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Opinions of Sunday, 25 December 2005

Columnist: Akosah, Kwabena Sarpong

It?s Time To Stay Home, Mr President!

Any time President Kufuor?s foreign travels take over the headlines and the airwaves, I?m reminded of an opportunity I got to discuss the trips on GTV on August 2002. It was the week Otumfuo crowned Mr Kofi Annan Busumuru (hene.)
GTV run that weekend?s Breakfast Show in Kumasi. And I?d a good fortune to have been invited by the show?s host, affable Gifty Anti, to join veteran I.K.Gyasi, NPP stalwart George Ayisi Boateng, Pioneer editor Johnson Gyampoh and Luv FM Chris Opoku, on the panel.
But I missed the program; an interview appointment I?d with Busumuru Annan that morning delayed and ate into the presidential trips segment of the show. The program wasn?t over when I got to the venue of the broadcast, Manhyia Palace, and I could have still joined Mr Gyasi and co. to discuss other themes on the menu. But I didn?t because I wasn?t as passionate on those topics as the foreign travels.
It?d have been my first ever TV appearance. But I consoled myself that, in the program?s place, I got a career enhancing, celebrity interview (UN Secretary General; the interview was played on BBC Network Africa; and I felt very good by compliments from colleagues at Bush House and some listeners in Ghana.)
I?d certainly have aroused the ire of my good buddy, Kwesi Pratt Jnr., if I?d shown up on that August 2002 Breakfast Show because I?d have put up a very shrill defense for the presidential trips.
I?d have applauded Mr Kufuor for giving our bilateral and multilateral commitments a renewed urgency and importance. And I?d have reinforced this point by saying that with about - 30 percent of our national budget coming from the donor community -, the president couldn?t take the outside world lightly at least in the short-term.
I?d have praised the president for recognizing the reality of the Africa situation and going out aggressively to sell Ghana as an island of hope in a sea of despair.
I?d have justified the travels on the grounds that after 20 years of Mr Rawlings, it was reasonable for Mr Kufuor to trot the globe and introduce himself to the world.
And given the inherent risk in air travel, I?d have spared a lot of sympathy for the president; I?d have asked Ghanaians to clasp our hands in prayers for the president for the enormous sacrifices he was making for us.
This had been my position on the trips. And for a long time, I lamented that I couldn?t make it to Gifty?s show to state my case.
But I?m not longer enamored with the travels. If today Gifty and GTV were to offer me a chance to discuss the issue, I?d have implored Mr Kufuor to stay home.
I?ve changed my position not because I feel the travels have become a gravy train (for the president) as some would like to suggest. I think it?s a bit of a stretch for anybody to assume that our president travels because of per diem. Come on, let?s get serious!
I think such a charge is being peddled not just for the excessiveness of the trips; but also because some of the travels have been rash and ill-timed, for instance Mr Kufuor?s most recent visit to U.S. (so the Discovery Channel premiere couldn?t have waited?)
I wonder why the president chose to go to Washington when Mr Bush and the White House were grappling with a ?petite Watergate? (CIA leak case.) I doubt if some of America?s bosom pals in the developing world like Pervez Musharaf of Pakistan or Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan whose countries are America?s anvil in its fight against terrorism might even visit Washington when White House is in snafus.
We need to be careful not to become a laughing stock of the international community. Already, we have (Africa) very serious image problem on our hands across the global.
Mr Kufuor?s desperate trips abroad seem to suggest that he?s under illusion that it?s foreign investors who?d change the fortunes of our country. I hope that?s not the case! Given the president?s hands-on experience in politics and international diplomacy, it?d immodest and presumptuous for me to try to give any lecture here.
After five years of traveling, I expect the president had laid adequate groundwork for foreign minister (Nana Addo) and his ambassadors/high commissioners to finish up the investment-wooing drive. Also Mr Kufuor doesn?t need eight years of traveling to stamp his personality on the presidency.
Chatting with people back home, the feeling I get is that the steady erosion of the president?s goodwill is not the result of his domestic policy activities (most give the president a thumb up! and some even call developments going on in Ghana ?phenomenal?.)
But they cite Chief Kufuor Hotel, Dr Anane?s saga, Gizelle Yajzi, Mr Harruna Essekou/Raymond Archer cacophony and foreign trips as the issues creating anxiety for the president.
In fact, the frequent trips are exasperating many Ghanaians including some bedrock supporters of NPP.
But there?s a much more compelling reason for the president to stay home. The years ?06 and ?07 might be the most challenging period of Mr Kufuor?s presidency. The president has an important transition to manage, first, for the NPP, and then, for the entire country.
Reports that some ministers intend to stand down (when the second term is barely a year old) so that they could concentrate attention in the contest to succeed the president is a foretaste of a tumult ahead (this should be a subject for another article.) It?s a period the president ought to be on top of issues.
And obviously, frequent travels won?t help!

Kwabena Sarpong Akosah,
New York, USA


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