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Opinions of Friday, 15 April 2011

Columnist: Kennedy, Arthur Kobina

The Consequences Of “Dzi Wo Fie Asem”

14TH April, 2011

University of Cape Coast, Cape Coast

The verdict is in on “DZI WO FIE ASEM” and it is bad—very bad. At least 1,500 people are dead – and this, according to the BBC, excludes the casualties in the last few days of frenzied fighting. The tens of thousands who were injured physically, psychologically and emotionally are still being counted.

At least one million people have fled their homes and thousands of these have fled to Ghana and other neighbouring countries.

Millions of Ivoirians are facing starvation.

Property damage, which is being tallied, will be worth billions of US dollars. Laurent Gbagbo has been captured in his singlet.

Ghana’s image in the international community, built painstakingly by our leaders, from Nkrumah to Kufuor over the last fifty years, has suffered significant and lasting damage.

All these are, at least in part, the consequences of President Mills’ “DZI WOFIE ASEM POLICY”

In the fullness of time, the President’s handling of this crisis may turn out to be the most significant foreign policy blunder by a Ghanaian leader to date since independence.

In January, President Mills dealt a significant blow to the chances of having a peaceful resolution to the Ivory Coast crisis by announcing that he was opposed to military action and enunciating the “DZI WO FIE ASEM POLICY”.

The President’s pronouncements were a significant setback to the international community in its efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Ivoirian crisis. Till then, President Gbagbo knew he was facing a united international community standing behind the clear democratic will of the Ivoirian people.

However, with President Mills’ pronouncements, Mr. Gbagbo saw light at the end of the tunnel—a lot of light. Taking solace from our President’s dissent from the international community, he must have reasoned that given the precedents set in Zimbabwe and Kenya, he could hold on to power through some kind of agreement with Mr. Ouattara to share power. Thus encouraged, he armed himself and started talking tough.

It is generally understood by those versed in diplomacy and peacemaking that one can avoid war if there is a credible threat of force. Indeed Saddam Hussein later told interrogators that he had refused to disarm because he had felt encouraged by French and Russian disagreement with the US on the threat of force if he did not comply with UN Resolutions.

Unfortunately, the sending of mixed signals to Saddam led to the very war the French and the Russians were trying to prevent in Iraq. Unfortunately, it is likely that Gbagbo, the History Professor, pre-occupied with the pursuit of power may have missed the lessons of Iraq, with the help of his friend, President Mills.

In his January press conference, President Mills declared that Ghana would not be in a position to send troops in case of the international community deciding to remove President Gbagbo by force. Furthermore, he stated that he was personally opposed to the military option. He explained that in his view, Ghana should mind its own business, capping it all succinctly with his famous or infamous “DZI WO FIE ASEM” pronouncement. Indeed, long before Mr. Gbagbo was captured in his singlet, the absurdity of “DZI WO FIE ASEM” was obvious to all as the Ivoirian refugees streamed across our border and our officials scrambled to accommodate them. This, after all is the era of the global village.

Why did the President do this and what lessons can be learned from this?

First, I believe the President was blinded by friendship to Mr. Gbagbo. While his behavior may show that he is a loyal friend, it has also shown that he needs help in determining his priorities and determining the difference between what is right and what may be desirable. Wanting Gbagbo to win was alright but helping him to defy the will of Ivoirians and the international community was wrong.

Second, it appears that the President has an overabundance of sycophants around him. It was painful watching the President’s “amen chorus” adjust to the distortions and contortions in the President’s thinking and behavior even while insisting that he was being consistent. The Foreign Minister, Hon. Mumuni, Anyidoho, Ablakwa and many around the President were insisting that the President was solidly with ECOWAS even while touting his wisdom in abandoning the ECOWAS position and insisting that the international community was moving towards the President’s position. The ultimate demonstration of inconsistency was provided by Foreign Minister Mumuni when he hailed the capture of Gbagbo, the man the Mills government had supported throughout. These delusions were loudly echoed by the Press, led vociferously by Kwesi Pratt. Sometimes, the effort was comical. Indeed, the Socialist Forum acknowledged these absurdities when they declined to present any grievances to the government despite appearing to share its pro-Gbagbo stance.

Third, it appears that the President failed to reach out for counsel from those with the requisite knowledge and experience on the issue. Even if the President was confused about what to do, why did he not consult with Former Presidents Kufuor and Rawlings, as well Former U.N. Chief Kofi Annan and Former Foreign Minister Nana Akufo-Addo? I am sure that any of these gentlemen, singly or in combination, would have given him sound and practical advice about the options he was facing and what would have been the best thing to do, not just for his friendship with President Gbagbo but for Ghana and its historic place in Africa.

Fourth, even setting aside the principles, the President’s conduct portrayed him, perhaps unfairly and wrongly, as a man who did not keep his word. After signing on to the ECOWAS position in person, it was a major diplomatic blunder to disown the ECOWAS position only a few days later. Many in the diplomatic community wondered why, as a man of principle, he did not argue against the ECOWAS position but held his peace, signed on and then later undermined it. How could a President who considers himself a Nkrumahist commit such an elementary blunder? What would Nkrumah have done in his shoes?

Now that the chickens have come home to roost and we all know “DZI WOFIE ASEM” was a blunder, what should we do?

First, I respectfully suggest that the President must apologize to his colleagues in the ECOWAS leadership for not keeping his word and to Ghanaians for embarrassing us. It takes a big man to say “I am sorry” and the President will certainly earn a lot of respect by heeding this advice.

Second, the President and maybe Parliament, as well as the Council of State must seriously examine our Foreign Policy set-up. What role did our Parliament play in all this fiasco? What was the Council of State doing while the President was embarrassing himself and all of us? Parliament and or the Council of State should determine how the President made his decisions on this issue and how they were communicated so ineffectively.

Third, as a nation, we should seriously re-examine the relationship between our Presidents—past and current of all political parties. It is obvious that in this particular case as well as in general, these are resources that are being significantly under-utilized to the detriment of our nation.

Fourth, the President must act decisively to discourage sycophancy. When intelligent adults agree with you and defend your contradictory positions on issue after issue with equal passion, they are sycophants and you risk being considered a bad judge of people when you keep using them. Sycophancy is and will be the bane of our politics and our leaders till they start respecting the few honest people who will tell it as they see it. A little honesty from the President’s advisors would have served the President and Ghana very well. Or were all the President’s men suffering from the pull of friendship to the Gbagbo team?

Fifth, we must discourage the excessively partisan nature of our media. It should have been possible for media that generally support the NDC to respectfully point out the unprincipled nature of the President’s stand—and yet many did not. Instead, they happily amplified the nonsense that was pouring out of the Castle and its affiliates.

Guided, by the bitter lessons and costs of “DZI WO FIE ASEM” let us return to the humane and progressive foreign policy that has made Ghana a leader on this continent, respected by all, together.

Let “DZI WO FIE ASEM” stand like a warning in our history, to warn future Presidents of the dangers posed by unprincipled friendship and sycophantic advisers combined with expediency and avoid it like the plague.

Arthur Kobina Kennedy