What Went Wrong, Ashanti Regional Minister?

Fri, 8 Jan 2010 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

January 7, 2010

Those who know Kofi Poku Manu, the Ashanti Regional Minister, very well, have spoken volumes for his affability and continence. Since he catapulted himself into public discourse over his inflammatory utterances in Kumasi, he has, however, surprised many people, some of whom have long perceived him as calm and non-violent. But by a slight quirk of circumstance, he has cast doubts about those personal traits and drawn public anger toward himself. He has virtually shot himself and the NDC government in the foot with those utterances that sought to incite the NDC functionaries against their NPP counterparts. Suddenly, his positive image has shrunk into something ominous.

So, what went wrong to peel off that veneer of affability and continence? Will he say that he got carried away by his political commitment to the NDC or that he was only exposing the other side of himself that he had long bottled up? Maybe, someone with some kind of Freudian psychoanalytical touches can help us understand what really went wrong for Poku Manu to descend from high grounds of morality into the gutters.

But I am no psychoanalyst to do so. I am writing to condemn him for being impolitic and for doing what has a high potential to endanger our democracy. I join all other people asking for his removal from office, regardless of what some NDC followers may say in his defence. Comparing his utterances with those of NPP lackeys like Nyaho Tamakloe, Kennedy Adjapong, and Maxwell Kofi Jumah is bootless. If the NDC seeks to strengthen our democracy, it must distance itself from the negative things that the NPP did and do what will make the positive difference, not reinforce the obvious roguery of the NPP.

Poku Manu’s case highlights a major aspect of the danger that our politicians pose to our democracy. Apart from their non-performance, massive corruption, self-seeking, and other unproductive acts of commission or omission, they are known for indulging in tribal politics and polarizing the body politic. Now, Poku Manu has introduced the element of incitement to physical harm on political opponents, which has the tendency to spark off unrests and destabilize the system. His pronouncements in Kumasi are really dangerous and must be condemned by all those who cherish our democracy.

This happening is not without a foundation. I consider it as part of the negative fallouts from how politicians are recycled and appointed to positions that they will do better not to be found at. Poku Manu distinguished himself as a civil servant (having risen through the ranks to become the Regional Coordinating Director and a Director at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning before retiring). But as a politician, he cannot tell me that he has found a niche for himself. He hasn’t. He contested the Parliamentary seat in the Asante Akim North constituency in 2004 and lost. He remained unsung in the shadows until President Mills lifted him from the doldrums of retirement and appointed him the Ashanti Regional Minister. I have already spoken against the tendency to appoint such embittered elements to office and will see Poku Manu’s faux pas as a confirmation of my fears.

Having served many years as the Regional Coordinating Director under Col. Osei-Owusu, Yaw Ansah, and Daniel Ohene Agyekum (as Regional Secretaries at the time), one would expect him to know the ebb and flow of local politics in the Ashanti Region (especially the stiff opposition to Rawlings in many parts of the region, particularly Kumasi) and act prudently. But he hasn’t done so, judging him from what he has done now to stoke the fire.

Poku Manu cannot deny knowledge of the tumultuous times in the late 1980s and early 1990s when demonstrations by students of the KNUST and open show of disdain by other sections of the population created serious credibility problems for the PNDC to such an extent that the mantra of “Akonta Be si Fam”, literally meaning “Our in-law (Rawlings) will be deposed”) became a household slogan among the PNDC’s opponents. In effect, the political opponents of Rawlings felt that Kumasi was a no-go area for him and his emerging NDC at the time.

I remember very well the tense atmosphere in Kumasi just before October 10, 1992, when Rawlings was to address an NDC regional rally at the Jackson Park as part of the preparations for the general elections in November that year. Anybody in the thick of events at the time will bear testimony to the anxious moments that the Rawlings haters created. Eventually, when the NDC’s supporters began storming Kumasi, the Rawlings haters became so overwhelmed by the huge patronage that they “vanished”. I hadn’t seen any other huge attendance at a political rally as happened on that day. The rest belongs to history. Here is another instance from Kumasi. When Akwasi Agyemang did some political somersaults and wormed his way into the favour of Rawlings to be appointed the CEO of the KMA, he did not pause to reconsider some of his political moves. He took some miscalculated steps, which angered the people. He nearly paid for it with his life when an irate mob went for him around the Asafo Roundabout and set ablaze his official vehicle. He escaped but might have learnt a bitter lesson from his political mis-steps.

The hostility between the NPP and the NDC in the Ashanti Region is glaring even if it hasn’t yet sparked off any major social strife. Who will forget the brutal politically motivated murder after the 1996 elections of a popular NDC follower in Kumasi, though? At the swing of the political pendulum, activists of either party know what their Fate is.

All this while, the bad blood relationship has been simmering. But this inflammatory utterance by Poku-Manu leaves no doubt in my mind that the bitterness has been given a disturbing twist. The tension that his unguarded utterance has aroused will not easily evaporate. Is that the kind of atmosphere that the government needs to function in? I don’t think so.

It is disturbing that so far the government hasn’t come out with any official statement to allay fears. The Attorney-General’s reaction to calls to prosecute Poku Manu can be dismissed as a failed measure at damage control. Poku Manu’s faux pas has already set in motion a spate of agitations, which don’t redound well to the government’s image.

The immediate impact is a worsening of the government’s public perception. At worst, it reinforces its opponents’ concerns that the NDC cannot shed the “violent” vestiges of its AFRC/PNDC ancestral baggage. This perception will be difficult to erode, especially when functionaries of the NDC (as a political party and the government in power) continue to assume belligerent public postures and seek to wreak vengeance on their political opponents or make damaging utterances of the sort being appraised.

Repairing this image is a Herculean task that will take many years and persistent turning of a new leaf to achieve. As public dissent over the high cost of living persists, politically dangerous utterances of the sort will hurt the government beyond measure. The ongoing erosion of the government’s goodwill is a reality, which is obvious to those who dispassionately assess issues but repudiated by those blinded by the perks of their political offices!! It is already moving the NDC a step closer to the precipice. If the situation doesn’t change for the better, it is likely to tumble down into the political wilderness again.

The immediate solution for Kofi Manu is simple. Dismissal from office! Doubtless, he has danced himself lame as a politician and must not continue to be in office. President Mills must act immediately to remove him from office if he wants to help the NDC solve its credibility problems. His retention in office is detrimental to the government’s own interests and our democratic agenda, in general. We don’t need such spent horses in public office. He is already retired and is at an advanced age. He must not be retained in office to create problems for the younger generation. That’s my beef.

The bells are tolling for Poku Manu. He has sent himself to the slaughter house and must be done away with to confirm President Mills’ claims of being an “Asomdwehene” and a “Father-for-all-Ghanaians.” Poku Manu’s incitement is a serious indictment on the non-aggressive political stance of President Mills. It is ridiculous that while he touts those slogans and spurns the perks of office (such as per diem allowances and Christmas gifts), his appointees do otherwise. There is already a crisis of integrity.

At the end of the day, President Mills needs to know that Ghanaians will not base their political decisions on his singular acts of propriety but on the collective performance (or otherwise) of the NDC government’s functionaries. Even then, one individual functionary’s negative impact will be enough to dim the party’s chances in disturbing instances of the sort created by Poku Manu. Who doesn’t know that the Ashanti Region continues to be a Waterloo for the NDC despite its winning some three seats in some constituencies? The stark truth is that the NDC hasn’t succeeded in enjoying goodwill from the electorate in that part of the country. Evidence from the 2008 Presidential elections shows that the Ashanti Region nearly torpedoed President Mills’ chances. What Poku Manu has done now will deepen the NDC’s woes and as the party seeks to redeem itself in that region, it should be guided by history, not inflammatory utterances against the NPP, born and nurtured in Kumasi!!

Furthermore, the spill-over effect of this incitement cannot be limited to the Ashanti Region alone. If anything explodes between NDC elements and their NPP counterparts as a result of this incitement, it will spread to other parts of the country where the two parties exist. Can we contain the impact? Certainly, by this singular impolitic move, Poku Manu has set in motion something that is alarming. I pity him as a victim of political overzealousness but will not excuse him in any way. He has proved to be a liability and must pay for it. After all, he is not a “great” politician. Ghana needs “great” politicians.

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.