Saturday, May 16, 2015 will be remembered as one of the most remarkable epochs in the history of Ghana. It’s a day I hope to never forget even if I suffer the severest form of dementia. It’s a day, I will look back on with pride in myself and the thousands of compatriots who turned up to speak with one voice and send a clear, unambiguous message to a national leadership that has lost its way and much of its mind. The message was simple: we have heard enough of their promises, we have seen enough of their efforts which have yielded precious little and now, we demand nothing but concrete solutions to an energy crisis we have tolerated for far too long.
We took to the streets in response to the call of a very brave young woman who realized that if she could use her face to sell beauty products she could also use her voice to rally her compatriots to demand results from their leaders. With a simple hashtag, Yvonne Nelson poked the eye of the arrogant beast our government has become. The best initial response to her simple demand for an end to the crisis came from government agents and party operatives who specialize in raining terror and venom on any section of the citizenry which questions or challenges the ruling elite. They insulted Miss Nelson and tried almost every trick in the book to intimidate her into silence. Yet, she stood her ground and won the admiration of much of the patriotic, thinking side of a weary nation.
We responded to Miss Nelson’s call for us to march and participate in her vigil because we believed her cause was right and her demand for nothing but results was just. We weren’t bussed there. We weren’t paid or forced to be there. With the voice of Miss Nelson, our nation called and we responded. There were students and professors, doctors and nurses, employers and employees, men and women, young and old, rich and poor. We heard a call to patriotic duty and we heeded.
In the songs we sung and in the words we spoke to each other, we shared stories about how the power crisis has affected our lives. Most of us are sleep deprived because climate control is hard to achieve without electricity. So we sleep drenched in sweat. Sleep deprivation means low productivity at work, where we are constantly being threatened with the spectre of possible lay-offs because our companies cannot continue to stay viable when they are forced to spend much more than they ever have on fuelling and maintaining generators. We also heard from people with bed-ridden relatives whose recovery from debilitating illnesses hasn’t been helped by the unbearable heat.
We heard stories about how people are spending much more than they ever have on food because buying and preparing food in bulk is a foolish proposition at a time when there’s not enough electricity to keep the refrigerators working. We heard from people who have had to discard refrigerators which have been damaged by power fluctuations. Others told of how they themselves or people they know have suffered severe food poisoning, brought on by inadequate preservation. We heard from students whose academic careers are floundering because they don’t have sufficient lighting to burn the midnight oil. Actually, Miss Nelson and her fellow entertainers also told us about how the power crisis is blocking the flow of their creative juices. And on a lighter note, we heard from both men and women who have for so long been deprived of those precious intimate moments that prevented most of us from becoming nuns and monks.
Some of the stories were funny. Most were sad and pitiful, a clear indication of the dire straits our nation finds itself in as a result of the government’s incompetent and shambolic handling of the power crisis. This ‘dumsor’ crisis is crippling our nation and sapping the vitality out of the citizenry. It’s a big shame that those we’ve given power to are failing to give us the power we need to keep our homes habitable, our factories producing and our businesses running. There is no sign yet that they will solve this problem anytime soon.
But as our government literally gropes in the dark for remedies to a problem whose solution should be easy for a thinking government to grasp, the only positive in these difficult times is that we as a people are beginning to stand up for our nation. It started on Republic Day last year with #OccupyGhana, a protest moment spearheaded by middle class Ghanaians, who decided on that rainy day in July to come out of their comfort zones to speak out and fight their country.
Almost a year to that day, entertainers like Miss Nelson and her friends who comfortably sat for so long on the fences and watched the nation being brought to its knees, suddenly came to the realization that they could use their faces and their voices to force change. They were told to shut up and continue to sit on the comfy perches because as entertainers, they were not supposed to be political actors. Yet they stuck to their guns and acted on their convictions, knowing very well that we are all in this together and that this is the only nation we can call our own. If this ship sinks, we will all drown together. While John Mahama and his ilk flee to safe, luxurious abodes in Dubai and London, many of our small-town entertainers and celebrities will not be saved. Even if they got saved, there would be few of us left for them to entertain. They marched on Saturday because they have become very acutely aware of these facts.
Miss Nelson, Van Vicker, and the other celebrities who joined in the march may not have done anything out of the ordinary. After all, the arts have always been a force for change the world over. Fela Kuti, for example, was an entertainer who rained lyrical fire on Nigeria’s bungling military dictatorships for years. But in this country where entertainers, have confined themselves to just singing and acting about love and death, what happened over the weekend was well and truly unprecedented. Not only did our entertainment celebrities find out that their voices and visages could be used for much more than making music and film, but we the ordinary citizens also demonstrated that with the right kind of leadership, we will all put our shoulders to the wheel and help build a strong, healthy and bright mother Ghana. In the meantime, we are not taking any more nonsense from the governing elite. We are telling John Mahama and his underperforming cronies that we have heard enough of their promises. We won’t hear any more of their catalogue of efforts. We need results. And they better come soon.
To Yvonne Nelson, we say thank you, brave woman for every word you spoke, for every insult you took. When they insulted you, they insulted us all. Today, you have won our hearts because we know you care more about your country than John Mahama ever would. You’ve made history and we are proud of you. Yaa Asantewaa made it into the history books with a gun. You did so with a hashtag. That’s more than we can say about John Mahama after all these years in office and all those unfulfilled. Those of us who heeded your call to come out and march for Mother Ghana, are grateful for the opportunity to be part of the history you made.
In the past few days I’ve been called several new names by dozens of new people who have made no secret of their desire for me to see them as a whole new legion of enemies. These are mostly people I considered friends, even if only in a professional sense.
Today, they see me as the enemy within, the snitch who revealed one of their darkest, shameful secrets. They used to call me honest, but today I’m a hypocritical holier-than-thou, self-righteous son of a gun who should shut up already. Some of them even say I’m on a campaign to deliberately damage their reputations or run down their companies to the advantage of the one I work for.
I’ve been cornered and told to either “go easy” or “be careful”. I’ve been insulted and I’ve been threatened. In all cases, my response has been simple: this is a conversation we need to have as professionals and there’s no better time than now. I, therefore, don’t really care that my colleagues are haranguing me for making it known to the world that some of the most senior people within our professional ranks went to a meeting with the chief of staff at the presidency and came away with hefty, cash-laden envelopes in their pockets.
Before handing out the cash (1000 cedis in each envelope) the chief of staff told the gathering that he didn’t want the money to be construed as a bribe and that it was just a token of appreciation to demonstrate his gratitude that the journalists just showed up when he called them. In our profession, there is a name for such cash handouts: ‘solidarity’ or ‘soli’ for short. It’s a name that conceals the very fact that such payments are a corrupting influence. The name is also used to reinforce the notion that journalists operate on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder, an impoverished, vulnerable lot who need ‘solidarity’ money to transport themselves from one end of town to another.
Whether this is true or not is a different debate for later. But the fact remains that most of us journalists are not proud recipients of ‘soli’. They know there is something inherently wrong with these handouts. If we found ‘soli’ to be dignifying and felt proud to be at the receiving end, we would be making a lot of noise about it openly and gleefully. But ‘soli’ fills us with shame and so we only talk about it in coded language and often in secret. We know it is wrong. It is pitiful. It is disgraceful. Above all else, we know that ‘soli’ places us in an inferior position in a partnership where we are often called upon to satisfy the whims of the giver. Our profession will be better, more influential and respectable without ‘soli’. But we’ve done very little to end it. Many of us believe we came to this profession to meet ‘soli’ and that it would be here long after we are gone.
Ghanaian journalists believe they can influence thinking, change people’s attitudes towards a multitude of issues and, above all else, transform the nation. The only thing they believe they cannot do anything about is ‘soli’, which is one of the most insidious, ethically questionable practices within any rank of professionals in this country. Forget about what they say about ‘soli’ being for transportation. It is meant to influence coverage. Why else would the chief of staff dole out 1000 cedis to journalists for transport alone? Even a cab ride from Accra to Abetifi will cost less than that. So why give out so much. The simple answer is that the chief of staff wanted the journalists to see him in a positive light, see him as a friend and, therefore, think twice before tackling any issue involving him or the powers he serve.
I’ve been in this profession long enough to know that ‘soli’ is usually a cash offer to journalists from publicity-hungry individuals and corporate organizations, who hope that such offerings would earn them the best coverage possible. Favorable coverage could mean highlighting the few positives and downplaying the many negatives.
‘Soli’, however, is not only given out at events like the one which took place at the Flagstaff House on Sunday, April 19, 2015. Sometimes, ‘soli’ is offered to get journalists to turn a blind eye to matters that clearly demand journalistic scrutiny. Other times, journalists get ‘soli’ to refrain from publishing certain stories that, in the public domain, would damage the interests of certain (powerful) people and institutions.
Finally, ‘soli’ is offered to build and cement relationships of patronage which eventually inform how journalists cover certain issues, individuals and organizations over time. Call it ‘soli’ in advance, if you may. You get the money when there are no issues to be covered. So the money comes as a gesture of friendship with no visible strings attached. But when an issue does come up concerning the ‘generous’ individual or organization, the journalist would most likely be minded to think about the relationship first and foremost before any consideration of how best to cover the issue at hand. If the best coverage from a journalistic standpoint doesn’t favour the giver, journalist would likely downplay the issue to a point where coverage doesn’t make the giver look as bad as he should be. The chief of staff gave out money to the so-called senior journalists because he wanted as many of them as possible to be on his side, sympathize with him and give him and his office the best coverage possible.
Journalists can hype or hide an issue simply because it is being pushed or pulled by a very ‘generous’ organization or individual. And generous givers do get hyped a lot in the Ghanaian media almost to the point of utter absurdity. Watch out for the next story about a rising Ghanaian football star in a remote corner in Belarus. Any careful reading between the line would bring up the fact that the story has essentially been planted to win the player a possible call up into the Black Stars. Journalists do the same for entertainers that’s why most music and movie reviews in the newspapers are so drab, crappy and formulaic. Generous ‘soli’ givers also get stories spiked almost every day.
Throughout my career of a mere 15 years or so, ‘soli’ has been the one professional issue that has vexed my mind the most. It’s an issue that just won’t go away. Whenever it became a topic for discussion on various media platforms, some of my fellow journalists proudly proclaimed that ‘soli’ could not influence them in anyway and that they could take ‘soli’ and report objectively on any issue. ‘Soli’, these journalists claim, is not a form of corruption.
But then, if ‘soli’ isn’t a form of corruption, and therefore, nothing to be ashamed of, why can’t any of the editors and senior journalists who were offered hefty envelopes at the Flagstaff House recently tell their audiences about it? The president of the Ghana Journalists Association, Affail Monney, superintended the sharing of the envelopes and took his share of the money. Why is he not publicly telling anyone about it? Why has none of the breakfast show hosts who took the money told their audiences about it? Could it be that they are so ashamed they would much rather keep the receipt of the ‘soli’ (which they claim doesn’t influence them in any way) under wraps?
These are the same journalists the public expects to question governmental waste and corruption. After receiving these monies from the government can the Ghanaian public trust them to ask tough questions about how the government spends our money? What if the administration itself turns around to taunt them about how they (the journalists) benefitted from such wasteful largesse? How can the Ghana Journalists Association speak out with one voice against graft, when the association’s president himself takes money from government for no work done?
Journalists are also among the most poorly paid in this country. Just take a look at most of our newspapers and electronic media. They look, feel and sound poor in many respects – poor in design, poor in script writing, poor in advertising, poor in analysis. They are also very poor in the breadth and depth of the issues they cover. Yet, some of the editors of these same poor media organizations are driving around in four-wheel gas guzzlers, living in mansions and leading the lives of wealthy super stars. Where in heaven’s name do they get their money from? I ask a question like this and I’m accused of being jealous or bitter. But the unspoken truth in the Ghanaian media fraternity is that we all know a good number of our so-called senior journalists are in the pockets of thieving politicians and unscrupulous business managers. In this same country, we have mid-career journalists who are building or living mansions which they should not be able to afford at their current official pay grade. When from within our ranks such questions are asked, the answer often is either don’t ask, don’t tell or these are our people so leave them alone and wait for your turn.
We know that there is a lot of corruption within our ranks. We know too many of our colleagues are in the pay of certain interests – corporate and political. Yet we delude ourselves with the bald-faced lie that ‘soli’ doesn’t influence us in anyway. We claim it doesn’t make us corrupt because it is not a bribe. We insist that since it’s been with us for so long, it is here to stay and there’s nothing we can do to end it. Journalists who believe they can bring governments down, don’t have any confidence in their own ability to say no to government handouts. Journalists who believe they can change society, balk when they are asked to end ‘soli’.
But the sooner it all ends the better. But we can’t end it if we keep asking ourselves the same old, tired question whose answer gives us a weak justification to continue demanding and receiving these handouts. We have deceived ourselves and our audiences long enough by deliberately asking ourselves the wrong question. Asking whether or not ‘soli’ is a bribe, is certainly not the best first step towards meaningful professional soul-searching. We should rather ask a deeper question that sheds more light on this issue than our own professional opacity allows. Instead of asking whether or not ‘soli’ influences ‘objective’ coverage, we should be asking ourselves whether we can proudly tell our audiences about the monies and the gifts we receive from those we cover. After all, our first loyalty is to them – not the highest bidder. And if we told our audiences about what we’ve received, would they take us seriously or would they always read and listen to our reports with doubt and indifference? Would our audiences raise questions about our credibility if we told them that we took monies before writing the stories we want them to read and listen to? Will those who give ‘soli’ feel embarrassed or happy if we told our audiences that we took money from them?
If we answer each of these questions honestly and truthfully, we would all come to the realization that we have for far too long held ourselves to a very low standard. We met it and we made a calculated decision to keep it. But as our country grows and our profession flourishes on this land, we can’t keep this low standard any longer. ‘Soli’ must go and if we decided to let it go, we will let it go.
I know that letting go of ‘soli’ would deprive many of us of a vital source of income. After all, many of us are forced to make do on meagre salaries and ‘soli’ often serves as supplemental, windfall income. But we can only win our independence, maintain our dignity and improve professional standards by forcing our employers to pay us better than they do now. Begging and hounding the people we cover for money is not a sustainable path to income sufficiency.
But then how do we get media owners and managers to pay us well? This is where the GJA comes in. I want to see the GJA leading the struggle for higher ethical standards and better pay for journalists. Instead of the association’s president shamelessly presiding over the distribution of money to senior journalists and allowing ‘soli’ to be freely distributed at the association’s premises, the GJA should condemn the practice and start campaigning for better pay for journalists. If push comes to shove, the association could call for a news blackout and urge its members to refrain from covering any event for as long as it takes for media managers to pay living wages to journalists. Who lives honestly in Ghana today on 800 cedis per month when his editor earns 1000 cedis for wining and dining with a politician for a couple of hours?
To all the enemies I’ve made in the past several days, I’d like to say I’m not sorry. My only regret is that I didn’t raise this issue sooner. But I also believe that there’s no better time than now. So hate me all you can and hurt me all you want. This is a conversation we needed to have and I’m glad we are having it now. I have lost some good friends by bringing this up. That’s the collateral damage. But I hope that out of the ashes of these damaged friendships would arise a better, more ethical and professional journalism in Ghana. So for now I can say: welcome aboard, new enemies. I will make new friends later.
I have a confession to make. Two confessions actually.
The first one has to do my dormant blog. A little over a year ago I tried to explain away my failure to keep the blog active by claiming that I was too busy with school work and that I couldn’t make time to write for the blog. That wasn’t the whole truth. Just a part of it.
School was just one side of the coin. The other side had to do with the fact that I had become so fed up with writing and criticising the same crop of people over the same bunch of pressing issues in the same little dirty country for far too long. I just decided to give up. I was giving up on the land of my birth, my nation and my people. And trust me, giving up is not easy especially because when you are away in a far-off land with a climate that chills your bones and a culture that is vastly different from the one you grew up with, you can’t help but nurse this gnawing pain in your soul about that little dirty country you still love and care so deeply about. It’s even worse when the far-off foreign land you find yourself in happens to be as welcoming, generous and serene as Canada is – a land not flowing exactly with milk and honey, but brimming with amenities that make life comfortable; a country bursting with opportunities only the extremely lazy fail to take advantage of.
And that brings me to my second confession.
I have gotten used to life in Canada. Here there are no politicians riling me up with their ineptitude and sheer foolishness. Not even the crack head of the mayor who presides over Toronto gets to me. I only feel sorry for him. Here in Canada, I don’t have to worry about where I’d get my next bucket of water to cleanse my weary body of the filth it gathers as it goes through the travails of life. Every morning I wake up and I can get instant access to hot or cold water. All I need to do is make up my mind about which direction I need the tap to turn – left or right, red or blue.
And here in Canada, I’ve been blessed with opportunities I never dreamt could come the way of a poor boy born to a longsuffering ‘bofrote’ seller in a small town along the Ghanaian coast. In less than three years I’ve attended two of the best universities in this country on the wings of scholarships that were offered on merit and not because I had sold my conscience and my voice to the highest paying politician. In three years, Canada has done more for me than the land of my birth did in the first 33 years of my life.
That’s not to say I bear a grudge against Ghana. It was never her fault. On one hand, her most prominent sons and daughters, blessed with opportunity and offered the privilege to serve, have chosen for many years to serve themselves by brutally raping this poor nation in repeated bouts of orgiastic corruption. And as the nation cries in agony, they muster the temerity to spit at her and tell her that everything is alright. They future is bright – stay optimistic, they say.
On the other hand, majority of the sons and daughters of this sad, tattered, dirty nation (those less privileged, without the perks of power and authority) have for so long – for reasons ranging from genuine fear to cringing cowardice – have chosen to remain quiet and indifferent yet inexplicably hopeful that things would turn for the better someway, somehow, someday.
Since God planted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the Maker of the heavens and earth has performed several miracles, but I’m yet to learn about any miracle involving the wondrous overnight transformation of a nation without the active agitation of its citizens.
The Jews demanded their freedom from Egypt and got it. The French beat the crap out of their snobbish aristocratic leaders. Lots of blood was shed to make America the great nation it is today. The people of South Africa overcame apartheid by fighting tooth and nail against one of the most oppressive regimes ever wrought by man. Even our own Kwame Nkrumah risked his life and freedom to break the shackles of colonial bondage.
With all these in mind, therefore, I decided that if the majority of my fellow Ghanaians would look on for a little coterie of thieves, hoodlums, thugs and inept politicians to sink our dear nation to the ground, there was very little I could do to stop the descent into the abyss. After all, who am I? A ‘bofrote’ seller’s son, with absolutely nothing but a big head and a big mouth. I convinced myself that if the ship sunk we’d all perish together. Moreover, I had made it out of the country. Moreover, life in Canada, even though it hasn’t exactly been a bed of roses so far, has not been too bad either.
For the best part of the last three years, each time I heard something awful that some incompetent public official had done or said, I’d raise my hands in desperate surrender and convince myself that if the people do not rise against such nonsense, the worst would come and there was nothing I could do about it. There have been days when my itchy fingers had led me to my computer to get me to just write a few words get some things off my chest. But I often ended up not typing a word. And whenever I managed to pull myself away from the computer, my chest still heaving with things it needed to be rid of, I’d raise my hands again and say to myself that things won’t get any better when the people, especially those who can afford three square meals a day remained so forgiving and tolerant of governmental ineptitude and corruption.
Thus I embarked on a major construction project. Each time I raised my hands in despondence and desperation over the sad state of Ghana, I added a brick or two to be my wall of apathy. This wall was meant to shield my heart from the frustration and shame of being a Ghanaian. This wall of apathy was going to turn my achy heart into a heart of stone that would not allow itself to be bothered, worried or disturbed by any of the bad things that continued to afflict the motherland.
Each time my wall of apathy gained a little more height, however, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was doing the right thing or being true to myself. How long can a man really completely remain apathetic about the land of his birth in an age where he is sure to be bombarded with tonnes of information everyday about what was happening back in the motherland? This is not 1960 when it took several weeks for an important letter from Axim to travel across the oceans and deserts to reach Ajax. These reservations notwithstanding I proceeded apace with the construction of my wall of apathy. It kept growing taller with each passing day and I was even starting to get impressed by how strong and sturdy it had become.
Then the unexpected happened…
July 1, which is Republic Day in Ghana also happens to be the day Canada commemorates its nationhood. It’s that kind of day when, under normal circumstances, one is allowed to be shamelessly patriotic. Since I’ve been here I’ve seen Canadians celebrate Canada Day with a lot flourish – song and dance, elaborate firework displays as well as hefty chunks of meat and gallons of booze. July 1 is always a great day in Canada. But it’s also the one single day of the year when, for as long as I’ve been here, I feel most conflicted in both my heart and mind about where I come from, where I am and where I want to be.
Thankfully, though, there was no such conflict this year because even before my Canadian friends would start celebrating their pride in “True North – strong and free,” I got news from Ghana about how some determined souls had braved a heavy downpour and police intimidation to gather as concerned citizens demanding an end to the rape and plunder of the nation, insisting that “Ghana must work again.”
When I saw the images of the people gathered at the Efua Sutherland Children’s Park under the #occupyflagstaffhouse protest, relatively better off Ghanaians with a fair sprinkling of a few their well-off compatriots, who had remained mum for so long, adorned in the national colours with not a hint of the corrupt and inept Ghanaian political class, I felt a sudden surge of indescribable emotion wash over me. It’s been more than seven days and I still can’t describe that feeling. The best I can do is to say that it felt like shame suddenly gave way to pride, and the surging force of this overwhelming emotion was so powerful that within seconds of seeing the #occupyflagstaffhouse images, I could sense the bricks of my wall of apathy fallen apart.
Thanks to #occupyflagstaffhouse, July 1, 2014 turned out to be the proudest moment of my entire life as a Ghanaian. It’s true that only a few hundred Ghanaians participated in that exercise, probably the first step to wrest back the nation from the dirty clutches of those determined to run it down. But let no one make the mistake that a member of the political elite made by suggesting that this was an insignificant moment in Ghanaian history. It is not. The least said about those who accuse the protestors of “preaching hopelessness,” the better. At the very least, I know that this small protest (organised mainly on social media) brought down my wall of apathy. And I take great pride and derive a deep sense of patriotism in the knowledge that many others care about Ghana more than I do. That fills me with the determination to do anything and everything I can to be part of this campaign to get Ghana to work again so it can take care of its sons and daughters, even the generation still swimming in the loins of today’s Ghanaian man.
It is going to be long and torturous. The inept, unthinking political elite (threatened by the simple fact that the people are massing up to demand accountability and better performance) would push back with every means at their disposal. But with tenacity, determination and a focus on the final prize – wrestling the nation back from an unthinking, uncaring herd of self-seeking plunderers – Ghana will work again. The revolution is on. Everyone has been put on notice and I can’t wait for the next phase – #occupyparliamenthouse.
PS: I would like to dedicate this rather long piece to Brigitte Dzogbenuku (pictured), the beauty queen who has become the poster child of #occupyflaggstaffhouse. Welcome, Brigitte, to the prestigious club of the enemies of a rotten state. Your beauty, intelligence and poise will help take this revolution very far.
The signs were on the wall
The cedi had started to fall
The cedi, once appreciating the dollar
The cedi, now depreciating against the dollar
The dollar is scarce and the cedi is scared
The free-fall laid bankrupt thinking bare
Yet no one seemed to care
Until the stench hit the roof
Now the moment of truth
This malaise prayer can’t uproot
The dollar is scarce and we are all scared
Enter Wampah, the banking umpire
Caught dozing on the job
Pants down, he moves like a clown
He wants to save the cedi from going further down
So he says my own money I can’t withdraw
That kind of thinking has a fundamental flaw
The dollar is scarce and Wampah is scared
Wampah must be a joker
I won’t give my strong dollar for his weak cedi
So let it be known to Wampah, the umpire
If he doesn’t give me my dollar, I will need no banker
Under my pillow my dollars will go
Hard dollars he will no longer see
And we shall dread where the cedi will be
The dollar is scarce, we all must be scared
That’s what we get for staying first geared
I was never a part of Komla Dumor’s inner circle. He never called me out for a drink. And he didn’t share any secrets with me. I am just one of those guys who enjoyed the privilege of working with him. That was more than I could ever ask for. I wasn’t with him at the beginning. I couldn’t have been with him at the end. But in between, our paths crossed and that’s how I get to call him a friend. A blessed friend. A friend endowed with so much talent that whenever I heard his voice I couldn’t help but marvel at how one man could get so much.
Dear Mr. President, congratulations on your victory over Nana Akuffo-Addo in the elections of December 7. Not only am I surprised that you won but I am also quite anxious about the future of my two little toes, which I wagered that you would lose. As I write, I don’t know whether I was wise in wagering my toes or I was foolish in placing a wager in the first place. All I can say is that you surprised me. Your victory defied conventional wisdom on many levels.
First, as I said in my wager statement (see attached) you didn’t have a message. Even if you did, it wasn’t well articulated to the electorate. Secondly, you had just five months or so to campaign. Third, the man who was president before you didn’t do a good job with the job at hand – being president. Matters also seemed worse because Jerry Rawlings had stayed away from all your campaign platforms. And finally, Mr. President, this was your first time trying for the highest office in the land. How on earth was someone making a wager expected to place his bets on you? You seemed bound to lose, even though, I felt it would be by a small margin.
But somehow, you flipped the script and pulled off an amazing victory that would effectively end the political career of one of our country’s most illustrious Fourth Republican politicians.
I don’t know how you did it but you won an incredible victory and now I have eggs all over my face. My two tiny toes are also at grave risk.
Some say there was rigging, but they have to prove that in court. Others say, it’s a clear indication that people do not believe in your opponent’s offer of free education. I really thought it was a very populist promise. I have also heard people say that, perhaps, Nana Addo was so obsessed with free education that he failed to bring up the issues that would have weakened your bid. Incumbency advantage might also have played a major part in your victory. All of these are issues for the political scientists to investigate and come up with a body of knowledge that should help strengthen democracy in Ghana.
All I can say for now is that you have proved to be the most formidable politician in the Fourth Republic. You caused a major upset with almost all the odds stack against you. For that, you deserve all the credit there is. Enjoy your victory but, please, don’t gloat. If I know you half as well as I think I do (which, really isn’t much) I believe you won’t gloat and you’d find a way to reach out to Nana Addo. I know he’s yet to concede and he might even challenge the results of the poll in court. Don’t worry about that. A man cannot concede to his opponents unless he’s able to first concede to himself. Give him time to heal. Help him heal in whatever way you can.
While at it, Mr. President, I am respectfully asking that you grant my endangered toes presidential pardon. Even those who didn’t take me up on that wager are clamouring for my toes and I fear someone might grab me on the streets somewhere and chop them off. That’s not the worse that could have happened, I know. It could have been my neck. So, at least, I am grateful that my head has a neck to hold it in place. I just feel that since I chose not to stick my neck out, you should realize that I didn’t completely write you off. In other words, I had few doubts in Nana Addo losing than in you winning. For this reason, I respectfully believe that a presidential pardon for my toes will not be out of place.
Once again, congratulations.
I hope my request, as they say, “will meet your kind consideration”.
The first time I came into close proximity with John Mahama, he was deptuy Communications Minister and I was graduating from the Ghana Institute of Journalism. It was a bright, sunny afternoon in August 1999. When I say “close proximity”, I mean he was on the glorified dais and I was sitting in the back row of plastic chairs rather close to the main washroom at the tiny GIJ campus. From his speech, I took away one of the best pieces of advice I have ever been blessed with: always read in the toilet.
All the time I was schooling in GIJ I was living quite rough with no place of convenience of my own. Whenever nature called I responded, like Moses, by heading to the bush. So on John Mahama’s advice, I vowed to work hard, get me a nice washroom and do as much reading in there as I can. I am happy to report that when nature calls these days I don’t rush to the bush but to one of my favorite spaces in my humble abode. And if I have to rush into that space without any reading material in my hand, I feel I am betraying him.
Sometimes, reading in the loo also means blocking or delaying other people’s need to, you know, ‘download’. They often don’t take kindly to these delays, particularly if nature’s call becomes insistent. I have been tongue-lashed for this habit by a good number of people but whenever they complain, they only remind me of that humid August day in 1999 when John Mahama literally told me to s*** and read!
You can say that John Mahama pops up in my thoughts every now and then. But it’s not always because of the advice he gave to my GIJ graduating class. When I first set eyes on him and observed his comportment and the easy manner in which he appeared to be schmoozing with everyone, I got the feeling that this was one gentleman who could one day become president. He is now.
I never imagined, however, that he would get into the highest office in Ghana so soon and certainly not in the circumstance of the untimely death of the man to whom he deputized. That doesn’t matter much because now he is fighting to stay on as president in the way I imagined he would – canvassing for votes, selling his vision for the nation and testing his popularity. He is contesting against seven others but none of them is as worthy an opponent as Nana Akuffo Addo.
I first came into close proximity with Nana Addo when I was reporting from parliament for Joy FM in 2001/2. He was Attorney General and his elegant suits made him look the part. He spoke so eloquently and carried himself like he was already president. He had certain airs around him and I felt he was snobbish. One day, he gave me a taste of his snobbery, proving me right. It was the day the National Reconciliation Bill was passed. The acrimony in The House was palpable. NDC MPs staged a walk out and the NPP majority, as they say, had its way. As I was filing a live report on Joy FM from the corridors of Parliament House, I saw Nana Addo walk out of the chamber so I ran after him to essentially ambush him for an interview. But he ran faster and dashed into the washroom. I rumbled on with my live report until Nana Addo finally came out of the washroom. I signaled for him to stand still, in a “stay where you are” manner.
The Attorney General stopped in his tracks for me.
All this while, I was still talking on the phone and I’m pretty certain he knew what I was going on about. Then I introduced him and posed a question with a rather regrettable lengthy preamble. He patiently listened to it all but instead of answering the question, he just turned around and walked away – into the chamber. I felt dazed. I almost collapsed. Granted that my question was probably a daft one but that was classic Nana Akuffo, as he has helped his opponents to cast him in the eyes of the public – elitist, snobbish and arrogant. In my embarrassment, I took consolation in the fact that he had confirmed what I had always thought of him! But that incident, my embarrassment nothwitstanding, didn’t take away the distinct impression Nana Addo sowed in my head much earlier that he was a man who could also be president someday.
I never imagined that Nana Addo’s ambition to be president would ever clash with John Mahama’s. I thought they were on two completely different trajectories. In my mind, probably, Nana Addo was supposed to be president first, followed years later by John Mahama. But the destinies of great men are not crafted in my head and if the NPP had not screwed up in the first eight years of the millennium, I would have been proved right. Nana Addo lost the 2008 elections because the NPP were snubbing Ghanaians like Nana Addo snubbed me in parliament. I believe that 2008 was not a vote for Atta Mills but a vote against Nana Addo and his ilk.
Sadly, Atta Mills also messed up for the most part until he died. He was a well-meaning man, no doubt, but he didn’t have a strong enough grip on power – probably because he was not in good health. May his soul rest in peace. Wherever he is, I’m pretty sure he wants John Mahama to win.
The problem, however, is that Atta Mills’ loose grip on power (he was hardly decisive), his failure to rein in the hardline, belligerent elements within the party (Anyidoho was the proverbial bull in a China shop) as well as all the consequent chaos (the toilet seizures for example), the corruption (‘Munkyinga’ and Woyome) and the incompetence (Zita, please!) all combined to diminish the NDC’s potential to retain power. To make matters worse, Mills who was touted as a unifier, a man of peace, ended up superintending the biggest schism in the party’s history, alienating the one man all NDC supporters love to gather around – Jerry Rawlings. Where would the NDC be without Rawlings?
Mills’ prospects for re-election were not looking very good when he died. If he were the one standing for re-election against Akuffo Addo I would offer every limb of mine in a wager that the NDC would lose. But then, suddenly and sadly, Mills died – primarily because both he and the NDC were not honest with Ghanaians about his state of health. The fortunate thing for the NDC, paradoxically, is that when Atta Mills died he gave the party a chance to re-sell itself to the Ghanaian electorate. Instead of being a blow, Atta Mills’ death essentially became the best thing the NDC needed to stay in power. John Mahama has made the best of it and with incumbency advantage (and that Hassan Ayariga man) on his side he has every right to hope that he might win. I have my doubts, however.
From where I sit, freezing my ass off near the North Pole, I am yet to get any firm indication what John Mahama’s vision for the country is – except that tired, stale, moldy slogan, “a better Ghana.” Mills messed that up big time and wasted all the political capital it brought. The only message I get from Mahama is his non-message – the counter-arguments against Nana Addo’s ill-conceived promise to deliver free secondary education. I have also heard the non-issue of him being youthful. And that gives him an advantage how? Is it a marathon? I don’t get it.
On the basis of his lack of a cogent, believable message, I think Mahama is going to lose – even if by a smaller margin than I would have envisaged for Mills. Secondly, in the history of Ghana’s Fourth Republican democracy no one (except Rawlings) has won the presidency at the first attempt. As for Rawlings, Ghanaians had little choice than to vote for him. But Kufuor had to try twice. Mills wasn’t spared that ordeal either and he had to try thrice, even when the electorate knew he wasn’t in good health. And Nana Addo is making a second attempt. That’s a lesson Ghanaians will not allow Mahama to escape. Plus, there is that little matter of the electricity crisis, euphemistically referred to as “load shedding” to conceal the incompetence of everyone involved – including the president. Asking people to vote for you when they blame you for making them sleep in the darkness, the sweltering heat, tempering their libidos, is really a tough sell and I don’t think Mahama has done a good enough job dealing with the issue of the blackouts. At best, he and his campaign team have chosen to pretend that it doesn’t matter. But it does. And he will be punished for that.
So, instead of sticking out all my limbs (or my neck), I am prepared to wager only my two tiny little toes that Nana Addo will win this election. It will be close but he will win in the first round. This is more of a prediction and less of an endorsement. I don’t believe in free things and I don’t think Nana Addo can fulfill the promise to deliver free education. I can also recite a long list of promises the NPP made in Kufuor’s time that they never even got close to fulfilling. I am, therefore, not endorsing Nana Addo in any way. I just think he would win this time because he has a message, albeit a populist one and the NDC has none. Nana Addo also has greater name-recognition than John Mahama, a first-time candidate. Add the fact that the House of Rawlings is not in Mahama’s corner and things are not looking good for him.
He will lose on Friday but one day, someday he would be president. That’s something I can stick my neck out for.
Someone recently sent me a message on Facebook, seeking to know why I “just abandoned ship”. Let’s call her M but I will be quick to add that she’s not James Bond’s former boss, who recently died in Skyfall. This particular M is a Ghanaian who wanted me to explain why I haven’t been putting up more blogs even though she pointed out that some my writings were really “off cut”. She also said something to salve my ego, which I suppose she knows is quite fragile but I won’t get into that.
M is just one of many people who have sent me messages seeking an explanation for why my blog has been so bereft of new writings for well over 12 months. These messages have ranged from kind entreaties to start writing again to damning suggestions that I should stay in whatever hole I’m hiding in. All good, but hopefully most of us will live long enough to see who wins eventually. For now, though, I think it is only fair to put out a short word about why I haven’t been writing.
The last time I wrote for this blog was in August 2011. Earlier in the year, I had won the Gordon N. Fellowship to go rub shoulders with very smart, intelligent, progressive people at Massey College at the University of Toronto. As I wrote the last article, I’m sure I had my passport and plane ticket either in my hand or within easy reach. I just couldn’t wait to get out, take a break from work, do something new that wouldn’t lead me into all the troubles I seemed to enjoy getting myself into and acquire new experiences. The next 12 months turned out to be the best of my life – professionally and personally.
I will never forget my year at Massey College and all the wonderful people I met there. Massey College gave me an opportunity to take a pause, reflect on who I am and who I could be, what I do, how I do it and the results I should get from everything I do. I also realized in the past year that there is something liberating about acquiring new knowledge and having your worldview challenged. So I took the decision that instead of just spewing my thoughts at every opportunity, I should go out there and seek new perspectives. That meant keeping my big mouth firmly shut, talking less and listening more. I also took the decision to fundamentally change the course of my career and my life.
And the first step towards that was to stay in school for a little while longer. So I’m currently in Carleton University studying for a Masters degree in Journalism. It’s difficult to do all these while maintaining a blog – even more so, when much of your audience is somewhere near the Equator and you are getting frozen somewhere near the Arctic. So I’m sorry if I seem to have abandoned ship. In good time, I’d either get back on board or just build a new one.
I have seen and heard all that is going on. I am sorry they are treating you so shabbily. But if you know these people, they are an extremely “buga-buga”, seldom thinking before acting. If they say you should go, please, don’t fight them. Leave them to their own senseless devices and take your talent elsewhere – to some place where you would be appreciated and accorded the respect you deserve.
Whatever they do and wherever you go, I want you to remember that even though I scoffed and laughed at your failed bid to lead the NPP into electoral battle, you’d always be one of my favourite Ghanaians of all time. You are one of the smartest, most able and competent Ghanaians God ever created or ever will. Your abilities as one of the preeminent heart surgeons in the world could have earned you millions elsewhere. But being the patriot you are, you chose to shut your eyes to the allure of wealth in a rich country, deciding instead to put your expertise and talent at the disposal of your people.
With common sense, unalloyed dedication, perseverance and sheer bravado you built the Cardiothoracic Centre at Korle Bu. That centre, by any standard is a world class facility, which stands like a gem atop the hefty puddle of dung, which is the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital. You conceived the idea of a world class centre where people suffering heart diseases could get healing, right here in Ghana and worked your nails off to make sure the vision became reality. You did what all of our health ministers since Nkrumah put together never even dreamt of you.
You are a true Ghanaian hero and we all know it. Even those hounding you out of the directorship of the cardio centre know you are a better man, a better Ghanaian than they are or ever will. They are just blinded by politics, envy and sheer stupidity. They are so dim they think by putting off your shinning light, they would appear bright.
They think they can throw dust in our eyes. But we see through their lies. They say you are too old, past retirement age and so you must go and just teach. We know they are just being crass. If there is anyone who should step aside it is the one spewing the nonsense that you should step aside because you are past the retirement age.
Whether you decide to move on or fight this travesty is your choice, Prof.
You’ve been a great teacher and not just to future surgeons but to the entire nation. You’ve taught us that with single-minded determination one man can make a lot of difference – no matter the obstacles that are placed in his path. I don’t know whether you want to continue teaching but I know for sure that, unless a miracle happens, you will never become president. You have done more than enough for your country. Now, is the time, Prof, for you to get a little bit selfish – do something for you for once. Take a vacation. Go and bask in the sunny heat of Barbados. Then go back to Germany and do your thing. They will lay the red carpet for you and put Yieleh Chireh and Atta Mills to great shame.
Knowing you – albeit from a distance – I get the sense that you will stay around and fix Ghanaian hearts. That what brings you satisfaction and no one can begrudge you for that. But whatever you choose to do, Prof., I need you to remember that most Ghanaians love you. We know you are a true patriot and what they are doing to you is plain wrong.
One day, someday soon, they will pay for it. If Ghana got ten more of your kind – or someone like you sitting in that seat Atta Mills occupies today, surrounded by incompetent, vindictive and dim hangers-on – our nation would be a nation worth dying for. Looking at the shabby treatment they are meting out to you, I wonder if we would ever get another Ghanaian patriot who would ever dream of making any of the selfless sacrifices you’ve made for this nation.
“The universal pursuit of dignity and freedom is far stronger than the iron fist of a dictator.”
That was how Barack Obama welcomed the entry of rebels into Libya marking what many see as the end of the brutish regime of Muamar Gaddafi. Obviously, Obama is happy that the tyrant is gone.
I share in his joy.
Gaddafi simply had to go. No single individual has the power to rule any nation – unchallenged – for four decades. But with his severe restrictions on liberties and politics, Gadafi managed to keep Libya under his claws for so long, crushing anyone who dared to demand freedom. But there is an end to every bad thing.
Gaddafi was bad. He was evil. His evil was on full display when the Arab Spring reached Libya and mass protests started gathering momentum, with thousands taking to the streets to demand reforms. He sent his tanks in to crush the protesters, whom he liked to refer to as “rats”. He gave women and children guns to fight for him. He and his sons sentenced hundreds to death in a senseless war.
When the rebels rolled into Tripoli, the junior Gadafis didn’t even bother to put up a fight. They just fled. Gaddafi senior, it seems, just took to disappeared – fizzled into thin air, leaving the entire world wondering “where the hell is Gaddafi?”
The president has suddenly become a fugitive. The rat hunter has now become the rat who needs to be tracked down and hunted. Maybe, he fled into another country. Maybe, he is hunkered in some hole somewhere. Remember Sadam? Perhaps, he’s is just preparing for his last stand.
Whatever the case may be, this is surely the end of Gaddafi. I am happy to see him go. I am happy for the people of Libya. They can, at the very least, now plan to start enjoying the little freedoms I enjoy here in Ghana – democracy, the freedom to speak my mind, the right to get online and talk to anyone I want, the right to participate in a democratic debate and the right to criticize my leader without the fear of being thrown in jail without trial.
These things we take for granted have been denied the people of Libya for the better part of four decades. Now they can swim in freedom and dignity. Those who think Gaddafi shouldn’t have been gotten rid of in this manner should look for him and make him their leader on some land somewhere. It won’t take them long to appreciate the value of freedom.