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Opinions of Saturday, 4 December 2010

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

Spin, oil and more spin!

By George Sydney Abugri

Jomo, I heard President Mills this week passionately urging all antagonistic and feuding political and other sectarian groupings in the country to bury all rusty hatchets still lying around and unite under the banner of nationhood for progress.

Fantastic sermon that if you ask me, except that to be able to do that , we need as a first and necessary step, to kill all politicians and their loud and rowdy bands of activists who have become real grand masters of skullduggery and spin in recent times.

If that sound too harsh, why, we might exercise some leniency and banish them instead, to some of the remotest islands beyond the Afram Plains and keep them marooned there until the end of the next republic. While we are about it, we would also have to ban radio for good effect and here is why:

As a matter of unfailing routine these days, the republic wakes up every morning to multiple rounds of hoarse screaming, yelling and shouting on radio stations across the country and it usually all very angry, national unity-threatening politics.

I daresay if it were possible to listen simultaneously to all the morning talk shows and phone-in programmes on radio, the word cacophony would truly come alive in meaning.

You can only hope that having established itself as the platform for peace-threatening verbal battles from dawn to dusk, these radio spin and propaganda forums disguised as news review programmes do not start a Third World War when we enter the campaign year nest month.

President Mills assured the nation during the week, of a free and fair election. Since his administration has control over the security establishment, we have no reason to doubt his word and apparent resolve.

Now the big question, Jomo: Knowing the nation’s propensity for charging every election very dangerously at a trillion volts and knowing how any violence or real threat to peace diminishes the chances of an election being fair and free, how can he guarantee anything?

From emerging indications, the 2012 election campaign menu promises to be an unwholesome one! My forecast is that it will not be about the issues at all. It will be an unsightly concoction of gossip, rumours, and hearsays about the candidates and very little more.

There will be will be attacks on personalities and counter attacks, accusations, counter accusations, and spirited self defence and why not, an obscene manipulation of voters’ minds. As a matter of fact all that has already began albeit with mild intensity.

The recent dramatic discovery of oil and the expected revenues from the precious fluid of industry will up the stakes for both the ruling party and the leading opposition party, don’t you think?

The test run is on and the first liters of crude have started flowing merrily from our recently discovered offshore fields through the huge turret of FPSO Kwame Nkrumah into the vessel’s massive tanks.

The expectations of large sections of the population are rather sky-high but Kofi Jack from Hustlers Street will be sorely disappointed to learn that money from the oil won’t mean any hard cash coming into his pocket or any dramatic change in the quality of his life.

Local economists have warned us against breaking into a prance and dance yet, as annual revenues from the oil will amount to only slightly below two percent of GDP!

The political opposition, civil society groups and the clergy are engaged in strong agitation for legislation that will guarantee stringently accountable management and judicious use of the coming oil revenues.

Oil is a packaged and all-ready collateral for development loans from international lending agencies but many in the opposition are dead set against the use of our oil as collateral for contracting loans.

Vice –president Mahama this week asked what sense it made to let people die for want of medical care or deny communities water, electricity and good roads, so that oil revenues might instead be invested for the benefit of generations which are yet to be born.

In his apparent frustration over the issue, the vice-president right out of character managed to let words like “foolish’ and “baloney” drop, thankfully, without George Bush’s Texan drawl.

We pay economists and development planners to be able to work black magic with mathematics when it comes to planning dilemmas like this one, don’t we?

Politicians should leave it to the experts to work out appropriate formulas complete with percentages for spending on urgently needed infrastructure, and for medium term investment which will yield significant dividends in due course.

Oil and gas economics tends to intimidate those of us working in the finer arts and there is certainly something about the use of oil revenues as collateral for loans which my poor head cannot crack:

Dr. Gurcan Gullen of the Center for Energy Economics at the University of Texas who has led oil and gas seminars in Nigeria and Ghana in recent years, remarked to me last year that “to try predicting world oil prices is to embark on a fool’s errand”:

Today the price per barrel of crude is shooting straight for the sky. The next day, it has sunk right down to the very bottom of the sea bed or even lower. What happens if a borrower defaults in loan payment at a time when oil prices are at their very lowest ever?

Never mind. I was commenting on the coming campaign chaos wasn’t’ I? New Patriotic Party presidential candidate Nana Akufo-Addo has had the advantage of an early start ahead of the 2012 electoral racing pack that is yet to fully assemble.

The snag is that in campaigning solo in this land of amazing intrigue, vinegar-bitter political rivalry and unrelenting scandal mongering, he has also set himself up for sharp target practice by snipers in the opponent’s battle trench.

Nana Akufo-Addo and the professional publicists responsible for managing his public image as a candidate this week managed to commit what in my considered opinion, is one of the most appalling political communication blunders in Ghanaian politics in many years.

Allegations of drug use were first leveled against the candidate a few years ago, some say, by ambition-consumed elements within his own party who wanted to destroy his political career to make room for the advancement of their own aspirations.

Confronted with very deliberate and calculated silence from the man, the rumour appeared to die, then it re-resurfaced, got temporally buried again only to resurrect.

This week, the presidential candidate apparently revised his opinion about silence NOT being a sign of consent and tried turning the propaganda tables on his accusers with a statement denying the rumour and asking his detractors to provide the evidence or shut up.

I have done a modest analysis of the comments made by the candidate’s public relations advisers and party leaders and come to the conclusion that theirs has been a disastrous move in this complex game of spin and let spin.

Radio and television stations squandered colossal amounts of air time on the issue 24/7 for several days running non-stop and the newspapers but especially the Pro-NDC ones, made the alleged drug issue the lead front page story every blessed day.

Oh yes, NDC activists appeared extremely delighted at the opportunity to repeat the rumour at a thousand and three decibels on the hour. How all that has helped the candidate’s public profile and voter appeal is probably known to the man’s public relations managers!