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, Lessons in Foreign Relations and Diplomacy.
By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK
The latest batch of Wikileaks revelations on Ghana appear to have been more explosive and perhaps, damaging to individual politicians, the two former Presidents, the President, the Presidential candidate of the main opposition party, the two main political protagonists (NDC and NPP), some individuals and Ghana as a whole than the first one. As usual, and in typical NDC/NPP hegemony, the matter has turned into a battle field and a civil war of words, explanations, analysis, evaluations, reviews, interpretations and misinterpretations have begun on the airwaves, at television studios and in the print media. There is a raging competition between NDC and NPP over who has suffered the most collateral damage and they are engaged in conducting exorcisms of damage limitation. Yet again, the two main political parties are subjecting Ghanaians to a contest of the nastiest similar to an orgy of a pride ferociously devouring a kill in the Serengeti. In the midst of this melee of political conundrum and as it were the previous revelations, there is the danger of politicians, political parties, experts and the nation not learning lessons, if any, from these diplomatic and foreign relations blunder by some of the very people who are supposed to protect and safeguard the interests of the country. In this article, I will try to consider some of the lessons that Ghanaian politicians, experts, journalists and ordinary people can learn from the Wikileaks revelations, particularly, if and when they come into contact with foreign diplomats and representatives of foreign organisations, including international ones such as the UN in the future.
What is interesting is the apparent shock and element of surprise from them about the contents of the revelations and the subsequent analysis, evaluation and interpretations by the foreign diplomats of what was said to them by Ghanaians. I get the impression from the responses from some of the individuals named and or their representatives that they were naive and did not appreciate the magnitude that could have been placed on whatever information that were provided to foreign diplomats. This naivety is surprisingly shocking to me that the calibre of the personalities involved did not have an iota of idea that foreign diplomats, first and foremost, represent nothing but the interests of their respective countries. Of course, it is shocking and unusual that these confidential conversations and discussions (not secrets) have been exposed and made public because they were not meant for public consumption, let alone the global exposure thanks to Wikileaks. For the individuals to behave naively as we now know is inexplicable, inexcusable, unacceptable and a betrayal of their national responsibility to protect the interest of Ghana. I say this because, the personalities include among others, Presidents, ministers and security experts who ought to and must have known that any information given would be used in the best interest of the foreign country and her allies, and to the disadvantage of Ghana. For example (my apology for singling out one), Ex-President Kufuor once served as Deputy Foreign Minister and must have known that Ghanaian diplomats abroad do provide feedback and analyses from information obtained from conversations with politicians, public officials and citizens of the countries of their accreditation. Once received, officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Accra would subject the information to further interrogation and analysis that may form the basis of foreign policy objectives on specific issues or Ghana’s foreign relations with certain countries. Unless, Ghanaian diplomats abroad are serving their own interests and not that of Ghana, so they do not provide such feedback to Ghana government, then he could be forgiven.
The debate and the political discourse on the Wikileaks revelations have become a cliché, with both NDC and NPP subjecting themselves to suffering from opportunist amnesia by adopting selective approaches to issues that are detrimental to their opponent. The concepts of reality and objectivity have become hostages and alien to political discourse in Ghana. For example, when asked whether everything in Wikileaks should be accepted as the truth, with the exception of Allotey Jacobs (who describes himself as the educated fisherman and also bears the title of Communication Director of Central Region NDC), leading members of NDC and NPP are all hesitant to answer this simple question. At the same time, these politicians opportunistically stand firm and are adamant that what is reported and attributed to their opponents are the absolute truth. What a contradiction and on what planet are these politicians from (Mars or Venus)? Give me a break! It is as if these people have lost their analytical skills and any sense of objectivity. So far and from what I have read, it is true that some of the revelations are facts, many are the views and opinions of individuals, whilst others are the interpretations and conclusions drawn by diplomats. They have also forgotten or do not know that not all facts are true. How can all the facts be true simply because they came from Presidents, ministers, experts and foreign diplomats? Have we soon forgotten that an American President and a British Prime Minister concocted and conjured evidence as facts and presented them to the world that Sadam Hussien had weapons of mass destruction in order to justify the Iraqi war? Most of us, including myself believed the evidence and supported the war only for us to know that the evidence were not even facts but they were fabricated and massaged to look credible and appear as true.
Another disturbing aspect of the discourse is the apparent impression that, such confidential reports by foreign diplomats to their governments occur only at the American Embassy. Ghanaians should wake up because it is done by all foreign missions and sometimes by representatives of multinational corporations. In fact, they even do it to and among themselves. For example, American Embassy officials meet with their colleagues from friendly and allied Embassies and High Commissions to share and compare information and at the same they also form opinions (positive and negative) on their counterparts and report such opinions to their home governments. This game does not end there but cuts across governments. US governments have their views on British governments and vice-versa. For example, I once read an article in the Guardian newspaper by a reporter who claimed to have been granted special access to President Obama’s e-mails. Though some of the e-mails were jokes, some were serious even if they were jokes. For example, one was the view of Obama on the then British government and the opposition just before the UK general elections in 2010. It said among things that, British governments follow US governments blindly and would do whatever a US government asks of them. They were like her daughters’ puppy, once offered its favourite biscuit it would just follow whoever offered the biscuit. On the opposition, the e-mail added that even the next lot (the Conservative Party) would even be easier to control. Though these were jokes, in reality that is the world view and possibly, the view of the US on British governments. It is an open secret that British Conservative governments are more accommodating to US governments (whether Democrats or Republicans) than Labour governments (with the exception of Tony Blair’s era).
Without going through the specific issues contained in the leaks, I just want to analyse what was attributed to the Trade Minister regarding the choice of the Speaker of Parliament. I personally do not see the big deal on this because politics is a game of manipulations and machinations for political advantage. This is not new, it happens all the time including international organisations. For example, His Excellency, Mr Kofi Anann was only to serve one term as UN Secretary General but because the Americans wrongly or rightly felt that he would do their bidding, he got a second term. Again, the present Speaker of the British Parliament (House of Commons) was supported by the Labour government and the party during the contest despite the fact that he was from the Conservative Party. That was tactical because the government wanted to embarrass the Conservative Party by forcing the party to support a party member they considered to be too far on the left of the party and would not normally have supported since he was considered more likely to do the bidding of the Labour government. So NDC’s decision informing the choice of the Speaker was business as usual and the Minister did nothing wrong by sharing the reasons with the diplomats, though her view that the Speaker could be manipulated was undiplomatic and cuts a slur on her judgement as a minister.
The understanding of Ghanaian politicians and officials on secrets and confidentiality is also interesting to me. Here, let me share my childhood experience on the two subjects. As a five year old boy, my late parents decided to send my three year old sister to live with our late maternal grandmother who had a slight disability and so was unable to carry things on her head. The objective was for the little girl to assist her grandmother with, especially the daily chores of fetching water from the riverside in rural Ghana at the time (my sister was named after our grandmother). Please do not ask me how a three-year old girl could have achieved our parents’ aim. It did not work so I was also dispatched to live with them two years later for the same purpose (our grandmother had just been widowed and lived in a different town). I arrived to realise that my little sister had been pampered into a spoilt child who even resented my arrival since she now had to share with me whatever she used to get from our grandmother. Unfortunately, one day, my five year old sister joined the play ground gossip on an open secret about a woman. The gossip got to the woman who lodged a complaint with our grandmother. For the first time, I saw that my grandmother was very angry with her little idol (or devil in my view). That night, she sat the two of us down and lectured us on gossips, secrets and confidentiality. According to her, there were nothing like secrets on earth but only confidentiality, so if we should ever gossip, we should only say what is defensible so that if the gossip became public we would not be embarrassed. Secrets were only with the dead whilst the living had only confidentiality, therefore whatever we say to someone would one day come out in the open. These were too philosophical for a seven year old boy and five year old girl to comprehend. However, the way my grandmother reprimanded her favourite grandchild for her unacceptable behaviour was enough for me to learn a lesson and avoid talking negative about others. That has been my own principle up till now.
I share this experience with Ghanaian politicians and officials to know that there are no secrets as it is commonly said that, whatever goes up must come down. I agreed with my late grandmother that, a secret is only secret if and only if it is known to the dead and not the living. Even if it is known to one person and that person is living, it is confidential as far s/he does not put it in the public domain or share it with others. I have modified my late grand’s concept of secrets in view of the availability of DNA technology. Today, DNA technology has made it possible to even reveal some secrets of the dead. Ghanaians should show maturity, decorum, be candid and above all, put the interest of Ghana first when sharing their views on national issues with foreigners (whether diplomats, representatives of foreign companies, immigrants or visitors). They may sympathise with you but may not necessarily have the same interests as you. In fact, in most cases their interests may dialectically be opposed to yours.
What have been revealed could potentially cause tensions and even conflicts in Ghana if NDC/NPP single minded partisan politics is applied as the modus operandi with which to assess and analyse the various allegations. There were unpalatable words about individuals, political parties, religious and ethnic groups that could further polarise, deepen and widen the fault lines between the two political dynasties, ethnic and religious groups in Ghana. They also have the potential to degenerate into other strife (political, religious and ethnic) in Ghana if not managed with care and maturity especially, in an electoral year when fierce and combustive competition is expected between followers of the two parties.
Ghana as a nation should learn from the Wikileaks revelations that diplomats and other foreign organisations in Ghana are only interested in their own interest first, so it is time for them to fight for and protect the interests of their beloved Ghana as a collective. Let’s the revelation unify rather than further separate the two main political parties. Both NDC and NPP do not come out any better and neither of them may escape the negative consequences of the revelations in 2012. They do not have to bare all their differences, difficulties and challenges before foreign diplomats to secure assistance. The foreign diplomats are not superior to them. This should be a one time opportunity in a lifetime that NDC and NPP must welcome it with open arms and humble themselves as well as do away with their ego in order to assess, analyse, evaluate and review their relationships with all foreign diplomats, organisations, businesses and others in the future. They must also reassess the relationship between them for the good of politics in Ghana. Instead of arguing over who said what and who comes off worst, they should concentrate their energy on the collective lessons they can draw from their mistakes. Again, they should bear in mind that, there may be more and even potentially explosive ones yet to come and prepare themselves ready to take whatever would be thrown at them in the future.
Instead of the blame game and each party trying to portray the other as the nasty one, I suggest they constitute a bi-partisan or inter-party group that would identify the lessons to be learnt and issue a collective apology to individuals, groups that have been offended and embarrassed and to Ghanaians as a whole for their shortcomings. To err is human and since Presidents, ministers, politicians, experts and journalists are all human, they will make mistakes. What is important is for them is to learn from the mistakes so as to not only avoid them in the future but to improve and be better at what is expected of them. That is what differentiates the human race from all other animals. Wikileaks will come and go but it would be an unforgettable error of almost catastrophic proportion, if no lessons are learnt.
Would Wikileaks have had anything damaging to reveal had my late grand mum met with the US diplomats? I doubt it, so my advice is, please give serious consideration to her philosophy on gossips, secrets and confidentiality. Gossip in high places by highly respectable personalities is damaging to them, their victims and the nation. The only benefactor is Wikileaks. I am sure the Americans have learnt their lessons but what about Ghanaians and Ghana?
Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK
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