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Opinions of Friday, 2 October 2009

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie

Spio-Garbrah: Pissin’ in & meaning well

First of all let me say I love the man Ekow Spio-Garbrah. I fell in love with him several years ago. In fact, I took the decision to go to journalism school after reading his profile in the Daily Graphic. I still have a cutting of that piece with me.

If Spio-Garbrah were a woman, you could say that I’ve nursed a crush on him for well over a decade. It just won’t go away. I love his intellect. I am in love with the way he speaks, the things he says and how he says them. I love the fact that he is such an assertive man (the sort many Ghanaians will describe as “arrogant”) and, above all else, I deeply admire everything he has achieved for himself.

In the race for the NDC presidential slot, I rooted for him. But he lost to the man who is now President. Having won the presidency, I thought that it was impossible for President Mills to leave Spio-Garbrah out of his governing team. But to my surprise, the President refused to make Spio-Garbrah an integral part of his team. Thus one of the most intelligent, forward-looking men in the NDC is not serving in the Mills administration. Instead, the president prefers to play ‘chaskele’ with the destiny of the nation by turning government into a nursery for the inexperienced and the downright incompetent. I’ve made this point before that Ghanaians do not have time to waste on the president and his incompetent ministers. And it was this same point Spio-Garbrah made in a recent article published in the Daily Graphic.

In that article, Spio-Garbrah questioned the President’s judgment in putting together what he believes to be a second-string governing team, saying that a good number of the people serving in the Mills administration “have been appointed not on the basis of merit but by virtue of proximity to power, feigned loyalty, financial considerations and other factors.”

In questioning the current crop of government appointees, Spio-Garbrah seems to be making a veiled (or desperate?) plea to be invited into the government.

He also makes the point (and forcefully so) that Ghanaians are in a hurry to see their country develop and that we need the basics of life now – not tomorrow, not the day after. He speaks for many Ghanaians when he suggests that we just can’t wait for the President to fumble all he wants whiles begging us to give him time to get his act together.

“Many Ghanaians believe that the Mills-Mahama administration could have put its best foot forward faster,” he writes. “There is a general measurable view around the country that the NDC government can indeed achieve more results faster if it simply ensured that the right NDC people are in the right positions; nothing very complex.”

I disagree with the points he makes about NDC faithful being hungry for jobs and his repetition of claims by Jerry Rawlings that the NPP built a certain machinery that needs to be destroyed to enable the Mills administration govern the way it should. But that’s for another time.

The point is that Spio-Garbrah’s article was spot-on and someone in the NDC needed to say those things to President Mills – and publicly. Only a brave and patriotic man will stick his neck out the way Spio-Garbrah did, knowing very well that many in his party will not take kindly to his remarks.

That is where Ato Ahwoi comes in. He thinks that Spio-Garbrah is “trying to intimidate the president” to offer him a cabinet appointment. Mr. Ahwoi suggests that Spio-Garbrah once called President Mills a “sick man” and that is why he has not been invited to serve in the administration. Ahwoi asks: “Why are you so desperate to serve in the government headed by someone who will never win an election?” And then he encourages Spio-Garbrah to continue “pissing in” (on the government) – in reference to a statement by former US President Lynden B. Johnson about how he tolerated J. Edgar Hoover as the director of the FBI: “I’d rather have him [Edgar] inside the tent pissing out, than outside pissing in.” [In his original article Spio-Garbrah, mistakenly attributes this quote to John F. Kennedy.]

I think Ahwho doesn’t get it. And I am saying so not just because Spio-Garbrah is a man I deeply admire. If President Mills really has the national interest at heart, he should rather listen to the likes of Spio-Garbrah and not Ahwoi, who rather comes across to me as a man trying so hard to curry the favour of the President so he can say: “Mr. President, when Spio criticised you, I was the one who jumped to your defence.”

There are a lot of idiots in Ghana. Spio-Garbrah is definitely not one of them. I am sure that he carefully considered the repercussions of his opinions before putting them on paper. He must have known that party faithful, especially the dye-in-the-wool sycophantic variety, will not take kindly to his decision to publicly question the judgment of the president. You don’t ostracise people like that. They mean well. And that’s why Obama has Hilary Clinton gave Hilary Clinton the important position of Secretary of State after all the bitter acrimony that characterised the Democratic primaries. Hilary Clinton might never have called Obama a sick man because Obama didn’t show any signs of sickness but she surely made a lot of disparaging remarks about him.

If, as Ato Ahwoi suggests, Mills is keeping Spio out of his government because Spio called him a sick man, then we have a very vindictive snob for president. And to the extent that the president would keep experienced people like Spio-Garbrah out whiles he engages in nation-building trial-and-error with incompetents? That smacks of bad leadership and lack of foresight. I hope that is not the case. Otherwise, we should put our hands on our heads in despair, start screaming “buei, buei” and forget about “a better Ghana”.

Instead of completely ignoring Spio-Garbrah’s piece, the President should read it thoroughly and act on it with what Barack Obama describes as the “urgency of the now”. Spio-Garbrah will do just fine without a government job. I am sure that if that was what he wanted, he wouldn’t have written that scathing criticism about how the Mills administration is faltering. So by all means, the President can choose not give him a job. In fact, I like him outside “pissing in”. If the NPP had someone who publicly questioned Kufuor’s missteps, Professor Mills would be addressing MBA students in a Canadian university – not fellow heads of state at the UN General Assembly; Zita would still be serving cold beer at her drinking spot, there would have been no ‘munkyinga’ and NDC supporters wouldn’t have had the nerve to go around seizing toilets. Got the drift? That’s something for Ahwoi and his sycophantic ilk to mull over.