Monday, January 31, 2011

They like Mubarak but not Mugabe

The chaos in Egypt has left the United States in a fix. The oppressed masses are protesting for their freedom while the autocratic ruler clings to power. With which side should the US side?

Ordinarily, the answer to this question should be simple: The US being a bastion of freedom and self-determination should, as they have done in other countries, side with the popular demands of Egyptians and press Mubarak to resign. The difficulty with this position, however, is that the US is unsure what would happen to its interests when Egypt is run by a different administration. By its calculations, the chances are that the new government would not be as friendly as this one has been.

This has led to a compromise of principles, for whereas in countries like Zimbabwe the US and Britain have been quick to call for Mugabe's resignation, they are reluctant to do the same under quite similar conditions in Egypt.

Mugabe and Mubarak are both octogenarians; they have both been in power for unusually long periods: Mugabe for 23 years, Mubarak for 29; they have both allegedly rigged elections to continue staying in power; they have both stifled dissent by ruling with a strong hand. One difference, however, is that the US does not have any strategic interests in Zimbabwe like it does in Egypt. To wit, the calls for democracy by the United States is not based on principle, but on convenience. If we like you we keep you, otherwise, we axe you.

I wish Obama could be courageous enough to state a principled stance on the issue, but barring that, he should quietly, but firmly convince Mubarak to leave so the people of Egypt can have their peace.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

la Cote d'Ivoire: Mumuni's twisted logic

At a meeting with top journalists at his residence, President Atta-Mills said he was guided by a saying in Fante, "Dzi wo fie asɛm," which he interpreted as "Mind your own business," in approaching the crisis in la Côte d'Ivoire. The phrase literally translates to "Judge your home matter," so the president's interpretation is not far-fetched.

I have criticised the president's approach to the crisis, describing it as cowardly, but the spin by his foreign minister exposes the Atta-Mills administration's approach even further. In a rather surprising commentary on the president's remarks, Mohammed Mumuni, the foreign minister, sought to twist the meaning the president tried to convey when he used the saying.

In the president's opinion, it was not for him, or the government of Ghana, for that matter, to judge the situation one way or the other, preferring to use quiet diplomacy to resolve the impasse. Standing alone, this stance may not have been as problematic as it is, but Atta-Mills attended a meeting of ECOWAS leaders at which a communiqué was signed---a communiqué to which he assented---which threatened the use of force if Laurent Gbagbo failed to step down. Hence, it does not make sense for him to turn around and break ranks with his West-African colleagues, at least not in public.

Mumuni now wants us to believe that by using the phrase, the president was including la Côte d'Ivoire in Ghana because we are sisters historically, and that the boundary between us was drawn artificially by our colonial masters. Hence, by saying we should mind our own business, the president was saying we should meddle in the affairs of la Côte d'Ivoire.

I have a lot of respect for the foreign minster so I won't go further in exposing the absurdity in his interpretation. I will pardon his inability to interpret the Fante saying, for, after all, Fante is not his first language.

Inequality in the world: a compelling demonstration

Effectively communicating a message takes a lot of work and thought. One has to consider the peculiar needs and condition of the audience to craft a suitable message. I recommend the above video for a number of reasons:

1. The language is simple, lucid and moving.

2. The statistics are not just quoted, they are illustrated with catchy plots.

3. The speaker does not belabour the moral argument, but rather, leaves his audience to judge.

By choosing this style of presentation, the speaker's tact shines through and convinces even the apathetic--a classic example of style being used as a vehicle for substance.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pretentious brouhaha over Naadu's gift

Naadu Mills gave a gift, and now the world is falling apart!

The buzz is about the seemingly exorbitant value of a gift watch that was allegedly presented to US first lady Michelle Obama by Ghana’s first lady Naadu Mills. The 18-carat gold watch was presented to Michelle when the Obamas visited Ghana in July 2009. There is an attempt to play on the keyboards of people’s emotions with cheap populist talk suggesting the money could have been stolen from the national coffers.

Those attempting to do this might be justified given the NDC’s antecedents and the image Atta-Mills has tried to carve for himself--the image of a modest man one who does not condone corruption in any form. I have not bought into that façade, but I do not necessarily think that he is corrupt either. I think that even though Atta-Mills himself might be a man who holds himself to high standards regarding corruption, he has willfully given room to his subordinates to misbehave in that regard. His inability to get his ministers to declare their assets is a testament to this.

Elements in the NPP will be at the forefront in stirring public emotion against Mrs. Mills's gift, but to what end? Recently, the NPP proposed exorbitant fees for potential candidates for MP. With the excuse of raising funds for the party, they have taken the liberty to charge fees that will exclude even most well-to-do Ghanaians. By excluding just about anybody who did not inherit their father’s wealth, or anybody without businesses abroad, the NPP is reinforcing its reputation as the party of pointy-headed money making property owners with no concern for the average person.

I wouldn’t have given such an expensive gift, but I don’t object to Ghana, or its first lady doing so. It is because of this that I am disappointed the president’s spokesman has denied that the first lady gave the gift or even knew of it. Why deny it? What is wrong with the gift?


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Zombie of the week: Carl Wilson

It was difficult choosing this week's Zombie because there have been many institutions and personalities that deserve chastisement.

Ghana's Olympic Committee (GOC) managed to get itself suspended by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for failing to resolve issues of government interference in their operations. The rancour that has erupted between Benson Tonko Baba, and Francis Dodoo, both of whom have claimed chairmanship of the committee, has plunged the nation's name into disrepute, and potentially shattered the dreams of hardworking athletes. The government is on Dodoo's side, while the IOC recognizes Baba's leadership. The inability of the Atta-Mills-led administration to resolve an issue of such grave concern reveals a lack of commitment to the so-called lesser-known sports in which Ghana routinely underperforms even though we have great athletes.

In spite of the GOC's awfulness, someone has beaten them to their sloppiness.

You may remember Carl Wilson from his earlier escapades. In March last year, President Atta-Mills sacked him from his post at the Tema harbour after agitation by NDC foot soldiers---his own partymen---who had had enough of his corruption at the post. Even though the accusations against him bordered on criminality, he was not charged, and needless to say, nothing happened to him.

On Wednesday, Carl Wilson, who is a national security operative, single-handedly disrupted a premier league game at Obuasi by showing up in a bullet proof jacket, armed with a knife and a gun. It is not clear what he was planning to use his weapons for, but the incident generated so much mayhem that the match had to be called off---a premier league match!

In a country where the police arrests people on ridiculous grounds like "causing fear and panic," one wonders what could be closer to causing fear and panic than wielding a knife and a gun at a football stadium with the aim of intimidating supporters of the opposing side.

Carl Wilson is not in police grips now because his party is in power, hence he can take the law into his hands. This says more about the fragility of our justice system than it does about the silliness of some national security operative. The earlier the government left the police to do its work, the better.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

On Cote d'Ivoire: Is Atta-Mills a coward?

In what may become the biggest foreign policy debate of his administration, Atta-Mills has shown courage of conviction, and strength of character.

By now, you have heard the diverse opinions and meta-opinions on the crisis in Côte d'Ivoire. Even though there were irregularities in the Ivorian elections, the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that Alassane Ouattara, the opposition leader, won the election. The incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, however, has refused to step down. Having been head of state for ten years already, one would have thought that Gbagbo would have cultivated a sophisticated enough view of the state of his country that he would step down in the national interest.

However, in a disgusting display of strong-headedness, Gbagbo is still holding on to power much to the dismay of many Ivorians, many Africans, and many in the international community at large. Since the office of the president is notional, it is remarkable that after such vehement denouncement he continues to uphold notions of legitimacy. Myriads of diplomats, heads of state, and former heads of state have tried to get him to step down but to no avail. It was in the midst of this frustration that ECOWAS threatened forcible removal, but as if Gbagbo knew that ECOWAS was not to be taken seriously, he blithely disregarded threat.

It is against this background that observers have found Atta-Mills's remarks about military intervention striking. The president of Ghana asserted, at a meeting with top journalists in Accra, that he does not support the idea of military intervention in Côte d'Ivoire, as if to break ranks with his colleagues who had united under the ECOWAS umbrella to threaten forcible removal.

Why is Ghana's stance on this matter unique and important?

Ghana is the most stable country in the West-African sub-region, so its opinion on democratic elections is well-respected. In addition to that, we share a boundary with Côte d'Ivoire on the West. In case war breaks out in the attempt to oust Gbagbo and his recalcitrant allies, Ghana would have to be a safe haven for her western siblings who would become refugees---it doesn't help to have our immediate neighbour's house on fire. Hence, even if Ghana agreed, in principle, with ECOWAS's decision to remove Gbagbo by force, I doubt if it would be prudent to join in the act of physical violence. I think that is what Atta-Mills sought to communicate.

The pursuit of justice and peace, two virtues that ordinarily should not be at variance, has led to this dilemma which has resulted in a lot of bitter rhetoric. Those who are pressurizing Ghana to tow a certain line should answer this question: what would you rather have? Justice, or peace?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

On drinking urine and winning elections

Whether you believe in urine therapy or not, there are two facts you should know:

[caption id="attachment_602" align="alignright" width="230" caption="Dr. Offei Agyeman drinking urine"][/caption]

Fact 1. I am too disgusted orthodox to try urine therapy.

Fact 2. You don't have to be more popular than your opponent to be president of Ghana.

Fact 1 is fairly uncontroversial: it is my opinion, and you probably share it. However, many naturopathists are convinced the excreted fluid has healing properties even though the scientific basis is shaky. Dr. Offei Agyeman, a naturopathist by training, has been mocked for his advocacy of urine therapy, but he is not the least daunted.

Fact 2, for some reason, is not pleasant to many ears. Why?

Recently, some NDC members have pushed for a different candidate, other than Atta-Mills, to run as their flag-bearer in the 2012 elections.  Dr. Offei Agyeman, an NDC stalwart and former MP aspirant, has added his voice to these calls, vouching for former first lady, Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings. His reason is simple: In 2008 Akufo-Addo, though he did not win the election in the second round, beat Atta-Mills in the first round---an indication that head for head, Akufo-Addo is more popular than Atta-Mills.

Dr. Offei Agyemang's detractors have brushed him aside, making a fun of his advocacy of urine therapy instead of heeding his legitimate concern. If the 2012 elections go to a second round, it is unlikely to favour the incumbent, Atta-Mills. Right now, it seems unthinkable to not allow the president to run for a second term because it has never happened in our history. But those who make this argument should also note that Atta-Mills is the first president to have won the second round after not winning the first round. There is always a first time, so those who care about the fortunes of the NDC should think critically about this prospect. It is unfortunate this debate has been reduced to "Would you take advice from a urine drinker?"

Friday, January 7, 2011

Zombie of the week: James Agyenim-Boateng

He was wrong, but he won't admit it; he won't budge; and he won't apologise.

On Wednesday, James Agyenim-Boateng, the deputy minister for information, in defending the president's choice of ministers diminished taxi drivers as if they were incapable of anything meaningful in life. "I mean, these are not taxi drivers," he said in response to the question whether the ministers were qualified for their jobs. Since then, taxi drivers have called for an apology for the comments, but he has failed to acknowledge any wrongdoing.

He was confronted with his irresponsible statement on Thursday and given a chance to retract and apologise, but he was too proud to accept it. It was disheartening to hear this young man assault our intelligence by first dodging the question, and then asking if what he had said was false. The truth of the matter is that at least one of former president Kufuor's ministers had ever been a taxi driver to supplement his income while he schooled abroad, so the comment was meant as a slight of his ministerial appointment.

James is Zombie of the week because he is making a spectacle of himself by prevaricating in the public arena. Like a robot, he gave the standard spiel that was supposed to cast what he said in a different light, but to no avail. Spin has its uses, and more importantly, its limits. As deputy information minister he should know this and eat humble pie.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Atta-Mills's new team is uninspiring

President Atta-Mills's new team of ministers will exclude his youngest minister, 35-year-old Zita Okaikoi, who also happened to be his youngest female minister. With the axing of Mrs. Okaikwei, all of Atta-Mills's ministers will be at least 40 years old, and there will be no young woman in such a responsible position.

[caption id="attachment_563" align="alignright" width="198" caption="Zita Okaikoi - Former minister of tourism"][/caption]

Atta-Mills showed courage in appointing several young people as ministers or deputy ministers, an action that inspired hope in up-and-coming politicians in his party and in Ghana as a whole. I am shocked that he has reneged on his promise to include more women.

Why has he picked on Zita? The speculation when she was moved from the information ministry to the tourism ministry was that she was not up to task in her earlier portfolio. Others said she was switched because she generated too much controversy by deciding to  deliver her baby in the US when she was due. There were also allegations of incompetence---all allegations which should be ruled out since a good number of ministers were considered incompetent in their recent portfolios: Joseph Yieleh-Chireh, Betty Mould-Iddrisu, Akua Sena Dansua. All of these ministers have, however, been reassigned, and, not only that, they still remain cabinet ministers.

With the stifling of opportunity keeping young people from politics, Zita, who is a mother, a wife, a business woman, a lawyer, and a role model to the youth should have been kept in the administration to keep up youthful hopes. President Mills has wasted an opportunity to mould a young woman and a budding politician for the future of his party and of Ghana. I hope he finds a replacement soon.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Is Ghana ready for a divided government?

Many may not have considered this, but it nearly became reality in 2008. Even though the NPP beat the NDC in the first round (49.13% - 47.92%), the NDC won more parliamentary seats (114 - 107). Of course, the election was resolved in favour of the NDC in the second round.

For those observers who are tired of the persistent bickering in our government, this presents a refreshing possibility. The president and his party would be forced to negotiate with the majority in parliament to get things done. Do you want this to happen in the next election?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Fela's Zombies are still around. We must oust them.

Africans of a certain age have heard the almost psychedelic tune of Fela Kuti's Zombie. There are three groups of people regarding this song:
1. Those who have heard the song and know Fela
2. Those who have heard the song but don't know Fela
3. Those who have not heard the song but know Fela
4. Logicians might expect a fourth group, those who don't know Fela nor have heard the song, but I boldly declare that they don't exist.

I will write posts addressing the three (four?) groups above in due time as I have a different motive for now. Zombie was one of the songs of overt and covert revolt against ruthless soldiers in the days of military turmoil in Ghana and Nigeria. Fela performed this song himself in the days of Gen. I. K. Acheampong, head of state of Ghana, and was banned from ever performing in Ghana because of the upheaval that ensued. Ghanaians, in a moment of ecstasy, took to the streets protesting and demonstrating their disapproval of the military regime. Like I said, I will write a lot more about Fela later.

Zombies are basically unthinking robots who follow instructions by rote. When they do the unthinkable, they often offer the excuse "It was an order from above." There are too many of such folk in our society. We saw a number of them last year: from policemen who arrested people on the tenuous premise that they were causing fear and panic, to a deputy minister who asserted that his government had created 1.6 million new jobs without any sound basis. I wish I could say that there won't be any more of such people this year, but there sure will. Because of that, every week this year, I will pick a/some prominent figure(s) or institution(s) that deserve(s) the designation "Zombie of the week." This will be a humorous designation but will hold a lot of truth in it. The purpose of this is to denounce their objectionable actions and give them the chance to do better. You don't want to be on this list. For now, enjoy Zombie.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy new year

There's quite a lot going on in Ghana now:

The Rawlingses and their friends have commemorated the 31st December 1981 coup d'état, prompting the CPP to officially criticize their decision, or anyone else's, to do so. Even though Mr. Rawlings had an earful for President Mills, President Mills has used his time to send a calming New Year's message to Ghanaians urging us to unite in the coming year. On the first day of the year, I find this message the most refreshing of all the things that I could write about, if Ghanaians would actually listen.

I will resist this enticing bait of politicking so I can echo the professor's message: let us unite for a better Ghana. If someone does not agree with you, it does not mean she hates you. Have a fulfilling year.