio programmes are full of high-mended, mostly unworkable suggestions about how the problem could be dealt with.

One of such suggestions came from none other than President Mills. He suggests that new recruits into CEPS should declare their assets. The naivety of the suggestion is as surprising as the president’s seeming surprise at the revelations of the rot in CEPS – not to mention his painfully melodramatic and needless suggestion that the judiciary were not helping to deal with the issue. But that’s for another time.

For now, let’s just focus on how to sanitise CEPS and all the other public agencies whose officers demand bribes before doing what they are paid to do.

Forcing people to declare their assets hasn’t reduced corruption among politicians. It’s hard to see it helping to curb corruption at Ghana Customs. So it’s a suggestion that should be dismissed without any wastage of vital brain cells on a consideration of its merits and demerits.

I think one of the best ways to stop public officials at Customs (and elsewhere) from fleecing law abiding citizens is to install close circuit TV cameras wherever they work. Deploying such technology could appear so expensive at the onset that it could be brushed aside as unworkable. But this country can afford it and it would pay off in the long run.

Nobody wants to be caught on tape stealing or doing any wrong. The mere fact that cameras are watching their every move would deter public officials from demanding money at every turn before offering the service they ought to provide. It would reduce the temptation for people to try to cut through the red tape by passing on envelopes – above and under the table.

The CCTV cameras would promote efficiency because people won’t come to work and loiter or sleep on their desks. And when people do what they are expected to do and in good time, much of the red tape will disappear without any illegal. Increased efficiency means increased revenue and this should translate into better pay for public servants. Better pay, invariably, helps a great deal to increase the resistance to temptations to fleece or the tendency to actively look out for – or even create – such temptations.