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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Spio vs. Ahwoi: What started it all

Dr. Ekwow Spio-Garbah
Dr. Ekwow Spio-Garbah
The following is the article by Dr. Ekwow Spio-Garbah published in the Daily Graphic of September 23, 2009 which drew the sharp retort from National Democratic Congress high profile member, Ato Ahwoi.


The decision by the government of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) to honour Ghana’s first President, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, by declaring his official birthday, 21st September, a national holiday has been welcomed by all-true Nkrumahists and Pan-Africanists around the world. The fact that the African Union has also officially adopted the day and recommended it to member countries as a holiday, has given the Mills’ government decision even greater credibility. Alongside the official holiday, a National Committee set up by the government has also proposed a series of year-long programmes and activities to commemorate Nkrumah’s centenary, and suitable budget has been proposed and approved for the related activities. Had the NDC not won the 2008 elections, there is considerable doubt as to the extent to which the NPP government would have bothered to celebrate Nkrumah’s legacy. Many NPP adherents see promoting Nkrumah’s achievements as somehow dimming the lights of their forbears of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), from which Party Nkrumah broke off to form his Convention People’s Party (CPP).

Notwithstanding these official efforts, the true and most sustainable way in which Nkrumah’s memory can be conserved is not so much by a holiday or programmes of celebration but rather by the extent to which Ghanaians can be taught to live up to the sense of urgency with which Dr. Nkrumah fought for Ghana’s independence, became Leader of Government Business, Prime Minister, President, and died in exile.

In that respect, it is useful on such a historic occasion to review some of the ideals for which Kwame Nkrumah stood.
  1. Nkrumah promoted respect and value for all levels of Ghanaian society, whether literate, educated, urban or rural. “I will make you fishers of men, if you follow me,” he said to many of the down-trodden in society. To others he said: “Seek ye first the political kingdom and all other things shall be added unto it.”
  2. He had a high level of passion for Ghana, Africa and believed that “the black man can be in charge of his own affairs”. He promoted the concept of the African personality and Pan-Africanism.
  3. His entire life was dedicated to Ghana and Africa, so even in his marriage decision, he married a woman he barely knew but made sure she was from another part of Africa, in order to demonstrate the Pan-Africanist ideals that he stood for.
  4. He was selfless in his approach to leadership. Although he had a unique sense of dress style and lived comfortably, he died without owning any piece of land or even a 2-bedroom house in Ghana or elsewhere.
  5. A keen political strategist and organizer, a man of action with a keen ear to the ground, he declared that “Organisation decides everything”, and recognized earlier than his political competitors that “Independence Now” was what the majority of then Gold Coasters wanted rather than “Independence in the Shortest Possible time.”
  6. An intellectual, who wrote many books while performing the work of Prime Minister and President, he spoke and wrote with clarity on the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggle, helped to create the Non-Aligned Movement and notably stated: “We face neither East nor West, we face forward.”
  7. In his bid to bring rapid development to Ghana, he had to drag some conservatives along, and sometimes had to threaten those who fought his plans to modernize Ghana. For some of such non-progressive thinkers he declared: “The chiefs will run away and leave their sandals behind.”
  8. A man of great ideas, Nkrumah’s tall list of initiatives cannot be summarized in any one article. His aim at promoting economic independence and at raising the standard and quality of living of the average man led him to create the Workers Brigade, Builders Brigade, Trade Union Congress, Ghana’s Farmers Council, Young Pioneers and more than 300 state enterprises. His “Work and Happiness” programme for job creation, the External Service of Radio Ghana by which he espoused Ghana’s positions on international affairs, and his launching of an Atomic Energy Reactor programme put Ghana leagues ahead of other African and other developing countries.
  9. A man in a great hurry for Ghana, the building of Akosombo, an upgrading of Tema Harbour, the establishment of the University of Science and Technology, the construction of the Accra-Tema Motorway, the establishment of the Ghana Education Trust, were amongst his many enduring legacies. Above all, he conscientised the youth of his day, and many of the children of that generation, some now in their 50s and 60s, continue to live in his spirit.
It is against this background of an important part of Ghana’s history, as to what can be achieved in a short time when a government is organized and determined, that many Ghanaians remain worried about the pace of development in Ghana today. All over the country, phrases such as “not much is happening” and “the government is too slow” are to be heard daily. Although President Mills as an individual and many in his administration clearly admire many aspects of Nkrumah’s contribution to Ghana’s development, a key aspect that many in the public believe is missing is a lack of emulation of Nkrumah’s sense of urgency and speed. Nkrumah exemplified the issue of immediacy in the paraphrase: “we prefer self-government with danger to safety in servitude”. It was also his definitive appreciation of the importance of time and urgency that made him overtake his political competitors with the time-bound slogan “Independence Now” versus the UGCC’s slogan of “Independence within the Shortest Possible Time.” The UGCC slogan, as can be seen, was time-elastic, flexible, and lacked the sense of urgency that the Gold Coasters of the late 1940s wished for. So when the Mills-Mahama administration today asks the people of Ghana for more time to deliver on its promises what it is in effect telling the people of Ghana is: “we shall give you development (water, roads, hospitals, jobs, and schools) in the shortest possible time.” Meantime, the people of Ghana are asking for “jobs and development projects now”. The NDC rank-and-file who fought to bring the Mills-Mahama administration into power are asking for “Jobs and Empowerment Now” NOT “Jobs and Empowerment in the shortest possible time.” After being starved for jobs, incomes, contracts and other business opportunities by the NPP government for some 8 years, the NDC rank-and-file can no longer wait. And their impatience has been further worsened by some of the appointments that have been made, where they can see clearly that many people who had little to do with the NDC’s electoral victory are amongst those reaping the rewards. Lobbying has been raised to a high fine art, and many have been appointed not on the basis of merit but by virtue of proximity to power, feigned loyalty, financial considerations and other factors. Under these conditions of a growing disparity between the sense of urgency of the millions of Party supporters who feel neglected and marginalized and the less than one thousand office holders, one can sense the recipe for increasing confrontation and conflict within the Party unless the Mills-Mahama government can move much faster to heal festering wounds.

There is no doubt that the Mills-Mahama government inherited a deep hole in public finances from the Kufuor Administration. It is also true that the global financial crisis has amplified the government’s difficulties. Also true is the fact that after an eight-year greedy NPP administration, in which most Ghanaians stood by while a few people fed fat on public resources, ordinary Ghanaians have high expectations partly because of the NDC’s own campaign promises. President Mills himself leads a modest lifestyle and has never had an acquisitive mindset. He would like to achieve a lot for Ghanaians during his term in office. But these are all amongst the very reasons that many Ghanaians believe that the Mills-Mahama administration could have put its best foot forward faster. There is a general measurable view around the country that the NDC government can indeed achieve more results faster if it simply ensured that the right NDC people are in the right positions; nothing very complex.

After the overthrow of Nkrumah in 1966, a favourite criticism against him by Danquah-Busia sympathizers who took over power with the help of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was that Nkrumah had placed “square pegs in round holes” in some of his appointments. To be sure, having parted ways with many in the intellegentsia in order to form the CPP, Nkrumah subsequently had to rely on “veranda boys and girls” (many non-graduate political operatives) to fight for independence and also to assume subsequent positions as Ministers, District Commissioners and heads of state enterprises. The current NDC government has no such dilemma; the NDC has halls full of very qualified and experienced people, most in Ghana, some in the diaspora. So, large segments of the public have been asking on radio stations why the government may have chosen to field some players from its Team B when many Team A players are available and are able to play?? Can the government really move quickly if it appoints people who may mean well but who lack the requisite qualifications, experience and therefore confidence to take quick and correct decisions in their new positions?? Of the more than 70 experienced Ministers and Deputies from the Rawlings era, only two are in the current line-up of Ministers and Deputies. Yes, many appointees are mature, capable and well-meaning, but in the world of athletics, not everyone cannot be a Usain Bolt no matter how they may wish to be. And on the soccer field, not every player can score goals like Didier Drogba, Adebayor or Ronaldo, or play as well as Michael Essien, no matter how much they may wish to. So, for a Party that made numerous promises in order to come to power, it is critical that in forming its implementation teams, decisions are made that will ensure that those selected can achieve results “Now” rather than in the “shortest possible time”. Failure to appreciate this prime lesson from the Nkrumah era, is what may be leading many Ghanaians to wonder whether the current NDC administration can do enough and quickly enough to merit the confidence of Ghanaians for a second term. It must be understood that such public questioning of the government’s competency by ordinary Ghanaians cannot sit well with leading NDC members no matter where they reside: hence this article.

In this Knowledge Age, where information is easily available to more of the citizenry, whatever the Mills-Mahama government does or is not doing is being routinely discussed on some 70+ radio stations, scores of newspapers, on at least 5 TV stations, the world-wide-web, in many offices, restaurants and chop-bars, and in many living-rooms, bedrooms, school compounds and farms. This is why effective management of the government’s communication machinery is so important. There is a good reason why God gave us two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, but-surprisingly(?) only ONE mouth; it is to help us, as human beings and the human institutions we build to speak with one voice. President Mills has admitted that this area—better public communication-- needs his closer attention. I am sure he knows of people who can help him in this area, so if such people are not contacted, one cannot be surprised that the current confusion will continue to rage on. The concerns being expressed by Ghanaian citizens are like those of spectators at the national football field of development who are aware that the NDC has some Adebayors, Ronaldinos and Didier Drogbas who are available but who for some curious reasons are not currently being fielded in the game of development. So, rather than the government asking Ghanaians for more time, the spectators feel that the right answer is rather for the coach and team manager to field the right players in the right position, and in honour of Dr. Nkrumah to do so “now” rather than in the “shortest possible time.” Those Ghanaians who need jobs, incomes, better schools and clinics “now” are convinced that the great goals of development could be scored right “now” if some of the top players who are cooling their heels on the bench were brought into the game without further delay to ensure the long-awaited victory in prosperity.

To consider a few examples of the current situation in Ghana, we may ask ourselves why a written recommendation in November 2008 for the NDC leadership to establish a transitional team was ignored. That singular act could have gotten the government to have hit the ground running, and helped to quicken the pace of the appointments process. Ghanaians are asking some of us in the NDC leadership why Ambassadors and High Commissioners—who need no Parliamentary vetting—could not have been appointed and have been in their countries of accreditation by June this year? Our NPP opponents are asking us whether there is no financial cost to the economy if there are no important office holders, such as board members of banks, in place for many months, and banks cannot approve vital loans? Or are we in the NDC pretending that our NPP opponents are not monitoring all these very public developments? Senior officials in the Castle have wondered why a well-considered written proposal addressed to the highest offices on how Ghana could gain the most from the Obama visit was not even acknowledged? What then were the main achievements for Ghana, if any, from the much-heralded July visit of US President Barack Obama??

When Ghana scored a historical achievement by becoming the first African country in sub-Sahara to be visited by the new and dynamic US President, many were Ghana’s neighbours who were green with envy. They expected Ghana to benefit mightily from the visit. All educated Africans know that America is currently the world’s mightiest military, political, diplomatic, economic, financial, energy, manufacturing, IT, entertainment, educational, agricultural and sports power on earth. As such, if any U.S. President—especially one who has African blood in his veins-- chooses to visit Ghana instead of some 40 alternative countries, it is indeed an invaluable opportunity for any forward-thinking country to make the most of it. However, no matter how the government may explain it, what should have been a more meaningful 2-day visit got reduced to a visit of less than 24 hours. This, according to well-placed White House officials, was due to the lack of clarity and direction on the Ghana side. While a team of Ghanaians with relevant U.S. experience could have been assembled to assist in ensuring that Ghana got the most from this visit, such did not happen. Written proposals to that effect were ignored. Key individuals who passionately support this government and who have proven experience in dealing with the United States were not consulted at all. The visit itself passed well by Ghanaian standards, with no major negative incidents. However, no communiqué, declaration, agreement, memoranda were issued or signed, nor was there even a joint press conference or joint statement released to announce the main discussions between the two Presidents. Yet the government has access to men and women who could easily—for free-- have assisted to raise the level and importance of this visit and to ensure that Ghana got the most from it.

So, if by failing to get what Ghana could have obtained from this important visit, the pace of Ghana’s development continues to be slow, where does the responsibility lie?? Would the government have been asking Ghanaians for more time if the visit had resulted in a more beneficial outcome, and a major boost had occurred for Ghana’s economy?? Has any Ghanaian read since the Obama visit of any plans by which Ghana proposes to capitalize on the visit?? For example, have there been any new initiatives announced in the tourism sector to take advantage of the visit?? Is it really a matter of being given more time to take the right decisions on such matters, or is it not more a matter of taking the right decisions at the first opportunity?

Is there a good justification for why a government that won an election so narrowly should consciously marginalize so many amongst its core supporters?? Can this government not mobilize more Ghanaians in a more serious, structured way to achieve more of its objectives?? Is it true that the only way any qualified Ghanaian can assist his/her country is to be appointed into a government position? Is it true that there are not enough interested and qualified women to help the government achieve its gender targets in appointments? Is it possibly true that some people in the halls of power claim that it would be too expensive for some experienced Ghanaians in the diaspora to be invited to assist the government, but not too expensive when hundreds of Government officials travel outside the country each month? Is the distance from New York to Accra farther than that from Accra to New York? Does the government not currently pay at least 1,000 Ghanaians and non-Ghanaians as consultants in foreign currency each month??
There are only about a thousand political appointments that any government can make. But, there are numerous ways in which to inspire, motivate, mobilize and generate enthusiasm amongst the hundreds of thousands of others who cannot be given government appointments, so that they can become part of the process of national development--- not just people who are waiting for development to happen to them. Inspiring Ghanaians to serve their nation selflessly was one of Nkrumah’s major achievements. The NDC government can learn from that worthy example.

The Operation Feed Yourself programme which Col. Acheampong championed in the 1970s, the Peoples and Workers Defence Committees of the PNDC Rawlings era, as well as Nana Konadu’s 31st December Women’s Movement’s activities into the 1990s, all represented ways in which past leaders were able to mobilize millions in the population and to sensitize them into becoming voluntary extensions of the government. Ghanaians above 40 years old have experienced all these phenomena, so they can tell when a government is inspiring the citizens and getting things done and when it is being dull and slow. Should members of the NDC keep quiet when the Party is losing ground publicly, just so that we can claim to be loyal?? What are we to be loyal to—our own imminent downfall? Are we to be loyal to mortals or to God, Country and Party? President Mills has asked those who wish to constructively criticize his administration to do so, so let us hope that patriotic citizens who take up his offer will not be vilified merely for speaking their minds. In the absence of serious opinion polling in the country, does the NDC leadership need to wait for the results of the 2012 elections in order to find out that we are slipping in popularity? In many countries, parties and governments spend good money to find out scientifically and periodically what the people are thinking and saying, but many in our Party and government often prefer informal chop-bar research, personal vendetta stories, and skewed field reports from certain “security” agencies.

Which honest football team supporter watching a match at a stadium or even on TV cannot tell within the first 20 minutes of a game if his team is having difficulty or not?? In a 100 metres x 4 relay race, if your quartet’s first runner is several yards behind after the batons are handed over in the first leg, which experienced coach—or even spectator-- cannot tell that that team is unlikely to win the race no matter who is running in their final leg? So when President Rawlings is making certain statements about the current government’s performance, after occupying the job of Head of State for 19 years, he must know what he is talking about. He is the only one who has ever supervised President Mills as a Vice President, and therefore the only one who can pronounce fairly on whether President Mills can do better or not. In a class report, when your teacher writes that: “he can do better”, most students don’t get angry with their teacher, but rather take the advice in good faith: it is for their own good. If your teacher says you can do better and you get angry with him, the forthcoming examination results will reveal whether the student or the teacher was right. President Professor Mills has taught thousands of students over a 25-year period and has marked many examinations himself, so I am absolutely sure—having worked closely under and with him for many years-- that he can take a “can do better” remark in a constructive spirit. His unofficial advisors and close friends should not poison his mind over such tough love.

Currently, if by the generally agreed slow pace of the government, some Ghanaians who need jobs or good health are dying very quietly and invisibly in remote parts of the country, should patriotic Ghanaians remain quiet simply because they are NDC members and because they fully support this government?? If “justice delayed is justice denied”, then could it not be that development delayed is also progress and prosperity denied?? Are we, as Ghanaians, including some of us who were trained as Kwame Nkrumah’s Young Pioneers, expected to remain quiet indefinitely, even as Ghana slowly and invisibly loses some critical elements of its global competitiveness?? Should leading NDC members stay quietly on the sidelines even if we can see that if matters continue as they are we would lose power in 2012? Are we the kind of passengers who sit passively in a bus until we die in an accident even when we realize that the bus is not being well driven? Have NDC members forgotten so soon how we all had to collectively struggle to win the last elections by only 40,000 votes?? Is it because many office holders today do not know where Tain is that they can’t appreciate the concerns of the foot soldiers?? Do we believe that nine months into a new government, we still retain those 40,000 votes earned after Tain?

Do we believe what many of our supporters openly say, that the NDC may have come into office but the NPP is still in power?? Are our very good friends in the Castle and at Party Headquarters not aware that below the level of Minister/Deputy and CEO/D-G of major institutions, the structures and people that the NPP put in place over the last 8 years are still generally in place? Do appointees never hear that when NDC members visit many public sector establishments to seek various forms of assistance, they are shunted aside because little has really changed except the ceremonial heads?? Is there a reason why many of our NDC appointees are reported as being no longer accessible to Party members by phone or text, and have distanced themselves from those who put them into power?? Verily, verily, as Shakespeare reminds us: “Lowliness is young ambition’s ladder, whereto the climber upwards turns his face. But whence once he has attained the uppermost rungs, then unto the ladder he turns his back, scorning the base degrees by which he did ascend.”

It would be preferable for all NDC discussions to be held behind closed doors. But people in leadership positions are the ones who must create such forums for private discussions. If President Rawlings sometimes makes statements that some people consider unpalatable, it may because space is not being created internally where such robust disagreements may be exchanged privately. Some of the leading appointees in the NDC government should ask themselves the last time they visited the Party headquarters, or attended meetings of the National Executive Committee. Do most appointees realize that a gulf is widening between them and the Party faithful?? Are the appointing authorities aware that most foot soldiers are angry because of the way some leading Party members are being treated? Are there no military historians who can advise the authorities that it is dangerous to neglect battle-hardened soldiers (including political foot soldiers) after they have returned from a victorious battlefield?? Don’t we remember that it was such neglect of ex-servicemen after the 2nd World War that led Sgt Adjetey and others to demonstrate on 28th February, 1948, thus beginning the process that led to riots and strikes, Nkrumah’s elevation and the successful struggle for independence? Is there a reason why those in government cannot understand that ensuring party unity must be one of their daily priorities?

When Robert Kennedy, then Attorney General of the USA, asked his brother John Kennedy, then U.S. President, why he tolerated a difficult man like J. Edgar Hoover as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), and why he did not sack him, President Kennedy replied: “Bob, I’d rather have Edgar inside the government pissing out than outside pissing in”. Are we aware that parents who build houses without toilets and bathrooms force their children to do their thing in public?? Are we in Ghana saying that we don’t know why President Obama invited Mrs Hilary Clinton into an important position in his government, in spite of the quite bitter contest they had during the primaries in the Democratic Party?? In the case of the NPP, when Alan Kyeremateng felt after the NPP Congress that he and his supporters were being marginalized, he resigned from the Party, causing a major split in NPP ranks. Are NDC members not aware that just that split is what could have cost the NPP the mere 40,000 votes with which they lost the last elections, and which has gotten the NDC into power?? Does that NPP experience need to be repeated in the NDC, too?? Is anyone listening in the NDC government? “Those who have eyes to see, let them see, and those who have ears to hear let them hear.”

As we celebrate the centenary of Nkrumah’s birth, let us all Ghanaians rededicate ourselves to the ideals for which he lived, especially his urgent struggle to re-build the African’s place in the global community. Let us congratulate President Mills for his own modest lifestyle, which emulates Presidents Nkrumah and President Rawlings. Let’s congratulate President Mills for honouring Nkrumah with a national holiday and for appointing his son Sekou Nkrumah to the National Youth Council; let us recognize the enormous odds that Samia Nkrumah had to surmount in becoming a Member of Parliament and wish her well; let us encourage Gorkeh Nkrumah to continue to follow in his father’s footsteps as a writer, journalist and intellectual in Egypt. For my part, I was privileged in my own small way, to persistently urge Sekou to pursue ownership of the official house in Labone that the state of Ghana had allocated to the Nkrumah family but which Sekou was too modest to ask back from the government. Between 2001-2003, Sekou and I were both tenants at a small home in Labone, part of which I used as an office; and we had some time to get acquainted.

Those who have inherited Nkrumah’s legacy must be aware of the less than 3% of the national vote that Nkrumahist parties capture in national elections in Ghana. Emotive as it may be to some, the time has come for a debate to take place amongst Nkrumahists, especially those in the NDC, on the merits or demerits of developing and promoting an Nkrumah-Rawlings tradition, taking the best of the records of both leaders, in order to keep the Danquah-Busia political tradition at bay. If I listen to many NDC members and I choose to run this year as a candidate for one of the National Vice Chairmanship slots in the NDC, then it would be specifically to help rebuild the party, to strengthen its structures, to make the government more accountable to the party, as well as to explore with other like-minded people how the beneficiaries of the Nkrumah and Rawlings traditions can forge a more meaningful partnership for Ghana.

If the NDC administration truly wishes to honour Kwame Nkrumah’s memory, then it must be able to take a number of critical steps “NOW” to assure Ghanaians of its ability to accomplish its promises! I believe we can. The can-do spirit is what Nkrumah lived with and died, and it is the best way to honour his memory. Some 60 years ago, when Nkrumah realized that his colleagues in the UGCC were acting too slowly, he chose to form another Party, to enable Ghanaians to gain our political independence more quickly. Today, there is a general feeling around the country and in the diaspora that the NDC government is not moving fast enough to bring economic relief to Ghanaians. The President himself seems to have heard this cry and has asked for more time. Ghanaians may be patient and long suffering, but increasingly they are ready to punish at the ballot box political parties and leaders who waste their time. All those of us who sacrificed a lot of our time, money and efforts to enable the NDC win the 2008 elections are not simply going to stand quietly aside while a few people mess the party’s future up!! We must collectively take steps now to align the Party and the government’s efforts with the people’s expectations. That is how the NDC can inherit Nkrumah’s legacy and keep worthy memories of him eternally alive. Nkrumah believed and practiced Shakespeare’s view that:

“There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyages of their lives are bound in shallows and in misery. Upon such a sea are we (NDC) now afloat, and we must take the tide when it serves or lose our ventures…...”.

Ekwow Spio-Garbah – DAILY GRAPHIC (Sep 23, 2009)
Email: spiogarbrah@eurasiagroup.net

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