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Opinions of Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Columnist: Elizabeth Ohene

Elizabeth Ohene writes: I drive American car, with pride

Elizabeth OheneElizabeth Ohene

I have and drive a Ford Escape. It has served me well and after almost nine years, I think I can safely say that it qualifies to be called an old faithful. It has not left me stranded anywhere before and it has proved quite reliable when I have had to cope with flooding in Accra.

Faithful and reliable though it has been, I have been telling myself it is time to think of maybe trading it in and getting a new one that would be my retirement car. I had been toying with the idea of getting a senior version of the Ford Escape, which would be the Ford Expedition, as the ideal retirement car, but the price had been holding me back from making the move.

Now it looks like the price might not be the only inhibiting factor against the Ford Expedition. It is an American car and the President of our Republic has pronounced himself to be against American cars and it looks like one would have to be a brave person in this country to go out and buy an American car. Being seen in an American car might seem like making a public statement against the President of Ghana.

Since the President sees himself as and claims to be something of a car aficionado, I would imagine that he speaks with some authority on this subject. My Ford Escape is the first American car I have owned in almost 50 years of owning and driving cars. I cannot claim to have the same expertise in cars as he does but I can say that I have enjoyed driving my current car and it has been reliable.

Selection of cars

I don’t know if the President of the Republic has any say in the selection of cars that constitute the presidential fleet. The saloon cars in the fleet seem to be all Mercedes and the SUVs seem to be Toyota Landcruisers. The Landcruisers are Toyotas and Japanese (and therefore fitting to his preferences), but they seem to me suspiciously like the ones that have been built to American specifications.

I wonder if Toyota Landcruisers built to American specifications would be included in the category of cars that the car-loving Dramani dislikes or once they are Toyotas, they qualify as cars that he might consider worthy of accepting as bribe.

I ask this because the President must be so confident in his status as a car aficionado to try and dismiss a serious allegation by suggesting that an American car is below his dignity. I could just hear him add under his breath: “if I am going to take a car bribe, do you think I would stoop to accept an American car? It would have to be a Landcruiser at least”.

It seems to me there are far too many questions that require answers and the answers must come from the President himself. Let us not get into the bribery matter yet, but stick to the subject of cars.

The President might well find that he would have to find a dignified way of withdrawing his flippant remarks about not liking American cars and maybe extend an appropriate apology to the Americans. He might discover that they wouldn’t be half pleased with him running down their cars.

We are lucky that we don’t yet have a President Donald Trump to deal with, but our President will have to learn that presidents have a responsibility to watch what they say. Doubtless, this was not a scripted presentation, but if this is the type of riposte our President could come up with when accusations of serious misconduct have been levelled against him, then we should worry about how he performs on our behalf in serious negotiations.

Health of Journalism

And so I get to the substantive matter of the car bribery allegation. All those who care about the health of journalism in this country must congratulate Manasseh Azure Awuni on a brave job, well done.

It is scandalous that the President’s apologists have resorted to such disgraceful tactics to try and tarnish his image in the hope the allegations against the President would disappear or be discredited. If President Mahama still has some hope of emerging from this latest scandal with some credibility, he should immediately call off his attack dogs from the concerted efforts to destroy Manasseh.

I am sure the young man is well able to take care of himself but I would like to put it on record that I consider it disgraceful and extremely distasteful that instead of providing answers to legitimate questions raised in this car bribery story, a full panoply of party and government apparatchik has been deployed to destroy a journalist.


Then the President might try to give us some answers. From the testimony of his friend the Burkinabe contractor, he was introduced to the then Vice-President Mahama because he wanted contracts. Was it just coincidental that his fortunes changed once they became friends? Where is this Ford Expedition?

It is not enough for the Minister to tell us that it is part of the presidential fleet. Where is the car and where has it been these past three years and who has been driving it and why have the registration documents disappeared from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA)? The story of the car that has been put out is quite frankly unbelievable. It is not credible.

If allegations of a serious nature have been levelled against the President, it is not enough for him to say people should seek constitutional redress. What about the President simply telling us exactly what happened? The story about the cost of the wall built by the giver of the Ford Expedition, coupled with his other contracts and the one that he has apparently now decided to get out of, just does not sound right; no matter how charitable you try to be towards the President. Whatever happened to the great communicator?

And why does the President imagine that if he said he does not like American cars, it would be a satisfactory answer to the question of him having received an inappropriate gift of a Ford Expedition from a contractor?

And while we are about it, maybe the President can remove the slur he has cast on American cars and allow those of us who own or aspire to own one to drive them with pride.