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Opinions of Saturday, 20 August 2011

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

My Yankee kite did not fly

…but the president got a palace in the sky

By George Sydney Abugri

Spinning an occasional yarn about my humble self wont do modesty any harm, will it? While boxing referee Russel Mora was busy robbing Joseph Agbeko of victory in the Ghanaian’s IBF bantamweight bout with Abner Mares in Las Vegas, the United States Department of State in Washington was also busy brandishing the red card at an opportunity the US Embassy in Accra was extending to me to be Ghana’s 2011 ambassador to the United Nations of Literature

Here is the story: The US embassy recently nominated me to attend the famous International Writing Program at the University of Iowa in the US subject to approval by the US Department of state. UNESCO has designated Iowa City the UN center for world Literature and it is not an exaggeration to say that for any writer anywhere in the world, an award to participate in this program is a Nobel Prize in its own right.

Most of the winners of all the world’s most prestigious prizes for writers including the Nobel Prize for literature, are alumni of this program. Most of those who attend this program are novelists, poets, playwrights and essayists, some of who have written up to between 40 and 60 books! It is crazy, of course. Absolutely crazy, Jomo. Why would anyone want to write 60 books for Heaven’s sake?

The answer is that it is much easier for such people to stifle a sneeze than to resist the urge to write another book when they have completed one. As you are probably aware, a good number of writers are emotionally sensitive and cannot cope with the real world where there is so much insincerity and many people are far from what they appear to be.

So then, many writers love to escape into the world of words, where they mentally swim about in a linguistic sea of creative impulses. Trust me old chap, given an appropriate environment, you get quite a thrill making words jump and skip and skid and do great summersaults and flat spins in the minds of people who care to read what you write.

Participants in the IWP at the University of Iowa are given all the time and space they need to write, write, write and write away as write can. Most participants come away from the program with a new book or one they completed at the residency.

Ghanaians writers who have participated in this residency since it was established in 1967 are Professor Atukwei Okai, Professor Kofi Anyidoho, Professor Kuwabong Dannabang, Dr. Rex Quartey, Ophelia Amma Darko and Joseph Abroquah.

The US embassy had requested a scanned copy of my passport and indicated that its key concern was over the question of my availability for the program this month.

With only one week to the commencement of the program and not having head from the US Embassy, I sneaked behind the Embassy this morning and obtained the list of writers to the 2011 cycle and Holy Moses, Abugri Kusasi’s mighty name was not on the list. Wetin dey happen? Nothing dey happen, Oga. Nothing!

About nine days of the program are devoted to travel through more than 10 states of the US. Do you reckon the Yankee chaps may have thought such a schedule would be too physically and emotionally taxing for grandpa?

If the truth be told, it is that in spite of my gallant efforts to keep them naturally lubricated, my joints these days keep creaking from toes to skull like a wooden staircase under the feet of a drunken weight lifter and my waist is often wont to protest at the least sign of movement.

Maybe those with the resources to help African writers develop their career should present them with such opportunities when they are in their 20s, 30s, 40s or early 50s, don’t you think? Anyhow, end of story and best of wishes to the US Department of State.

The campaign towards the 2011 elections is picking up venomous and crafty steam as usual but this time round, there is so much at stake for so many people.

Political power is one of the greatest lures in all of creation: Imagine having a nation, its people, public institutions, wealth, resources and entire machinery of state under your control.: It is certainly enough of a lure to make those seeking political power use campaign strategies that are as unfair to their political opponents as they are a threat to the development of qualitative democracy.

Another version of the nasty tool the secret service people call “psycho-oops” is creeping into the propaganda strategies of the political parties and has the potential to distort public perception of the critical issues and cripple their ability to make informed choices for the advancement of qualitative democracy.

Someone disseminates information that a minster of state in the Mills administration has purchased a plush mansion in the Untied Sates. The same document claims Ghana’s ambassador to the US has purchased huge tracts of land in the US.

Someone writes an article and attributes it to a former chief of staff in the Rawlings administration. It takes a lot of angry denials in the media and threats of court action to try and convince the public that the gentlemen did not write the article.

A document purported to have been written by a group of retired Military Intelligence officers questioning the appropriateness of involving the Ghana Army in the revamping and operation of the Kumasi shoe factory.

All these turn out not to be true, but some members of the public and Ghanaians in the Diaspora believed them.

A very reputable media organization publishes a report it sad it obtained from the website of the Institute of Economic Affairs, alleging the illegal appropriation of state resources by the NPP for its 2008 campaign. The IEA staunchly denies it ever published such a report on its website.

This week, news came through, that President Mills had accepted a gift of a mansion off Spintex Road from the real estate developer Regimanuel Gray Estates Limited. A picture of a plush storey mansion said to be the house in question was posted in some media.

Angry anti-corruption questions began flying all over the campaign space: Why should Mills who recently took a resolute stand against accepting gifts and went on to ban the delivery of Christmas hampers to the presidency and reject cash gifts reportedly delivered in envelopes to him, now turn his avowed principles through 360 degrees and accept a gift of a mansion from Regimanuel Gray? Free lunches only exist in Santa Claus’s world, so what is in it for Regimanuel Gray?

Journalists who went to see for themselves, the mansion gift for the president, found that it does not exist. What they saw were signs that a foundation was being laid for the construction of a house which Regimanuel Gray and Mill’s spokesman said, was a gift intended to house presidential security personnel whose sleep in tents close to the president’s residence.

As you can see, accusations of corruption against the serving and previous governments have become campaign tools but in the war against corruption the Auditor-General keeps speaking a language way beyond the comprehension of my poor skull, but this much I know :

If we could recover a quarter of the public cash he has listed in his annual reports for the past two decades as “misapplied”, “embezzled” “misappropriated” and “diverted”, we would have enough cash to fund many essential development projects for the mighty republic and her long-suffering people!

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