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Ghana & Africa “Bedevilled”?

Ghana & Africa “Bedevilled”?

Thu, 12 Nov 2009 Source: Danso, Kwaku A.

Former Presidents Blaming Bad Leadership.

So who is to Provide the Leadership, then, including Managing Ghana?

By: Kwaku A. Danso

In the APA article published on Ghanaweb of November 7, 2009, at a conference held in Lagos (Nigeria), the former President of Ghana, John Kufuor, who had eight years from 2001 to 2008 to manage Ghana, “has blamed the underdevelopment of the African region on the leadership crisis bedevilling the continent”.

At the risk of taking long to explain, this writer takes readers on a path to examine this very serious description that has often been described in the Christian Bible, that Africa was cursed.

Ghana is a very interesting nation indeed where the word “freedom” resonates in the minds of those who are old enough to remember March 6, 1957. However, Freedom seems to have meant and end in itself to many since independence in 1957. People are free to do whatever they want; government officials do whatever they want with public funds, people can burn trash in front of their houses, nobody seems responsible to each other or the environment; and God takes care of us all.

Such atmospheres of “freedom” may seem attractive till one needs water, electricity, decent and durable built roads, to register a business, or need police services during say an armed robbery or theft at night. Government imposes duties and taxes and health insurance levies as much as they can collect and from whoever will pay, and gives no public accounting and no report to the taxpayers. Sometimes this is in the 45%-200% range at the ports, and nobody cares even to provide public toilets at such places! Many places don’t even bother issuing receipts anymore.

What the heck is the role of government in Ghana! Many in Ghana may agree that our kind of government is a place where the educated and the brave seek their livelihoods and pension.

The other interesting aspect of this scenario is that elected public officials like politicians give talks to motivate and inspire people to vote every four years, and for what else after elections nobody seems to know or care! Every Minister or Member of Parliament seems to be articulate, seem to know the problems, some using Western style business and management language; but nobody seems to know who is responsible for fixing roads, designing sewage systems or ending the construction of open gutters breeding mosquitoes! After office, all Presidents seem to look back and blame the “bad leadership”. My Gosh!

Wealth in Ghana – One factor in human and organizational development is income gap between the rich and the poor. Folks, travel and see the wealth and richness in Ghana! Towns which are rich in real estate values such as Abetifi and with Universities to add, commercial towns like Nkawkaw and Nsawam, to major cities like Tamale and rich suburbs of East Legon, are waiting for central government to send money to fix broken light bulbs and pay laborers to clean the streets, if they ever do! Tattered roads, stinky open gutters and general chaos and confusion of responsibilities and mismanagement have become so bad in Ghana volunteers often start filling potholes in rich suburbs like East Legon, a place where some prominent people and Ministers live. The volunteers erect barriers for donation but no government officials seem to notice or care. President Mills was reported to have used this illegal Motorway under-pass himself this year to attend a wedding in East Legon. Perhaps a few years down the road, God willing, he will also be an ex-president, perhaps with his own gold chain or two, and giving speeches blaming “bad leadership” in Ghana.

Education - Before Western education there was a Chief, who even though not elected, took care and was responsible. For God’s sake, who is responsible today? What kind of education did we receive from the British? Why is Leadership, Management, Budgeting, social responsibilities not taught in schools, or if taught not sticking in our brains, but our illiterate fathers who never got exposed to Western schools knew these pieces of wisdom? Ghana imposes value-added-tax and health insurance levies on imported goods from chewing gum to $100,000 bullet-proof vehicles. What values do we add to our education if we cannot cover our gutters and design new sewage systems to get rid of our own waste, to collect taxes locally and manage our own towns and communities?

Our culture celebrates, and almost worships the dead as well as living ex-Presidents, rewarding the latter with million dollar ex-gratia to build personal libraries for themselves. We forget to ask what these leaders did to cater to the children’s libraries and public parks! We forget to ask why after half a century of education and exposure to the West we have stopped hanging people on stakes as Chaka Zulu did, but go to Church Sundays and perhaps all-night Thursdays only to be at the office next day to take bribes to build houses a hundred times beyond our salaries!

In all these, where did common sense and our own individual rights go? What do constitutions, regulations, codes and laws mean if nobody obeys them. The police are not trained and equipped to respond to emergencies but can erect barriers to collect bribes, and Judges take bribes but are not punished! What is progress if simple registration of land purchase meant for same day or next day process sits for years and decades in huge notebooks with officials laughing all the way to the Banks due to the breakdown in procedures. No leader cares whiles in office but once out of office they know it’s all due to “bad leadership”!!

The records -

Let us ask: How the heck can a President who left office and left more chaos and billion of dollars in accumulated debt than he met blame leadership and not look in the mirror and include himself? Mr. J.A. Kufuor started with $6.1 Billion debt from former President Rawlings in 2001. He declared HIPC, got the international financiers to write off $3.8 Billion, took loans and grants for water and infrastructures, and left office with a $8.1 Billion accumulated debt. There has been no major expansion of the water and electricity delivery systems despite reported $603 million loans and grant from the World Bank! We do not see any non-stop highways between cities! Roads through commercial centers such as Spintex Road and the Industrial areas of Accra have potholes that will swallow a small car! Residential roads can only last a rainy season and yet civil servants claim to have engineering degrees and Ministers do not want to assign funds for the right roads to be built! In 1981 Chairman and later President Rawlings had inherited a declining economy but for 19 years no major infrastructures like durable Highways, water systems, or sewage systems were built. He left with the $6.1 accumulated debt to Ghana he did not submit himself to the firing squad as he promised he would if he did not succeed? Why are his men walking when revelations of $7 million bribes were taken from foreigners to give monopoly interest in Ghana’s only cement factory? With the revelations of names of his Ministers in European courts, will these men go to jail or once again our Presidents will overlook them for political reasons, and plead “bad leadership” after their term? Ghanaians now buy cement at Ghc 11 per bag which should not cost more than US $2.50 at retail. How can such men walk the surface of the earth and give speeches instead of hanging on stakes as Chaka would have loved to show as examples!

The Big Pretense –

Don’t get me wrong. Nobody is asking for vengeance, but people have a right to social justice. Ghanaians seems like very nice people, but what you see is not necessarily what you get! A love for Peace does not imply invitation of social injustice! What you hear from public officials could be the opposite of what the truth is. Hardly does one find a signature one can read even among Bank officials, especially the Government-owned institutions refuse to give their full name. It is next to impossible to read the numbers and letters on ATM machines at the nation’s premier Bank, Ghana Commercial Bank! Passing a freedom of information act in parliament has passed through many sessions and elected officials don’t feel the electorate have a right to even know the office numbers of Ministers and MPs! Past Presidents used to order $150,000 bullet-proof vehicles and men like Kufuor who thought they were smarter set up committees to award themselves 24 karat gold medals and ex-gratia emoluments in millions of dollars. He asked workers to receive 40% pay raises the day he was leaving office, and also asked hundreds of prisoners to be freed! What is the basis of human sanity? With such insanity, can Ghana really claim to have had leaders, let alone talk of good and bad ones?

Experience living in Ghana now, after decades of living in America becomes a lesson in human culture. Everyday has new lessons. Our people lie so badly when they don’t intend to lie, that it makes one think if any human being here will ever see Heaven often talked about in the Christian Church. Why should former Presidents who have been “leaders” (unless of course they do not understand that being President is leadership), and many agree left their nation with a worse accumulated debt burden and abandoned roads and open gutters, put the demise of African’s demise on other peoples’ leadership but their own? With shattered infrastructures such as roads, never enhancing or developing even water systems, broken down platform of communication systems except individual cellular phones, where was the leadership? Ghana is still accepting 55,000 of our people dying of malaria caused by stinky open gutters and 90% living without potable water! What is all this hypocrisy the West seems glad to hear from our former Presidents! Are the measurement criteria different for African leaders?

In the APA article published on Ghanaweb of November 7, 2009 we read that at a conference held in Lagos (Nigeria) the former President of Ghana, John Kufuor, who had eight years from 2001 to 2008 to manage Ghana, “has blamed the underdevelopment of the African region on the leadership crisis bedevilling the continent”.

What leadership crisis? What bad Leadership? Was the former President not part of that leadership? When more than 80% of Ghana cannot get potable water to drink even in the cities, high school graduates line up in the middle of traffic to sell imported chips and chewing gum or dog chains, does that represent good leadership? When a President creates national awards and spends $1.6 million on gold medals, relying on foreigners to tell him he is doing well, is that good leadership? When some school children still study under trees in Ghana, and Mr. Kufuor delights in taking the first gold medal and hangs it around his own neck, does that smell like good leadership to most?

Where is the Devil?

Nobody will doubt that the continent of Africa is “bedeviled”, whatever that means! But who is responsible? Who is the devil in the equation? Is it some invisible demon from under the earth or the very people we elect into offices who choose to enrich themselves, or the chiefs who sold our people into slavery? If we build no lasting institutions and infrastructures, and leave the nations impoverished, who is the devil! Who is the devil when Presidents ask for ex-gratia emoluments of two houses, six luxury cars, office complexes, $1 million for personal libraries, when in fact more than 90% of his people are left with no water and 78.5% live under $2 per day!

With all the religion and Church-going in Ghana, why does the devil seem to live right among us? Why is the smell of Sulfur so strong as one South American President once said? Why do we have a nation and culture where every body seems to think they can fool the other person, and make lying part of the culture? Perhaps God knows the people need religion more now than ever! Everybody seems to lie, from the men calling themselves Honorable, to the private corporations selling Internet 15k download speed as 256k and charging more than the average monthly salary of the Ghanaian! As I explained in my earlier article entitled “Short Term Mentality of Ghanaians”, everybody seems to think of only today! Mechanics would remove the thermostat in a car engine to prevent overheating today, not worrying about tomorrow. An Air-condition mechanic would short circuit the car battery to the AC charging circuit to make the AC work for today, and not worry about what will happen later to the draining on the battery for the customer! Yesterday a truck of Trasscco Valley Development Corporation, a very reputable developer in Accra, Ghana, had an accident right in front of my house and right on my front yard. With all sympathy I thought these people would have the courtesy to give me their phone and other relevant information when you cause damage to somebody’s property. They left with all the broken glass on my property and in the streets. What kind of culture is this?

Folks, why is it that normal human sensitivity to other human beings seem to be lost in our nation Ghana? Why can’t our educated people think of other human beings as human here, and the government, made of well educated human beings, behave worse than if it were in the animal kingdom! To use taxpayer funds to build personal water reservoirs and electricity generators should be considered criminal in any civilized nation! In Ghana this is the standard procedure for elected and some even spend $100,000 to $300,000 to renovate and furnish their government-provided bungalows.

Paying the Price hurts all –

Ordinary people also learn to cheat as they observe the public theft. Delegates to Ghana’s democratic political party conventions were reported to demand and charge from $200 to $300 each and that has become documented practice in Ghana’s elections for some time now. It is illegal, it is bribery, and it is outrageous to buy votes! But who is looking?

The other day I rolled down my power windows to buy some oranges in one of the side stands in East Legon. The young woman, with a smile, told me the price was C1.00 each. I did not buy it, recalling that we had brought the same type oranges at five or ten times lower prices before. Ghana’s oranges are very bitter, and so the woman had insisted these were very good-tasting, and even gave me a sample to taste. She told me the price after the taste test. My Gosh! Has Ghana become that expensive or does my power windows deserve a 5 to 10 times the price increase? This area has many who ride in vehicles purchased with the taxpayer stolen funds. So perhaps the young lady felt I was one of them and could also get her share if I was naïve about the market!

I am not suggesting by any means that prices should be uniform in Ghana or any society. In a free society in an open negotiation called “arms length” negotiation where people are supposed to have decent amount of information, prices should be determined between buyer and seller. However, this is where ethics comes in. Two weeks ago I held a small indoor seminar among some workers on my site on why Ghanaian workers do lousy jobs, and if they do not expect to be called again for referral business when they do a lousy job. One carpenter, referred to me by a friend, had figured out a problem and I was beginning to like him. I gave him Ghc 100 to buy some paint and turpentine to finish some door work he was working in. It’s been two weeks and he has not shown up again to complete the work, and neither responded to any of my text messages or calls. My only luck was going to the store with him to buy some of the materials and bringing them home – so the money left is not much. Was this the same young man, a man who has lost his front teeth and reminded me of Kwesi Pratt Jr. (when I met him in 1991 in Dallas), and who was giving me the inside details on a hypothesis of poor quality service and short term mentality of most Ghanaian artisans and craftsmen!

Of the more than twenty craftsmen and workers I have dealt with over the last few years in Ghana, less than one in twenty have shown an interest in the future referral I could give them, and hence as a motivation for good quality work. As I was writing this, I stopped to deal with a mason. I showed him the driveway he did some four years ago which are crumbling into dust despite the garage not even being used by vehicles. He only smiled. He got the message. So who is the devil, then?

Education –

Folks, one would have thought that half a century of western education would have helped enforce some ethics and sense of social morality and responsibility. There was a time when men would shake hands on a contract and call it a deal. Trust me, folks, today when you sign a contract with people, even and especially people who have had exposure to Western education, it means nothing here! Everybody seems to think just because they have had Western education they deserve to reap where they have now sown! Puritanical ethics or concepts of work and gain, sow and reap have given way to concepts of how one can use his education to gain quick bucks from public coffers. Public purse seems to mean not much for the public workers, and for the men at the top, taking $50,000 for their personal vehicles and $30,000 for housing right at the beginning of a session seems normal. My Gosh! This goes all the way to the President of our nation. In 2001 President Kufuor had 4 bullet-proof Toyota Landcruiser vehicles ordered for half a million dollars. His Chief of Staff, Kwabena Agyepong, later as contestant for the 2007 Presidential candidacy of his NPP party, explained arrogantly that every President since the first President Nkrumah had ordered luxury vehicles and hence it was not an issue.

Education seems to make public thievery an art and a science within complicated laws and regulations of who signs what, which committee recommends which ex-gratia or pro-gratia emoluments. Weak Presidents who seems to want to please everybody, seem to have no power to reverse unconstitutional public thefts by parliament for themselves and the President. So what is the president talking about by suggesting that leadership is the problem in Africa? Are they not part of the leadership?

Skilful Thievery –

The idea of a President to have control over the finances of a nation, perhaps through some complicated maneuvering of who he selects as Ministers and civil servants, should be considered not only unethical and immoral, but criminal in nature. It is public theft that must be punished with imprisonment and total disgrace of any President of any nation! In Ghana in the 2000s, this has become the norm. Parliament seems paralyzed once the President signs an $80,000 housing and car allowances the Parliament has approved for themselves. Four or eight years down the road when a President like Kufuor selects a committee who recommends he gets a $3.5 million package including 2 houses, 6 luxury vehicles and $1 million cash for his library, nobody thinks about it! It is public theft at it’s most legal way!

Within families, of course it’s worse! Folks, the nation of Ghana has lost something since some of us were children! There was a time people, I mean human beings, could be trusted by their word. In fact there was a time people could be trusted based on the way they dressed and spoke and their level of education of profession. Please be careful. Today those theories and measuring criteria fail. Today big men, respectable men, men who have presented themselves as Honorable men, well educated men and well dressed men, men who have been voted for by the people, can lie right through their teeth and do what is opposite what they professed to do! By Gosh! What has happened to education and ethics in the Ghanaian society? Some comfort themselves by comparing the Ghanaian to Nigerian, but who cares for such comparison! Is one theft better than another?

Culture and Ethics - So then, why?

One may be tempted to ask why. Some nations may even be tempted to make theories and issue travel warnings through their Embassy websites. Is the Ghanaian, the African, the black man more inclined to crime than the Westerner? Does unethical behavior have anything to do with nation of country or race? In one chapter in my book “Leadership Concepts and the Role of Leadership in Africa: The Case of Ghana” (2007), I compared the concepts and characteristics of discipline in Singapore, with that of the selected Western nations, and that of Ghana. My conclusion was that there is a correlation between Economic development and discipline. However, if the Ghanaian or African can travel to America or UK or Germany and perform equally well on the job, without showing signs of indiscipline or more prone to lies, laziness or other social crimes or unethical behavior, then it was very difficult to put the blame on race or even nationality. It was all culture! In Ghana it is the culture of weak enforcement of crimes and punishment, both among the traditional society and even enforcing the laws. Judges in Ghana have been known to accept any reason to postpone cases, with some land cases taking an average of ten or more years!

Whiles not trying to advocate the acceleration of justice without cause, it is only common sense that not all crimes can be solved in this world and hence delay and multiple postponement in judicial cases only helps limit the right and incentive of people to resort to the Western system of justice, or to respect it. Politicians and those associated with existing governments have gotten away with millions of dollars vanishing from public coffers. The dilemma of a new President Atta Mills trying to be careful is a case in point. In over ten months in office, not a single case has been brought to conclusion in a court of law. People have a right to ask the value of the white-man’s (Western) court system! People have a right to ask why their tax money should be paying wig-wearing old men and women who cannot make a decision when our uneducated Chiefs and leaders could deliver justice faster and sometimes fairer! Can we Africans think for ourselves? If not, then where is the devil?

Our leaders –

The purpose of this article was not to give theories but to examine why former Presidents of Ghana such as Jerry Rawlings, J.A. Kufuor, seem to think that leadership was the problem in Africa and yet when in office, according to the opinion of many writers, these leaders did not seem to deliver much that the future generations could be proud of. Leadership, by any means one measures involves not just speaking to the public to inspire them to vote for them, but also to intellectually stimulate people, inspire and motive them to higher achievement, and to manage resources to provide opportunities for the people’s human development and socio-economic well being. Whiles many managers can manage resources, when leaders are able to care for their people enough to solve problems and provide the necessary opportunities, for them to aspire to higher levels, the leaders are described as transformational leaders.

It is not known what the former President means be “bedeviling”, but it is hoped he does not mean that it is the devil that is in charge in his native country of Ghana. We must not forget that former President Rawlings has also given speeches where he has blamed Africa’s woes on leadership. It is known that Mr. Rawlings has not hesitated to even blame his colleague former President Kufuor for Ghana’s woes. In fact Mr. Rawlings has also blamed the current President Mills, his former Vice President, for not being quick enough on his feet to provide the leadership expected. President Mills in previous speeches also seem to have blamed leadership as one of Africa’s core problems.

Ghana is a very peace-loving nation and we rather suffer injustice than see war. However, social justice is part of peace. Despite the talk, Ghanaians know that President Rawlings took over Ghana illegally in a coup and has not been tried for that treasonous act due to an indemnity clause he inserted in a constitution he pushed to be written before the 1992 elections. It is very hard to argue that a eleven year old military dictatorship that transformed itself into a civilian political party can teach ethics. However, as issues of illegal and criminals acts are being revealed, it is expected that President Mills’s government will have the guts and integrity to use the law to evaluate and prosecute, and set a good example. We can only blame our suffering on others for so long. If we cannot enforce our laws and regulations, and if we cannot push paid public servants to perform, then the devil has nothing to do with this! Let’s all leave the devil out of this, and demand performance from our leaders when they are in office! That is a requirement of democracy! As Shakespeare once wrote, using the words of Mark Antonio “The fault is not in our stars, but in us”! Let us call, write, meet, confront and simply just push and demand our leaders to perform whiles in office and not blame others after the leave office!!

Dr. Kwaku A. Danso, (Email: k.danso@comcast.net)

East Legon, Accra, Ghana

Columnist: Danso, Kwaku A.