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Opinions of Tuesday, 7 January 2003

Columnist: Mahama, John

A HIPC Christmas?

Perhaps more ominous in the President’s message was his hint at the difficulties that lay ahead. The President said Government would have to take difficult decisions in the early part of the year in order to ensure economic growth and prosperity.

Everybody is well acquainted with what these difficult decisions are. Petrol price increases should send the price of a gallon close to the ?15,000 mark. Utility prices need to be jacked up a further 50% or so.

At the last NDC Delegates Congress, the Minority Leader popularized the new X’mas wish when he used the words “HIPC Christmas and a Wahala New Year” as a parody of the better known “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.” Certainly it was obvious that this Christmas was going to be a difficult one. The President set the tone in his Christmas message to the nation when he said that he knew that this Christmas was going to be a bleak one, but still appealed to Ghanaians to enjoy it as best as they could. He advised Ghanaians to cut their coat according to their cloth and spend just what they can afford on the Christmas celebration.

Perhaps more ominous in the President’s message was his hint at the difficulties that lay ahead. The President said Government would have to take difficult decisions in the early part of the year in order to ensure economic growth and prosperity. Everybody is well acquainted with what these difficult decisions are. Petrol price increases should send the price of a gallon close to the ?15,000 mark. Utility prices need to be jacked up a further 50% or so.

The most unpalatable aspect of these increases are not going to be just the fact of the percentage increases, but the requirement that a new price mechanism be put in place that automatically adjusts the prices in future by agreed trigger factors. What this means is that Ghanaians could go to the filing station and be confronted with a different petroleum price every week. Utilities too could be adjusted monthly to reflect the cedi depreciation and cost of inputs to the utility companies.

While this year’s Christmas was more subdued there were quite interesting moments. Many musicians and artistes put up performances to spice up the Christmas festivities. Kojo Antwi was at his usual 24th best for a steep ?200,000 per ticket. Guess what! The tickets were sold out 2 clear days before the concert. I am quite a strong Kojo Antwi fan and have consistently attended his 24th night concerts. I couldn’t do so this year for the simple reason that the tickets were finished before I realized it.

Daddy Lumba has not traditionally been the live concert type. He has over the years concentrated on belting out as many recordings as possible. This year he opted to give a live concert at the Accra International Conference Centre (AICC) for a steep ?150,000 per ticket. Again the concert was sold out. I did not attend this concert because I had a conflicting invitation to attend a party given by a close friend.

Tickets were oversold and as I drove over to my friend’s party, I could hear upset fans complaining on a live radio commentary that even though they held tickets they could not find seats. This certainly is indiscipline of the highest order. The organizers know the seating capacity of the AICC, why on earth will they sell more tickets than the theatre can take.

A great concert by the famous South African trumpeter Hugh Masakela at the National Theatre was poorly attended because it coincided with the Lumba bash. Quite a pity! Considering the stature and quality of Hugh as a musician and performer. While I couldn’t attend this performance too as a result of the friend’s party I mentioned earlier, I caught up with Hugh at another venue. Tell you about that soon.

While I missed my favorite Kojo Antwi concert, I surely did not intend to miss the intriguing performance of the vivacious “Afia Siribour.” At a significant 100,000 per ticket, I procured 3 tickets for the missus, my brother-in-law and myself. KSM is obviously in a class of his own. He obviously is the master of stand-up comedy in Ghana.

Acting as the highflying liberated Afia Siribour with feminine costume and all, he drew the laughs all through the 2-hour performance. Efo Ganyo, brother of ‘kokonsa’ of Radio Gold fame was the unseen MC. The high point of this concert was his mimicry of a telephone conversation with both Dr. Kwesi Botchwey and Professor John Atta Mills. As a social scientist, his humorous classification of men into the type a, b, and c showed keen insight in male behaviour.

The presence of the ex-President and his family added flavour to the night. Both Efo Ganyo Kokonsa and KSM took turns at poking light- hearted fun at the former first family. Stunned by the beauty of the Rawlings girls, Ganyo vowed to divorce ‘davi’ for all kinds of concocted reasons in order to marry one of the Rawlings beauties. This drew laughs from the audience.

Perhaps the wickedest of all was KSM’s fake marriage renewal vows. Asking all married couples to stand up, which includes the former President and Nana Konadu, he begins what appears like a renewal of marriage vows. Halfway through the vow when it turns out to be the lamentation of a wife who is aware of the infidelity of a husband, President Rawlings promptly grabs Nana Konadu and they resume their seats amidst laughter from the crowd and feigned surprise by KSM.

Perhaps for me the high point of my Christmas was the concert at Indigo Nightclub by Hugh Masakela. Age has done nothing to diminish his powerful voice or his dexterity on the trumpet. Belting away Fela’s “Lady”, “Ashiko” and other popular tunes transported me back to the heady days of the 70’s. He was at his blunt best with “Everything must change.” Lyrics which include “Charlie Taylor why don’t you go away from here,” Arap Moi/Robert Mugabe don’t you think it is time to say goodbye,” and “Eyadema owns Togo,” would make him persona non grata in several countries but are a bold statement on political dinosaurs refusing to bow to the winds of democratic change.

My favorite Masakela song is “Stimela.” The lyrics of this song protests the shabby and exploitative treatment meted out to migrant workers in the gold mines of South Africa. Noticing the discomfiture of AGC boss Sam Jonah, halfway through the song, Hugh was prompt to assuage his feeling with a quick message, “don’t take this personal Mr. Jonah.” Off course while the conditions of mine workers have not been as terrible and exploitative as the South African experience, Ghana has had its fair share of adverse experiences with the mining industry.

Environmental degradation from surface mining activity, water poisoning, impoverished retired mine workers, are but a few of the adverse effects of the history of the mining industry in Ghana. While this was a HIPC Christmas, it had its high points.

For the mass of the people who could not afford the 100s of thousands of cedis charged for the Christmas concerts, the concert at the Black Star Square to mark the 10th anniversary of the 4th Republic was heavily attended. This concert was free of charge and had all the music stars from Tic Tac to the evergreen Pat Thomas. Perhaps what should worry Ghanaians is not as much the HIPC X’mas and the Wahala New Year, but the bitter economic “quinine” Ghanaians are required to take this first quarter.


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