Can Ghana Honour Her Heroes—Like Spio-Garbrah?

Fri, 17 Dec 2010 Source: Dowuona, Samuel

Chairman Emeritus, Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation, Anthony de Bono writes

In 10 days, Christmas will be here again, a time of good tidings towards all men. For us Christians, a time of merry-making but also a time for reflection, introspection, of atonement, and for forgiving those who may have offended us during the year, even as Christ forgave those who crucified him. Yuletide is also a time for exchanging gifts, and in my case, in this article, for expressing my bonds of friendship and solidarity with the wonderful people of Ghana.

As a citizen of Malta, a rather small island country in the middle of the Mediterranean, I have grown up with a culture of being a global citizen, and often taking interest in developments on the large continent of Africa which is only 30 minutes air-flight from my country. Malta also, over the centuries, has had close contact and indeed invasions and occupations by Arabs, Italians and British. As such, the citizens of my country have mostly been brought up with an internationalist spirit and an open attitude to the world.

It is against this background that while working as a young man in my twenties, as a Personal Assistant and Confidant to former Maltese Ministers and indeed Prime Ministers, I took interest not only in global affairs but was on many occasions requested to undertake very delicate political, diplomatic and personal assignments on their behalf. These personal assignments took me to meetings with other Presidents, Prime Ministers, Monarchs, Sheikhs and Emirs, as well as with many men of God—Mullahs, Cardinals and Rabbis. Meeting CEOs and other heads of international enterprises, ambassadors and the like were part of my daily routine. As such, I got to know quite a bit about human nature, and about the personalities, the character strengths and flaws of many important people.

In the course of time, I myself was appointed by my country as General Manager (i.e. chief executive) of TeleMalta, in those days when fixed-line incumbent telephone companies were seen as part of government ministries or departments. In that position, I became affiliated and actively involved in the programmes of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO). While working in ITU and European telecoms circles, I no doubt became aware of the exploits of a Ghanaian Under-Secretary of the United Nations, Mr Kofi Annan, who was then traversing the globe, from Iraq to Korea, and from Venezuela to East Timor, and to Serbia and newly independent former Soviet states, trying to bring peace to many troubled lands. Although I did not know Ghana well at the time, I began to be a fan of the country simply by being an admirer of the energetic exploits of this man who is as modest in size as myself. I soon would find myself reading more about Ghana and noticing ordinary news stories which made a reference to Ghana. I had become a silent and unknown fan of Ghana. In due course, Mr Annan became Secretary-General of the Union and won a Novel Prize for his efforts, a great credit to Ghana.

When Mr. Kofi Annan retired from the UN, many Europeans that are not that familiar with Ghana’s politics assumed that he might be heading home for elevation to the Presidency or some other important national appointment, just as one of his predecessors, Kurt Valdheim of Austria, had done. But it would seem that the waters of Ghana’s politics run deeper than it may seem to outsiders, and Mr Annan avoided what may have ended up as a besmirching of his carefully acquired image overseas. That development saddened me as a Ghana-watcher, as it implied that Ghana was not able to make the most of the knowledge, experience, contacts, and global influence of a worthy son.

This when I read recently a press release from the CTO announcing that Dr. Spio-Garbrah, its CEO, would be stepping down voluntarily from that post next year. I began once again to reflect on Ghana. Here was another high-profile son of Ghana, I thought to myself, who may be able to assist his country in ways most of his countrymen will not understand, but who could choose to live overseas forever—as Mr Annan may be doing-- and yet whose countrymen may reject him if he tried to help them.

But, back to my story. By the late 1990s, I had also become active in the affairs of the CTO, and became the representative of Malta on the CTO’s Governing Council. In 2002, I was elected as a Vice Chairman of the CTO Council. During the same year, I was nominated by my country Malta as a candidate for the prestigious position of Secretary-General of the ITU, but had to withdraw when a powerful Japanese delegation subsequently called on Malta’s government and urged it to support a Japanese candidate for the same position. Malta’s relative small size in world affairs had lost out, so I fully understand today when capable people who may not have financial resources lose out in international or national political battles.

In the fullness of time, I had the privilege of being amongst a 6-person international interview and selection panel that identified Dr. Spio-Garbrah to become CEO of the CTO in 2003 from amongst a pool of more than 100 candidates. In recommending Dr. Spio-Garbrah to the member-states of the CTO, including Ghana, for their no-objection to this appointment, the Executive Committee of the CTO, at the time, of which I was Vice President, was convinced that Ghana had indeed made available another worthy son who could serve the Commonwealth and the international community effectively and faithfully. In fact, I take full responsibility for requesting at his interview that then Mr. Spio-Garbrah use his honorary title of “Dr”, as such is a common practice in my own country. As a result of this, when his CTO business cards were eventually printed for him, the title “Dr” became a part of his new CTO identity.

As the world can now easily attest, Dr. Spio-Garbrah, since his assumption of office, has distinguished himself in many respects and lifted very high the flag of Ghana amongst the 50-plus member countries of the Commonwealth and has succeeded in also attracting a number of non-Commonwealth countries and institutions (e.g. Rwanda, Southern Sudan, Finland’s Nokia, Germany’s Nokia Siemens Networks, RIM of Canada, and Ericsson of Sweden) to become CTO members. This year the telephone company with probably the largest number of employees, BSNL of India, with some 300,000 staff members, joined the CTO. Dr. Spio-Garbrah over the last seven years, has diversified the service and product offerings of the CTO, and rejuvenated and professionalized the staff of the CTO. He has helped to bring stability into the Organisation by mobilising CTO member states and institutions to purchase a permanent office building for the Organisation in London, thus putting an end to an expensive practice of the Organisation in renting office space in London for more than 100 years.

When I became Chairman of the CTO from 2004-2006, I was so impressed with the performance of your distinguished countryman that I encouraged him to consider presenting himself as a candidate for the position of Secretary-General of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), when that post became available in 2006—the very post I myself had to withdraw from in 2002. Although Dr. Spio-Garbrah was not personally enthusiastic about this possibility, I travelled to London on one occasion to meet the Ghanaian Foreign Minister at the time, Hon. Nana Akufo-Addo, at the Ghana High Commission in London, to persuade him to get the Government of Ghana to nominate Dr. Spio-Garbrah as a candidate. Present at that meeting was the High Commissioner, H.E. Mr. Isaac Osei. My view then and now was that Dr Spio-Garbrah’s capabilities far exceeded the requirements of the CTO, and Ghana was under-utilising him. I wanted Ghana to make the most of this illustrious citizen of theirs.

Not having received satisfaction in my meeting with the Foreign Minister, I undertook to travel to Ghana in the company of Dr. Spio-Garbrah, who I now called Ekwow. We met then Vice President Aliu Mahama at the Castle Osu, in the presence of then Deputy Communications Minister, Benjamin Aggrey-Ntim, in order to pursue this matter, on behalf of Ghana. The Ghanaian government at the time, formed by the NPP, was understandably not enthused about my proposals, as Dr Spio-Garbrah was a well-known member of the opposition NDC party. Even then, there were many people I met in the NPP government as well as ordinary Ghanaians I met in hotel lobbies and wherever we went, who attested to Dr. Spio-Garbrah’s leadership qualities. Thus, Ghana lost a great opportunity to elevate one of its own, who could have followed the footsteps of the former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, as a great official of the UN.

During my very brief visit to Ghana in September 2005, Ekwow brought me to visit then yet-to-be-President Prof. Atta Mills campaign headquarters at Kuku Hill in Osu, hoping to meet Prof Mills, but in his absence, we exchanged greetings with the Mills campaign staff. We visited the home of General Henry Smith, now Defence Minister of Ghana, and Ekwow also drove me to the home of Mr. Ato Ahwoi, who he described at the time as a close associate and one of his own friends and political collaborators. Mr Ahwoi received us well and we had a pleasant conversation. I understand Mr Ahwoi is now in charge of the national petroleum company. We also stopped by the house of another friend of Ekwow, Alhaji Mahama Iddrisu, whose wife I am told is now Attorney General and Minister of Justice. What surprised me, as a European, is that Ekwow drove to these wonderful homes without any appointments, and was readily ushered in with little formality. Ekwow’s response to my “white man’s surprise”, was that friends do not need appointments to visit each other in Ghana. Unknown to me, I was meeting with the very next crop of Ghanaian leaders.

Since completing my term of office as CTO Chairman in December 2006, I have nevertheless followed the progress of Dr Spio-Garbrah very closely, feeling a certain sense of personal responsibility for ensuring his success at the CTO. In the process, I have also been fully aware of his political activities in Ghana and have assumed that Ghana could benefit from his formidable background and expertise in many fields. It has therefore come to me us a surprise to be reading on various Ghanaian websites—which I monitor quite closely through Google—that Dr Spio-Garbrah gets abused quite often by people who cannot know him well. Indeed, I read last year on various Ghanaian websites, that Mr Ahwoi, to whose house Dr. Spio-Garbrah and myself were warmly welcomed, had openly attacked Dr Spio-Garbrah personally for simply expressing certain views in a Ghanaian newspaper.

As a foreigner, I do not intend to get involved in the domestic politics of Ghana. But as someone who has come to love Ghana and Ghanaians and have a personal close working relationship with Dr. Spio-Garbrah and have to come to know the very high esteem in which he is held both in Malta and internationally, I suspect I shall be doing Ghana a great disservice if I remained quiet about these adverse developments. Ghana is a highly respected African country. Its international civil servants and diplomats are known to be amongst the best. Here in Malta, Dr. Spio-Garbrah is personally known to several Past Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ministers and leading business executives, nearly all of whom measure their affection for Ghana through their knowledge of him. Indeed, I have had occasion to compliment him highly at a lunch in Malta for Commonwealth Foreign Ministers that was attended by then Foreign Minister Akufo-Addo as well as Ambassador Isaac Osei in November 2005, as part of the events of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (CHOGM). It is my considered view, as a seasoned political observer in Malta and former Personal Advisor to Cabinet Ministers and Prime Ministers for decades, that many in your government may not be aware of the harm they are doing to Ghana’s image abroad when they attack the personality of Dr. Spio-Garbrah, rather than simply state their arguments in opposition to his views and opinions.

It is against this backdrop that I have been compelled to write comments and notes on some of the Ghanaian websites where I have read news and commentaries about Dr. Spio-Garbrah that I consider untrue or misguided, or where I believe Ghana’s reputation is being harmed. Indeed, on one occasion on www.myjoyonline, I had offered to mediate, if requested, between Dr Spio-Garbrah and those in the NDC Party and the Government who have issues with him. I even wrote directly to H.E. Prof Atta Mills, to offer myself as a mediator if necessary. I got no response. I did this on my own initiative without the knowledge of Dr. Spio-Garbrah, merely out of love for Ghana and its people. I hope that in the spirit of Christmas, Ghanaians, irrespective of their political affiliations or even differences within a party, will focus on the many challenges which should unite them rather than the petty issues which may divide them.

In the process, I hope that Ghanaians will also learn that for those of us foreigners who love your country, any time you attack your most respectable citizens such as Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Mr Kofi Annan, President Atta Mills, Mr Jerry Rawlings, or Dr. Spio-Garbrah, it makes us wonder about Ghana’s future. And I am sure other well-qualified Ghanaians in the Diaspora who can help Ghana, are bound to be hesitant in their commitment to the motherland if they reach the conclusion that Ghana is a country which is unable and unwilling to honour its heroes.

Columnist: Dowuona, Samuel