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Opinions of Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie

THE OUTSIDER: Obama says...

I stayed up through the night last week to listen to Barrack Obama deliver his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. During the Democratic Party primaries in America, my bet was on Hilary Clinton – not Barrack Obama. I am not one of the many Africans who support Obama because of a false hope that if he becomes the president of the United States most of us will get easy visas to America. I also can't just support him because he's of my race. My heart was with Hilary because that's where it wanted to be. But there is one thing I like about Obama. His speeches are well thought-out and exquisitely delivered. He's unlike most of our politicians, who just get up and talk anyhow. Often they incite. Obama's speeches, on the other hand, inspire.

I found Obama's speech last week quite profound even though it was directed primarily at an American audience. He didn't say a single word about Africa – much less about Ghana. But somehow, I felt that some of his words were quite appropriate to Ghanaian electioneering.

Earlier in the speech – even before he actually got into his groove – Obama says: "Eight is enough… we are better than these last eight years."

Ouch! In Nana Akuffo Addo's ears, this might have sounded like Prof. Mills or any of the other presidential aspirants speaking. Eight years of 'waawaawaaa' is enough. The NPP can talk about all the 'good' things they have done over the past eight years. But Ghanaians deserve better. That's essentially what Obama was saying. It is true there is health insurance but people still die like hapless rats in our hospitals. Our health system is in no great shape so the very people who boast of health insurance would rather take their ailments to a house officer in a Johannesburg hospital than see a specialist at Korle Bu. We have the capitation grant but we still have too many unqualified or under-qualified, ill-educated, poorly motivated teachers in the system pumping a lot of crap into the heads of our kids. So, indeed, "we are better than these last eight years."

However, getting to the end of his speech, Obama says: "We cannot turn back. Not with so much work to be done."

Your guess is as good as mine. In Atta Mills' ears this is Nana Akuffo Addo, saying: "we are moving forward." We cannot go back to the days of identification hair-cuts. We cannot go back to cash-and-carry and we definitely are not prepared to return to the days when a president took it upon himself to regularly intimidate business people, clergy men and journalists. A lot of work needs to be done. And Obama urges us to "march into the future." Akuffo-Addo should be grateful because Obama has put the wind in his sail.

You don't need me to convince you that Obama is a gifted speaker and his oratory has no doubt helped him to come this far. Whenever I hear him speak, I wish we had someone like him in Ghana. God has deprived us of an orator for far too long, wouldn't you say? Since Kwame Nkrumah, I don't think we've had anyone who has mastered the art of public speaking to the extent that when he speaks, you hear a call to action and you are ready to put your shoulder to the wheel. I'm not talking about Rawlings' revolutionary rumblings. They only made sense to the cadres. And they were too long, too dreary. But Kwame Nkrumah pulled the majority when he said "Independence now!" Fifty years after his death, his words still resonates around the world. He was a rubble rouser but he got people to act. If Nkrumah had asked Ghanaians to all jump into the Gulf of Guinea and swim to London to ask the queen for independence, very few would have hesitated.

But what do we see today? When Rawlings speaks people rush to listen not because they expect him to be profound. People just listen to hear him "boom"! When Rawlings speaks, I ask myself: "Gosh, what in heaven's name is he talking about." Just listen to his last outbursts on July 1. They sounded like the incoherent ramblings of a man just coming out of a coma.

I only listen to President Kufuor when it's absolutely necessary for me to do so – often because of work. Otherwise, I have better ways of wasting my time than listen to punctuate every word with "errrrrrrrrrr".

Well, as for Atta Mills… I'm not so sure what he wants. We've had enough of his supplications, haven't we? When 'Asomdwehene' speaks, he sounds like a man pleading for mercy at the guillotine.

How about Aliu Mahama? Well, I'd advise you not to listen to him if you don't want to be seen as disrespectful. It takes the man more than 60 seconds to pronounce "respiratory". Just imagine what you'd do if you heard him struggling with the word.

Nana Akuffo Addo is about the only political leader in Ghana today with the ability to deliver moving speeches. The speech after his election as the NPP presidential candidate was exceptional. I still remember a few phrases from there.

Since I don't often get to hear great speeches from our leaders, I don't miss any opportunity to listen to people like Obama. That's why I stayed up to listen to him last week. And I wasn't disappointed at all. Stirring speeches do not a great leader make. Not necessarily. But think about this: if a leader cannot articulate his vision, why will you follow him? If your leader is trying to motivate you to reach for the skies and he keeps croaking like a frog, won't you rather be deflated?

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