Of “Idiots” and a “Lazy” President

Tue, 25 May 2010 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

May 22, 2010

The past few days have brought up some intriguing utterances from two politicians. Kwame Pianim, a founding father of the NPP gave the first salvo of irritants with his claim that “idiots” are running riot to bear the flag of the NPP to the 2012 polls. In his words, “any idiot can hold a flag.” But, to him, Professor Frimpong-Boateng is not one of them, apparently because he is technologically savvy and astute enough to be Ghana’s President in the 21st century.

This utterance evoked strong sentiments and was received with the utmost fit of anger by the NPP’s functionaries. Even the National Chairman of the NPP, Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey, was visibly scathed as he captured the bitterness against Kwame Pianim, even though he mildly described Pianim’s stance as “a disappointment.”

The second salvo came from John Akparibo Ndebugre, a former MP for Bawku Central on the ticket of the PNC who had issues with his Nkrumahist elements and dashed across the political carpet to be friends with the NPP. An irony of fate: that a pro-Nkrumahist politician will go to bed with the political family that did all it could to physically eliminate Nkrumah and perpetually eradicate his legacy from Ghana politics. But that is the fate of the Ghanaian politician when he realizes that a mere ideology cannot butter his bread.

Ndebugre said that President Mills is a lazy man. Had he clearly defined what he meant by “laziness” or given us proof of that habit, we would have understood him better. His utterance also struck raw nerves. While the NDC activists were quick to bad-mouth him, those in the NPP took his utterance in its stride and welcomed it as a true reflection of their perception of the “Asomdwehene,” Atta Mills.

These two utterances from Pianim and Ndebugre have created anxious moments and attracted diverse opinions across the political spectrum. On the surface, they may be seen as insulting and, therefore, in bad taste; but if carefully unpacked, they could be pointing us in directions that we might want to appreciate, after all. As Shakespeare says, “an insult is not more painful than when it is true.” Our own Chinua Achebe also tells us that “Hard words break no bones.” So, let these words not break anybody’s bones. Let’s rather unpack them to see what we can learn from them.

Let me tackle the “idiots” part first. Kwame Pianim’s utterance raises issues that call for a sober and qualitative reflection. If we do so, we will realize that it has enough meat in it to warrant a better response than what has emerged so far. His choice of word (using “idiots”) may be bad, but rhetorically functional.

Honestly speaking, were these not the same people out of the 17 that contested the 2008 Presidential Candidature? What has changed to add value to them? What do they think they have that Ghanaians haven’t yet seen before about their politicians? More importantly, having already participated in the 8-year rule of the NPP under John Agyekum Kufuor, what else do these contestants (apart from Dr. Frimpong Boateng) have that will drastically make them any different from what Kufuor exhibited?

Let me specifically focus on two of these aspirants to throw more light on my questions. I will leave out Professor Frimpong-Boateng on account of Pianim’s claim that he is not an “idiot.” I am dealing with the “idiots” here.


This candidate is not new in the race for the flagbearership of the NPP, having first contested it in 1996 and lost to Kufuor; then, again in 2000, and losing again. There was no competitor against Kufuor in 2004. But in 2008, Akufo-Addo contested again and Lady Luck smiled on him, even if his victory was shrouded in some controversy that helped him circumvent the party’s own constitutional provisions on the election of a flagbearer.

He stood against the NDC’s Atta Mills; won narrowly in the first round, only to lose in the second round. This twist of fate, despite all the initial bloated confidence and empty optimism of becoming Ghana’s President, seemed to have left its ugly scars on his ego; but he is determined to try his luck again, although not proving that he has learnt any useful lesson from his failed attempt. As usual, his campaign is dominated by fanfare and overshooting of his mouth as he picks up the pieces of his previous foiled efforts to make criticism of the Mills government his trump-card.

He hasn’t so far told Ghanaians what new things he will do to solve their problems. Honestly speaking, the questions for Akufo-Addo are many: What does he think he has that will make him outdo previous leaders of this country? As Kufuor’s Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, his performance fell below expectation. Moved to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he carried himself with more self-adulation than performing the functions of his office to rake in benefits through Ghana’s Foreign Missions.

Even as the NPP’s flagbearer for the 2008 elections, he went visiting the Presidents of neighbouring countries, presenting himself as a President-to-be. But he was not destined to land in Canaan. The pride of office long preceded his fall. Today, the fluff of that flagbearership is still thick on him and he is touring the country, singing the same old, worn-out and rancorous tune against the incumbent government.

What does Akufo-Addo have that places him above all the others? Is it because of his private legal practice or what? We are reminded that he had a Third Class in Economics at Legon. Granted that he improved his standing thereafter, I still am yet to be convinced that he is the leader that Ghana needs in the 21st century. A case of “idiocy” in Kwame Pianim’s dictionary?


We are told that he is also a lawyer and an entrepreneur, having headed EMPRETEC. But is that enough to recommend him as the President of Ghana? I shudder to think so. Having participated in Kufuor’s government (once as the Minister of Trade) and considering how he (mis)managed the President’s Special Initiatives (on cassava, cotton, grasscutter, etc.) and the sudden collapse of this local-level enterprise, what does he think he has that Ghanaians haven’t yet seen in their leaders and condemned?

The unhealthy competition that has been going on between him and the Akufo-Addo camp speaks volumes for why the NPP’s house got divided at the Legon Conference that chose Akufo-Addo in 2008 and why the NPP will have a tough call building trust and unity among its functionaries.

Within this context, will we say that Pianim has seen “idiots” where we haven’t? No one needs any definition of an “idiot,” especially in the sense of Ghana politics. The NPP may want to wrest power from the NDC but it must save Ghana the needless hiccups. If it must be in power, it must give Ghana a better leader than we’ve had so far.

Now, let me turn to Ndebugre’s accusation that President Mills is “lazy.” To some Ghanaians, it is hardly acceptable for such an insult to be flung at the Number One Citizen. But Ndebrugre has done so and walked away, damn the consequences. But why should he say so—and with impudence too? A careful analysis shows that this accusation may have its roots in the happenings that have characterized Ghanaian politics since the exit of the Kufuor government. Considering the numerous far-reaching promises that the NDC leaders made to overhaul the Ghanaian situation and outdo Kufuor, it appears that not much has so far been done or any indication given that much will be done for the desired drastic changes to occur. There are 968 days more to the next elections.

Honestly, the spate of criticisms that have dogged President Mills’ administration leave no one in doubt that such an accusation could have its basis in truth. While in the opposition, he led the NDC to give Ghanaians every indication that he knew what the country’s problems were and how to solve them. But now in power, his government is hamstrung, repeating the same mistakes that past governments made. There is no change to prove to Ghanaians that the NDC’s approach to national politics is markedly and positively different from that of its predecessors. In other words, the same old wine bottle remains—and it stinks flat-out of corrupt practices, materialism, selfishness, greed, and incompetence!

It has been said several times already that the country needs strong institutions to function at all levels—economic, political, social, cultural technological, etc. There seems to be no thought for this need for strengthening the institutions to enable them to perform efficiently. Thus, these weak structures are finding it difficult to do anything to give Ghanaians any hope that there is a silver lining on the horizon, at least. The emphasis is still on the “strongman” mentality.

Let’s take one very disturbing example. As Ghana prepares to begin drilling its crude oil in the last quarter of this year, one expected that by now, all the institutions that are to support this venture would have been retooled or re-organized to make them ready for the tasks ahead. What do we see? Nothing! The Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority, the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation, the Tema Oil Refinery, the Ghana Export Promotion Council, and many more are still under-prepared. Even, the operational base for the drilling activity itself has not been prepared, as we were told last week. But the equipment for initial storing of the crude oil has already been commissioned at a huge cost and is on its way to berth in the Jubilee Oilfields to make Ghana lose $1 million daily. How prepared is Ghana to do serious business in this oil sector?

A President who is not lazy will do more than what President Mills has done so far. We know he cannot be at all places at the same time (Kwame Kwakye’s “Nkrumah cannot divisible himself into twice” joke comes to mind); but he can do better than what we’ve seen of him so far. The buck ends here.

Fellow Ghanaians, Kwame Pianim and John Ndebugre might have stirred the so-called hornet’s nest; but to me, they have done so as a wake-up call. Their utterances shouldn’t be taken on their literal or face-value and condemned as a irritating. Let’s go beyond sentiments to accept the lesson they want to teach us. Within the context of national politics, whoever is the President and cannot help the country harness its abundant natural and human resources to develop must be “lazy,” right? Kwame Pianim has given reasons for labeling those aspirants as “idiots” while John Ndebugre’s opinion can only be based on inferences. The controversy rages on, and I am enjoying what I hear. Ghana’s plight may become permanent the day the electorate will elect a President who will be both an “idiot” and a “lazy” man!!

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.