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Opinions of Monday, 14 March 2016

Columnist: Colin Essamuah

Try me also and see, and the alarums of our 59th birthday

‘’This is arguably the best choreographed Independence celebration I have seen for a long time. Richer on culture.’’

Gabby Otchere-Darko

I am in a curiously happy mood today. I believe I have said somewhere, some time ago in this column, quoting the late American President Harry Truman that ‘there is nothing new in this world; the only thing new is the history you don’t know.’’ This came to mind at the end of this week’s events, starting from our 59th independence birthday and matters arising, and ending with the dismissal of the acting boss of the Information Services Department, my own friend Francis Arthur.

I am not sure how many countries in the world are made up of only one ethnic group or tribe, as we prefer in our part of the world, but which has assumed the status of a swear word in our political vocabulary. Maybe Japan and Somalia, if my knowledge of these matters are somewhat accurate, but we know the status of Japan, very developed, and that of Somalia, which is merely a geographical expression because it effectively ceased to be a nation state in 1994.

This excursion has been provoked by the tapestry of cultures and ethnic groups in our country which come on display at our national birthday and other national events. The fact that the overwhelming majority of countries in the world are multi-ethnic just like our country may make some of us take our enforced unity for granted, unless the lesson of Somalia is brought home forcefully to bear, quite apart from our specific history in the 1950s when disintegrative forces and their secessionist claims seized our attention.

When we were children, we all thought the concept of entertaining people using the medium of comedy was a Central Regional trait; that is all Fantes were naturally comedians. In actual fact, there are other ethnic groups for whom the region is their ancestral home, not only Fantes, who mostly were the people living on the coastline of the region. But that story is for another day.

This came to mind when I was watching our 59th independence anniversary on television last Sunday as I beheld in admiration people from other regions and other ethnic groups bedecked in the uniforms of the colonial police force as the Gold Coast Constabulary, march in their own uniquely comical yet exciting way at the parade at the Independence Square. It was a sight to behold, something so comical and yet so unique that lent its own flavour to our 59th birthday.

Dr Kofi Dsane-Selby

What also came to mind was a matter that occurred in this very fourth republic. In 1992, as preparations were afoot to return the country to civil and constitutional rule after more than a decade of military rule, I was one of the ardent supporters of the presidential candidacy bid of Dr Kofi Dsane-Selby, then a Kumasi-based medical practitioner, a former president of the Ghana Medical Association and a former chairman of Kumasi Asante Kotoko to boot. Dr Selby is now resident in Accra, and over 84-years-old.

The small matter that came to my mind with reference to Dr Selby was that his campaign message was “try me also and see what I can do for Ghana.”

Needless to add, he was the butt of jokes in the party, the New Patriotic Party, especially from supporters of the man who eventually won the primaries to become the presidential candidate of the NPP in 1992, Prof. Adu Boahen. But Dr Selby came second, though neither his votes nor those of any of his other contestants came close to ruffle the emphatic first round victory of Prof. Boahen. I must point out at once that the manager for Adu-Boahen’s campaign was Nana Akufo-Addo, now the flag bearer of the same party. The fact that Prof. Adu-Boahen too had not held public office before was obviously a trifling matter.

To continue the Truman lesson, the current Member of Parliament for Ablekuma West, Mrs Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, has on her billboards strewn all over her constituency the catchy phrase ‘Tried, tested and proven’ obviously as a campaign message. Mrs Ekuful is facing a tough primary contest and her party leadership is doing all it can to enable her to sail through. A mistake?

My sense of contented smugness reached its height when the Acting Director of Information Services was removed for the discovery of an error-ridden brochure given to guests at the independence parade at the Black Star Square. The seriousness of the errors notwithstanding, how do they combine in the chain of events for some of us to imagine therefore that our freely-elected government is a mistake? I don’t get it and I will briefly show why.

My own sister was named and featured in the 2001 brochure as the leader of the HIV contingent from the Osu-Klottey sub-Metropolitan district of schools. The following year, a forthcoming university entrance examination took her away from her role, but she was named in the brochure and mentioned on television to my hearing. I never thought that mistake merited me calling the government of President Kufuor a mistake.

I know the ISD very well, having had them do some work for me in the past, and in the event, show me what is required to produce publications for national events. The problem may arise from the privatisation of some of their work. But who are the people who always scream that everything in this country be privatised? Once that question is answered, we all can accept the curious fact that journalists working for private media organisations decline to buy their own suitable transport to take them around the square to record the President. This is why I feel smugly happy today.