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Opinions of Saturday, 1 March 2008

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie/Daily Dispatch

THE OUTSIDER: Is the president too busy to go to Bawku?

Sometimes I wonder who prepares the president’s schedule. I also wonder about what it feels like to be a president and be aware that there are so many people from around the world who are yearning to see you. Just watch GTV and you’d understand what I’m talking about. Everybody who is pretending to be somebody goes to the Castle to have a chat with our president. There are people who come just to tell him that some chief in some hamlet somewhere has died.

There are also people who come in from different parts of the world claiming to be investors who just love to go to the Castle to announce their intentions to the president. Why not just go right ahead and open the damn kenkey factory? Do you have to waste the president’s ears (and ours) before you do that? There are yet others who just pop in for the fun of it. There are beauty queens (and the president loves to receive beauty queens of all shapes and sizes), footballers (mostly bearing no trophies), pastors with all sorts of prophecies (“There’ll be an oil discovery in the north this year”) and several other people with all sorts of grievances who think that an audience with the president will solve all their problems.

The point I’m making is that our president is very accessible. And that’s very good. The man has got a state to run and he has a travel itinerary which seems inexhaustible. In the performance of his duties he has to attend various ceremonies to deliver all sorts of speeches, commission roads, public toilets and stadiums. He also has to meet regularly with important international dignitaries like George Bush and Faure Gnasingbe. Yet he makes time to meet with beauty queens, trophy-less athletes and families of deceased pensioners. The president indeed is a very busy man. Too busy, in fact. The president has been too busy that he’s neglected one of the most essential functions of a chief executive. Let me explain.

It’s been almost three months since the people of Bawku decided to rake old wounds and started fighting amongst themselves yet again. Since the start of the New Year the Kusasis and Mamprusis in Bawku and surrounding communities have been at each other’s throat for reasons which are still not very clear to me. I’ve heard people say that the fighting is as a result of a protracted and recurring chieftaincy dispute. If that’s the case, I’m sorry to say they are fighting for nothing. I do not understand why anyone will fight to be a chief at a time when the powers of traditional rulers are eroding thick and fast. But if they are fighting, maiming and killing each other over a chieftaincy title in Bawku, then there must be something very important in that title which my fickle mind obviously cannot fathom.

Whatever I think now about the powers of chiefs doesn’t really matter. What matters is that a lot of destruction is being caused in Bawku, adding to the volatility of the north. Houses have been burnt, people have been slaughtered, economic activities have been curtailed, people have fled… life in Bawku is simply not what it should be.

A curfew imposed on the town hasn’t yielded much. The curfew hours only seem to give the factions more time to plot how best to kill and maim each other – the moment daylight comes and they are let out of their houses, we hear fresh reports of killings and burnings.

I don’t think the president is unaware of what’s going on in Bawku. In fact, the fighting in Bawku started just around the time the people of Kenya decided that they do not want to live in peace anymore. Our ‘busybody’ president managed to squeeze some precious time into his busy schedule to go to Kenya to try and help them resolve their differences. Needless to say, he failed to achieve anything there after three days. Meanwhile, Bawku was burning and rather than intervene in any personal way, the president left the matter to his ministers to go up there and sort things out whiles he went on a diplomatic Safari in Kenya. If he had achieved anything there, it would have been some consolation. But he didn’t.

Since he returned from Kenya, the president has been too busy – again! He has commissioned roads, attended conferences (locally and internationally), opened new stadiums, attended football matches, interacted with several dignitaries and (ahem!) met several times with trophy-less footballers. I was very surprised by the president’s interests in the Black Stars when they were trying to “host and win”. He visited the team at the least opportunity, encouraging them to win the African Cup of Nations at all cost. At one point, when he couldn’t meet face-to-face with them because he was attending one of his many international conferences abroad, he arranged for a video conferencing session with them. Until then, I didn’t know our president was such a technophile. Good for him.

His keen interest in the Black Stars and his numerous visits with them gave me the impression that he cared more about winning a football trophy than helping bring peace to Bawku.

I am by no means saying that attempting to help resolve the Kenyan crisis and visiting with the national football team to encourage them to win a trophy for the first time in 26 years are useless pursuits for a president. Obviously, they were important to him and that’s why they were on his schedule.

However, that’s exactly why I wonder: who prepares the president’s schedule? Is Bawku not important enough for the president’s schedule? I think it is and that’s why I say that the president has neglected one of the fundamental duties of a ruler of a nation. I don’t blame him because he’s been too busy doing other very important stuff (like attending funerals) and the guy who prepares his schedules (probably D. K. Osei) has failed to draw his attention to the need for him to visit with his people in distress.

But I wish to humbly suggest – again – that since there are no beauty queens to dally with and no funerals to attend, the president should make time to go to Bawku. It’s just a 45-minutes journey by helicopter. He should go with a carrot in one hand and a stick in the other. Such a journey might not immediately end the conflict. Not necessarily. But it would help. The president should sit with the factions and try to reason with them. If reason doesn’t prevail the president should tell them with all the seriousness he can muster that he will not tolerate any further fighting and anyone who picks up arms against his brother will not be spared. The whole process should not take more than two hours of the president’s precious time and it will be worth his while.

This is not the first time I’m suggesting that the president should visit with the Kusasis and Mamprusis. I’m repeating it because I heard the NDC MP, Mahama Ayariga saying the same thing the other day in parliament. If the president and his advisors will not heed the suggestion of a non-entity like me (after all, what do I know and what do I have?), at least they should listen to Mr. Ayariga – an eminent lawyer politician and citizen of the strife-torn area.

I know Mr. Ayariga can be a pain in the neck of the president sometimes but for once he should be listened to and whoever is in charge of the presidential schedule should make Bawku a priority.

I’m tired of wondering.