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Opinions of Sunday, 10 December 2006

Columnist: Amankwa, Kwame

Amanfuo, Ghana is more than 50 years old

In the pre-christian, pre-western, pre – Gold coast, pre-party politics, pre-medical, pre-independence era there existed a people who thrived and prospered on the basis of their civilization, creativity, strong socio-cultural and political systems. Many years ago there was nothing like tourism and its twin vices – child prostitution, drug peddling etc or multinational business vulturism and domination of indigenous economic enterprises. There were nothing like air travel and little opportunities for rulers to spirit away the resources of their communities to save and enjoy in foreign lands. Those days elders in these societies did not attend 20,000 conferences abroad each year, so the likelihood of meeting an American woman for a one night stand and sending her $40, 000 every month of community funds was non-existent. Those who were fortunate to step outside the shores such as Tetteh Quarshie in 1878 and remitted or smuggled back to the land seeds of cocoa from the Spanish island of Fernando Po. What was Owura Tetteh doing there that part of the century? The beans will later become the life blood foreign exchange earner of the country. Who said diasporians are not useful to the state? In those days, the law’s view on the smuggling of cocoa beans was the equivalent now of swallowing cocaine abroad. The punishment was severe when caught, so Owura Tetteh did well to succeed in his endeavour.

The time I am referring to is roughly many thousands of years ago and it is this period which in my view is worth celebrating year on year and not the date when our dignity, liberty, freedom, economic management etc which were unlawfully taken away from us was handed back to us. It is as if to say that at one time in our history, our lives did not belong to us until the colonialists organized it for us and gave it back to us.

I have just learnt that the NPP government is about to spend so many millions of dollars on the celebration of Ghana’s 50th birth day next year. From the noises I have been hearing, it is going to be a big extravaganza. A whole website (www.ghana50.gov.gh) has been devoted to this event. Now we all know how much it costs to set up such a website and this is even better in terms of its quality and content than that of the Bank of Ghana (one of the most important institutions). And what are the 3 main objectives as outlined in the Q & A section? I quote them here; To celebrate and commemorate Ghana’s landmark achievement as the first country in Black Africa to attain independence from colonial rule; To reflect on the evolution, development, achievements and drawbacks of our country over the past fifty (50) years; and To look forward to the future, to our vision of excellence in all fields of endeavour in the next fifty (50) years toward, and to our centenary birthday as a nation state.

How much is being spent on this “emancipation from total captivity activities”? and what are the highlights of the celebrations? I understand the cost is a whapping $20m and goes on to explain the reason for wasting such a colossal sum of money by citing the British Millennium Dome as an example. Well I am not sure whose idea it was to use the Millennium dome as a good example, but then many people in Ghana do not know what or where the millennium dome is. I will be surprised if the authorities have not explained it away to the people as a giant football stadium or supermarket in London. In fact it was one of the most useless and wasteful project ever undertaken by a UK government using tax payers money in recent memory. The dome is now a white whale on land and its consequences has been hanging around the neck of Tony Blair and his government like the proverbial sword of Dodowa ever since. Also cited is the London underground Jubilee line and Rawlings building the ICC in 1991. Please tell me the difference between $20m spent on t-shirts, cakes, bottled water and similar amount spent on building a rail way or a conference centre? That rail station or conference centre is still there but the other consumables will come through the backside.

I admire the NPP government is some respects for some of its policies to tackle the problems of the land, but this idea is not one of them. In the UK a prominent millionaire who was so moved by the plight of the poor has gone underground to first understand the circumstances of the poor and then dish his millions to help. I have often wondered how, after all the Pamscads, ERPs, HIPCs etc we still find the money to pursue what I will call extra-ordinarily unnecessary projects (EUP). If Ghana were a person and poor at that with a few millions to spare and a large family to care for, he or she would probably make sure that everyone was properly clothed, fed, sheltered, health insured with the best medical facilities, protected, lived in a very clean environment before engaging in what I call EUPs.

This pending 50th birthday bash has generated a lot of controversy. Land in Accra earmarked for the building of a wireless station is being diverted for the building of the biggest fish market in Africa. I even understand there are some oil deposits under that land so the Chinese have been asked to bring their false papers and genuine money to establish genuine enterprises to bid for these lands (joke).

Then is the $20m plus that has been set aside to buy things like t-shirts, tie and die material, sweets and cakes from Hong Kong and Dubai for the foreign dignitaries who have been invited because it is cheaper to make them in those places than home. Actually it will cost about $1.5m to host the British Royal family at such an event. Everyone appears to be in some sort of celebratory mood except the NDC and quite understandably so. The last time they raised their concerns about attempts by this government to borrow and spend money from a barber’s shop in Hackney in London, they were shouted down but exonerated in the end when the whole transaction proved to be a farce. This time they may be right again.

What is perplexing is that no one is asking the questions – how old is Ghana, what are we celebrating and why, where is the money coming from, who are we inviting to these celebrations, the benefits to the wider Ghanaian society etc. Rather one person who nearly brought VALCO down to its knees has been appointed again to manage and defend the frivolous costs that this event is going to bring.

When you are 50 years old and you hold a 50th party, it is because that is the day when you “set foot” on earth, not the day when your parents left you to your own devices because you could now partially take care of yourself. If your parents or the state granted you total freedom at age 18 and you are now 50 years old, to determine the time of celebration will be 50 – 18 = 32 plus another 18. So mathematically you will or should celebrate your 50th birth date 18 years from your 32nd birth date. This may sound confusing and illogical and you will have to excuse my lack of superiority in the subject, but I need you to understand what we are trying to celebrate and for what. When Ghana’s “parents”, the British crown gave us our independence, the land was already about 2000 years old. In actual fact we are far older than our present politicians will make us believe.

Amanfuo, even some of the legal and illegal celebrations like the National Farmers day, June Fourth and 31st December events have meanings for its proponents. They tell us we are celebrating independence. Independence denotes a condition of being free politically, economically, socially, culturally, healthily and let’s add psychologically. It means the absence of disease or squalor and dependence. It stands for self determination, self sufficiency, liberty and true freedom.

Presently Ghana’s external debt stands at an estimated $5bn. We are still trying to lay a gas pipeline from Lagos to Accra. We apparently buy some electricity from the Ivory Coast. Korle Bu, our premier hospital is crying out for rehabilitation. The economy is stable but not free from the clutches of the IMF, USA, UK, African Development Bank, Brazil, China, Malaysia, India, Thailand, The Middle East etc. The educational system which has been chaotic over the last 20 years is gradually being sorted out. The people of the North are crying out for their share of development at a time when their sons and daughters who could make it all happen are stuck in their air conditioned offices in Accra. The south is also agitating for their share of development projects.

The telecoms, gold mining, fisheries, second car parts dealership, production of sachet water etc have all been expensively sold to foreign hands and cheaply to wives, prostitutes, concubines, refugees. What we see is the daily trooping into the streets of thousands of young boys and girls to sell anything under the sun.

I recently logged onto the WHO website (www.who.int/mdg) to see how we were doing as a nation in achieving the MDGs or targets as at August 2006. Not enough data had been supplied by the government because our data collection departments are so severely under-resourced. I laid hands on a few statistics which did not make good reading;

The latest population percentage living below the national poverty line was 39.5% (1999). Children under 5 moderately or severely underweight was 22.1% (2003) and those severely underweight 4.7%. The percentage of the population under-nourished is 12.4% (2002) or 2.4m. Children under 5 sleeping under insecticide treated bed nets so they don’t catch malaria and die is only 4.5% (2003). The slum population as a % of the urban population is 69.6% (2001).

The only information that was current in 2006 was the number of men and women in parliament. I know the usual response will be that the data is old blah, blah…. But it is a reflection of where our priorities are or must be. How about $4.5m to build new affordable homes and improve the slums. $1m to clear the hazardous rubbish at Gbawe and other places in order to improve the health of the people. After all Mobil oil successfully regenerated a similar wasteland near the Manhyia palace in Kumasi into a green and environmentally friendly place where people now eat. $8m to improve the deteriorating health care facilities in all the regional capitals and also immunization programmes against deadly diseases like hepatitis B etc.$0.5m to buy and supply nets so the remaining 95.5% of under 5s will not contract malaria. Invest $4m in agriculture to curtail the rate of under-nourishment and then $2m for kickbacks. That is how I will spend $20m.

The Americans have something called “Independence day” celebration – 4th July, a kind of birth day celebration along the lines Ghana hopes to do. However, the American reason is justifiable, affordable, accurate, meaningful and good. And even they sometimes get confused about the reasons for the whole business. Some see it as a day of delivery by God. A day to celebrate the founders of the nation state. To gain independence, the Americans had to fight the same colonialist who colonized our country in a way more serious and dangerously and proportional to that which our fore fathers did. Eventually the English crown gave up the ghost. The American presidents who came after this event made sure the people’s freedoms, liberty, security, dignity, pride etc were preserved through good and shared governance, respect for persons, equality of opportunity etc. What have we seen since independence that makes us think that we have arrived to justify the celebrations that is being planned?

When the Americans celebrate, they do not do so because their rights were handed back to them. Oh no they never gave that up. They celebrate patriotism, sovereignty, autonomy, prosperity, heritage, pride and progress.

Ghana is so polarized along the lines that were prescribed by the colonialists and Africa seems to be tearing itself apart in places to the extent that it is possible for mercenaries from elsewhere to hire planes and buy ammunitions to invade and attempt to take over a whole country and yet we proudly talk of independence.

I am no Adu Boahene or F. K. Buah, but I know that the area presently called Ghana was founded, some will say, around the 400 B.C. It probably started off as clans, ethnic groups, then grew into kingdoms or empires. Things were going well until the colonialist stepped in and hence our present predicament. My argument therefore, is that we should rather investigate or explore the beginning of the proper nation state if we haven’t already done so and celebrate that one in style. Baring that, we must ensure that we have indeed arrived in full, post independence – economically, politically, socially, culturally, medically etc – before we celebrate, else we would be seen to be behaving like the tenant referred to in AB Crenstil song who had a C series Mercedes car yet could not afford to pay his rent.

In his recent budget speech, the minister or president said …Mr. Speaker, we are exactly 110 days from the 50th anniversary of our country’s birth as the first COLONY in Africa… blah blah blah. Well I immediately took out my little calculator and keyed in 2007 – 1957 = 50. None of the listeners raised an objection to this undermining of our history. Again, Ghana is more than 50 years old, may be 2000 or even more. What is being referred to as our 50th anniversary is only our release from the shackles of slavery or profits from it, from exploitation, murder, rape etc. Are we celebrating the day when we changed our country’s name from X to Gold coast or Gold Coast to Ghana? If it is the former, then the word independence is wrong. The Americans can afford to enjoy because they have since become a superpower, strong economically, politically to the extent that when it farts, the colonialists get a bloated tummy.

We remain largely dependent on foreign aid to supplement our budgets, about $6.9bn as at 1999 (I was unable to get any current statistics from the Bank of Ghana’s website www.bog.gov - because it is so poorly constructed) and I am sure that has gone up. Our external debt as at 2004 was about $7.4bn. Infant mortality is around 51.43 deaths / 1000 live births. Life expectancy is a mere 56 years old in an age where people in the advanced countries get upset when someone dies at 90 years. Actually Ghana was one of the 20 countries that were judged to have reached HIPC post completion point. What this means is that the level of debt and by implication debt service payments comes down to allow for enough resources to be channeled into development projects. But what do we see? Hospital facilities, the likes of Korle Bu are a in a pitiful state. Outside the HIPC arrangements, we have become even more aggressive in our search for foreign loans, going everywhere to borrow anything for everything – presidential palaces, PSI projects on cassava, gas pipelines, harbour improvements to school feeding programmes.

In his letter to Mr. Kohler, the then Minister of finance Mr. Marfo wrote … Ghana has suffered severe terms of trade shock during 1999 – 2000 which was compounded by inappropriate policies and DELAYS IN DONOR DISBURSEMENTS …. It is like saying to your parents – I sold dog chains all holidays along the Odorkor - Mallam highway but business was poor and the delay in sending some cash meant I was unable to buy the necessary “provisions” plus gari and shito for this school term. I am afraid I may be independent but I will end up hungry if you do not do something soon.

Ministers are proud to say on political platforms that some of their achievements as expensive public servants have been the construction of public toilets using HIPC funds. If this is what we call achievements, then heaven help us.

That we have made some progress is not in doubt. But you do not have to travel further than Gbawe to realize that the problems confronting the nation is huge. Major Quashiga recently advised African countries to invest more in their health systems. He admits that many people are needlessly sick in the land. There is massive poverty in the land. That message is not for Africa but Ghana. The only fellow who ever gave the poor so much hope has managed to transfer his children from the poor environment into expensive schools outside and sold the remaining people’s assets on the cheap to his wife. When the NPP ministers also leave office, we shall know the full length of the dead frog.

In the mean time let me say it again – we cannot celebrate our independence next year because the date ear marked for such an event and the underlying reasons are flawed. Let us solve the health problems, transport issues, public sector wage difficulties, the chronic and destructive electricity bellyaches, the inadequate educational facilities, the menacing and increasing armed robbery scourge, the slaughtering of our indigenous businesses, the corruption and waste in the system and the other vices afflicting our nation before we think of borrowing to celebrate. After all there is a saying that people with tattered clothes should not engage in contact or rough sports.

What do I expect Ghanaians to celebrate if any at all are;

The Ghanaian pre-independence pre-colonization Revolution, The birth of the Ghana empire, The Ghanaian world cup success, The Tetteh Quarshie 1878 cocoa remittance to Ghana which has since given us more than $36bn in cocoa revenues, The birth of JJ Rawlings or the day the unyielding spirit of the Ghanaian judges were brutally murdered

May God give us the vision and foresight.

God bless Ghana, the most peaceful place on earth.



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