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Opinions of Friday, 14 February 2014

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

Yankee Jack, Mr. Kufuor and shea butter economics

By George Sydney Abugri

A table away from where I sat in an eating place in Accra this week, two men were chatting while waiting for a take-away lunch box. One of the men was telling the other how anyone who had been domiciled in the United States for a long period needed to know that coming back home after so many years could be very scary and took real guts.

He said the last time he visited Ghana from the US was 27 years ago and when he went to buy an air ticket to Ghana last week, he kept wondering what the country would be like today. He added that having now arrived, he was very, very scared. Scared? How could anyone who has lived in the land of the gung-ho Yankees be scared about returning to a small West African country?

Scared of what exactly? Your guess is probably as wild or bad as mine, Jomo: The noise and chaos in motor transport and pedestrian traffic, the unrelenting and extreme partisan political acrimony, the armed robberies and general sense of insecurity and the uncertainty around his ability to readapt and integrate in the society he has left for so many years.

There is of course also the problem with an ailing economy with the potential to eat up whatever the returnee might invest with the fruits of the toil of so many years in a foreign land.

Such has been the obsession with the value of paper money, that in the matter of the depreciation of the Ghanaian cedi against the green buck, attention appears to be focused more on the money market than the real issue: The economy. Currencies don’t go tumbling onto the seabed in truly healthy national economies, do they?

You don’t know whether it has something to do with the tendency of some Ghanaians to crack weird jokes all the time or whether it is a tragic case of enduring ignorance, but some respected people and prominent individuals have been quoted in reports as attributing the cedi crisis to the work of dwarfs who are kleptomaniacs, carbon-black magic and other evil forces etc.

The chorus in this discordant song is that a strong Ghanaian currency is within reach and only lies in shifting attention to the development of a more export-driven economy. Look northward: Cotton, shea-butter, handicrafts, shea nuts, cashew and kenaf all sources of foreign exchange, have been all but forgotten about, for the Lord knows what reason.

In the meantime, for a country whose two-party dominated politics is so extremely and rabidly partisan, former President John Agyekum Kufuor’s call this week on Ghanaians who have made a pastime of criticizing President John Mahama’s administration to cut government some slack and instead apply their creative faculties to helping the government solve prevailing national problems, is a refreshing surprise.

Some of the criticism is coming from the political opposition, so I thought to myself: It is doubtful if anyone in the New Patriotic Party apart from JAK, could have gotten away with trying to dissuade Ghanaians from criticizing the government. Former President Kufuor’s comment, which was apparently made in passing at a ceremony for graduating pastors, nonetheless provided a headline-making sound bite for the Graphic.

Now hang on really tight, old chap, lest you tumble out of sheer shock, because the story takes a big U-turn at this point. “I did not say Ghanaians should not criticise government”- J A. Kufuor. That was the denial as contained in a statement from the former president’s office.

The statement said the former president only admonished the evangelists-to-be to use their God-given faculties in helping to find solutions to national problems and not joins the ranks of so-called men of God who spend their time predicting coming calamities all over the place.

Not a single word about any comment made by the former president in relation to any criticism of the government by Ghanaians. Amazing. Absolutely amazing. A Graphic reporter stuffing words into JAK’s mouth? That is the way it works here, Jomo: Apart from being acrimonious beyond measure, political partisanship in Ghana is also hypersensitive to the issue of party loyalty and there are labels to constantly remind any who may be inclined to disloyalty, about their partisan identity.

I have probably told you before: Here, every idea, every town, every individual and everything that has a name and moves, has a political label. If you walk into a Ghanaian household, you can easily discern that the house dog or the family cat is either NDC or NPP, without looking at the collar of the pet! Football clubs, musicians, boxers, football players, contractors, journalists, newspapers, pastors, bishops all carry NDC and NPP labels? There are emerging signs that my vision of a new political climate is a worthwhile one: For the first time for as long as anyone can remember, the country’s two major parties have let down the barriers of acute partisanship, to collaborate on a common interest project.

All that notwithstanding, many including some in the president’s own party, cannot deny that the ailing state of the economy, the revelations of corruption among public officials and slow implementation of some critical policies and programmes, are indeed real. You may add this, Jomo: “…and so is the partisan acrimony that stands in the way of a concerted, national effort to find solutions!” Website: www.sydneyabugri.com/Web Email: editing@sydneyabugri.com