The NPP, Arthur Kennedy, and Governance in Ghana

Thu, 13 Jul 2006 Source: Phebih-Agyekum, Charles Kwame

“It is virtue, and not birth, that makes us noble. Great actions speak great minds, and such should govern.” The Prophetess, John Fletcher, 1579-1625.

Most respectable reader, let me begin by pleading with you not to ascribe to me any selfish ulterior motives for the statement I’m about to make. I’m not a card-carrying member of the NPP, I haven’t met or spoken to Arthur Kennedy in over twelve years, I am not one of his “acolytes”, and I do not want a sinecure should he ever become the president of Ghana. Now that I’ve clarified that, may I have your unbiased attention?

There are several reasons that portend another NPP victory at the next elections. First, most Ghanaian cognoscenti know for a fact that out of the crooked timber of the NDC, few good things can ever emerge for the general well being of the country. Second, incumbency for the NPP already puts it miles ahead of the competition. Third, the current government is, relatively speaking, the most sophisticated Ghana has ever seen since the overthrow of Busia. Gone is the “culture of silence”, gone is the Machiavellian “prince” style of leadership, and gone are the days when the mere sight of soldiers, police, and PDC members could trigger cardiac arrests in the faint-hearted.

In light of these and other reasons, it is imperative that the NPP and the people of Ghana in general give serious thought to who they must select as the next president of Ghana. Personally, I will never advice any thoughtful person to vote for any person who has held political office in the last 30 years. Let me explain:

There is no doubt that the current crop of politicians has become stale, oblivious to the most current political, social, economic and cultural philosophies that the most progressive nations of the planet are churning out and executing. A few small but incisive examples: if the president of a nation uses the expression “Red Indians” to refer to the First Nations of the Americas, every post-modern thinker of that nation has to be alarmed. What defunct appellation will he be using in his next gaffe, Negro? Definitely passé. Or, if the most viable opposition party in the land can resort to fisticuffs at a national convention, then there is something arguably medieval about that whole organization. Again, if sitting state ministers can amass wealth and build themselves mansions within 12 months of public service, then even children must know that these are crooks and opportunists from a past era, not selfless modern leaders.

The whole idea that a person should enter politics with the aim of getting rich is obsolete, and, in modern times, anyone who harbours any such motive is usually not allowed even within a hundred kilometres of any political office in a democracy. If a sitting president’s son can obtain a $5 million loan facility to buy a hotel in a country where children walk barefoot to school, then something is awfully archaic about that country. It’s been said that the level of enlightenment of a society must not be judged by the conditions of life of its strongest members, but rather by the conditions of the weakest. In Ghana, it’s the other way round. We all, as Ghanaians, can put an end to this stagnation and kleptocracy by taking a momentous step – retiring the whole generation of the current leaders of our most neo-liberal and democratic political outfit, the NPP.

The NPP can hold on to power for the next 70 years, but it needs to do one thing: modernize.

This means that a whole generation of NPP politicians must give way to a newer, more objective, and better informed generation. Forget about the usual African deference to gerontology; it’s the reason why we had slavery and still have child labour in our culture. Forget about the traditional monopoly the born-aristocrats have had over political power since the colonial era; it’s a remnant of the British system of “indirect rule.” The British initially admitted only the progeny of African aristocrats to their best institutions (e.g., Oxford, Cambridge, Ivy League) so they would become instruments through which they could rule the colonies indirectly. In Ghana, this has led to a situation where most of the top brass have royal propinquity, from the Presidency right down to the ossified government ministries, departments and agencies. Even Kofi Annan has royal lineage.

Those at the helm of the NPP’s affairs must think ahead, or the party risks getting defenestrated at the earliest possible opportunity due to a seething popular sentiment that our traditional aristocracy is mean-spirited, outmoded, and callous. I’m not saying the traditional aristocracy and the older generation of politicians must be locked up in a closet and the keys thrown into a KVIP. No. They are all welcome to participate in one way or the other in the continual edification of the nation. However, we all just have to realize that the time for meritocracy has come and is here to stay. The old and tired political nepotism practiced by Ghana’s elite, both traditional and business, must give way to a more objective, merit-based system. That’s how nations unearth the best leaders, like Bill Clinton of the U.S., Tony Blair of the U.K., Manmohan Singh of India, and Junichiro Koizumi of Japan. We will be circum-ambulating in the desert of penury, poverty, and backwardness forever if we fail to admit this fact and act accordingly.

And who can undertake this Herculean task of bringing the NPP and Ghana into the 21st Century? I strongly believe that Arthur Kobina Kennedy is a powerful metaphor of the new generation of Ghanaians who are ready and willing to oversee this transitioning of governance systems. He must be seriously considered for leadership of the NPP (and, by extension, of Ghana) at the next elections, or at any other opportunity for that matter. There are scores of reasons why I give him my vote of confidence. Here are a few of them:

1. The new face of the NPP must be symbolized by leadership that is noble by virtue, not just by birth. The NPP is a party that is undeniably rooted in nobility, not virtue. The Danquah-Busia tradition is known to be controlled by the traditional Ghanaian aristocracy. The royal houses of Kyebi, Wenchi, Asante, Dagbon, and the rest of them have always been the pools from which leadership of the party has sprung. But, everyone knows that aristocrats (especially the African type) tend to be distanced from the average person and are often snobbish, arrogant, megalomaniacal, and insensitive to the ordinary person’s plight. This is one of the reasons why Rawlings was able to manipulate popular support in his favour for such a long time.

2. Arthur K. grew up as an underprivileged kid. He was raised in a single parent environment and has had first-hand experience of deprivation, public schooling (cyto), financial instability, insecurity, death threats, you name it. As such, he is a very ordinary Ghanaian who knows what it takes to survive in the harshest of times, just like the majority of us.

3. He’s a very courageous and staid human being. I remember him best for this trait. I was standing right behind him holding the “ice water” container when soldiers shot at us around the offices of the New Times Corporation during the May 1983 NUGS demonstration against the PNDC for its grisly murders of the judges. There was pandemonium as the goons rained gunfire on us. But one person was calm and unperturbed – Arthur K. He stood, facing the fire and admonishing us not to flee. Of course, as the then president of the NUGS, he had to show leadership. But he did it with such nonchalance I could not help but notice that there was something extraordinary about him. The ones I thought were the bravest (like Yaw Boakye, Alhassan, Kankabi, Okino and the rest of our Vandal generals) all fled. Naturally, I did too.

4. He’s an intelligent and tenacious person. I never thought Arthur K. would finish medical school, given that he was number one on the wanted list of a regime as savage as the PNDC. Yet he did it. I was pleasantly surprised when years later I met him at the University of Toronto. He was looking tired, emaciated, and broke, but he was as sharp as usual and he was in medical school!

5. Arthur K. is a dedicated and proven leader. The NUGS leadership of today is a charade in comparison. I believe that the NUGS has never had a more selfless leader. Here’s a guy in medical school willing to put his promising future on the line in order to challenge a brutal government that is known best for its disregard for human life. How many of us will engage in such a foolhardy sacrifice? And, now that he could decide to live a cosy American dream, he is even willing to give it all up and take on the crown of thorns called the Presidency of Ghana! A lot of people will categorize such a person as insane.

6. He has a well-honed international outlook on life, unlike some of our past and present leaders who cannot see beyond their villages and tribes. Arthur K. can relate to anybody from anywhere, be they child or adult, male or female, black or white, educated or uneducated, northerner or southerner, westerner or easterner, mediocre or talented.

7. Arthur K. is self-made, and virtuous to boot. We all know that in Ghana it is no mean feat for someone born plebeian to become a medical doctor. And, in a country where the government is the biggest employer and the only way a person can achieve financial independence is to steal from the employer (read the taxpayer), few can brag about having made it without raiding the barn. In Ghana, it is even seen as “foolishness” if you refuse to steal, cheat, lie, and defraud your way through life. Corruption is the rule, rather than the exception. Everybody – children, adults, pastors, politicians – engages in it. Few of us can honestly claim not to have used some “azaa” methods in our lifetime to make ends meet or just out of greed. Arthur K. is one of such few – clean as a whistle.

8. He’s a well-rounded and consummate intellectual. I have observed that among people who specialize in professions, there is the tendency of them knowing a lot about their specific area of specialization and little about the remaining faculties of knowledge. I once met a Ghanaian medical doctor on the campus of Georgia State University. He waxed brilliantly about his professorship in Emergency Medicine at Yale, but when the topic turned to African Politics or History he was clueless. Not so with Arthur K. The man can have an intelligent conversation of planetary proportions on History, Politics, Medicine, Philosophy, Economics, and much more. Plus, he has written and published countless essays on several topics unrelated to his field of specialization. I don’t mean to be demeaning, but ask yourself this question: after ruling Ghana for so many years, what has Rawlings written and published by himself for posterity? What about Kuffuor? And Acheampong? And Akuffo?

9. Here’s the epitome of the tried, tested and true son of Ghana. From his cosy abode in the United States, Arthur K. has never ceased to express and demonstrate his love for Ghana. He is always writing or talking about one thing or another. There are many us who received free university education in Ghana and who have relatively made it in the prosperous West, but who will never comment, much less write lucidly on any issue of public interest. Many (including myself) usually can’t be bothered and will never stick out their necks for any reason, not even if you offered them the job “President of Ghana” for free. Not so with Arthur K. In that sense, he is truly one of the best sons of Ghana.

10. Where else can Ghanaians find a comparable role model for their children, the future rulers of Ghana. No one can deny the fact that the decades of bad role models in political leadership have had a markedly negative impact on the psyche, discourse and behaviour of Ghana’s youth (hence the new Ministry of National Orientation). So much so that most young people have lost respect for themselves, their elders, and authority in general. Tro-tro and taxi drivers are screaming profanities at each other, popular music is openly touting promiscuity, and public discourse is rotten and full of abrasiveness (like Kwesi Yeboah’s latest drool in favour of the status quo and against Arthur K’s bid (see: http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=105098). Why not? If the leaders can open their mouths and utter whatever untreated sewage spews out, what do you expect the children to do? Speak and act like the Pope? When the fish begins to rot, it starts from the head. Arthur K. can sanitize public discourse with his civilized and polished oratory. He can inspire a new generation to new heights of social responsibility with his exemplary biography. And Arthur K. will bring in a new and fresh generation of hardworking, intelligent, educated, upright and incorruptible batch of Ghanaians into the public realm.

I could go on and on, so I will conclude. If the NPP is to enjoy longevity in power, the current class of leadership must graduate into retirement and allow a new leadership to emerge. If Ghana is to modernize culturally, economically, politically, and behaviourally, the most enlightened of her children must lead the way. Arthur Kobina Kennedy wants to, can and will lead the way if given the opportunity. Some may say he is overly ambitious, but that is alright. One must have a strong desire to do a thing in order to do that thing well and enjoy doing it. Besides, ambition in a private person should not be seen as a vice, just because the princes have led us to internalize that fiction. Aristocrats are not the only ones who are capable of providing leadership. Let’s put an end to the automatic rule of the “dadabas’ and “mamabas.” They must also be subject to the objective test of meritocracy. These are persons who were born into gossamer cribs, who grew up in argosies, who received the best tutelage, and who have leadership thrown at their feet. How do you expect such people to empathize with the underprivileged? Arthur K. is noble, maybe not by birth, but certainly by virtue. Such are the people who should be allowed to lead, as John Fletcher pointed out over 500 years ago.

To you, Arthur K., I say this: go for it, brave soul, and pull no punches. Only bear in mind that, unfortunately, knowing the nature of Ghanaians, vested interests wallowing in pelf and power brokering will erect seemingly insurmountable impediments in your path. These are people who will move heaven and earth to stop anybody from leading the nation out of the anfractuous and dreadfully dark “cave” of Plato’s allegory, just so that they can keep exploiting the hapless Ghanaian proletariat. Nevertheless, sail forth. Whether you discover the New World or not, you would have made an indelible statement. As for me, I’m content with my quasi-anonymous existence and do not covet any Ghanaian political office of any sort. God be with you!

Charles Kwame Phebih-Agyekum,

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Phebih-Agyekum, Charles Kwame