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Opinions of Thursday, 16 September 2004

Columnist: Amankwa, Kwame

Ghana ? What I saw and heard

Folks we have recently read in the print media about all the giant ideas, the despondency, the hopeful messages, the criticisms of our elders, etc offered by Ghanaians from all sorts of persuasions. As to whether this will kick any body into sitting up and doing something concrete is another thing.

I have been scanning the motherland for what I consider to be the vices, wrongs, evils, sasa bronsam?s ideas, that has bedevilled this sweet and sour nation of ours since independence, and guess how many came to mind, 150 socio-economic, political, legal and technological evils, which I intend to address in my next article.

We need to address these issues with all the seriousness that it deserves else lets forget it and turn off the lights.

The interesting thing about some of these sins, is that I saw them when I was born, lived through them till I left the shores and even now I am still hearing that they are around. Folks that is a long time.

I saw the great Dr. Kwame Nkrumah as a child. The beautiful residence at flagstaff house, the extent of the CPP?s influence, which extended as far as my village Kimkim. I heard about the ?spies? from the security agencies and even family members reporting each other, but I also saw the beautiful schools from primary to secondary that were built, and then the mighty institutions called Accra and Kumasi legon. I benefited from the quality education at the time and the president used to toast us children every Christmas at flagstaff house.

New road, bridges, airports, factories were also built, including the Akosombo dam.

I understand more money was given to neighbouring countries to support their development efforts, especially Guinea, plus massive support for forces fighting for their independence.

I also heard about, intolerance, graft, corruption, extra judicial killings and the jailing of political opponents. I also heard of children reporting their parents for expressing dissenting views on issues political. Most members of the regime also plundered the nations sources for their own benefit ? big houses, cars, women, cigars etc for which we are all feeling the pinch today.

I witnessed the triumph of the national football team, the black stars. That was when Ghana Airways was Ghana Airways. My parents will take on Sundays to the nice airport to proudly ?visit? the plane.

I was small when the great man was overthrown. That day I was at home, next door at the army barracks near flagstaff house. My parents hid me under the big bed. I heard the loud gun bangs. Even today I still hear the loud gunshots in my dreams. I saw soldiers who were shot and wounded, some died, others permanently disabled.

I saw Afrifa and his cohorts. I saw the large crowds that cheered them as liberators. I witnessed the banning of the CPP, beating and shooting of people, the cancellation of expensive projects, the spectre of tribalism in the forces etc. Some members of the NLC will later kill or be killed.

I witnessed the lifting of the ban on politics, the springing up of colourful political symbols and party campaign broadcasts and the eventual handing over of power to a civilian administration.

I saw the lively political debates that followed this short period of political calmness. People were mouthing centre, left and right without any inhibition as they are today. People who could not normally spit when the soldiers were in power. I saw the demise of the Busia regime. That day there was widespread jubilation, what for I do not know to today.

I saw Acheampong speak boldly as a young man burning and bursting with bull - dog energy. I heard the soldiers recount all the sins of the Busia administration and the promises of a better life. As usual there were beatings ? why some people always get beaten I do not know. There was the fight against kalabule and price controls. Our creditors were told that okafu di di (the debtor must eat something even though they are in debt or that debt shouldn?t stop anyone from eating). I participated in ?operation feed yourself campaigns? with the resulting abundant food. I also recited the national pledge at school ? I promise on my honour to be faithful and loyal to Ghana my motherland, I pledge myself ??da da da ?. You realise that I can even recite this good mantra even at this age. It instilled a sense of true patriotism in us. Those days it was tu naa bu and abosike. No mini skirts or political suits. Education was still good although many parents could still not afford it. All secondary schools had buses, the meals were not bad and the dormitories had beds and mattresses. As for Accra and Kumasi legon, they had the most excellent facilities. I heard of graduates coming on vacation and telling wonderful stories about the beauty and facilities at the university campuses.

I also heard about women with large behinds being able to secure unsecured, large, interest free, unrepayable loans from the castle. I was told that there was large-scale looting of the national coffers to, again, build houses, free rides on Ghana airways etc.

I saw Acheampong booed at the Kumasi stadium and ridiculed with the now infamous ?Kumasi legon? not ?boom? speeches. I witnessed the rampant demonstrations by students in higher education, including the famous one where Acheampong?s route was blocked by students from Opoku Ware secondary school (may all those naughty former students now stand up !!). Then the many attempts by soldiers from specific ethnic groups who tried so hard to mount a coup against the NRC / SMC but were arrested and embarrassed but not assassinated, with some of them still walking around freely today. I also saw the young Rawlings ?driving? these big men around in his aeroplane on their womanising trips, depositing stolen cash away from Ghana and other nefarious activities as well as on diplomatic and business trips (Some of those freebies must have drooped at this man?s feet! For nkra kra sake).

I saw the day when Acheampong announced the start of the Union government process ? oh the yes and no camps and what they said. These were interesting times in the history of the nation. You know this man, who it is said never went pass the O?levels stage, really amazed me with his political and campaign skills. He knew when to throw in the catch phrases, seize the national psyche and tame his opponents without touching them. Even when he was placed under house arrest, he continued to say things like ?if I knew sugar and milk was all what Ghanaians wanted, I would ensured they had just that? and ?they say that I am the greatest womaniser who ever lived, what about Akuffo, Odartey and all the men in Ghana today?.

I attended some of the rallies where they were strong speeches by Afrifa etc on the No Unigov side. I saw expensive items ? bicycles, T-shirts etc being distributed at these rallies. Political tolerance for many years had earnestly started. Every tom dick and harry was able to voice their opinions without the fear of the heads being shaved with broken bottles.

I witnessed the day when (I am very poor when it comes to remembering dates) Gen. Akuffo with his frightening moustache and Odartey Wellington announced the removal from office of the great one. There was jubilation and sadness for those who did not gain and those who stood to gain something. I remember the reasons given for this action by Akuffo, lacking in content and meaning. I think it was something along the lines of ? this senior man has been having all the girls, money, development ideas and power to such an extent that he has stopped listening to us. Then there is his Unigov shit and carcass. We want to save the country from this naughty, self imposed professor?. Acheampong was stopped, as there were fears he could perpetuate his stay in power by transforming himself, as they always do, into one of the chameleon, skimming, bullish heads of the state. His dreams were brought to an abrupt end before it took off. What surprised me was the sense of unity that was displayed by all the SMC members prior to this fateful day. Oh boy these were the days when Ghana had well built, neatly dressed and respectable looking military and police chiefs ? Roger Felly, Hamidu, Odartey etc. But for their shortcomings, these guys were well dressed and neat. I presume it is something to do with good living and less stress. I also believe the Ghanaian currency was changed around this time (somebody help me with dates).

I was there on the sad and rainy day (it depends on which part of the country you were at the time) first on May the 5th or so when some officers were arrested trying to overthrow the SMC II, which we had been praying for, to hand over power to we civilians. I think the SMC had lifted the ban on politics by then. Akuffo had travelled to Senegal (which he claimed was his last trip), what for I do not know and I think with Rawlings at the controls of the plane (abua bi be ka wua na efre wuntuma mu ? the dinosaur that will secretly bite you hard is always hidden in your own clothes). How our leaders most of who were soldiers at the time did not know this still baffles my mind.

Then came the grandmother of all coups, revolutions ? June fourth. I must say with some sense of guilt now, that I took part in the jubilations then. This period ushered in something that we in Ghana and if I am not mistaken West Africa on a scale of which had never been seen. An upheaval like no other. Before the coup, I use to spot the AFRC member called Alan Cash (Adjei or something like that) practicing some extra-ordinary summersaults and other fitness exercises in the fields around the barracks. How this man who had never exercised in his life could all of a sudden start a rigorous exercise regime within the grounds of the barracks without the officers and men questioning it still baffles my mind. Folks I believe on June 3rd 1979, all the signs of trouble were written in the sky. But the security agencies as usual were all talk and less vigilant (a word Rawlings used 1500 times during his military regime).

Folks, I had lived through many military takeovers, but I never witnessed or imagined the scale of wounded and dead soldiers as this, the thunder of gun fights and shots. This was an operation on an elephant scale (not the NPP elephant). We lost some very good and talented people, who I think should have been allowed to live to contribute to the nations recovery.

Again there were the usual speeches about why Akuffo and co were removed from power ?nothing extra ordinary A revolution we were told was unfolding. We formed peoples defence committees. At school, all our heads were in trouble. We formed the SRC at school and regional levels. We questioned for the very first time why the quality of our meals was poor and if any of the items were being diverted to private homes. You see we suspected our head master of diverting sugar and flour meant for students to his house for his wife to prepare bofrot or something like that and then sell to the same students. There were evil practices that had persisted for a long time at the school and because we never had the power or voice or someone to fight our fight, remained silent. Our school prefects were alleged to be in the pockets of the head ? they had all the nice meals whilst the rest suffered. June 4th changed all that. Come and see speed. Now we were getting all the right amount of sugar in out koko, meat in our soups and an explanation if we did not get these. We attended what I now regard as fruitless demonstrations and skipped classes in support of the revolution.

Come and see all those lecturers who use to wear bugaloo and baseball trousers now becoming government MEMBERS. The pejaros, the girls, the batakaris, the revolutionary talk, the cowarding of the once great. People who were never able to even manage their fowl pens or families were entrusted with important state institutions to manage. What a mess. But it released some energy and new found ?freedom? never experienced for a long time. I saw the burning of the Tamale and Makola markets (I understand they are now back in full swing). Why we burnt these markets, I have no idea but then that is the typical Ghanaian mentality.

I saw people the age of my parents, whom I use to respect a lot because they had money, political influence etc stripped naked and flogged in public. I saw a policeman who took a five cedis bribe from a driver fired from the service (is this man still alive!). Properties were confiscated. Tribunals were set up to try people suspected of enriching themselves at the state?s expense or causing financial loss to the state (does this ring a bell). Folks it was a good time for the disadvantaged poor but bad time for the rich.

I do not want to bore you with details, but the generals were executed and many more killed because of suspicion about their motives towards the regime. Many of what we now call atrocities was committed at the time, but to be fair, this uprising as illegal as it was, had the backing of nearly the entire population except the privileged in its actions. Even Kuffour supported them !!!!!

You see when the AFRC took power by force, I looked at its composition and thought for the first time, these are a bunch with a leader who cannot be conveniently put into any tribal pot. He came from many backgrounds ? race, colour, education, marriage, socialisation etc. Rawlings had the greatest opportunity ever at the time to live above the bias, cronyism, tribalism, political affiliations, dada baism, etc to set the country on a proper footing. He could have reformed the social, political, economic and legal fabric wholesale without all the palava we now have. They did some ? PAMSCAD, povertyCAD, BeatingCAD etc CAD, but let us down in so many ways, like the young lady who married to the ?abrokyire nii? but never travelled with him abroad.

Folks, hard times followed. We had to queue for bread, soap, maize etc even water. Our school buses were now grounded; our fifty cedi notes were collected. Many people suffered because they kept large sums of money at home as they still do today. You see in those days there was nothing like armed robbery. The nearest you came to one were those committed by family members stealing from under the oldman?s mattress. We were promised the ?promised land?. We tightened our belts until it hurt. All this time, they did well. Their children attended the same, hospitals and schools as us, hopefully ate the same food as us, and no cash freebies from the castle. This period up to today fills my heart with great sadness. The trial and tribulations.

It was not all bad news. We heard of public servants now becoming accountable as never before. Assets committees confiscating illegally acquired assets and passing them on to the state without pocketing any of the proceeds. They did a good job of the project, as we now know.

Then the regime lifted the ban on politics. Come and see speed ? Paa Willie, Imoro Igala, Victor Owusu, Adu Boahen, Hilla Limann and all the other big and small professors (do we have anything like prof. In Ghanaian dishes or culture). Again these were interesting times ? the colourful party colours and symbols ? one had a mother breastfeeding a child, another palm fruits or trees and others.

Folks I started to get pissed with the system, when as a fit, patriotic, intelligent (only a joke) and with a rich military family background as I have, was turned down for entry into the military officers corps for reasons still unclear to me today. My friends from another tribe (I will not mention it) who were less intelligent, physically deformed with multiple problems with sight and hearing were enlisted and are now probably among the hierarchy. That was when reality hit home. I even tried to start from the lower ranks but was still refused entry. The irony is that I came into a foreign country, rich and powerful and I am being ?begged? to enlist. The question then is what happened to me in Ghana.

Anyway, the regime hands over to Limann and its leadership proudly tell us that they are ?retiring? to their humble beginnings or so we were made to believe. Limann like all those before him was ridiculed and sold out by even his own tribe people. Besides the security people who were supposed to be vigilant (Rawlings used it 2500 times), slumbered. Folks, on the 31st December, whichever year that was, Limann never stood a chance.

The killing that often accompanied the coming to power of these illegal regimes never stopped. Again some people were beaten. The famous murder of the judges is a case in point. All the evils, which you will see in my next article, never went away. The poverty, run down hospital facilities, spread of disease, multiplication of the mosquito population, professors dreaming wonderful dreams but delivering very very little, tribalism, beatings by security agents called commandos or Kuffour?s police (sorry Kuffour I think was a very junior secretary ? my apologies), Kwasi Agyeman slapping women, Arnold Quainoo threatening hell fire (where is he), Boakye Gyan going into exile, Tsatsu Tsikata investing GNPC?s money in salt ventures (not a bad idea for diversification), arrest and detention of military and police officers, with some officers and their families even being exchanged for shoes, salt and milk powder from America. Folks this is no laughing matter. You are born in Kimkim or Nima as a Ghanaian long after slavery was abolished; yet you are shipped to the same place where the evil practice was abolished because you are suspected of going through the whiteman?s refuse bin. I wonder what the Americans thought about us at the time. It is not surprising that former president Reagan made those unpalatable remarks about Ghana.

Again it was not all bad news ?roads were built (although some have recently been washed away by the rain), some talents were sent to Cuba to train as doctors and these are now helping to run the health system. We even built a cardio thoracic centre in Accra, which is good. Yet still we have our big men travelling ?overseas? and spending ?big money out of their bottomless pockets? for the same reasons why this wonderful centre was built. When asked why such huge expenditure, I was told that has always been the practice ? go abroad for haemorrhoid treatment even when we have so many local herbalists with all sorts of claims and concoctions ready to do the job and properly too. What is wrong with these people?

Let me start to wind up by saying Rawlings like Acheampong?s Uvigov idea, tried to perpetuate his stay except he did it cleverly. H e lifted the ban on politics, formed his UNIGov Yes party and became leader. He pissed off the opposition without arresting them so that they ended up not challenging him in the elections. The constitution group was deliberately populated with ignorant and intelligent people so they could insert certain provisions without knowing what they had done. However, one clever one whom I suspect was anti-Rawlings put in a four year, two term clause. When Rawlings realised it, the printers had done the job, so too late to change it.

Now Kuffour has taken over. There have been unconfirmed reports that he jailed some people (although he is not a judge) who asked a lady who sells kenkey in New Jersey or somewhere thereabout. She had never even taken the subway to New York let alone travel about 7000 miles to Ghana (is the mileage right?) to farm rice in the Northern region, except that the rice farm was burnt by arsonists, (who thought the farm was going to lead to collapse of the local rice economy) like they always do to the cotton factory in Tamale. So the NPP government never saw the rice field, or it?s products. Folks is it not right to send such people to jail rather than exchanging them for rice and sugar from the USA, thereby causing them to lose their nationalities. One of them (a Dr. I think) says that he was told by an awam pastor that the judge who had planned to live forever, will die after passing the sentence. And surely he is glad the pastor?s words came true, the judge did pass away and the rest is history ? where is common sense gone ?. May this doctor live forever.

But beware NPP. Some of the mistakes that has always given the abongo boys the illegitimate excuse to use the arms that we bought for them to go and hunt grasscuters and kill mosquitoes is turned on ordinary and innocent people, is being repeated today. I hear of ministers stealing, wheeling and dealing, threatening political opponents etc. as prevailed during the PNDC, AFRC, SMC, NDC, NLC (why is there always a ?C?) years.

The good thing is that there is a revolutionary wind blowing over Ghana that will be difficult to unravel ? the freedom to speak without your beard being shaved with broken bottles, roads being built, health care workers being paid poorly so that they can leave the country, electricity supply everywhere even if people cannot afford it, we are still borrowing big time, the inflation rate is down, enterprises are mushrooming although most of them are buy and sell operations. Like PAMSCAD and Operation Feed Yourself, we have just come out of HIPC or on the way to coming out, the security services are being looked after except the police black and thick uniform is still in action (please change them). The police are doing a good job in many respects. However, this is made difficult by the practice of some renting the same arms to the robbers, who use them against the same police (I do not understand this). Also the ports / harbours are undergoing great uplifts (but how we can become the hub of the region when the roads and other facilities to support this aspiration are not there beggars belief), the custom officers are at it as they were during Nkrumah?s time, and the greatest news ? Ghana Airways being ?sold? to obroni.

The Liberian and other refugees are still around. The previous and current governments have refused to send them back. Why? Because Ghanaian soldiers have vowed never to be used again to overthrow elected regimes, so the next and immediate source of supply when it is convenient will be to engage these traumatised, half innocent and half hardened criminally-minded ones for mercenary and other criminal activities.

My advice is this ? no one person or party can solve Ghana?s PROBLEMS. I have heard many such promises in my time. I even made some of the sacrifices, but ended up not benefiting by way of even a clerical job. I never had any educational scholarship although the people who caused me to sweat and sacrifice have their children, nephews, nieces, uncles, grandfathers, girlfriends in schools and psychiatric institutions abroad. No political party, be it NPP, NDC, PNP, Paracetamol Party, Eagle, Hawk, Ananse, Akrantie or Konkote Party can overcome the evils (see my next article) and they know it. Yet I know someone who with some help from above can do just that? The Ghanaian.

May God bless the people of Ghana and it?s associates, may our past leaders be imbued with a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction for what they achieved during their reign so that they don?t have to come back with boom speeches or wanting to be presidents again, may the presidential candidates be given the strength, health, stamina, courage to say ?back off? to any master who might still want to control them even from the grave, may the incumbent be given same qualities to manage the people and nations resources, may our soldiers see with their civilian counterparts in our bid for freedom and peace, may the judiciary operate with a sense of responsibility, fairness, so that when people cause financial loss to the state, or arsonists burning the rice fields, the masters as well as the ?boy boys? are sent to jail, and those about to cause such financial loses are notified or forewarned. God Bless.

I HOPE NO ONE TAKES OFFENCE TO MY ARTICLE.

Kwame Amankwa (UK).

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