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Opinions of Friday, 11 July 2008

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie/Daily Dispatch

THE OUTSIDER: National honours - Another stolen verdict

How will history remember President Kufuor? Only time will tell. But I’m very sure that he will be remembered as the guy who, so vain and so full of himself, decided to decorate himself with a national honour. He will also be known as the guy who gave away national honours like ‘bofrote’ to his pals and ‘yes’ men (and women).

How could he?

I wasn’t exactly surprised by the long list of people the president decided to honour for reasons known best to him. Most Ghanaians were shocked by the president’s decision to give himself a medal. I wasn’t. I saw it coming and I remember saying it on my radio programme that one day we will wake up to see the president hanging one around his neck. That’s not to say I am a prophet. But when the president gives awards to people who do not deserve them, what is to stop him from taking one for himself if he feels he deserves it?

In 2006, I was shocked when Grace Ashy – a gospel musician without a single hit song to her name – was given a national honour. My favourite musician, Kojo Antwi has more than a dozen hit tracks to his name but he doesn’t have a national medal. The Daughters of Glorious Jesus and the Tagoe Sisters have inspired and encouraged millions of Ghanaians over the years with their gospel songs. Their achievements are not worthy enough of emulation, so the prize goes to Grace Ashy for singing ‘jama’ for the national football team, which played in the 2006 World Cup.

That Black Stars squad, incidentally, didn’t even make it to the quarter finals of the World Cup in 2006. But each player was given a national medal. I wondered then what would happen to the team which actually succeeds in winning the World Cup.

Early this year, President Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali just passed by to drink a lot of champagne with our president and at the end of it all he was given a national medal. I guess they engaged in a drinking contest and Mr. Toumani won. The ‘order of the Volta’ was his prize.

Immediately after he received that medal, I wrote about national honours being given out like ‘bofrote’. Just a few weeks after that, a list of national honourees was issued with the likes of Prof. Atta Mills, NDC presidential candidate, included. That generated a lot of needless verbal heat. People questioned why the president would be so naive to honour his political opponent. He was told he had made a grave mistake.

To pacify his party bigwigs who had warned him that decorating Prof. Mills with a medal will be tantamount to political suicide, President Kufuor decided to give one of those medals to his party’s presidential candidate too. Then for good measure, he also added the names of a few others from the other side of the political divide: Alban Bagbin (minority leader in parliament, who slept with his sister-in-law), Jerry Rawlings (legendary coup-maker, who the president has referred to as ‘Sasabonbonsam’ or devil) and Captain Kojo Tsikata (security kingpin, who allegedly suggested or sanctioned almost every atrocity Rawlings’ junta committed). There was also a fair sprinkling of journalists who never find anything wrong with anything President Kufuor says or does. And, as usual, there were a large number of people who do not deserve to be honoured. What shocked me, to tell the truth, was that my name was not on that list. But that’s another story for another day.

In spite of my shock, I couldn’t help but laugh myself to stitches after the president delivered the real punch-line. He was going to give himself an award too and it was in this same category that Jerry Rawlings was to be rewarded. This award, according to the president, was only to be given to people who get elected as presidents. In the mind of our president, just the mere act of becoming president is an end in itself and therefore anyone who succeeds in achieving this end should be given a national medal. He made it. And so did Rawlings. And for that matter, they both deserve national honours. I am ashamed, to say the least, that my president thinks this way. It is very baffling that my president, after calling his predecessor “Sasabonsam” on several occasions, will turn around and decide to decorate this ‘devil’ – just because this ‘devil’ managed to get himself elected president. And don’t forget, my president is one of those who firmly believes that this ‘devil’ stole an election (remember “The Stolen Verdict’?). I’m sure that Mr. Kufuor believes that what Jesus said about the devil holds very true for Mr. Rawlings... “The devil comes not but to steal (the people’s mandate), to kill (the judges) and destroy (the economy)”. So why will Mr. Kufuor even think of giving Mr. Rawlings an award?

Well, it was the only way for him to legitimise the vanity of his decision to decorate himself with a national medal. Thankfully, Mr. Rawlings realised that he was being used and he refused to accept the award (and this, I am sure, is one of the wisest things Mr. Rawlings will be forever remembered for).

But the president was not deterred. He didn’t even stop for a moment to think that on this particular occasion Mr. Rawlings was acting more wisely than him. And he, very sadly, went ahead to give himself a medal. For acting so presumptuously, I think, the president has stolen from us. He has stolen our verdict. We, the people of Ghana, were the ones who were supposed to judge his record and decide on whether or not his days in office were not wasted. This, we would have done after he had left office. But in his diffidence (and surely, he’s achieved very little), our president thinks that we might have judged him wrongly and he wouldn’t have gotten the reward he deserves. So he decided to judge and reward himself. For this singular act of shameless vanity, the Kufuor who stole our right to judge his record is no different from the Rawlings who stole power (through a coup d’etat and, some may add, a rigged election). Shame on both of ‘em.