African politics and the role of First Ladies (Part II)

Thu, 31 Jul 2014 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Monday, July 28, 2014

I have a good reason to segue to what happened after Nana Konadu had left the scene for Mrs. Kufuor and Naadu Mills. Let's first deal with Mrs. Kufuor, who sought to carve a niche for herself by also exploiting her status as the First Lady. She established a Foundation for Women and Children and made several donations at hospitals, orphanages, etc. She is the unassuming type and satisfied with her personal accomplishment as a nurse. She is not the overbearing type and deserves the right to enjoy peace in her out-of-office life.

Naadu Mills, an educationist, has a sad history to tell the world about her experiences as the First Lady. The events characterizing her relationship with Nana Konadu when she was the Second Lady (her deceased husband Atta Mills being the Vice President at the time) are still fresh in our minds. No elaboration. But in office as the First Lady, she also stepped up the game to use her status for something. Everything has now ended in smoke.

In comes Lordina Mahama, our current Ghanaian First Lady. She is all over the place, participating in activities and using her office to draw attention to what she has up her sleeves. To some critics, she is overdoing things, especially when allegations were made recently to suggest that she seeks to have a say in how appointments are made or that she is exerting needless pressure on Ministers for petty favours. I haven't had any fact to support such allegations and will not stick my neck out so early in the game.

But I am drawn to her activities all over the place in conjunction with other First Ladies on the continent, especially the Sub-Saharan part. She has gone to several countries and participated in activities earmarked for First Ladies. Now, she is in Namibia (See: https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/photo.day.php?ID=318668).

Folks, we like it that our leaders and all those capable of making the difference in governance should be actively involved in all well-intentioned endeavours. But we must be careful how we approach issues. Public money is involved in such endeavours and those spending such funds must be ready to account for their stewardship.

Now, here are some contentious issues as far as support for the activities of these First Ladies is concerned:

• Why should public funds be used to support the ventures of these so-called First Ladies?

• Why is it that it is only in Sub-Saharan Africa that there is such an Association of First Ladies that is supported by public funds?

• What is the benefit of such an association to the ordinary citizens whose sweat, toil, and blood sustain the national coffers?

• Do we have such associations in other parts of the world, if such an association is needed at all? If not, why should it be so in only Sub-Saharan Africa?

• We know that these First Ladies have their own secretariats and don’t move about alone. Security and protocol services are provided at the expense of the tax payer. Who accounts for all these expenditures? Do we really need this association for anything at all? What is it that its members can do that the substantive heads of state (their husbands) cannot do?

I have asked these questions, apparently because I am guided by the negative impact of the promiscuity of some African leaders, especially South Africa’s Jacob Zuma (who is reputed to have 7 wives) and Kenya's Mwai Kibaki (who was ridiculed to have two women, Victoria as the so-called First Lady but not really recognized as such because Kibaki had privileged his mistress over her). There are others who have too much power between their thighs and are supporting women who vie for the status of First Lady and wish they can continue enjoying life at the expense of the ordinary tax payers.

I have in mind too the numerous wives that King Mswati of Botswana has who were flown to Hong Kong about three years ago in a chartered aircraft to do shopping, spending millions of dollars on such ventures while the poor citizens languished at home. Is this what poor African countries should be shouldering? For what?

We have a good reason to be concerned at developments of this sort, especially when we consider the needless prominence being given to these wives of African leaders. We refuse to be deceived by the common saying that “behind every successful man is a woman”. Success in African politics should be measured by the extent to which the leaders have used their mandate to move their countries forward and to solve problems militating against the citizens' quest to live their lives in decency. Not until these leaders use political power to effect any positive change in the countries that they rule, any attempt to tag on their wives to them in ventures of the sort that are maturing all over the place will be misplaced and irritating.

The time has come for us to sit up and ensure that this so-called congregation of First Ladies doesn't abuse the status of their husbands to our disadvantage. Indeed, I will not hesitate to support them if I see anything concrete being done by them to improve governance. I take the case of the Nigerian First Lady, for instance, to say that her role in efforts at solving the problem posed by Boko Haram when it abducted over 200 females at Chibok doesn't warrant her being appreciated. I remember very well her despicable role, which led to the arrest of the leaders of women groupings protesting at the abduction of their children and seeking to confront the Nigerian President over the issue. Her order made it possible for the women protesters to be arrested. How?

Again, we read news reports on the wedding of this first Nigerian Family’s eldest daughter when so-called philanthropists gave expensive gifts of over 75 luxury cars to the newly-wed at the ceremony attended by the Nigerian president and his wife. All happening at a time that millions of Nigerians were complaining about the government’s inability to solve problems to give them the opportunity to live decent lives. Such a public display of obscene ostentation confounded everybody but not the beneficiaries. The Nigerian First Lady gloated over such expensive gifts, regarding them as a justified appreciation of her daughter’s status—happening at a time when the poor citizens had to siphon fuel from broken pipelines to eke out their livelihood only to be scorched in the ensuing blaze. Sickening!!

So, you see, such a woman has lost her legitimacy to represent Nigeria as a First Lady. What is she contributing to solving problems to warrant her being supported by the national coffers on her trips and participation in events under the auspices of the Association of First Ladies?

Many of her type exist all over the place, especially in countries where the leaders are written off as either grossly incompetent or dictatorial but remain in power because they know how to play their cards. What is the relevance of the First Ladies (wives of such "wash-out" leaders)? Do they deserve any respect or any support from the national coffers? I don't think so.

Folks, I am being brazen here in my opinions and don't regret doing so because I have been monitoring this issue for far too long. The time has come to draw attention to it so the public can begin agitating for a change. At least, if the First Ladies think that they have a role to play in improving governance or in establishing projects for the good of the people, they should do so.

For now, what I have observed is that they are using the auspices of their association to grow wings and be seen as power brokers. Or, at best, people who have strings to pull. Their usual "pillow-talk" may be a trump-card; but such a “pillow-talk” often comes across as suspicious and noticeably discomfiting, especially if their pieces of advice and actions don't produce the desired results.

Folks, I have spoken my mind and have no regrets for doing so. It is up to us to keep monitoring the situation so that we are not overtaken by events. These so-called First Ladies were not given any vote by the electorate, and they shouldn't be allowed to manipulate the situation to create problems.

Their husbands know that they are accountable to the citizens but they cannot run away from the influences of their wives. That is why we must be vigilant in ensuring that these First Ladies don't take undue advantage of their presence in the corridors of power to arrogate to themselves powers that they don't deserve or are not qualified for. Our democracy doesn't really recognize these First Ladies. That is why nothing about them is stated in any of the Constitutions guiding the democracies in the various countries.

We shouldn’t remain docile for them to mistake our poisde for a blank cheque to do things anyhow. If we allow them the elbow room to assume powers not due them, they will harm us in many ways; and we may wake up from our slumber only to realize how lousy we have been. The harm may not be easy to repair. African First Ladies, be careful how you do things!!

I shall return…

• E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

• Join me on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/mjkbokor to continue the conversation.

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.