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Opinions of Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Columnist: Tawiah, Benjamin

Ghana @50: The Unthinkable Bears Thinking About

In every lifetime there are often a few special moments that belong to the high order of significance. In the case of individuals it could be a birthday, a wedding or some important personal achievements. For a nation it would be the remembrance of her independence, the acquisition of a symbolic national asset or a memorable contribution to international peace and prosperity. Sometimes the personal achievement of an important individual becomes a national pride that puts a country in a certain league. In this sense Kofi Annan and Kwame Nkrumah are just as important as the special positions they occupy in the minds of Ghanaians and Africans.

It is not a bad idea to celebrate 50 years of nationhood. On his 83 birthday President Mugabe spent 300Million Zimbabwean dollars on celebrations, at a time that teachers and medics have been on strike since inflation hit 1,600% in Zimbabwe. Relationships that make the 50 year threshold are worth celebrating with all the pomp we can muster, even if there are too many regrettable moments in those years. Regrets are not unthinkable in such situations; they provide reason to think about the unthinkable.

I had nearly completed an interview guide I was developing to sample the views of Ghanaians in London about the Ghana @50 anniversary, when I chanced upon an article in the Daily Mail (UK), by columnist Sir Max Hastings. In very inauspicious terms, Max wrote: ‘It is almost impossible to anticipate a happy future for this miraculously wonderful continent (Africa), cursed by its inability to govern itself. The West’s counsel is scarcely heeded, because the colonial legacy still exercises a baleful veto. It is hard to argue for giving more cash, when most of it is stolen.’

Max continued: ‘The best we can do is send food and medicine, promote education, offer advice where it is wanted, and back the pitifully few regimes which seem half-decent. The West is much less to blame, I think, for the current miseries in Africa than for the troubles of the Middle East.’ After reading this, I shelved the questionnaire and began to wonder what the Western sympathisers we have invited to grace our silver Jubilee anniversary really think of the celebrations. May be, Ghana is half-decent. I hope.

Max’s words are quite disturbing. Mark the words cursed and inability to govern. These are only a few of the expressions western journalists use to describe most things African. Often during interviews, the language is inquisitorial or utterly insulting. About two ago President Kufour was interviewed on BBC by a lady journalist on a flagship talk programme. My handsome president endured what seemed rather like a quiz than an interview. I felt like reminding the young lady that she was talking to my president.

Not long after that ex-president J.J Rawlings appeared on Channel 4, to lend an African perspective to some news stories during a news broadcast. Mr Rawlings was unnecessarily made to explain the Zimbabwe crises, as though he was Mugabe. I don’t remember the last time Tony Blair was made to account for Germany or France. President Mugabe has been called names that are too terrible to print on this page. Of course, Mugabe is a different scenario altogether. Yahaya Jameh of the Gambia has turned the fight against AIDS into a cantata. The president claims to have found the cure for the deadly disease; a cure he would tell no one how he found it. He prays for patients, to exorcise the spirit of AIDS, and allows them to rest for a week. After that they get healed automatically. Can you believe that? Well, his Excellency does.

If somebody tells you that you have an impossible future, but they are willing to celebrate your present with you, it makes you wonder the kind of a past you have. By inference, if the future is bleak, what is there to celebrate? Such a person would rather you spent time charting a good future than celebrating the good nothings of the past.

A friend of mine, who is presently pursuing a PhD at one of London’s most prestigious universities, tells me my brain is the size of a peanut. He finds it unthinkable that I have signed up to two charity organisations and commit some £12, about 216, 000 cedis, in direct debits every month, to charities in the UK. He thinks I should save that money and find a wife. Out of sheer disgust, his wife does not help me with my cooking anymore; she also thinks I am a money waster. If a Ghanaian finds giving to charity, to help fight poverty in Africa a foolish effort, why should Bill Gates or Bob Geldof bother?

As Ghana turns 50, one of the ‘unthinkables’ that should engage our thinking is our apparent lack of charity. How often do we hear that a retired civil servant or politician has devoted the rest of their days to raise funds for charity? As young girls and boys in the UK do, I was wondering if it would be unthinkable to recruit youngsters and students, to roam the streets of Ghana, asking Ghanaians to donate couple of pesewas every month to help poverty eradication programmes in Ghana. It shouldn’t be impossible to have containers-like piggybanks-placed at the receptions of organisations, in which people will drop their coins. Alleviating poverty takes a lot of money, not a lot of ideas. But Max, sitting in London, wonders whether the money will reach the poor at all.

My PhD friend was wrong on charity, but he put forward some ambitious propositions when I asked his thoughts on the Ghana@50 celebrations. He has done a list of some important projects that could be financed by $20million in a poor nation whose annual budget necessarily requires a foreign input. He made an unthinkable suggestion that we can settle for a low key, but symbolic celebration, and spend the $20million to raise a block of flats somewhere in the capital or in any of our commercial cities. Those flats, he said would be called Jubilee flats. Ten years on, the people of Ghana will be proud to point at something and proclaim that, years ago we abandoned a costly celebration and used the money on a beautiful housing project. Jubilee flats! Well, there is a thought.

Jubilee flats! That is not a novel idea. The people of Nkroful, Nkrumah’s hometown, are not happy, because there was talk of a building project in Nkroful and some other regions, as part of the Jubilee celebrations. But that never happened to Nkroful.

I found his suggestion brilliant, because on my 31st birthday, I turned down invitations from friends, to travel to Spain for a memorable celebration. A trip from London to Spain, together with hotel accommodation and food for the weekend, will cost about £300, some 5.4million cedis. Instead of making merry with that amount, I wired it to the parents of the boy in Agona Manso, who was named after me. It is unthinkable that a sane parent will name their good-looking son after the likes of me, but when I received photographs of the boy in his oversized school uniform last week, laughing through his missing teeth, my friend’s Jubilee housing suggestion began to make sense to me.

I can’t readily account for the source of my convictions this time, but I do have a feeling that this year’s independence anniversary is not a waste of time. 50 years in the life of a nation is too important to ignore. It is about a nation and her people; it’s about a people and their history-a peculiar history, including the struggles, the fret and the sweet memories that link the various carriages of our past to our present. It is also about the politics that divide and unite us. All in all, it is about the body politic.

50 year olds do not live in breaths alone; they live in thoughts. 50 year olds do not live in sights; they live in vision. 50 year olds do not live in motion; they live in deeds. Those are the unthinkable things that should bear our thinking, as Ghana turns 50 this March.

Happy Anniversary!

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Benjamin Tawiah, London

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.