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Opinions of Friday, 25 April 2008

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie/Daily Dispatch

THE OUTSIDER: Doling out honours like ‘bofrote’

When the president of Mali, Amadou Toumani Toure came to town a few days ago, I wondered what the heck he’s come here for. Ghana-Guinea-Mali is not quite the threesome it used to be. And I don’t think we are in any rush to return to those days. So why did he come here? I am yet to hear about whether that visit was of any strategic importance to either country. Mali does not supply us with oil. I hear they have a lot of meat there but we don’t get any. I don’t think we trade with them that much. Of course, there might be a few Ghanaians there (we are everywhere) and there are quite a number of Malians here. But Mr. Toure didn’t come here to confer with his citizens. Neither did he come here to tell us how our Ghanaian compatriots are doing in his country.

For the three days the he was here, nothing concrete was said about why he came over. After welcoming his Malian counterpart at the airport, President Kufuor mentioned the Ghana-Guinea-Mali threesome as an example of how well we’ve been relating with Mr. Toure’s people. He also made mention of our ancient commercial ties. “We have traded in livestock, salt, kola and other items,” Mr. Kufuor said. In the modern world we live in where all the talk is about technology and how it can be used to promote human well-being, our president and his Malian counterpart are looking back at how our forebears got high on kola.

It was apparent to me therefore that the two men had nothing serious to talk about. Mr. Toure was just bored in his country and decided to just come over to visit his friend. I also think he needed something to show his people (like our president does) that he’s internationally recognised and respected. So Mr. Toure came to visit our president and they talked a lot (about nothing of great significance to their peoples), they drunk a lot of wine and had a pretty good time. As is becoming the norm, the Malian president was taken the Asantehene for only God knows what. That meeting with the Asantehene was supposed to start at 8am. By midday, the Malian president and his host had not shown up. I am very sure they were not held up at any important event. They were just being African presidents – always showing up late.

When I heard about how long they had kept people waiting for them at the Manhyia Palace, I started wishing that Mr. Toure would hurry up and leave. After all, what did he come here to do? Nothing!

But a few hours before his scheduled departure, the unexpected happened. At least, I didn’t expect it to happen but it did. I am still struggling to come to terms with it. I just can’t understand why our president decided to bestow our highest national honour (the Companion of the Order of Star of Ghana) on the Malian leader. I thought that medal was supposed to be given only to heroes, men and women of excellence and high achievers. I was mistaken. Last weekend’s medal to Mr. Toure has confirmed to me that the honours can also be doled out like free ‘bofrote’.

It started dawning on me a few years ago that the national honours were being cheapened when government first issued a very long list of honourees, most of them undeserving. About a year ago, they gave one to Grace Ashy, a gospel singer who hasn’t even got a megahit in her repertoire. Yet the Tagoe sisters have none. The recently sacked national security minister was also given one for only God knows what. Perhaps, he used to thwart a coup d’etat every other day. Or was it perhaps because he was the president’s confidante? Even Nicholas Duncan-Williams (a pastor who delights more in heaping titles upon himself and likes to be more flamboyant than Jay-Z) has one. Members of the national football team which participated in the 2006 World Cup were each given a medal for not even qualifying for the quarter finals. They played four matches – lost two, and won two. For that, they each got a medal.

Many Ghanaians hope that one day, we can win the World Cup. What will we give to team that achieves that feat?

The list of people who have been questionably given a Grand Medal is quite long. You can check it out for yourself. The one which was recently given to the Malian president is just the latest in a long list questionable (and in my opinion) undeserving recipients. If Mr. Toure can get a Companion of the Order of Star of Ghana for doing zilch, I won’t be surprised if they give Tagor an Order of the Star of Volta for being there when some of our compatriots needed to get high on cocaine. He even helped some to get rich in a very short time. Talk of poverty alleviation and Tagor has helped a lot with his powder!

If the medals are going to be given out for cheap to people who don’t deserve them, then I think I should get one. Mr. Toure got one for doing nothing. And he’s not even a Ghanaian. So why can’t I?