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Opinions of Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Columnist: Ulzen, Manus T. P.

Madmen, the after-party & the heart of darkness

The mother of all parties has ended and as usual, the morning after reveals with clarity the problems that are briefly ignored during celebratory activities. So it is for 6th March 2007. Before the celebration got into gear, it was clear that there were many dissenters who did not wish for us to spend $20m on the Jubilee celebrations. These folks felt that the commemoration of our formal regaining of independence should be tempered with deep reflection. A very perfunctory accounting of the $20m in question was offered to our rubber stamp parliament which failed in its duty to protect the citizenry from the excesses of the executive branch.

The focus on automobiles as a major component of the expenses for the celebrations was truly pathetic. Now we await the list of public officials who will receive these luxury vehicles at grossly depreciated prices as they hit the exit door of government over the next 18 months. These tricks are becoming tired and old. They belittle the intelligence of the electorate.

On the proverbial night before the celebrations, the President’s Chief of Staff announced that all citizens unfortunate enough to have psychiatric illnesses, roaming the streets of Accra would be rounded up. I pondered this edict carefully and thought that the truest measure of the soul of a nation is how it treats it’s most disabled and needy citizens. Instead of approaching mental illness as the vexing health problem it is, we see it as a cosmetic inconvenience. The question the Chief of Staff should ask himself when he travels the capitals of the world, is where their psychiatric patients are. He will find that in many civilized countries, whose ranks we seek to join, these individuals are cared for and find ways to function in society with modern treatments. Three centuries after “The age of enlightenment” madness is understood a medical problem and effective laws have been enacted to protect these very sick and unfortunate individuals. They need urgent treatment in addition to having their rights as citizens protected. Locking patients who need treatment up, just to keep up appearances is short –sighted, cruel and unjust. I expected him to suggest that a National Commission on Mental Health would be established to address this human problem in a sustainable manner.

Then again “We doth expect too much.”

The person responsible for 20 of the 50 years we were pretending to govern ourselves threw a childish temper tantrum and tried to rain on everyone’s parade. The nation is crying for visionary and inspired leadership to address real problems. We need to move on from this obsession with so called reconciliation between presidents and deal with the business of the people. One of the central tenets of democracy is learning to disagree without getting personal about differences in opinion.

Ghana’s 50 years of independence was largely a non-story in many of the major wire services. The Economist ignored it completely and The Wall Street Journal mentioned it only as an example of Africa’s failure to escape the “poverty trap” after 50 years of self – government. Time Magazine carried a 3-generational story of one family with many in accuracies and ignored the CIA’s role in initially de-stabilizing Ghana.

We are 50 and can’t keep power running for our few industries and for domestic use. We have become the gateway to the “Dark Continent”. Ghana is not open for business. We are deluding ourselves. We are not ready to compete with the best in the world. We have only ourselves to blame for years of pandering to mediocrity and accepting lowered standards of education and expecting that after 30 years, this attitude would have no adverse impact. A family’s job is to build character in its children and a nation’s task is to define national values and build character in its citizens to prepare them to be part of a successful national enterprise. No child in Ghana knows what the country stands for. We still do not have a clearly defined national ethos that we can all accept and serve in spite of our political differences.

I am reminded of President Clinton’s 1998 state visit to Ghana which was conducted in the daytime because we were already in an energy crisis at that time. Load shedding was already embedded in the national lexicon. We cannot have an energy policy that depends on rain makers. We cannot spend our days betting on the lake level.

In the 1970s while we were destroying our future by supporting Gen. Acheampong and his irresponsible “Yentua” [we will not pay] policy, Brazil was establishing itself as a leader in reducing and eliminating dependence on oil. The very sugar cane which grows abundantly in my home district, that we chew and spit out daily, has now become Brazil’s savior from our disgraceful fate. America is a supplicant at the feet of Brazil, learning about bio-fuels. We have all the ingredients for success in our blessed land but we have always looked outside for help we often don’t need. India and China grew out of poverty in the last 50 years with less than 0.5% of their income in foreign aid. In Africa we have depended on an average of 14% of our income from foreign aid over the last 50 years. Our entrepreneurs are being stifled by inefficient and corrupt bureaucracies.

Our final birthday present was the appointment of our President as the African Union President for this year. Sudan and Zimbabwe represent the AU’s current greatest moral challenges. Sudan represents centuries of Arab racism against Africans which pre-dates the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. This needs to be addressed forcefully without making nice with Sudan’s murderous government. Zimbabwe represents the most disgusting form of abuse of power which we hope belongs to a bygone African era. President Kufour’s mission, should he accept it, is the expulsion of these two countries from the AU, if Africans are to be taken seriously on the Global scene. He has an opportunity for a great legacy if he has the fortitude to greet greatness on the highway to Addis Ababa. Without adequate self-definition as Ghanaians and African’s rooted in values of discipline, excellence and accountability, we will continue to be victims of random events leading to nowhere in particular. As we approach the 2008 elections, we must demand leadership with a clear vision that inspires the citizenry to achieve their best in a climate of freedom. It should be more than a personality contest for president. Everyone in Ghana can be president but what does it take to lead the nation to the proverbial Promised Land?

Dr. T. P. Manus Ulzen
April 4, 2007


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