Monday, October 10, 2011

Stop this madness: Open source CSSPS

It is that time of the year again when parents and their wards are left sitting on tenterhooks awaiting omniscient oracles to tell them where some sequence of bits thinks the wards should go to school. That would not be such a bad deal if we could trust that stream of bits to do the right thing. The quest for disinterested, unemotional, and incorruptible bits to tell us our future has resulted in this system we call the Computerised School Selection and Placement System (CSSPS). Has this system also been corrupted? There are allegations that some of the bits have been tweaked by highly skilled monkeys who have been offered a few fingers of banana by anxious parents.

The only defence offered so far is that the monkeys are too honorable to do such a thing. Or even worse, it is impossible for there to be errors in the system. Nonsense! Programming is a very precise craft--it is logic in a language that computers can understand. What this means is that one can test for the expected behaviour without having to rely on faith in the programmer. The programmer can make a mistake so he has to check all cases to ensure the programme does what he wants. Often this is not possible but that is not an excuse when the client is willing to go through the trouble. Every client (parent, candidate) who has a grievance can easily verify that the programme works by testing it with the data he has. Why the data and the programme have not been made publicly available for such testing is mind-boggling. That such opaqueness has been allowed to plague a system whose main purpose was to offer transparency is a disgrace.

What would it take to write a programme that solves this basic problem? Very little, actually. A programmer with the skill of a BECE candidate can produce code that solves this problem in one day. To understand the problem let us break it down: Students are ranked based on their raw scores. They are then assigned to their preferred schools in order until the school is filled to capacity. Suppose we have the students and the preferences as listed below:

Adongo   {Abusco,  Aquinas,    Odorgonno, Prempeh,   Presec}
Brenya   {Prempeh, Mfantsipim, Adisco,    Opass,     Kass}
Chiana   {Holyco,  Achimota,   GeyHey,    Opass,     Abusco}
Danso    {Opass,   Abuso,      Abugiss,   GeyHey,    Roses}
Effah    {Roses,   Abugiss,    Opass,     Odorgonno, GeyHey}
Frempong {Aquinas, Prempeh,    Presec,    Opass,     Achimota}
Gamey    {Abusco,  Aquinas,    Opass,     Prempeh,   Presec}   
Humado   {Holyco,  Roses,      Achimota,  Abusco,    Opass}
Issah    {Roses,   Holyco,     GeyHey,    Opass,     Abusco}
Jabah    {Prempeh, Aquinas,    Achimota,  Kass,      Odorgonno}
Komey    {GeyHey,  Achimota,   Roses,     Abusco,    Opass}
Larbi    {Abusco,  Prempeh,    Achimota,  Presec,    Kass}

Every student lists their preferences in order from the more preferred to the less preferred. There is no reason to stop at five since it is easy to make the list as long as the number of secondary schools in Ghana. There is also talk that students provide preference lists with the courses they want to pursue (eg. General Science, Business, Visual Arts, etc). All of this can easily be factored in. But this level of detail will do for our example. Suppose also that the students obtain the following raw scores from six subjects (based on some rules about which subjects have priority etc.):

Candidate   Raw Score
Danso       576
Chiana      529
Adongo      484
Frempong    441
Effah       400
Brenya      361
Jabah       324
Gamey       289
Larbi       256
Humado      225
Issah       196
Komey       169

With this information, and the fictitious capacities for the schools listed below, the candidates will be placed as follows:

School              Capacity      Admitted Candidates
Abusco              2             Adongo, Gamey 
Achimota            4             Larbi
Aquinas             3             Frempong
Holyco              3             Chiana, Humado
Kass                2
Mfantsipim          4
Odorgonno           3
Opass               2             Danso 
Prempeh             2             Brenya, Jabah
Presec              2
Roses               4             Effah, Issah
GeyHey              4             Komey

It is as simple as that. So why is there so much mystery and controversy surrounding this issue? Is it because like all other statistics in Ghana the few who curate it have decided to hide it so they can use it for their own purposes? My suggestion for removing this cloak of secrecy is to make the code that does the placement open source. The Ghana Education Service is probably paying a lot of money to some company to devise the software. Open sourcing the project will give more confidence that it does what it claims to do. There will be more people looking at it and, hence, less probability for error. It will be much cheaper if not completely free. All the data can be made public with candidate names replaced by other identifying information that is only known to the candidates. This way, anybody can check the results to their satisfaction.

Like I said, a 15 year old BECE candidate can write the code that does this and there are many capable programmers in Ghana so there is no reason to leave such a mission-critical assignment in the hands of a few who can tweak it to their delight. It is only in Ghana that a problem that can be solved by a simple sorting algorithm can dominate the airwaves for a week year after year. What a shame.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Why have a congress?

The NDC will hold its delegates' congress this weekend in Sunyani. Congresses like this one are typically a mere formality--they give a few speeches, the incumbent wins, the party presents a good front to the media, and everybody goes home happy. However, this congress will buck the usual trend. Chances are that the incumbent will win, but it is not clear everybody will go home happy.

I have previously commented on Mrs. Rawlings's prospects in the election as well as its significance for our politics in general. Now, I would like to elaborate on a part of the story that I did not cover: the prospect that Mrs. Rawlings and her followers will split from the NDC if she does not win, or, similarly, the prospect that Mr. Atta-Mills and his followers will split. The former is more probable.

The power struggle in the NDC speaks to a deeply-rooted issue that the NDC was bound to confront sooner or later. Worse, it is a signal of a more momentous shift that will occur in Ghanaian politics.

"What are Ghanaians elections about?" This question is often asked by foreigners who want a better appreciation of our politics. The answer is "nothing of substance." Our elections are not about the economy; neither are they about education; nor about health. How do people win elections then? By making baseless allegations about one's opponents. The one who is able to push the most lies wins. For this reason, all the seemingly legitimate arguments for letting Atta-Mills go for a second term are inconsequential and dishonest. It really does not make a difference who from the NDC is in power as far as the issues that affect the economy, education, health, or other such weighty matters are concerned. Hence, in that regard, it appears Ghanaians may be better off without anybody at the helm as the leaders are more likely to retard progress than they are to facilitate it.

This congress is not about the future of Ghana, to the extent that the outcome will significantly affect our future well-being one way or the other. This congress is about the NDC and nothing more. It is about definition and identity. I will have more to say about this later.

Because of the small size of the delegate pool (about 2000), the influence of bribe money and other fringe benefits incumbents enjoy is overwhelming. It would be a trivial matter to dole out 1000 cedis to each delegate that wants it in return for votes. This is not a mere accusation. There have been many allegations of that happening, not to talk of the threats to delegates who are office-holders appointed by Atta-Mills and are beholden to him.

So why have a congress? Is it not a waste of (taxpayer?) money. Political parties do not render accounts of where their money comes from so the incumbent party is free to appropriate national resources with impunity. Why won't they have a caucus at Kuku Hill or Rawlings Junction to decide on the spoils? That is bound to happen eventually, isn't it?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Book review: Letters to a young lawyer by Alan Dershowitz

Harvard law professor and author Alan Dershowitz has acquired a reputation as a vigorous defence attorney so it is apt that he shares some reflections with aspiring lawyers. With his vast experience with high-profile cases, some of them involving the defence of unpopular criminals, he carefully dissects the learned profession from the perspective of a pragmatic advocate.

He took a good precaution at the beginning of the book by explicitly noting that his letters would be biased, reflecting his tendentious evaluation of the profession as well as proffering advice to the end that the advisee would become more like him. I appreciate his frankness in this regard because I disagree with some of his observations, especially the ones about the political calculations that some legal actors may have made in the past. I may say more about this in the future.

One often gets the advice to be skeptical of authority or established norms that don't prove their utility over time. For example, one sometimes gets the advice to pursue what interests them as opposed to what others might think they should pursue--one should live their own dreams and not that of others. Dershowitz has walked his talk, pursuing goals that he finds stimulating as opposed to ones that may endear him to others or make his life comfortable and "dignified."

Dershowitz also addresses ethical issues in a manner that betrays his obsession with them. In particular, in the conclusion of the book he addresses the question of morality and why one should be a good person. This discussion is laden with a personal reading of the book of Ecclesiastes as well as a peculiar understanding of his at-least-cultural Jewish faith--an interpretation with which I disagree. The book is enlightening, self-deprecating at times and suffused with pertinent personal anecdotes that aspiring lawyers should find germane to their goals.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ory Okolloh earns my respect

I was impressed by the video above not because the ideas expressed therein are new but because they are audacious and not exactly what I would have expected from a Google executive.

The sentiment Okolloh expresses is as annoying as it is true. Whenever Africa comes up for discussion, there seems to the suspension of reason under the excuse that there is something fundamentally different about the people that makes it impossible to consider the fact that they desire the same progress, freedom, and respect that other peoples enjoy without bargain.

I have wondered why Bill Gates chose to do the charity work he is doing in many parts of Africa rather than help entrepreneurs start innovative companies like he did in the US. That would definitely do more good than anything the Gates Foundation can (attempt to) do to eradicate malaria.

It is not clear to me if the opinions expressed are Okolloh's own or they are shared by Google, but if they are that would be a refreshingly sharp departure from the abiding orthodoxy that Africa is a peculiarly wretched disaster that needs special remedies outside of common sense.

Ghana: A serious education deficit

It is customary for Ghanaians to complain about falling educational standards in our schools. My father complained about my generation's falling standards. I am complaining about this generation's standards. I think this generation will complain about the next generation's standards.

Apart from the rubbish that is not even taught well, there seems to be a deliberate effort to not educate independent-minded citizens who can hold the government to account. I have talked about this extensively in a series of 5 articles entitled Why they don't teach history. The problem goes beyond that: How many Ghanaians have read the constitution? How many know their rights? Our ignorance is exposed whenever there is a serious national issue that has to be settled. There is no shortage of silly and illogical arguments based on nothing more than the arguer's whim. There also seems to be no tolerance for principled dissent even if it is reasonable given the (hopefully) unshakeable foundation of the constitution. It is because of this that Ghanaians are mum even when they disapprove of silly programmes by the government. Why are we so timid?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Fareed Zakaria and Niall Ferguson spar over China exploiting Africa

The rise of economic powers other than the already established ones--USA, UK, EU, the so-called West--is bound to make the established ones feel threatened. Hence, it is not uncommon to hear them complain of China exploiting Africa even as China makes inroads into the continent.

Of course, there are legitimate concerns about the details of some of the contracts that China has made in some African countries, but not any that go beyond the typical issues associated with other contracts signed with the countries of the West. So why the panic?

For a long time, some critical observers and ordinary Africans have asked, even begged, the West to adopt a different aid model than the one that is currently in place. They have asked for an aid model that is not based on pity but one that is based on mutual self-interest--some have called this trade in the famous aid vs. trade debates, but the calls have not been heeded.

There seems to be an abiding notion among the countries of the West that African countries are not capable of pulling themselves by the bootstraps, as it were, and so they deserve charity. This nonsense has been refuted by the African people who have demonstrated their desire to be treated with respect. This is why despite the seeming inequity in the slew of contracts that some African countries have signed with China, the Africans seem to be content and willing to continue dealing with the Chinese. I think in so far as the African countries are not coerced into these agreements (they are not) they should be left alone to do what they want.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Fulani: Ghana's immigration problem

Human beings have always migrated; they are usually compelled by economic factors to do so. Until political boundaries became so rigid, migration was not as serious a problem as it is today. All over the world, human beings in search of prosperity and freedom take monumental risks to satisfy their needs, but this has not convinced us to relax the rules on immigration. Further, it is unclear whether it ever will.

Last week a Fulani herdsman was beheaded in Agogo in the Ashanti Region. This was probably an attack by some disgruntled indigenes who were angry at the herdsman for using their land. The details of this attack are not central to my argument. The point is there are cattle rearers in Ghana whose cattle graze just like the cattle of the Fulani, but nobody hears of Ghanaian herdsmen being beheaded because their cattle grazed in the wrong place. So, fundamentally, this is appears to be an us versus them battle in which the Fulani are seen as a threatening economic force in the area.

Because the Fulani are primarily a nomadic people it is hard to tell what their nationality is. Most of them are West African though. That is, they are citizens of an ECOWAS country so they cannot be classified as illegal immigrants because by ECOWAS convention, they should be able to move freely across borders (i.e. without extensive documentation eg. visas, permits, etc). This reduces the Fulani problem to one of contracts.

One reason why the Fulani are despised is because they make their cattle graze on other people's farms. That is what makes them a nuisance. I don't know what the penalties for destroying somebody's farm are but some of these Fulani herdsmen are contracted by Ghanaian cattle owners to cater for their cattle as well so the indigenes themselves may not be free from complicity. Whatever the case may be, it is clear that murder is not the best solution to the problem as there is bound to be retaliation from the aggrieved parties.

A good number of Ghanaians are always looking for a way to escape Ghana for greener pastures in Europe, America, and even Libya. Why won't they let the Fulani herdsman graze on the greener pastures they have found here?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Who says homosexuals will be lynched?

Every once in a long while the issue of homosexuality comes up in Ghana. Many people find it abominable so they think it should be illegal. Since when did an act being abominable also qualify it to be illegal?

Many of those who say homosexuality is abominable also say gambling is abominable. They also say drunkenness is abominable. They say gluttony is abominable. They also say fornication is abominable. They also say divorce is abominable. Yet, none of these acts is illegal. The lack of philosophical and intellectual clarity is irritating.

David Assuming (MP, Shai Osudoku, NDC) says that since the "mob" finds homosexuality abominable, it may have no choice but to resort to vigilantism if the stipulated authorities don't take action. Even though he wishes for such a severe reaction from idle youth, he does not offer any sound basis for such action except the tired "it is unghanaian." He sounded like a fool as he could not put a cogent argument together. This is grave cause for concern as he is one of the few people who can actually repeal the law that makes "unnatural carnal knowledge" illegal.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sanitary pads for school girls?

This cause sounds laudable but it is not.

Mrs. Elizabeth Agyeman (MP, Oforikrom, NPP) is arguing for the supply of sanitary pads to school girls so they don't have to miss several days of school every month during their menses. It is unfortunate that some school girls have to miss several days of school every month for such a reason, hence, this should be a cause for concern because of the potential effects on the future of these pupils. This, however, should not lead us to permit government to encroach on domains that have always been and should remain private.

As the MP graphically describes, it is not uncommon to spot girls with soiled school uniforms walking in the street, but that should raise different questions than the ones that seem obvious. The issues that immediately come to mind are the following:

1. Why do we have so many school buildings that do not have sanitary facilities?
2. Girls have always menstruated. Why is this becoming an issue now?
3. Should it be the job of government to intervene in such a manner in the lives of the young girls?

Many classroom blocks or school buildings in Ghana do not come with the necessary accompanying sanitary facilities. This leaves one to wonder what school teachers and their pupils do when nature calls. Whatever the girls use to take care of themselves during their menses, they may have to attend to it during the course of the day. Why isn't anybody asking about the availability of sanitary facilities in the schools? Even if girls had the sanitary pads for which the MP is advocating, they may have to change them during the course of the day. Where in the school building would this take place?

91% of homes in the capital city do not have sanitary facilities. The statistics for other cities are worse. The prevailing culture of negligence encourages contractors who construct school buildings to leave out essential sanitary facilities. Given that most of these schools are public, it is not clear if the government could possibly be serious about tackling such a problem, having perpetrated its root cause for years. The absence of such basic facilities in the vast majority of public schools should suggest to us that the lack of sanitary pads may not be the problem after all.

Also, given that girls have always menstruated it is not clear why this is suddenly becoming an issue. I don't think the MP wants to argue that the sanitary pads she was referring to (ie the ones you can buy in a pharmacy) are the only products one can use to keep themselves hygienic during their periods. Before sanitary pads became commonplace, women and girls were taking care of themselves by other means without any problems. Most of them still take care of themselves without special sanitary pads. The aggregate cost of supplying the special sanitary pads to the girls will far exceed the price of getting responsible inspectors to do their job, ensuring that the contractors who build the schools build the sanitary facilities as well. Maintaining the status quo will lead to a mess in these schools where girls will not be able to find places to properly dispose of their pads, worsening the already appalling sanitary conditions that persists in the schools.

Further, it is not clear that the people the MP wants to help actually want her help. Suppose a sanitary pad costs 1 cedi (~66 cents) and a girl needs three of these per month (= 3 cedis or 2 dollars) then we have to figure out at what income a girl will be willing to buy sanitary pads at such a high cost. About 80% of Ghanaians live on less than 2 dollars a day. If I were a girl who was given 2 dollars a month to use for whatever I would, I definitely wouldn't be spending it on sanitary pads when I have other competing uses for the money: most importantly, food. I would rather stick to a more economical way of taking care of myself and use the money for something else. Since when did it become the job of government to give people products they don't even want?

Alas, all of these considerations will be lost on the policy makers because it is always convenient to be sloppy when spending other people's money. You will hear the mantra: Kenya is doing it so we must too. The government seems to have an infinite reservoir of resources when it comes to implementing policies that sound good on paper, so the usual pleas for compassion will trump any sound analysis of the gross implications.

ARLAP: The Akan R-L Allophony Problem

Dear Leader, I am suplised you don't know of this famous plobrem. The previous sentence was meant to read: Dear Reader, I am surprised you don't know of this famous problem. Why the insidious transpositions?

Listeners to Akan English speakers may have heard of an apparent slip of tongue which occurs when the speaker tries to pronounce words with the letters r or l in them. Contrary to popular belief, I contend that this is not a slip of tongue but in fact, a normal extension of Akan phonetics--a mere consequence of fluid bilingualism.

Akan refers to a collection of people who are mostly found in the Southern part of modern day Ghana. They form about 50% of the population. Thare are also some Akans in Cote d'Ivoire but they are a significantly smaller population. The Akans speak a collection of languages (some may argue, dialects) from the Kwa language family that are mostly mutually intelligible: Asante, Akuapem, Fante, Bono, to list a few. The speakers of Asante appear to be the ones who suffer the most from this "error," but it may not be an error due to ignorance of the correct pronunciation, but, rather, one resulting from an invalid extension of their Kwan articulatory instincts.

The framework that dictates the transcription of Twi was created by Johann Gottlieb Christaller, a German Basel missionary who started his missionary as well as philological work among the Akuapems at Akropong. His primary preoccupation was with formalising the language in order to translate the Bible into Twi. Christaller's legacy extends beyond his immense contributions to Twi transcription; his work sparked a chain of literary works, including several dictionaries, a book of Twi proverbs, and a magazine promoting the use of Ghanaian languages. It is noteworthy that even though all of these works are more than a century old, they are yet to be matched in scope and influence.

The Twi alphabet has 22 characters or letters and it inherits all of the English alphabet except the letters c, j, q, v, x and z. It then adds another two letters: ɛ and ɔ. Here, it is in order to acknowledge one difference between the dialects. In Fante, z is used in names like Dadzie or dzi (English: eat, deal, mind). The other differences result from the combination of letters to produce sounds as well as the differences in accenting patterns on syllables.

How does allophony interplay with all of these? Allophony is not peculiar to Twi. It occurs in a language when different pronunciations of a phoneme do not result in a distinction in meaning. For instance, those familiar with the differences between British and American English know that for a certain ubiquitous fluid that is essential to life, one group prefers to call it water (with an emphasis on the /t/) while the other group prefers to say wader or warer. In this case /t/, /d/ and /r/ are allophones in the English language. Similarly, in Twi, sometimes /r/ and /l/ are allophones. Bɔɔdedwo (English: roasted plantain) is sometimes pronounced bɔɔledwo or bɔɔredwo. Here, the allophony is with /r/, /l/ and /d/. The /r/ and /d/ allophony is just like the one in English. Linguists have a special name for that: consonant lenition. The /d/ stop is harder to pronounce than the rhodic /r/ which is in turn harder to pronounce than /l/. The lenition is revealed in a phrase like m'ani abede (English: I am serious, where the /d/ in abede is used for emphasis) instead of m'ani abere.

The above explanation would be perfect in English. That is, Twi speakers, especially those who know the language very well through experience, often fall into the ARLAP trap, forgetting the R-L allophony rule does not apply in English. However, historically, the letter /l/ was never used in Twi. Evidence of this is borne out by the fact that all words with /l/ are borrowed from a different language eg. lɔɔre (English: car. From lorry.) and bɔɔla (English: refuse dump. From English boiler.). So, transformation of /r/ to /l/ may have been the result of a natural tendency to ease speaking, but this is a hypothesis. It would imply that words with /r/ would be more susceptible to the ARLAP than, say, words with /l/. I don't not have the statistics on this, but that may be a litmus test for this theory.

Book review: A personal odyssey by Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is one of America's pre-eminent thinkers, economists, and authors. His autobiography chronicles the events of his life from his childhood in the American south through his checkered, Marxist youth, to his run-ins with bureaucracies both in government and academia, to his present state of reasoned libertarianism.

There are many reasons, from the author's perspective, to write an autobiography: to settle scores, to clarify issues in one's life that may have been mischaracterised or misunderstood by others, or to reminisce for the benefit of others and for one's own enjoyment. Sowell does all of these.

His remarkable story is one of grass to grace through hard work and self-determination. The seeds of Sowell's success were sown early in his life. He grew up with his aunt's family because his mother had four children to look after on her own (Sowell's father died before he was born). There was a sense in the family that he will have more opportunities than they so they were careful to ensure he had a good education. They also ensured he came into contact with good role models. This family ensured he had a safety net so he did not go astray.

Sowell faced a great number of difficulties but overcame them all with uncommon finesse. As a boy from the south (North Carolina) who moved to the north (New York) he was shocked to find that even though he was at the top of his class in NC, he was near the bottom at NY. This was due to a difference in educational standards in the two regions. With hard work, he was able to climb to the top again. Later on in life, he had to drop out of high school for lack of funds. He also had to move out his home because of a strained relationship between him and his aunt. This left him to fend for himself on the job market which was cruel to him because he had very few skills. There were other challenges he encountered that I will not delve into.

Sowell's ideological shift from Marxism to libertarianism is not surprising to me, having read his autobiography, even though it surprises others. His independent mind and strong emphasis on observable results as opposed to good intentions alone was bound to put him at odds with the left of American politics. Even though he studied under Milton Friedman at Chicago, he still held on to his beliefs until he took a job with the government and realised that his colleagues had no desire to help the poor people they were claiming to be looking out for. Hence, in the face of the failure of a programme they had proposed, they were unwilling to consider alternatives because it did not sound right. This was enough for Sowell to see the dangers of letting ideology trump reality hence his conversion.

The man comes through as a gritty fellow with a good dose of pragmatism and self-respect. I could say more about him but this should be sufficient to buy the book.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Nigerian pastors are rich and so what?

I have been observing with disquiet the effusions of one journalist, Mfonobong Nsehe, decrying the wealth of Nigerian pastors. Nsehe writes for Forbes magazine so it is not surprising that he would care about fiscal issues, but it is not clear what his goal is in highlighting the wealth of some clergy in Nigeria.

The first article I saw was on May 17 (read here), noting the fact that the clergymen were joining the league of private jet owners, a fact Nsehe notes disparagingly. His tone in that article was derisive, both of the pastors and of their congregants.

Later on, on June 7, he penned another article (read here), listing the five richest pastors in Nigeria. It was not clear what the message was, but one could infer from the tone that he was disgusted either at their wealth, or at the means through which they obtained it.

As if that was not enough, there is now an article on BBC (read here) echoing Nsehe's disgust, comparing the preachers to oil barons and claiming they should probably not have as much wealth when there are poor and suffering people in Nigeria.

I find Nsehe's effusions irresponsible and out of place. On what grounds is he justified to suggest that pastors should not be wealthy because there are poor people in the world? In so far as the congregants voluntarily associate with these pastors and perhaps give them money, what is the big deal? It is irresponsible for a journalist to solicit sympathy by inciting public disaffection towards people who are lawfully making money, but, unfortunately, Nsehe will get away with this behaviour because nobody will call him out.

The contingent of people who like to impose a certain interpretation of Christian modesty on gullible people is growing because of the purveyance of sentiments like these. Yet, it may surprise these self-righteous pundits to note that the pastors they vilify create an invaluable service for which their congregants couldn't pay less. The congregants flock to these so-called con men on their own volition, often leaving the more established churches. Why?

It is a different matter for a person who criticizes such clergymen to himself be a clergyman or a Christian. In that case it would be clear that they are stating a disagreement on the basis of doctrine. To this end, some Christians think it is commendable--even holy--to deprive oneself of luxury and the pleasures of life for the sake of others. A criticism based on such theological or doctrinal differences would not be out of place and may be necessary to keep the faith in balance.

If one is not a Christian, one may as well consider these clergymen as good orators or skillful magicians whose audiences are spellbound by their antics. But that is not what journalists like Nsehe seek to do. In their incessant attacks on clergymen, it is not clear if they have a problem with rich people in general, or that they have problems with people they perceive as hypocrites. If they have a problem with rich people let them say so, otherwise, they should declare their personal interest in the matter so that we can understand their beef. They should stop hiding behind the cloak of disinterested, secular objectivity.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Spio optimistic for the battle of Biblical proportions

Dr. Ekow Spio-Garbrah, the last contestant to throw his hat into the ring for the NDC flagbearership race visited the founder of the NDC at his house. I found the speeches the two men delivered quite interesting.

JJ reiterated his friend Herbert Mensah's claim that Atta-Mills has budgeted 90 million cedis (~$60 million) for the flagbearership contest. Of course the castle is denying the allegation, with the president laughing it off as preposterous, but JJ is convinced it is not a fluke.

Spio on his part couched the task ahead of him in figurative language, intimating that the battle for the flagbearership was one of Biblical proportions with him as David, the president as Goliath and JJ as Saul. Those familiar with the story in 1 Sam. 17 know that David, even though he was young and untested came out victorious in that epic battle. It is, however, unclear if Spio will emerge as winner in the July congress.

Monday, May 16, 2011

We must return to the fundamentals of governance

Every election cycle, we see the emergence of new candidates who criticise the already existing parties--in order to justify their own bids--and promise one thing or the other in order to win votes. You never hear the candidates discuss the role of government and why the government should exist in the first place. This is crucial because there is no way one can tease out all the issues that may arise during the tenure of an administration, hence, the only reliable way of determining what a candidate would do in an emergency is to extrapolate from their fundamental values.

Government is about values: What should the society do about the poor? Whose job is it to provide jobs? Should mayors be appointed by the president or elected by the people in the city? I am afraid this list may not even be basic enough. It may not be fundamental enough, but it is a good place to start.

The days when Ghana's politics was about ideology are long gone but to our own detriment. The founders--Nkrumah, Danquah, and co--talked about issues of such nature so one could have disagreements on principle. The reason why our politics continues to revolve around petty, inconsequential issues is that it is almost impossible to disagree with politicians on principle--they don't seem to have any. A return to the fundamentals is what will rescue us. Alas, no politician will dare venture into this arena. What a shame!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Why does everybody think Nana Konadu was born on a Thursday?

Why do most people think the former first lady and presidential hopeful was born on Thursday even though she was born on a Wednesday? Those who are not familiar with the Akan practice of naming children after the day on which they are born may not appreciate the importance of the question. If you know about this practice, skip the next paragraph otherwise, read on.

The Akans form at least 45% of the Ghanaian population and speak various mutually intelligible dialects of Twi. There are some Akan-speaking people in eastern Cote d'Ivoire as well. For now, I will focus on their practice of naming children after the day on which they are born. Kradin, literally, soul names, are given to children based on the day on which they are born. Thus there are fourteen names: seven for boys; seven for girls. It is believed that the days have special qualities that the children inherit. There may be other reasons for this practice and I speculate that it was also a way of keeping time.

In the olden days, they did not have calendars and hence it made sense for them to keep track of dates by marking them relative to memorable events. For instance, my date of birth could be remembered as the second Wednesday after the disastrous earthquake. It could also be remembered as the second Thursday after the Queen visited the village. This speculation is not far-fetched and would have assisted educated government officials in figuring out exactly when a minor event took place since major events were usually better documented.

What has this got to do with Mrs. Rawlings? 

She was born on November 17, 1948, a Wednesday, which would mean she will be called Akua as per the practice; but there are exceptions. The practice of giving children day names is not always followed. In fact, even the idea of when the day starts and ends is not well-defined. Sometimes children are named after different day names than the day on which they are born because they are named after people who were born on different days than they. Suppose my mother who was born on a Friday has only one name, Afua, apart from her surname and I wanted to name my daughter who was born on Thursday after her. Then my daughter would also be called Afua even though the rule would dictate that she be called Yaa. This does not happen often though, so most day names accurately indicate the day on which one was born.

I don't know what Mrs. Rawlings calls herself, neither do I know the day on which she thinks she was born. But it is not uncommon to hear her being referred to as Yaa, implying she was born on a Thursday. Adakabre Frempong-Manso, the host of the morning show on Adom FM is also in the habit of referring to her as Adwoa, implying she was born on Monday. I don't know why he does this.

I speculate that people choose to call her Yaa because of the legacy of Yaa Asantewaa, an iconic female Asante warrior who resisted British invasion when the men were terrified of doing so. Yaa Asantewaa has gained a reputation as a strong woman who is not afraid to stand up to male hegemony so any woman who follows in her courageous steps assumes her day name. This is the most plausible reason why people prefer to call Mrs. Rawlings Yaa even though she is not.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

African music has always set the tone for world music

Some artisans know their craft, academically; others do not. Those who take their time to understand the overlaying theory that governs their trade always do better than their less knowledgeable peers. This is my opinion.

Busta Rhymes has remarked that African music has always set the tone for world music. People who know a decent bit of African music will not be surprised by this. However, because of the paucity of favourable scholarly work on African arts, there might be a lack of knowledge of this in the general psyche so it is good that a well-known musician has pointed this out.

Jazz and hip-hop, two of the most popular genres of music that have dominated the world music scene cannot be dissociated from their African roots, and it is still an open question how much African style and rhythm has been incorporated into other genres, whether subtly or overtly. I will leave that for more qualified commentators to tackle. I conclude with Busta's own words on what about African music he likes: "I personally think that, what sets African music apart from the rest of the world is just the authenticity of the rhythm, the vibe and the energy and the overall spirit of the music."

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Bush administration knew Osama was living in a nice, comfortable villa in Pakistan

Osama bin Laden was living in a nice, comfortable villa in Pakistan. Who would have thought? Renowned international journalist, Christiane Amanpour, made this remark during a talk show on October 3, 2008. She said she was told by a woman who was very knowledgeable about American intelligence.

The quest to find the source of intelligence that led to Osama bin Laden's death is resurrecting the debate on the use of enhanced interrogation techniques used in the Bush era. The debate will be interesting to watch as some of the information that led to Osama's demise was obtained using the infamous techniques.

On a related note, Yglesias has written about debunking the safe haven myth which suggested that Osama was likely to be hiding in a cave in the lawless outskirts of Pakistan, for example. I think that is interesting but if one were a terrorist, I think one would be better off living in an urban area albeit not in a conspicuous mansion. It is easier to hide and the culture of knowing what everybody is about which prevails in the village does not exist in the city.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The obsession with flashy funerals

Everybody who has stayed in Ghana knows this: Saturdays are grim days reserved for mourning the dead. Ordinarily, this should not be a problem except when money is wasted spent on the dead in a manner that suggests the family members are happy for their kin's demise--funerals are a huge profit-making venture for the family of the deceased as there is a strong social norm to donate money at funerals.

As a New York Times article has noted, if you were to attend a Ghanaian funeral you could mistake it for a party. The justification for the raucous celebration is that it is done for the sake of those who are alive and not for the dead. It is striking that the life of the deceased could have been very miserable and a far cry from the celebration at his death--it is not uncommon for somebody to die at the hospital because family members were unwilling to foot their medical bills.

A good question to ask is "What will the money be used for?"

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mrs. Rawlings's website vandalised?

We know Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings will pick up nomination forms later today (Tuesday) to formally register her desire to be president on the NDC's ticket. The event will be followed by the launch of her campaign tomorrow at the Accra International Conference Centre.

It will also be recalled that in December last year her fans built as a portal for furthering her cause. It is interesting, if not disturbing, that the site that once hosted the gorgeous former first-lady posing in traditional African wear now hosts a series of photographs of Atta-Mills.

The rest of the website seems intact, but the quality of the home page has drastically deteriorated--a suggestion that the vandals, if they are responsible for this, were either significantly less competent or were in a great deal of a hurry.

Three questions remain:

  1. Has the website been vandalised?
  2. If it has been vandalised who did it?
  3. If not have the FONKAR loyalists changed their minds on the eve of the biggest announcement?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sometimes I sympathize with politicians

Vice president Mahama had to address the May Day parade in Accra because the president was in Tamale. As usual, he made a promise that was supposed to calm workers: All workers will be migrated to the Single Spine Salary Structure (SSSS) in September.

Apart from the fact the implementation of the programme has been questionable and fraught with difficulties, a five month window seems like an awfully short period of time to implement a policy which took (at least) one month to implement for teachers who are only a fraction of the work force.

I am sceptical of the government's ability to deliver on this promise. I think the vice president's action is one of those instances in which a well-meaning politician is forced (are they really forced?) to tell a lie an untruth just to appease the electorate. If they deliver, I will openly congratulate them, but if they fail it will not be the first time and nobody will be surprised.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Atta-Mills flares up at IRS, but to what end?

On a visit to the Customs Excise and Preventive Service (CEPS) office in Tema, Atta-Mills chided the Internal Revenue Service, another government agency, for failing to collect enough taxes. In his tirade against them, he alluded to the avalanche of posh buildings springing up in the country as well as the number of people driving expensive cars. To him, this hinted at the fact that a lot more money could be raked into the general coffers if the IRS were more vigilant. I find this speech interesting for two reasons:

1. Even though Atta-Mills was once the chairman of IRS and is a professor of tax law, he has shown very little innovation for revenue generation in his administration so far.

I criticized Atta-Mills's strategy for revenue generation when the budget was read last November: Instead of putting measures in place to tax operators in the so-called informal sector as well as enforcing the existing tax laws in order to discourage defaulters, his budget only proposed an increase in taxes on those who were already paying. It is ironic that while he thought it proper to chastise the IRS, he has not found it necessary to examine his own policies and his lack of leadership on this issue.

2. His language was rather caustic and uncharacteristic of him even though I don't think there was any provocation to justify his tone.

When Anas Aremeyaw Anas's expose about the corruption at CEPS was released, we saw an angry Atta-Mills storm the Tema port to chide the workers for their lack of patriotism and criminal behaviour. At that time, I was sympathetic to his strategy: As a father concerned about his aberrant children, he gave them a good dose of admonishment in the hope that they will heed and repent. I thought it was more than a symbolic gesture and even thought analysts like Dr. Nii Moi Thomson were being too severe when they demanded more concrete institutional changes in order to be convinced of his seriousness. I thought it went without saying that those measures were going to be put in place, considering this uncharacteristically angry tone and almost palpable determination to dealing with the problem. To wit, I thought they should have cut him some slack because he knew what he was doing, but I was wrong. It turns out the president may be making a ritual out of his occasional tirades even though he is unwilling to take any action to solve the problems at hand. He should work hard to change this reputation of his.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The political temperature in Ghana today

I am back after a long and eventful break. Quite a bit has happened in Ghana and the world, but I hope other bloggers have dealt with the issues so that I don't have to revisit them.

The biggest story that unraveled while I was away was that of Mrs. Rawlings resigning her position as vice chairman of the NDC in order "to respond to numerous calls on her to contest the flagbearership of the NDC when nominations are opened." Observers of Ghanaian politics were not surprised at this development. In fact, I wrote about this four months ago and would have been surprised if it hadn't happened.

If she decided to contest (as opposed to just threatening to do so), it will be the first time that a sitting president has been challenged from his own party. Ordinarily, this should not cause too much of a stir---after all, other people with good ideas for how the country should be run should be given the opportunity to contest the presidency. But Mrs. Rawlings is not ordinary.

Mrs. Rawlings is a former first lady, the wife of Flight Lieutenant Jeremiah John Rawlings who was head of state for Ghana for almost 20 years. The NDC was founded at the time when he wanted to transform himself from a military dictator into a democratic leader and so the party has an unusual history in that its founding was rather unnatural and inorganic. This has forced it to learn many difficult lessons rapidly beginning from when it was relegated to the opposition after Rawlings left the presidency.

Many of those who contributed to reconstructing the NDC as a formidable political front in the country feel entitled to reaping the benefits of their labour even though it is clear the Rawlings's still maintain their charismatic grip over a substantial section of its followers. This is the heart of the battle in the NDC, an issue about which I will say more later.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Do you have faith in African courts?

You would think it is a hasty generalisation for me to cluster all judiciaries on the African continent into one for analysis; but you would be wrong. You would be wrong because I am referring to something quite different. Apparently, the thing known as an African court in (some parts of) Ghana is upheld by an almost tangible belief in the supernatural in adjudicating matters of dispute between opposing parties. When the veracity of a claim is contested, often, the modern legal-rational frameworks for adjudication that we have do not suffice--people lie in court and the legal process is too slow and tedious. Also, the legal system does not always deliver justice to the satisfaction of the aggrieved party. This is where the fetish shrines and their priests (the jujumen) step in.

Last January, the case of a female employee at National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO) office in the Volta Region who was allegedly sexually harassed came to the fore. She alleged that the chairman of her unit asked for sexual favours from her--offers she refused to grant. Even though she reported the case to CHRAJ, their investigative processes were too slow for her liking so she proceeded to an African court in her hometown in the Volta Region. According to her, the court has already begun delivering justice on her behalf. Someone's daughter is dead and so is one of the men involved with the case.

Her faith in the African court system is not unique to her. Indeed, former president Jeremiah John Rawlings has alluded to the effectiveness of African courts, challenging his accusers to a trial by fire in them:

Even though folks like to blithely brush it off, we know that they dare not lie in an African court even though they might be inclined to doing so in an ordinary law court after swearing on the Bible or the Quran.

Do you believe in African courts?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Visionary Vistas released!

Today is the 54th anniversary of Ghana's independence. To commemorate this occasion, I have released my book which is a compilation of some of my reflections on Ghana and Africa.

As I state in the preface of the book, "By publishing these reflections, I hope to draw attention to the issues that are raised, and to get the youth informed and sensitized about the potential power they wield—politically, as a voting block, and economically as the bulk of the labour force—in forcing changes that would inure to the benefit of the country."

The book is free as I want it to get to anyone who wants a copy so we can start a discussion on the important issues that will move Ghana and Africa forward. Feel free to email it to friends, print it etc. It can be downloaded from here.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Ghana: 54 years of independence?

I am not happy with the current state of Ghana. We have been independent for more than five decades, but we are still in bondage and do not look like a nation that has been independent for half a century. Our leaders have failed us, but so have we, ourselves. We have so disengaged from the process of government that incompetent leaders routinely take the fort and abuse power with no accountability. Who is going to undo this trend of unproductivity and despondency?

Tomorrow is the 6th of March--the day on which Ghana became an independent nation in 1957. In honour of this day, I will publish my book, Visionary Vistas, which will be made freely available on this website. In this book, I address a number of issues to which I always wonder why no politician is paying enough attention.

I hope to sensitise the youth to these issues and rally them, intellectually, at least, to engage productively on these issues of supreme national interest. Hopefully, we can build a better Ghana this way. Permit me to end with the first verse of our national anthem:

God bless our homeland Ghana
And make our nation great and strong
Bold to defend forever
The cause of freedom and of right
Fill our hearts with true humility
Make us cherish fearless honesty
And help us to resist oppressors' rule
With all our will and might forever more

Monday, February 28, 2011

Why they don't teach history (Part 5)

This is the final part of my expose on this all important issue--the systematic ignoring of our history by our educational system. The rest of the series is linked below.

After Nkrumah was overthrown, he lived in exile in Guinea and never returned to Ghana. He died of skin cancer in Bucharest, Romania in 1972. The period after Nkrumah’s overthrow saw the young nation plagued by a series of coup d'états and attempted coup d'états plunging it into sustained periods of instability interspersed with short-lived periods of uneasy calm.

In the 1979 uprising, there was the gruesome murder of three former heads of state—Acheampong, in secret, Afrifa, and Akuffo, in the public glare—all of these by firing squad and arguably with popular support. The pain and intrigue surrounding these bloody episodes is yet to be forgotten. The NPP government initiated a formal process of reconciliation in May 2002, but more time is needed to heal the deep wounds of the past.

It is against this backdrop that we have shied away from our history—it is too controversial, too bloody, and too many of the actors are still alive. This shunning of our bleak post-independence history has been totalising, leading to a complete forbiddance of all other histories, be they of the world, of Africa, or even of pre-colonial Ghana. We quickly brush over the major points of Ghana's never to return to them again. The history of the world (as relating to say, the slave trade) is completely shunned even though Ghana was a major transit point.

There may be those who will argue for the maintenance of the status quo since it does not appear to have any dire consequences. However, if we are to stop moving around in circles in our political debates, if we are to bring more depth to the discussion on current issues, if we are to move forward while avoiding past mistakes, we must confront our history head on. Every society with a history like ours will have kinks and disasters in it, but that should not deter us from studying it. If we discuss these issues candidly and avoid cheap and unwarranted rhetoric, a natural healing process will take place until we are at peace with ourselves as a nation. This is a crucial step we must take, for a nation that is going to pursue economic and social development, freedom, and justice cannot thrive in ignorance.

The constitution stipulates the formation of a National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) which should see to the education of the citizenry on their civic responsibilities as well as other matters of national interest such as these.12 However, the NCCE is consistently under-funded leaving it handicapped in the performance of its duties. If we are to better understand the trajectory of the nation with respect to the rest of the world, we cannot ignore the study of history—the history of the world, the history of Africa, and most importantly, that of Ghana. The study of history will help us understand our place in the world. It will also illuminate for us the reasons why the world is the way it is and patterns of thought that got us here. With this knowledge, we can better map out a way to a more productive and edifying social discourse. The earlier we woke up to this reality, the better.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Why they don't teach history (Part 4)

This is the continuation of my expose on this all important topic. The earlier parts are linked below.

If my education had included a more comprehensive civic component, I would have been taught the importance of governing oneself. I would have learnt why it is demeaning to have somebody invade your country, condemn you to servitude and then have you not even recognise it—this is dangerous. I would have learnt that Kwame Nkrumah once said “We prefer self-government with danger to servitude in tranquility.” Unfortunately, many children are graduating from our junior secondary schools with this mindset. Until they take the initiative to re-educate themselves later in life, they will have no real appreciation of what independence meant—to wit, the struggles of the pioneers have been reduced to nought. The philosophy that necessitated the wresting of independence from the hands of the oppressor has been lost on us. Upon observing countries like South Korea and Singapore, countries with which we were on similar economic footing at independence, it is worth questioning whether it was worth the fight.

I have always wondered why we shy away from history in our schools. Could it be because too many of the players in the history are still alive? Could it be that our academics have been too lazy to document it? Could it be because our books were printed by our colonial masters? Could it be that we are so ashamed of our rush for self-government, realising we do not have much to show for it? What is the reason?

All the reasons listed above have a part to play, but I think the biggest impediment to teaching our history is the complicated legacy of Kwame Nkrumah.

Ordinarily, the life and work of the founders of a nation are cemented into the common consciousness of the people. The founders are hailed as heroes of the nation and myths are created around them that are passed on to future generations. Even though there is a palpable nostalgia among Ghanaians of an older generation for Nkrumah, they have not been able to transfer this enthusiasm for Nkrumah and his work to the younger generations. Nkrumah, even though he worked hard to establish Ghana on a strong infrastructural framework, did not stick to the principles of good governance while doing so. His suppression of dissent, which led to the passage of the Preventive Detention Act (PDA) in 1958 under which any Ghanaian could be detained in prison for up to five years without trial or the right to appeal to the courts, resulted in the imprisonment of many politicians who were seen as his opponents. The detainees suffered severe human rights abuses and most of them died in prison.

Prominent among those who died in detention were J. B. Danquah and E. Obetsebi-Lamptey, both of whom died in jail due to ill-health. Both of these men were members of the Big Six and would otherwise have been celebrated as heroes of our struggle for independence. All public celebrations of Danquah’s life and work were proscribed, leading to the fading of his story from the general memory. Ebenezer Ako-Adjei, the man who introduced Nkrumah to the leadership of the UGCC and recommended him for the post of general secretary, forswore politics on the day he was released from jail, acquiescing into a private life that was quite uncharacteristic of him given his earlier involvement and vibrancy in national politics.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Why they don't teach history (Part 3)

This is part 3 of my expose on why they shy away from teaching history in our schools. Parts 1 and 2 are linked below.

There was no reason to think that the British were bad, or that they were doing something bad, or that there was something amiss with the current system in place. If I should have known better, then I blame this ignorance on the educational system which had taken pains to ensure that we were just presented with facts—facts stripped of their philosophical, cultural, and historical context.

When we learnt about Governor Gordon Guggisberg, we learnt about his ten-year development plan and how he built the Korle-Bu teaching hospital, the Takoradi harbour, and the Achimota school. Up till today, Korle-Bu is the biggest and best equipped hospital in Ghana, and one of the best in Africa. Achimota School remains one of the most prestigious schools in the country having trained pioneers and luminaries like Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s second president, Edward Akufo-Addo, president of
Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, Gambia’s first president, Dawda Jawara, Ghana’s fourth president, Jeremiah John Rawlings, and Ghana’s sixth and current president John Evans Atta-Mills. The Takoradi harbour is one of two in the country and plays a major role in exporting our raw materials like timber, manganese, bauxite, and very soon, crude oil.

So, as a little boy, I reasoned that if we had, at least, continued at the pace of Guggisberg, the country would have been a very different place. Even though he could not complete his ten-year development plan due to ill-health, we made significant progress. So why would you want to get rid of such a person? Why would you want to get rid of the British?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Why they don't teach history (Part 2)

This is a continuation of the series on why they don't teach history in Ghanaian schools. The rest of the exposition is linked below this article.

When I was in junior secondary school, I was told about a bit of our history.

I heard about how the Portuguese, the first Europeans to arrive on our shores, discovered what later became known as the Gold Coast. They first arrived at our shores to trade. They built Fort Sao Jorge da Mina, from which the modern-day township, Elmina, derives its name.

I heard of how missionaries came over to preach the gospel and to promote literacy by building schools and sending natives abroad to be educated as priests. I heard of educated natives like John Mensah Sarbah organising to demand more rights from the colonial masters.

I heard the stories of Yaa Asantewaa and the Asante and how they resisted the British, even though they were eventually conquered.

I heard of how the British ruled us as a colony with a representative appointed by the Queen, under a system of government known as indirect rule.

And then suddenly, I heard of a group of more vocal natives demanding independence from the British—a group led by Joseph Boakye Danquah and his United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC). Immediately, an inconsistency stood out to me: why were these men demanding independence? What was wrong with the current system? It is worth noting that prior to this point of my studies, I had not had much interpretation of the events that were going on.

Of course, I had heard of the riots of 1948 which were triggered by a failure of the British colonial government to keep its promise of adequate compensation for Gold Coasters who had fought as British allies in World War II. The riots were triggered by the killing of three of the war veterans who were among those who marched to the governor’s house to present their petitions. But that was a fluke, I thought. Any government would occasionally have protests if the people are dissatisfied with something, which is not uncommon. I had read of the 1995 Ku Me Preko demonstrations in which four people were killed, but that did not call for an overthrow of the government.

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Why they don't teach history (Part 1)

Anybody with a cursory knowledge of Ghana's educational system will attest to the fact that we are extremely ignorant of our history. Apart from the paltry exposure we get in primary and junior high school to our history, there is no other time in one's education where one gets exposed to the crucial aspects of our history that have consequences for life today in our body politic. This week, I begin a series on this sorry state of affairs. I will examine why our history has been pushed to the background and interrogate ways of rectifying the situation.

Marcus Garvey, a prominent pan-Africanist and Jamaican intellectual, once said “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” I, and I believe many other Ghanaians, agree with this profound sentiment. The vintage African tradition of gathering children by the fireside to hear stories from elders is a reflection of the depth to which this sentiment is ingrained in our consciousness. During these story-telling sessions, we learn of the heroic acts of our ancestors—some of the stories are true, while others are at best, half-true—so we can know what we are capable of, and what is expected of us.

It is upsetting that this culture of oral tradition is fading away; but even more troubling is the fact that we are actively desisting from teaching our history in school. It is embarrassing that a student could graduate from our universities without any appreciable knowledge of our history. Unless the student is reading a course that requires government or civics, there is no way, as per our rigid system, for one to delve into unrelated territory, even if one is interested. The cumulative effect of this ignorance is our profound lack of appreciation of current events, both at home and abroad. It is crucial for us to know our past so we can understand how we got here and perhaps, if we want to move forward, how to do so in a sensible manner, without repeating the mistakes of the past.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Atta-Mills brings his foot soldiers home

In his latest ministerial reshuffles, President Atta-Mills has moved two of NDC's most capable propagandists (in the non-pejorative sense of the word)---Samuel Ofosu Ampofo, and Mohammed Ahmed Baba Jamal---from obscurity to the capital.

In the run up to the 2008 elections, whenever the NDC needed men to make its case to the public, these two men were always on hand to do the job---clean, or dirty. So I was surprised when Atta-Mills 'banished' them to obscurity (Ofosu Ampofo as minister for the Eastern Region with Baba Jamal as his deputy) when he annexed power. They are the kind of politicians you want at the forefront because they are able to make an almost personal connection with the people even when they are miles away, both literally and metaphorically (ie. socially, economically). How they do this is not obvious, but I will make a guess.

First of all, both men are men of faith. That is, they are religious, and Ofosu Ampofo is a prominent figure in his church. Belief in God is a non-negotiable prerequisite to being an effective politician in Ghana.

Secondly, they are both good communicators in Twi, the language which is best known by the masses in the southern part of Ghana. This is crucial as the majority of opinion-influencing discussions on politics and the economy are carried out in Twi on the radio stations.

Thirdly, having previously served as national executives of the ruling party, these men know the so-called foot soldiers of the party quite well. After persistent agitations from these notorious party foot soldiers, Atta-Mills has seen it fit to bring in one of their own.

Ofosu Ampofo has been moved to the ministry of local government and rural development where he will be in constant contact with party foot soldiers. In a country where the president appoints all mayors and district chief executives, he can meet the demands of party foot soldiers by appointing their faithful party men to these executive positions. Having been the national organiser of the party in the last election Ofosu Ampofo must know these people well, and be able to do what is expected of him---honour the faithful boys and keep the foot soldiers in check.

Baba Jamal is also not new to the portfolio he has been given. As deputy information minister, I can already speculate that we are going to hear more of his aggressive banter on radio as his amiable personality shines through. I think this move by Atta-Mills this is in response to Akufo-Addo's move of appointing an official communications team of young opinion leaders even though they NPP is not short of vocal advocates. With the noise-making (also known as campaigns) for the 2012 elections already in full force, only time will test the true mettle of these gentlemen.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Zombie of the week: Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo

I would like to thank a friend, Kwabena, who has also been observing the current developments emanating from Akufo-Addo's initial indiscretion with disquiet. Kwabena encouraged me to write this piece.

This week's Zombie is a big fish who should have known better, but has decided to sacrifice prudence and decency for political expediency.

On Tuesday, while addressing party faithful in Koforidua, Nana Akufo-Addo made some uncharacteristic remarks on how his party should react to violence in the 2012 elections. The presidential hopeful, drunken with the enthusiasm of an exuberant, youthful crowd, contended there was nothing wrong with meeting violence from the NDC with violence. On the surface, this seems reasonable as one should defend herself if necessary, but this statement should not have come from him.

In a country where the police cannot be trusted in tense confrontations between NDC and NPP, it is quite disconcerting that Akufo-Addo would give such an admonition, propping up the hooliganic elements in his party to take matters into their own hands.

It is sad I have to pick Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo for this dishonourable title. As the leader of the largest opposition party and somebody with a real chance of becoming president, it is unfortunate that he has refused to recant his words, but instead, is reiterating them despite calls for moderation. He has joined the class of crass rabble-rousers from whom he has previously been distinguished, and has to be called to order.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

All die be die: Akufo-Addo's unguarded rhetoric

In the run-up to the 2012 elections, the NPP is exploring all possible avenues for wresting power from the NDC, and it seems they may not be ruling out violence.

While addressing party faithful in the Eastern Region, Akufo-Addo, the leader of the largest opposition party in Ghana, gave a rather uncharacteristic speech pandering to the hooliganic fringe in his party. It is well-known that he himself would not support violence openly, and, from his tone, the speech is probably not as serious as it might sound; but a politician of his calibre should have been more tactful.

The NPP and NDC are fond of issuing threats to each other about who can marshal more violence against his opponent if need be, so it is not uncommon to hear such rhetoric from otherwise responsible party stalwarts, especially when addressing the youth. Yet, this does not excuse him as it will spur on some miscreants to take up arms on election day. It is unfortunate that the harm has already been done and that he most likely won't retract.

I have transcribed the speech below from its original version in Twi to English:

They have made up their minds to intimidate us in 2012. They have said that as for we the Akans, we love our lives so we retreat after slight agitation when one or two of us are injured. Well, we shall see. I think we showed a little something at Atiwa. At the Atiwa bye-election, we displayed a little something. We have to understand that this group was founded by courageous people. The elders who founded this party for it to become the biggest political movement in Ghana were not hiding under beds. So, the courage that is required for the 2012 elections... we are saying all die be die. All die be die. Nobody is more manly than the other. Nobody can say that he is more manly than the other. No matter how tall you are, no matter how small you are, God created all of us the same. You cannot say yours is three, we all have two. So, we are going to persevere. Ghanaians need us in government again, so it is that courage that we need to stand firm for the 2012 elections, and we are going to have to do it.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The influence of the Rawlingses is waning

When Ghana wrested independence from the British in 1957, we were hoping to enjoy the ensuing freedom and democratic dispensation perpetually. Unfortunately, the smooth line of progress that followed immediately after independence was truncated with the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah in 1966. Military junta replaced military junta after Nkrumah was overthrown, plunging the nation into despair and, sometimes, fear. Up until the beginning of the fourth republic in 1992, our 53-year history had been dominated by bleak military dictatorships interspersed with short-lived democratic dispensations.

The last of the military juntas was led by Flight Lieutenant Jeremiah John Rawlings, who ruled the country for 19 years---11 as a military dictator, 8 as a democratically elected president. Having reluctantly morphed into a democratic leader, Mr. Rawlings exercised a lot of authority over the coalition he formed to compete in the first democratic elections of the fourth republic. As founder and leader of the NDC, his word held sway, regardless of the opposition that other members of the party might have had. It is not unnatural for the charisma of the founder of a political movement to trump dissenting, minority opinions, especially in the nascent stages, but Mr. and Mrs. Rawlings commanded popular control as well. The masses loved them, probably because of Mr. Rawlings's forthrightness and his uncanny ability to woo them.

As recently as five years ago, only a handful of NDC stalwarts could dare disagree publicly with the founder. Even though it was widely known that many of them disagreed with his unpalatable effusions, they were uncharacteristically mute---presumably for fear of being considered opponents of the founder. It is therefore amusing that a new crop of them have found their voices, openly criticising the perceived presidential ambitions of founder's wife. Apart from arguing that it does not make political sense, some have used harsh language to rebuke the former first lady, making one wonder to where the Rawlings magic that once silenced all those voices has disappeared.

Perhaps, the waning of the Rawlingses's power was inevitable: with time, having lost his grip of power, his achievements were bound to be forgotten, leading to the waning of his political clout. But that does not warrant the vituperative rhetoric that is emerging from these latter-day party loyalists. Just about five years ago, these loud-mouthed opinionistas were nowhere to be found. Could they be out there to woo President Mills for jobs, only to disappear afterwards?

Friday, February 4, 2011

How I know Ghana is not serious about revenue generation

Last year, I rebuked Kwabena Duffuor and the Atta-Mills administration for the feeble measures they put forward for generating revenue in the economy. Their proposal was to increase taxes on the minority of Ghanaians who already pay, instead of widening the net---adding to the set of people and businesses from whom they collect taxes.

It is obvious to any keen observer that a lot of government revenue goes down the drain because nobody keeps track. Even though it is easy to spot where the worst infringement of the tax code takes place nobody holds the law-breakers accountable.

Recently, Ghana's ace investigative journalist published another sleuthing he carried out with his team over a three-month period. This investigation focused on the Customs Excise and Preventive Service (CEPS) that collects revenue at our ports. The 'shocking' revelations appear to have taken many Ghanaians by storm, and not least, the president, and his minister of finance, Dr. Duffuor.

By what are we surprised?

Didn't we know the gravity of the crimes that were being committed at the ports? Didn't we hear of the case of Carl Wilson and how he allegedly stole cars with institutional backing? For the finance minster to be so surprised, could it be that he and his outfit had not made any reliable projections on how much money they could be generating from the ports, so that they did notice when the target was not being met. Either that, or they noticed the target wasn't being met and yet did nothing about it. The latter scenario is more likely.

Even though government revenue has gone down the drain for years, I don't know of any attorney-general who has taken the culpable businesses and institutions on, neither have I heard of any finance minster working to eradicate the problem. We continue to receive money from donor agencies and countries to fund our deficit so this is not a priority.

On the issues of taxation, revenue generation and misapplication of public funds, we continue to stick with the easy route to our own detriment. We will continue moving at snail pace until we take responsibility for our problems and be proactive about fixing them.