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!