Opinions Thu, 3 Mar 2011

Quoting Mills, Akufo-Addo 'Out of Context'

By Manasseh Azure Awuni

It was Mahatma Gandhi who once said that “freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.” Fallibility is part of human nature. It is therefore important that we accept our mistakes when we err.

Politicians, especially those in our part of the world are, however, yet to come to terms with this reality and acknowledge their mistakes, especially in speech. Instead, they and their “spokespersons” always try to justify the unjustifiable and defend the indefensible. “I have been quoted out of context,” they would protest. This is not new in this country, but for the purpose of this piece, I’ll limit myself to two recent issues.

President John Evans Atta-Mills was very clear on the Ivorian crises during his encounter with the media on January 7. The president did not speak with water in his mouth. Neither did he speak Latin. His response was so clear and straightforward that one needed no special skills in the Queen’s Language to understand him. But some people would later behave as though the president spoke a coded language, which could be be decoded by only a select few.

The president said that Ghana would not contribute troops if ECOWAS would carry out its threat of using “legitimate force” to oust Laurent Gbagbo; that in his opinion (forgetting he has no personal opinion once he remains the President of Ghana) military action was not the best way to resolve the crises; that it was not Ghanaians who should choose a president for Cote d’Ivoire; that he was a believer in quiet diplomacy; and that we should mind our own business and not interfere in the internal politics of other countries.

It was on that day that another mythical meaning of the plain old Fante expression, “Dzi wo fie asem” or “mind your own business” was hatched.

As expected, the president came under a barrage of criticisms for betraying ECOWAS and committing a “diplomatic blunder” for openly stating Ghana’s position. But was President Mills wrong in opting for a non-violent approach to the Ivorian crises?

The crab has nothing to lose if the animal kingdom decides that heads must be severed in order to solve a problem. The same can, however, not be said of the headed animals. For some ECOWAS, African Union and Western powers, there is nothing to lose if Cote d’Ivoire is in flames today. A few of their citizens will be airlifted and that will be all. Ghana, however, has a lot to lose.

Our infatuation with our newly found oil is peerless, and we behave as though our very survival for the rest of our national life depends on it. How difficult would it be for enemy forces to drop and explosive in our oil rig if we’re too ignorant to attack Cote d’Ivoire? Would we have gone or come?

Besides, it is estimated that over one million Ghanaians live in that country. This number does not include the many Ghanaians along the border who transact daily business there. Does the bullet discriminate between nationalities?

What is more, the decision to use military force was ill-conceived even if it had good motives. If America with all its military might and with support of other powerful NATO forces have failed woefully in Iraq and Afganistan, what is the guarantee that West Africa would succeed? Or do we think attacking a formidable national army like Cote d’Ivoire is like attacking a bully husband to save his wife?

How many West African countries have the moral courage to commit troops to attack Cote d’Ivoire when their own elections have been wrought with unthinkable degrees of rigging?

Nigeria, which is one of the few ECOWAS members to rely on in terms of contributing forces, is voting in April. Nigeria’s trial-and-error democracy should not permit them to commit troops to a foreign land. Have our elders not said that a wise man does not go chasing rats when his roof in flames?

So on that score President Mills was right. The timing and the public declaration was however wrong. He also went too far when he said that we should mind our own business.

It was therefore not surprising that when the BBC decided to use the president’s “Dzi wo fie asem” as their wise saying for the day, listeners who texted reacted in a way that put Ghana in bad light. Indeed, we called for it.

The Foreign Affairs Minister, Alhaji Mohammed Mumuni, ended up confusing listeners the more when he accused the BBC of quoting the president out of context and tried to explain. The “dzi wo fie asem” statement is not justifiable under any context as far as the Ivorian crises are concerned.

In the 2008 elections, President Mills’ National Democratic Congress (NDC) won by an extremely slim margin – 0.46. If the New Patriotic Party (NPP) had decided to hold the nation to ransom by refusing to hand over, would anyone have been happy if the international community decided to “mind their own business?” Would Ghana not have go

ne “the way of Kenya,” which was still bleeding from electoral wounds?

What Ghana should have been honest and bold enough to do was adopt the NPP’s stance: “We believe Gbagbo’s removal is non-negotiable. What is negotiable is how that should be achieved.” We can never mind our own business under any context. And we cannot pretend not to have seen the injustice Gbagbo is doing to his country, democracy and the rule of law.

Another incident in which “quoting out of context” again emerged as a strong defence is Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo’s “all die be die” statement in the Eastern Region recently. That statement was unfortunate, very reckless and uncalled for. Unfortunately, party stalwarts have staunchly defended it.

The events that came in the wake of Nana Akufo-Addo’s statement also confirmed how hypocritical some so-called advocates for democracy and the rule of law in the country are. When Joy FM’s Super Morning Show host, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, tried to get “independent” minds to comment on the issue, he later announced that the democracy and governance experts had refused to comment. It took a long time for Mr. Franklin Cudjoe of Imani Ghana came out to condemn the comments.

I also read with shock Mr. Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh’s defence of Nana Addo’s statement in the Thursday February 17, 2011 edition of the Daily Graphic titled, ‘All die be die.’ Mr. Boadu-Ayeboafoh decided to go the way of the politicians by “contextualizing” the “All die be die” statement. He however, ended up defeating himself when he argued on the premise of context. The extreme contexts in which the two apostles of non-violence – Martin Luther King Junior and Mahatma Gandhi – made the statements Mr. Boadu-Ayeboafoh quoted cannot be compared with what is prevailing in Ghana today. If two proverbs are not similar, one is not used to explain the other.

For Mr. Boadu-Ayeboafoh to compare the current situation in Ghana to apartheid South Africa or the dark days in America when blacks were treated like beasts, pushes the argument beyond the boundaries of intellectual discourse into realms of malicious dishonest defence of the indefensible.

Those who continue singing praises and defending erring leaders ought to learn the enormous lesson in Hans Christian Anderson’s The Emperor’s New Clothes. In Nana Akufo-Addo’s situation, his praise singers might well be spelling his political doom if he’s not restrained from certain utterances.

Our wise elders say a man who is to be eaten does not oil himself and sit by fire. Unfortunately, that is exactly what Nana Akufo-Addo is doing. The NPP has over the years been accused and perceived by some quarters as a party for the Akans. Nana Akufo-Addo is in recent times justifying such accusations albeit unconsciously.

In his article titled: “Farewell ‘Bottoms’ – Tribute to a Woman of Valour” published in the Saturday January 29, 2011 edition of the Daily Graphic, Nana AddoDankwa Akufo-Addo committed such a blunder. In the first paragraph of that article, Nana Akufo-Addo stated that he had been close to the late Theresa Ameley Tagoe back at the university due to the “Akyem connection.”

A few weeks later, he referred to NPP supporters as “we Akans.” How would other ethnic groups who support the NPP feel about this preclusion? If someone does not recognize you as being part of him when seeking your vote, will he recognise you after you have voted for him? Those comments don’t portend well for the party.

So-called intellectuals and political spin doctors would always spin weird tales about people being quoted out of context and go ahead to cite communication theories to cement their claims. But writers and speakers do not have only intellectuals and communication experts as their audience. The primary question should always be how the ordinary man in the street would understand the message.

In communication, no one has control over how their words are interpreted. Words would only remain what the speaker means as long as they are unspoken. Once they are uttered, people deserve the right to understand them in their own context, based on their level of intelligence, education and experience.

It is also unfortunate that Mr. Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh and other commentators have tried to justify Nana Akufo-Addo’s statement by citing what President Mills is purported to have said prior to the 2008 elections about Ghana becoming like Kenya should the right thing not be done. Is this how we are building our democracy? Justifying wrong with wrong?

All die can never be die! After fifty years of independence, there is no good commentary about our development. Our most valuable asset is our peace, which all of us must jealously guard irrespective of our political leanings.

The lion and the antelope may be implacable enemies, but they both have a common interest – that the forest that shelters them must not catch fire.

Credit: Manasseh Azure Awuni

Email: azureachebe2@yahoo.com;Website: www.maxighana.com The writer is a freelance journalist based in Accra, Ghana.
Columnist: Awuni, Manasseh Azure