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The Chinese are no Father Christmas, Mr. President!!

Sun, 19 Aug 2012 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Friday, August 17, 2012

President John Mahama seems to have settled in the groove well enough to steer the affairs of this country. Good for him.

What is not good for him, however, is the resurgence of the politics of insults in a political environment that remains hostile. Public discontent at the high cost of living and the persistent complaints at government’s inability to fulfill its 2008 electioneering campaign promises are other troubling issues. On top of it all is the perennial bad-blood relationship between the NDC and the NPP. How President Mahama handles the situation will go a long way to make or mar his political chances for Election 2012.

All too soon, though, he seems to be moving toward slippery ground, mindless of the harm that promise-making has so far caused to the government he has inherited from ex-President J.E.A. Mills.

He was in Cape Coast yesterday as part of his “Thank You” tours to appreciate Ghanaians for actively participating in the funeral celebrations of the ex-President. A tactical political move to win some goodwill, one might be tempted to say.

But something else hangs over his head. His disclosure concerning two projects for Cape Coast—a sports stadium and the Kotokuraba Market—seem to be stoking the fire on promise-making, which is not good. It is part of the issues that will determine how the tide flows for him at Election 2012.

With this disclosure, President Mahama seems to be wading right into the storm centre. According to him, “the Chinese government has promised to build the Cape Coast Stadium free of charge for the people of Ghana… in memory and honour of the late president John Mills who hailed from the region” (Myjoyonline, 8/17/12).

I have no problem with the Kotokuraba Market project but the Chinese one and will make my voice heard as such. President Mahama’s revelation raises more questions than answers to soothe people like me who consider Ghanaian politicians as a major part of our national crisis. It is nothing to be celebrated.

There may be nothing wrong with a genuine desire by the Chinese government to provide such a facility for the people of Cape Coast. I have no problem with that intention. My beef is that it sounds too true to be true—especially, coming across as a promise. And Ghanaians know how promises have become easy tools being brandished by these favour-seeking politicians. We cringe whenever promises gush out!!

Will this government ever learn any useful lesson from the buffeting it has had from embittered segments of the population who haven’t ceased condemning it for failing to fulfill its 2008 electioneering campaign promises? From the spate of scathing criticisms against it on this score—despite official rebuttals and assurances that most of those promises had already been fulfilled and that others would follow suit—one would hardly expect the government to continue making sweeping promises. But the trend continues.

Beyond this point are some troubling issues, especially President Mahama’s revelation that the Chinese government would construct the Cape Coast Stadium “for free.” Why “for free” he didn’t explain, which immediately raises serious questions and sets tongues wagging.

Every careful observer of the global political and economic sphere knows that there is no free lunch anywhere; and that any system that promises to do what the Chinese are said to be gearing up for evokes dread, not admiration. The obvious question is: What has Ghana already done to deserve this largesse from China?

We don’t discount the cordial fraternal relations that Ghana has had with China since Nkrumah’s era when he rubbed shoulders with Chou en Lai and many other personalities on whose shoulders Communist China depended to extend its tentacles to many parts of the world. Neither do we dispute China’s wealth and its ability to provide material support to needy countries like Ghana and others bound by common interests, especially under the ambit of the Non-Aligned Movement.

Of course, China has already emerged as the world’s strongest economy, readying itself to officially dislodge the United States to the second place. After all, its economy is so strong as to become the shock absorber for the almighty United States whose trillion-dollar deficits would have torpedoed it long ago but for the magnanimity of the Chinese.

But the Chinese can’t be regarded as a “Father Christmas” incarnate. China’s inroads into economic systems hitherto heavily dependent on the West have not only alarmed the West itself but have also given a new twist to international economic dependency. China is in full flight, foraging everywhere on the African continent for raw materials to boost its own economy. Although not reinforcing this foraging with any political superstructure to impose on the African continents, China’s approach has its own peculiarities and subtleties for us to be wary of.

What we have seen about the Chinese presence in Africa suggests that there is more to whatever the Chinese promise—and do for us—than our naked eyes will permit us to see. We may not all be able to fathom the intricacies of the subtle manipulation going on; but it doesn’t mean we should gloss over it. Do we trust our leaders not to sell us and our resources for pittance again?

China knows better than we can ever know why it wants to come across as a “Father Christmas.” We have every right to be cautious in opening our doors to such an economic giant, especially when it begins watering the ground with this kind of largesse that President Mahama is enthusing over and passing on to the people of Cape Coast (Ghanaians, generally).

I am highly skeptical—even to the point of being snide—that the weather is not all clear in this particular circumstance. I won’t receive the news with open arms. I question the rationale behind this gift and will caution the President and his government to tread carefully so as not to force us to dig our own graves. The fact is that as soon as we do so, the Chinese will have no other option but to help us lie in them to our doom!

I am not in any way disparaging the Chinese. After all, they have been our development partners for decades now, being directly involved in the construction industry (the National Theatre as a good example); but of late, they have taken their interest in Ghana to an alarming level. Some have engaged in nefarious activities (especially in the construction industry where they brutalize and degrade Ghanaian workers), drawing public anger and calls for stern official action to curb their influx. Nothing to suggest xenophobia, though.

We can infer from the influx of these Chinese into our system and their choice of economic activities to engage in that something quiestionable is in the offing. The citizens of the Amansie area whose encounters with the Chinese “galamsey” operators have been in the news recently know best what the consequences of an unregulated influx and activities of such elements are. Others elsewhere also know.

The Chinese are all over the country, doing anything that will make them assert their influence and make the gains that have eluded them in their own country. They are not here because they want to help us develop our country; they are here because they know what to get out of our system. And certainly, they do so here because of their conviction that their government has already cleared the path for them to chart. Our own government is encouraging that influx.

Behind-the-scene happenings facilitate such happenings. The inter-governmental networking that goes on is complicated and involves subtle palm-greasing in many guises and may even be of the kind that a “free-of-charge project” like the Cape Coast Sports Stadium entails.

What have we done or portrayed to the Chinese to indicate that we need projects, gratis? Or do we think that the Chinese have too much money and too little to do, hence, their willingness to sink millions of dollars into projects to improve our living standards while neglecting their own citizens’ interests at home?

Of course, images of towns and villages in many parts of China (that I have seen) reveal deplorable living conditions, indicating that all is not rosy there. But for purposes best known to them, the Chinese authorities will have no compunction; and the will choose to use the country’s resources as a bait for countries like ours to grab hook, line, and sinker. Then, we get quickly snapped up. That’s how subjugation begins. We should be guided by past experiences to fear those who come to us with gifts at night.

That is why I question the propriety of such a project. There is always a “quid pro quo” element in dealings between countries and governments. What has Ghana done to merit this largesse from China?

In a system that encourages bribery and corruption at all levels, it is questionable whether the Ministry of the Interior or its analogous institutions (the Immigration Service, particularly) have any more respect for immigrant quota at all. Or whether anybody is documenting all these elements flocking into the country under the guise of inter-governmental cooperation. Who is benefitting from these loopholes?

We remain cynical about this sports stadium deal because we already have substantial grounds to doubt such politically motivated promises. Hindsight will always guide us. This government’s dealings with China have already created enough grounds for skepticism, especially within the context of the huge loan facilities that we have heard so much about but which haven’t materialized to confirm that China is supporting Ghana financially.

Where is the 3 billion-dollar Chinese loan that we are always told is forthcoming to help the government carry out projects earmarked for several sectors of national life? The last time I checked, the news report was that all modalities had been formalized for the Chinese to release the loan soon. It’s two months since then, but nothing has materialized.

Then, we have the Korean STX housing fiasco to worry about. There is more hot air-blowing than real action to prove that the government has its feet on the ground. That is why we become very much unsettled when promises continue to gush out from officialdom. We are not kids to be cajoled!!

At a higher level, President Mahama needs to know the danger into which he is pushing himself with this kind of promise. He needs to know that once he has given this assurance to the people, it will be counted against him and used for political purposes. Whether he will make good his intention to endorse those project documents he claimed to be lying on his desk at the time he was making the disclosure—and to ensure that the projects take off and are carried through on schedule—will inflame passions and influence the political game between him and his opponents.

In the long run, providing a sports stadium for Cape Coast (whose citizens love sports, anyway) is long overdue. What is baffling is why it should take so long, even after former President Kufuor had visited Cape Coast and performed some ceremonies for the commencement of work on a stadium there to host CAN 2008. What became of that project? Politics as usual?

By their very nature, though, the two projects (sports stadium and Kotokuraba Market) have already assumed huge political dimensions and if they don’t take off as President Mahama has assured the people, he should be ready for the negative backlash. But let’s watch out for those masquerading as “Father Christmas.”

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Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.