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Opinions of Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Columnist: Ackon, Paa Kow

Discovering the true statesmen in Ghana

I recently heard in the media that former President Jerry John Rawlings has chastised his successor John Agyekum Kufuor and the late President John Atta Mills, describing both of them as corrupt. And this poison was given to the innocent youth of the International Youth Fellowship (IYF) at Adidome Senior High School in the Volta Region. Even though the theme was "Peaceful Hearts and Transformed Youth for National Development", J.J. used all the time he had to justify the coup which kept him in power for over 19 years.

He described former President Kufour as “an autocratic thief” who endorsed corruption in all its forms. But the hypocrisy in JJ’s averment is that he distanced President Mahama from all the corruption cases which have become an albatross around his neck. Unfortunately, the NPP have reacted to Rawlings describing him as a man tainted with the blood of Ghanaians whose death he masterminded. The question I ask is, why is it that when people are insulted, it helps them feel better to return the insult with an insult? On the face of it, one’s counter-insult does nothing to refute whatever negative thing the person might have thrown into the public.

Pessimistically, anytime former President Rawlings speaks on corruption or attacks any personality, several NDC apparatchiks defend his statements by likening it to freedom of expression. But can one call this self righteous indignation as freedom of expression especially coming from a man who is supposed to be a statesman? It is quite obvious that opinions will certainly differ on this significant and pressing question. However let it not be thought by anyone that this political game of insult and counter insult is the solution to the numerous challenges that confront our nation.

But I will agree with Alexis de Tocqueville, a French political thinker and historian, most famous for his work on Democracy in America that in a democracy, the people get the government they deserve. Indeed, both the NDC and NPP have not shown any commitment to transform our country apart from engaging themselves in useless mediocre comparisons. But of course, this is a valuable lesson to Ghanaians especially those who always think that they were born into certain political parties and so they cannot give others a chance. It serves them right!

Not too long ago, I read a book written by Dr. J. Rufus Fears, Professor of an incredibly manly subject: “The history of freedom”. In this book, I was introduced to an excellent yardstick for measuring leaders. One of the things the good professor emphasized in the book was that a politician and a statesman are not the same thing. A statesman is not a tyrant; he is the free leader of a free people and he must possess four critical qualities which include bedrock of principles, moral compass, vision and the ability to build a consensus to achieve that vision.

To begin with, the statesman builds his platform on a foundation of firm, unchanging, fundamental truths. These are the things he believes as his very core, his all-embracing philosophy. Just as in the foundation of a house, storms may beat the structure, opposition and challenges may arise, times will change, but the foundation remains. A statesman may change the details of his policies and his methods for achieving those policies, but only inasmuch as those short-term tactics of expediency serve the purpose of furthering his bedrock of principles in the long run.

Dr. Fears argues that the modern politician makes decisions by using “antennae.” He puts his feelers out there to gauge the public mood. Once he figures out which way the wind is blowing, he then shapes himself and his message to give the people exactly what they want. But, a statesman does not govern by public opinion polls. In other words, the true statesman makes his decisions by following the dictates of his own moral compass. When something is wrong, he plainly says it is wrong and does everything in his power to fight against it. When something is right, he is willing to overcome any opposition to preserve and spread it. The statesman is a man of integrity and he leads by moral authority and represents all that is best in his countrymen.

Also, a statesman has a clear vision of what his country and his people can become. He knows where he wants to take them and what it will take to get there. A statesman’s foresight is one of his most important qualities, as he must be able to recognize problems on the horizon and be able to come up with solutions that are good not only for the short-term, but for the long-term as well. The statesman keeps in mind not only the here and now, but a better future generations unborn will inherit.

It needs to be emphasized that a politician may have bedrock of principles, moral compass, and vision, but if he lacks the ability to build a consensus around his vision, his efforts to change policies, laws, and the course of history will largely be in vain. A statesman’s success in building a consensus ultimately hinges on his ability to convince his countrymen of the soundness of his philosophy.

It is important for Ghanaians to recognize that, the statesman does not use slick advertisements and PR campaigns. Obviously, such slick advertisements and propaganda are the tools of the despot. Rather, the statesman harnesses the power of the written, and especially the spoken word. He is a master orator. His lifelong study of great books and the lessons of history allow him to speak to the people in intelligent, potent, well-reasoned arguments.

Because a statesman follows his moral compass instead of opinion polls, his ideas are often initially out of step with the public mood. But instead of tailoring his rhetoric to that mood, he speaks to the very best within his countrymen. The strength of his words comes from the fact that he actually believes what he says. And he does not make his countrymen’s hearts soar and burn with empty promises; he keeps his word and does what he says he will do.

Corruption is ruining our land, crooked politicians betray the working man, pretend as if they are Statesmen, pocketing the profits and treating us like sheep. Who is like a statesman in Ghana?

Well, we owe a debt of gratitude which neither words nor material rewards can adequately repay to someone like Dr Papa Kwesi Nduom. And while we say thank you to the living who can hear us, we cannot fail to recall to memory those who are dead like Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Prof Evans Atta Mills, and Dr Abrefa Busia.

*Paa Kow Ackon*

*ackon.pk@gmail.com *