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Feature Article of Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.

Mahama gives voice to Ghana’s physically challenged citizens

President Mahama gives voice to Ghana’s physically challenged citizens

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Monday, January 21, 2013

When the NDC decided not to field a physically challenged candidate for one of the constituencies in Accra, it created much furore. Some disparaging comments had it that the NDC didn’t have room for that segment of the population. Some even threatened to punish the party at the 2012 elections for that matter. The rest is history.
But as if stepping forward to prove those cynics wrong, President Mahama has taken the boldest decision ever to appoint a visually impaired personality to head a Ministry.
For the first time in Ghana’s constitutional democratic governance, he has appointed a physically challenged person to head a Ministry. He is in the person of Dr. Henry Seidu Daanaa who is clinically blind and has been the head of research at the Ministry of Chieftaincy and Culture. The President has elevated him to be the Minister of the re-designated Ministry of Chieftaincy and Traditional Affairs.
What could be more illuminating than this strategic move? It is an appointment worth celebrating. It is not just cosmetic; it is meant to tap into the expertise of a physically challenged Ghanaian who has weathered the storm to be counted!
This peculiar aspect of the President’s moves strikes a particularly resounding chord that leaves me in no doubt that President Mahama is bold.
This appointment must give every Ghanaian the signal that the President is carving a niche for himself as someone who recognizes competence and taps into it for the good of the country, regardless of ethnic or political inclinations. For the records and purposes of my arguments in this opinion piece, let me say that Dr. Daanaa holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology of Law from the London School of Economics and has worked with almost all Regional Houses of Chiefs in the country.
His appointment will surely not please only the physically challenged segment of our population in Ghana and outside but it goes to prove the long-held slogan among the physically challenged themselves that “Disability is not inability.” Already, the Ghana Federation of the Disabled is rejoicing over Dr. Daanaa’s nomination, according MyJoyOnline (January 21, 2013).
Dr. Daanaa has described himself as “a pioneer all my life," noting that he was the first blind person in Ghana to be called to the bar on 4th October 1987.
I am impressed by his own assertion that although he knows he will be faced with challenges, he is prepared for them. As he put it, he has already surmounted a major challenge which is rooted in the tradition and customs of some traditional areas in the country that don’t permit chiefs to shake hands with the physically challenged like him. Coping with this disdain takes a lot of moral courage and physical endurance. He has survived and is now being put in charge of that Ministry. I know he will disregard such disdain and reach out courageously to all manner of chiefs to achieve the objectives for which the President has appointed him.
Other challenges are novel. Because the blind are accustomed to using the Braille, I wonder whether there is any such facility already existing at the Ministry to expedite his performance. Or whether documents to be handled by him will be processed quickly for him not to lag behind schedule. Then again, it is obvious that anything coming from him to others not suffering his kind of physically disability will have to be reversed to the standard format (prose) to be deciphered and acted on. This means more pressure on officialdom. I hope enough provision will be made to enable him to work unimpeded.
Another challenge will involve the staff that he will work with. It is imperative that staff be conscientized to assist him instead of frustrating him or taking undue advantage of his physical challenges to undo him. It must be clear to all that the President went for him because of his competence, which demands that they do everything possible to make the country benefit from his expertise.
I am particularly thrilled at this appointment, although some may refer to it as the President’s preferential leaning toward those of Northern Ghana extraction—what they have begun labeling as nepotism in the appointments so far made. As they would have it, a breakdown of the preceding 31 appointees on regional basis reveals the following: Greater Accra Region, 5; Northern Region, 4; Upper West Region, 4; Eastern Region, 4; Upper East Region, 3; Volta Region, 3; Central Region, 3; Western Region, 3; Brong-Ahafo Region, 1; Ashanti Region, 1.
Now, after making more appointments, the President has taken the tally from Northern Ghana to a higher level. The likes of Dr. Daannaa, Hon. Mark Woyongo, Hon. Haruna Iddrisu, Hon. Abdul Rashid Hassan Pelpuo, Mr. Nayon Bilijo, Hon. Alhassan Azong, Hon Alhaji Mustapha Ahmed, Alhaji Limuna Mohammed Muniru, Hon. Alban Bagbin, and Hon. Cletus Avoka have added to the list.
I am really not bothered about such claims because there is no basis for them. The President hasn’t yet completed the task of appointing personalities to fill vacant positions, and we should give him enough elbow room in which to operate. Certainly, the President isn’t go for his own Dagomba or Gonja kith and kin from the Northern Region (Upper East and Upper West excluded), which is encouraging because in our kind of politics, it is difficult for such a person wielding so much power to move away from ethnicity. We know that the Constitution calls for regional balance but precedent exists for us to know who went for his own clansmen and the notion of “old boyism” in making appointments.
I would be bothered if these personalities were not capable of doing what has been assigned them. The President knows why he has settled on them and shouldn’t be stampeded by anybody. If they don’t perform well, it won’t take long for them to be booted out. But for now, the benefit of the doubt resides with the President and should remain so.
In choosing these appointees to fill Ministerial posts, President Mahama has gone a long way to include personalities from diverse ethnicities as well as fields of endeavour. He has so far nominated 38 to form the team that he expects to help him implement his “Better Ghana Phase II” agenda. We have already written opinion pieces to commend him for looking above party confines to rope in those he feels can help him do the work.
Some faint voices of dissent have surfaced to create the impression that he is not doing wide consultation to select those appointees. I disagree and opine instead that he seems to know what cards he has in hand and is playing them well. He has demonstrated level-headedness and must be given the encouragement as he forms his government.
At this early stage in the life of the government, enough exists to suggest that the government is made up of people from varying professional, social, and political backgrounds who are being brought together on the basis of competence to prove their mettle. I congratulate these appointees and urge them to be prepared to go the extra mile in helping President Mahama make the much-needed difference in governance.
That difference is nothing but enunciating and implementing policies and programmes to develop the country and take Ghanaians out of the narrow circumstances in which they have been living all these years as if cursed. It is disturbing that despite all the abundant natural and human resources of the country, the people should live under the poverty line while their leaders wax in untold ill-gotten wealth.
Yet, these are the very people who vote to put these leaders in office. The President and his team must not lose sight of this fact as they ease themselves into the groove of governance. If for nothing at all, they need to know that four years hence, they will return to those very long-suffering citizens for a renewal of their mandate.
The tumultuous events that characterized Election 2012 should remind them that the people will vote massively for only those they trust, those who connect with them, and those they believe will work for their betterment. Only then will the mandate be renewed. The appointees have it as their bounden duty to prove their mettle.
For Dr. Daanaa, particularly, the going may be tough; but knowing the sort of person he is, I am confident that he will brace himself up for the challenges and tackle them with alacrity and the genuine desire to uplift standards. If he succeeds, he will pave the way for others like him to be recognized and appointed to the high echelons of political office. Once again, congratulations to the appointee for brazing this trail. And more congratulations to President Mahama for making this particular appointment!!
I shall return…
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