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Opinions of Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Columnist: Owusu-Ansah, Emmanuel Sarpong

Veniunt, Vident, Titubant

Veniunt, Vident, Titubant: They Come, They See, They Falter

By Emmanuel Sarpong Owusu-Ansah (Black Power)

When the need arose for Julius Caesar to wage war against the arch enemies of the Romans, the people of Pontus, in 47 BC, he embraced the challenge and did not disappoint. He bravely pursued the enemies until he came face to face with their giant leader Pharnaces II in the city of Zela (now Zile in modern-day Turkey). A fierce battle ensued in which Pharnaces II was compelled by the colossal strength of the determined and courageous Roman leader to flee, and his men were consequently defeated. Following this emphatic triumph, Caesar could say with satisfaction and pride: veni, vidi, vici, – I came, I saw, I conquered.

The arch enemies that Ghanaians and citizens of other African countries expect their leaders to wage war against or battle today, are not ethnic groups, kingdoms, neighbouring countries, or empires. They are rather socio-economic wretchedness, poverty, tribalism or ethnocentrism, nepotism, bribery and all other forms of corruption. Disappointingly, most of these leaders unlike Julius Caesar persistently fail to conquer the arch enemies. Veniunt, vident, titubant – they come, they see, they falter. What an anti-climax!

Politicians prior to elections, brag about their ability to provide the needs of the people BUMBUM (in abundance), to ensure zero tolerance of corruption and make the basic necessities of life flow WAAWAA (like a mighty river), and to considerably reduce the prices of fuel and to turn their countries into NYAME AMAN (Theocratic societies). Their words are taken serious by the unsuspecting populace who grant them the privilege to lead them in the battle against their arch enemies. The politicians ascend the political throne from where the extent of the might of the enemies becomes very noticeable. But instead of facing the adversaries head-on, they let their people down by taking no action out of cowardice and selfishness. They thus technically surrender and become slaves to the enemies that they are supposed to conquer.

Good name, they say, is better than riches; unfortunately, the reverse is the philosophy of most Africans in positions of authority. While other leaders strive to make a name for themselves by adding at least a drop of water to the ocean of their countries’ noble history, most African leaders only think of acquiring wealth through various dubious means.

We come across countless reports of African leaders stealing millions and billions of dollars from their countries and depositing them in foreign banks when the vast majority of their own people lack the basic necessities of life – good drinking water, food, and shelter. The Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha, who died in office in 1998 and his family allegedly spirited over 3 billion dollars away into foreign bank accounts. It is also alleged that up to $5bn was looted through exploitation of mineral revenues in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo during the 30-year rule of Mobutu Sese Seko. Pressure groups in Angola also estimate that about $1bn in oil-related revenue disappears every year from the nation’s treasury. Mr Samuel Doe, the former leader of Liberia who came to power in a bloody coup in 1980, is alleged to have purchased over sixty $60,000 Mercedes Benz cars for his government ministers. How can a nation progress or develop if its leaders continue to steal such huge sums of money from its coffers? In Ghana, there are disturbing reports of the costs of certain projects shooting up by over 200% within two years, so that the kind of project that supposedly cost the nation about $80,000 to complete in the year 2008 is now costing the tax payer $200,000+ to be executed even though inflation is believed to be significantly declining.

As a matter of fact, Africa’s economic predicament commenced the day the continent was plunged into a world of incessant coup d’états. This meant that only the physically strong and not necessarily competent persons could rule. Sadly, many of those who forced themselves into positions of leadership knew very little or nothing about governance, and could thus not put in place any meaningful economic policy, or lay down a good economic foundation for future generations to build on. Theirs was to lord it over the people and secure their positions by executing anyone viewed as a threat to their leadership. Many if not most of the infrastructural and economic legacies left behind by the colonial powers such as railways, roads, factories, state companies, and many others were not only denied expansion and enhancement, but were also left to deteriorate.

With the coming and the seemingly extensive embrace of democracy, the people of the continent had high hopes that things would get better. Sadly, the dream as the poet Gabriel Okara puts it, now seems to be ‘… fading into memories like rain drops falling into a river’, as corruption still continues unabated and signs of over-ambition, dictatorship, arrogance and incompetence still remain visible. African leaders try all possible means to perpetuate themselves. They erroneously convince themselves that they are the only ones capable of leading their countries to the path of prosperity, and thus view the leadership as their birth-right.

In a few months’ time, general elections campaigns fever will be felt throughout Ghana and many other African countries. Almost all members of parliament (MPs) including those who have hardly interacted with or made themselves available to their constituents since their elections, will be coming out of their shells to make further empty promises for votes to enable them hold on to their “profit-making” positions. Because ‘there’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face’ as Shakespeare rightly mentions, the electorates are not usually able to identify and get rid of selfish and greedy aspirants. However, by the actions of some deceptive presidential and parliamentary candidates, they shall be known. Yes, there may not be any absolutely reliable criterion or criteria for choosing good and positive-minded candidates; but there are certainly some important guidelines that could be observed if the chances of electing patriotic candidates are to be enhanced. The following are some of the guiding principles:

Be suspicious of candidates who attempt to offer “gifts” (money and various goods) in return for votes: People should realize, that there is nothing called Free Lunch in the world of politics; any such idea is nothing but an utopia – an illusion. This means that when candidates “pay” their way into positions of authority, their prime objective is to recuperate the money spent in their election campaigns, and this is usually achieved through dishonest means. Almost no person with a genuine and patriotic mentality will buy votes from electorates; hence, candidates who offer money or goods with the intension of inducing electorates to vote for them are people with wicked agenda. Despise them!

Keep an eye on politicians who embark on last minute projects: These are usually selfish and greedy people who do nothing for their constituencies, communities or countries and only demonstrate hypocritical concern about the people when elections are just around the corner. They try to make a mockery of the great citizenry by pretending to care about them when general elections are about to take place. It has been observed that the number of rural electrification projects and others such as primary school, hospital, water-borehole, gutter, and feeder rood construction or renovation projects usually quadruple twelve months leading to general elections. Pathetically, the projects are abandoned as soon as the elections are over. Why do they wait till elections period before they start embarking on relevant projects that are often never completed? Do these politicians imagine they can play the electorate for a fool?

Be wary of political elites who make themselves available to their constituents or the people they represent only during elections. It is the duty of every MP or representative of a community to regularly interact (in various ways) with the people they represent, to register their plights or problems, and to swiftly and efficiently address their concerns. Lamentably, many MPs or representatives of the people become unapproachable the moment they get the votes they need to retain or attain their positions, and thus distance themselves from the populace. Then less than a year before major elections, they are seen walking from one end of their localities to the other soliciting for votes. The “Jews” (e.g. MPs) who previously wouldn’t mingle with “gentiles” (those they represent) all of a sudden realize the need to get closer to them. Do representatives of the people have to spend three years in office before they start interacting with and responding to the needs of their communities?

Stay clear of candidates or political parties that tend to appeal to ethnic loyalties rather than seek a shared ideology. Leaders who do not encourage or inspire the people to denounce the politics of tribal or ethnic belonging, are not patriotic enough. Instead of consistently voting along regional, tribal or ethnic lines, electorates should develop the habit of voting purely based on shared or reasonable ideologies of a political party and the qualities of individual candidates. This is the only way the right people will get the chance to lead the various nations of the continent. That which needs to be understood is, if one votes for candidates to come to power just because they are tribe-members, and they unfortunately turn out to be crooks, the negative consequences of their bad leaderships affect all and sundry including their own tribe-folks. It is after all becoming increasingly clear particularly in Ghana, that sitting presidents usually embark on more developmental projects in other regions than the regions that they hail from.

It should always be remembered that the destiny of the African continent lies in the hands of its own people. If citizens of African countries would do away with tribalism or what Wamwere calls ‘negative ethnicity’ and come together as one people to work towards a defined goal, the African continent will undoubtedly be a force to be reckoned with in no time.

NB: The second edition of this article will be published shortly before the Ghanaian general elections in 2012.

Emmanuel Sarpong Owusu-Ansah (aka Black Power) is a lecturer and an investigative journalist in London, UK. He is the author of ‘Fourth Phase of Enslavement: unveiling the plight of African immigrants in the West’. He may be contacted via email (