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Opinions of Saturday, 8 December 2007

Columnist: Andy-K, C.Y.

Should Ghanaians Dance Naked

Mr. Chairman,

Past District Governor,

The President of the Rotary Club of Tema Meridian,

Past Presidents and Executives,

Visiting Rotarians from other Fraternal Clubs,

Rotaractors

Friends, Distinguished Invited Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

To be invited as the Guest of Honour at this august 5th Anniversary Celebration of the Rotary Club of Tema Meridian gives me an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. And I am most grateful for the honour done me.

First, it gives me the opportunity to pay tribute publicly to this sunshine lady, Rot Gloria, whom I have known over the last thirty years and who has today attained the capstone of honour as the new President of this club. In fact, I was the chairman at Rot Gloria?s wedding several years ago. Indeed, Gloria, by your efforts and by your sheer determination, fortitude, dedication and singleness of purpose you are proving to a whole lot of people that, indeed, attitude is what determines one?s altitude in life. Rotarian President Gloria, congratulations. We salute you!

Secondly, it affords me an opportunity to share a few thoughts with the members of a club that I have always since 1979 cherished the ambition of belonging to, because of a commonality of intentions and purpose, but, unfortunately, have never had the money to afford the registration fees.

Mr. Chairman, my invitation as the Guest of Honour stated that I could speak on any topic of my choice for thirty minutes. Then, I recollected what President Museveni of Uganda said at one time when he was invited to address a function and he was told he could only speak for thirty minutes. He said, why do you invite me here when you do not have time?

Topic

On a more serious note, the question of a topic posed quite a challenge to me. I first thought of the topic: ?From a Culture of Silence to a Culture of Glossolalia? ? where glossolalia means speaking in a language that you do not understand yourself, but you expect that the person you are speaking to will understand you. I discounted this topic for fear of incoherence and being misunderstood.

Secondly, I thought of the topic ?Governance without Accountability ? the phenomenon of the rule of spin doctors, spokespersons, serial callers, social commentators and senior editors in contemporary Ghana?. Here too, my fear was that these practitioners of the unaccountable governance of our dear country will pour all their printers ink over me and even my wife will not be able to recognize me after this address.

Then I wanted to look to the bible for salvation and also use the opportunity to atone for my sins. So, I thought of the topic: ?Without Vision, My People Perish? ? You know, with this topic, I will be branded immediately and be said to be casting insinuations.

Mr. Chairman, when I finally got to my wit?s end over the choice of a topic; I took a look at the ticket for this evening?s function which said the dress code is trendy. So I took a cue from this and asked myself what could be trendier in these days of ?I am aware? and ?apuskeleke? than appearing here naked. Hence the topic: ?SHOULD THE GHANAIAN DANCE NAKED??.

My dear friends, In these days of plagiarism, it is important to reveal that my topic is informed by the Ewe Proverb: ?In the midst of several bales of cloth, I stand naked?. Secondly I paraphrased the topic on the title of the play ?The King Must Dance Naked? by the Nigerian playwright Fred Agbeyegbe.

Mr. Chairman, they say when you copy from one source it is called plagiarism. But, when you copy from several sources it is called research. So, you see, my topic is well researched!

Speaking in Tongues

Again, My Dear Brothers and Sisters, unfortunately after journeying over 80% of the prescribed biblical age already here on earth and after over 32 years practice as an engineer and 27 years as a traditional ruler and 3 years as a diplomat, I have not yet been blessed with the gift of glossolalia, where glossolalia here means the gift of speaking in tongues. Should I falter and sound pedestrian in my address, I hope you will understand my handicap. Let me, therefore, exploit this handicap and fire into the clouds, but not into the crowds, for as the saying goes ?if you want to talk to God you talk to the air?. Stray bullets yes, but I assure you they are rubber bullets.

Let me also add that I went through a quality assurance scheme with this address and subjected it to the Rotarian 4-way test of the things we think, say or do: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

The Challenges

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, our dear country Ghana is beset with a myriad of developmental challenges. While a good number of our citizens have prospered quite appreciably, the majority of our people continue to wallow in abject poverty, ignorance and disease. Their aspirations and hopes are limited by inadequate educational and health facilities and inadequate job opportunities, among others. But ironically, limitless possibilities exist for the development of our country.

For this large majority of our people, signs of despair and hopelessness are beginning to creep in and the question on their lips, is ?why must we dance naked in the midst of all our gorgeous kente cloths, batakaris, java and dumas cloths??.

Distinguished Rotarians, it is indeed a privilege for you to live in this beautiful harbour city of Tema. But, you will observe that when you visit the Tema Harbour, you see several boats on the mighty Atlantic Ocean. Some of the boats sail east and some of them sail west by the same wind that blows across the ocean. It is the set of the sail and not the wind direction that determines where they go.

Indeed, for far too long, Mr. Chairman, we, as a people, have depended on the stars for guidance. We adopted the Osibisa song: ?We are going, heaven knows where we are going, but we know we are ?? as our anthem. Yes, indeed, we had the stars in heaven to show us the way in the past. But today, there are probably more artificially launched satellites in space than the constellation and milky-way stars that we knew of. We need to chart a new path as a people and follow a defined direction, and the time is now.

I believe that what is required of us at this crucial moment as we stand at the threshold of fifty years of nationhood is to take stock and re-assess our lives, our priorities in life and our objectives as a nation. What then is the way forward?

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, the way forward in this so-called globalised world (or flat world as some now call it) has to be carved with our own foot prints as a people and as individuals; it cannot be carved for us by our so-called development partners. For far too long we, as a nation, have behaved as if the rest of the world owes us an existence. It does not! We continue to extol sanctimonious and self-gratifying virtues as if we are a special people. We are not! We joke about our poverty and deprivation and call it the ability to laugh at ourselves. It is sad!

Unless we decide to take our destiny as a nation into our own hands and stop talking and start walking-the-talk, I see a blighted path ahead of us. You see, the so-called globalised world only offers a promise, but not the guarantee of prosperity to us in the developing world. The guarantee has to be secured by ourselves through our own determination, hard work and with our own vision and action plan. A Zanzibar Proverb says: ?You do not set sail using someone else?s star?.

Call For a National Development Plan

Mr. Chairman, the big question to ask ourselves then is how do we develop a country without a Development Plan? The obvious answer, of course, is we cannot.

Unless we begin to plan as a nation - short-term, medium-term and long-term, and stick to our plans with all seriousness and without prejudice, we may only succeed in shooting the breeze! As we all know, if we fail to plan, it means we are planning to fail. But failure is not an option on this new journey of our motherland. Governments may change, but national interests must remain. I, believe, that we as Ghanaians are only an attitude away from success.

My dear friends, I am talking of a serious sustainable development plan based on a national vision, direction and focus and not knee-jerk quick fixes or fire fighting interventions and which is not determined at the whims and caprices of individuals, be they ministers of state, regional ministers or district chief executives. Indeed, I am talking of a development agenda which determines our national policy on issues like energy, education, agriculture, tourism, transportation, health, water supply, housing etc. etc.

And, Mr. Chairman, I am talking of a development agenda where our national budget will be based on a National Development Plan and not on party manifestos, HIPC?s, PSI?s, MTEF?s, MDG?s, MCA?s, GPRS?s, NEPAD?s, fair-wages commissions and several other acronyms and abbreviations which are authored and remotely controlled by people who have no stake whatsoever in our national aspirations and progress! As a friend puts it, the GPRS should be retitled Ghana Poverty Redistribution Strategy, for, you cannot reduce poverty if you do not create wealth.

Finally, my Dear Brothers and Sisters, I am talking of a National Development Agenda which is not crafted or designed just to meet political exigencies. And this National Development Agenda can only be crafted by you and I, as Ghanaians, and not by any other person known or unknown.

Public Sector

This is why it is so sad to see the decay in our public sector. Take for instance the Ghana National Planning Commission which should be the think tank and centre of gravity of our national planning agenda. But what do we see today? It is being gradually perceived as a Siberia for some public officials.

Public servants who have served for many years and accumulated a lot of experience and exposure, and who should pilot our development agenda, are sent away or asked to proceed on leave indefinitely because they are perceived to be politically incorrect or they are sent away for reasons best known to only their new bosses, without any thought whatsoever about their rules of engagement. So out of self-preservation, most of our public servants have become ?yes sir, master? sayers and have become ineffective and docile and saying behind the backs of these bosses?. ?. ?Well, they think they know. You leave them. Afterall after four years they will not be here, but we shall remain here?.? Is this not the chorus amongst most of our public servants? So we end up with all sorts of advisers, consultants and special assistants, who have no clue whatsoever about public service administration and governance, becoming overlords in some of our ministries whilst the trained public servants sit down and twiddle dee dum.

Again, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, let us take a look at our parliament. Even our parliamentarians who are supposed to be our legislators do not go to parliament and you wonder if it is the empty seats which now form the legislature of our dear republic? When you ask, you are told: ?Oh, the work of parliament is complicated. Committee work, ministerial work etc.? Those who adduce these arguments forget that in the UK for example, all ministers of state, including the prime minister, are members of parliament and they appear in parliament for the greater part of the day!

Again, as if the issue of our parliamentarians was not bad enough, take a look at our Cabinet, where almost a dozen ministers of state have literally vacated their posts and are going round, without control, campaigning to become presidential candidates! And by the way, where are they getting the funds from for their campaign? It is sad and there must be a call to order! And you then ask yourself if it is the Public Servant who needs reform or the politician!

Civil Society Organizations

Distinguished, Ladies and Gentlemen, there is also a new phenomenon gaining currency in our dear nation. This is the emergence of civil society organizations and NGO?s for good governance. I am referring to the CEPA?s, the CDD?s, the ISODEC?s, the IEA?s, the Third World Networks, Transparency Internationals etc. etc. who engage in a lot of non-constructive and debilitating criticism of government, for remuneration in US dollars and are pretending to be a virtual parallel government. My fear is that if we do not sit down and challenge the genuineness of their intentions and missions, we would have a threat to our national sovereignty. And who sponsors these organizations? And who receives their reports? I can see too many Cee?s and I?s and A?s in their names. And gee, it must be lucrative because I can count more PhD holders in these organizations than the University of Ghana can boast of!

Human Resource Development

Again, let us take a look at our human resource development. There is a Chinese proverb that I particularly like. It goes like this: If you want prosperity for one year ? grow grains, If you want prosperity for 10 years ? grow trees and If you want prosperity for 100 years ? grow people.

We are talking here of human resource development both in knowledge and skills training and I believe this evening?s presidential nite is designed to assist in efforts at the education of our children.

Human beings are the greatest asset that any nation can have and a prudent investment in human resource development is a sine qua non for our national development.

My dear brothers and sisters, the saddest day in my entire life on this earth was the day when Kwami Alorvi and his NAGRAT threatened to misteach our children and teach them to call a crocodile an aeroplane and vice versa! It was a dark day indeed for all citizens of this country. But we are told that ?If you sympathise with the chicken, you must also sympathise with the hawk? for both of them need to exist. Could this unfortunate and sad situation not have been avoided with a bit of dialogue rather than legalese? I am told the case is in court so it might be subjudice to talk about it.

But, Mr. Chairman, things are falling apart and the centre must hold! The entire future of this nation is what is at stake here. For let us remember the old saying that ?we have not inherited this nation from our grandparents, but we have rather borrowed it from our grandchildren?. Let us keep it secure and safe for their sake.

Ingredients For Our Forward Movement

Mr. Chairman, during the Biafran war there was this famous slogan which I will paraphrase to read: ?To move Ghana forward is a task that must be done!?. What then are the ingredients for our forward movement?

My view, Mr. Chairman, is that recreation, entertainment, sports, tourism, food, autocars, electronic devices, clothing and textiles will continue to dominate the economy of this world. Why do you think the ?rich and famous? of this world all belong to this economic class? The Oscars and Olympic games, the World Cups, the World Beauty Pageants and the Formula-ones shall continue to be the biggest, the most glamorous and most prized events in the world?s calendar throughout the years and, we as Ghanaians, taking advantage of our natural resources, and our abundant manpower, will have to begin to position ourselves to manufacture items of high quality to meet some of the lifestyle demands of the consuming world.

Mr. Chairman positioning ourselves, in my opinion, means the following:

Firstly, developing our infrastructure for economic development i.e. an improvement in our road network, telecommunication systems, engineering and technical training facilities, ports and harbours, airport development, railway development, electric power and energy development, irrigation schemes and mechanized agriculture and cleaning up of our environment.

Secondly, positioning ourselves means an accelerated man-power training for industry and for research and development.

And thirdly, I believe, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, positioning ourselves also means challenging our youth to make them productive. This challenge means offering them opportunities to exhibit and grow their talents, offering them job opportunities and offering them managerial responsibilities.

I believe that a system which gives managerial responsibility and opportunity to only the old (and sometimes the very old and tired) stands the risk of stultifying the growth, the initiative and the skills development of our youth in this 21st Century.

Boards of Institutions must have the infusion of new, innovative and energetic blood from younger and highly educated practitioners who understand the intricacies of surfing the information superhighway in this globalised e-world. Same old names, same old faces, same old ideas, same old results. Sometimes there is a lot of honour in saying ?no thanks, I have played my part.?

Yes, we also have to learn to strive for excellence in all our endeavours and we have to learn to have confidence in ourselves and we must be forward looking and optimistic. I am reminded of the story of two shoe salesmen who visited an underdeveloped country.

One sent an e-mail to his office, ?No PROSPECT OF SALES BECAUSE NOBODY WEARS SHOES.?

The other salesman cabled, ?SEND STOCK IMMEDIATELY ? INHABITANTS BAREFOOTED ? DESPERATELY NEED SHOES.?

As we can see from this anecdote, there are unlimited horizons and opportunities facing us in all spheres of life. We only need to look hard, be imaginative, and be proactive.

The Economy Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, our economy is on a treadmill (that is being in motion without movement) and our textile, construction and furniture industries are under the threat of foreign invasion and domination. We have become a consumer country and we produce nothing and consume what others produce including toothpicks and catapults from China! Cheapjacks have invaded our country selling all kinds of low quality and inferior goods. I have heard praises being sung about the low prices of services from China. But let us remember the old saying that ?the bitterness of low quality remains long after the sweetness of low price has vanished!?

The question to ask is what type of economy do we want to build? Do we want to have an agro-based economy, a manufacturing economy, a tourism based economy, a knowledge-based or service economy or what have you? It is the government which must identify our comparative strengths and advantages, identify the required priorities and niches and create conducive capital markets and the enabling environment (both infrastructural and financial) for the emergence of captains of industry in these fields, for there-in lies our salvation as a nation. If the private sector is the engine of growth, then the navigator is the government. The old notion that government has no business in business is absolute nonsense! Government is the enabler and must set the compass for our entrepreneurs. As Jesse Jackson once said: ?capitalism without capital is just an ism?.

The Environment

Mr. Chairman, it has become worrying, in fact deeply worrying, that our society is being made to believe that it is more lucrative to convert an old industrial workshop or warehouse into a spiritual or charismatic church than to preserve these for future use as centers of production and manufacturing. Sometimes I sit by and ask myself what has become of our town and city planning bye-laws. We have not even begun our journey to industrialization yet, and we are already dismantling the foundations of the infrastructure that will lead us there.

Again, in the area of urban planning and development, let us take a look at the City of Accra. The entire city is under siege from illegal encroachers and street hawkers who now insist that their illegitimacy must be legitimized by government. The Korle Lagoon Ecological Restoration Project, which was designed to be a major tourism attraction and recreational area, is at a standstill because the occupants of Sodom and Gomorrah have refused to move and the city authorities can not do anything about it.

Again, the issue of street hawkers who have besieged our streets and, turned them into refuse dumps, demand to be resettled before they move, when they have no right whatsoever to be there in the first instance. So for their sake, we coin a new phrase for the enforcement of law and order in our cities, ?Giving a human face to law enforcement? and for the sake of a few, the entire society suffers!

The hawkers market or pedestrian shopping mall being created at the banks of the Odaw drain at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle to accommodate 4000 hawkers promises to be the biggest urban disaster in planning history to be undertaken anywhere in the world. The filth, the choking from dumping refuse in the drains and other impermissible human activities are going to cause the biggest health hazard and flooding ever in the history of Accra in the near future. Can?t anyone see that this is the only outlet for all the floodwaters from the Akwapim ranges, Alajo, Achimota and other areas into the sea? And all this for the sake of political expediency? It is sad and it is unintelligent!

Again, talking of the environment, we need to really clean up our environment. Today, environmental engineering has been left in the hands of city guards and their mayors. Disposal of waste, be it liquid or solid, is an engineering activity and has to be treated as such. If we wish to improve the health of our people and encourage the development of tourism, it is imperative that we clean up our environment. Furthermore, it is important for us to look critically at issues like waste reduction, waste to energy combustion, recycling, reusing and composting of waste.

Infrastructural Development Coordinating Unit

The result of all this uncoordination and laxity is the emergence of a new culture of empire building within our ministries, government departments and agencies. There are several uncoordinated programs and projects at all levels ? national, regional, district and NGO ? that the left hand hardly knows what the right hand is doing. It is time, Mr. Chairman, to have in place an Infrastructural Development Coordinating Unit, under the office of the President, and headed by technocrats to help coordinate our infrastructural development.

Again on the issue of government procurement, there is a need for some standardization. because, at the moment, everybody is taking advantage of the free system and buying without any thought about repairs and maintenance and future replacement.

Newly Extolled Virtues

Mr. Chairman, you probably think I have forgotten about the newly extolled virtues of zero tolerance for corruption, probity, integrity, accountability, transparency and good governance. They are the icing on the cake. But we must have the cake first!

Dear Rotarians, I know I am now beginning to sound like a missionary without a flock and the frustrations in the system have compelled me to dance naked before you, not out of wish, but out of need. But I do hate to dance naked in the midst of all the endowment the Good Lord has richly blessed us with. And it is my firm belief that there is such a critical mass of knowledge and goodwill amongst us Ghanaians to make us move forward, that we cannot have any excuses any longer.

And I believe I talk for all of you when I say here that our decency will not permit any of us to become sailors on the merchant ship MV Benjamin! Tofiakwa.

All we desire is to live and work in peace in this beautiful country of ours and create wealth in the old-fashioned way for our prosperity and that of our dear motherland.

Conclusion

Mr. Chairman, in conclusion, let me salute our dear brothers and sisters of the Tema Meridian Club on this fifth anniversary. Listening to your achievements over this short period since you became chartered, I see a lot of hope and potential in this club and, with a little effort, you can spur yourselves onto greater heights. Yours is indeed a labour of love. I wish to congratulate on your spirit of voluntarism, selflessness and dedication and I know you will strive to make this world a better place for all. In my private capacity, I wish to offer myself as a cheerleader for this club.

Let us adopt the Rotary International theme for this year and begin to ?Lead the Way?. Unfortunately, the news is bad and as someone once said, ?Bad news does not get better with age?. Collectively let us today remind ourselves of these ten words of two letters each: ?If it is to be, it is up to us?. We are the navigators of our own destiny. The days of auto piloting are over.

My Dear Brothers and Sisters, if I have provoked you to get angry about our situation and thereby make you begin to reflect on how we can all move our country forward, then my duty is done!

And, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you without much controversy.

I hereby declare this debate adjourned sine die.

I thank you for your patience.

Togbi Kporku III


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