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02.01.2002 Feature Article

I Am Ghana Proud

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When the economy of the city of Houston, Texas, USA; was at its nadir in the 1980's, a local TV personality called Marvin Zindler trumpeted the phrase "I am Houston Proud", aimed at encouraging Houstonians not to give up on their city (the 4th largest in the USA!). Good economic times did arrive and Houston recovered, the fall of Enron notwithstanding. As the New Year 2002 begins, in looking around Africa, and indeed much of the developing world; I can only re-echo "Maaarvin Zindler" (as he used to shout his name on TV), by saying, "I am Ghana Proud"!!!! And it is not an empty claim. Just look around Africa! Last year, we had a clean and fair election and the better man won. Jerry Rawlings' chosen heir lost. Ghanaians accepted victory or defeat according to their political persuasion, and went about their business. The loser even called to congratulate the winner, in a show of exemplary political maturity. I have been a critic of Rawlings for some of his policies that nearly bankrupted Ghana politically, economically, and in other spheres. But true to his word, Rawlings and his party accepted the results and there were was peace in the land. Contrast that with Zambia, for example. That country is now in a lawless mood due to charges of voter fraud that has seen the outgoing president's chosen heir win the elections and sworn in as president. This practice of outgoing presidents trying to cover their past political tracks in attempting to influence the political future is wholly abominable. Zimbabwe is at a boiling point, because a near-octogenarian president still wants to prove that he is the man. Robert Mugabe who at the time of his accession to power was widely deemed the most intelligent and experienced man ever to assume the leadership of an African nation, because of his education and first row seat in observing the collapse of independent Africa, has decided to use the land issue in Zimbabwe to literally sow division in the country. In administering his comparatively affluent country to near bankruptcy and hooliganism, comrade (he still insists on using that term!) Robert Mugabe, like the Bourbons of early 19th century France, has "learnt nothing and forgotten nothing"! The lawlessness that Mr. Mugabe has encouraged among the so-called War Veterans does not augur well for the rule of law in Zimbabwe. Nigeria, may be the giant that never awakes; or in this case that never is able see unity as a sine qua non for national development. With half of the population adhering to ideas that were enunciated in the 7th century, and by their refusal to attenuate those ideals to match 21st century realities, the unity of the state of Nigeria remains in suspended political animation! South Africa has been sidelined because her president insists HIV does not cause AIDS. And, he is more than willing to buck conventional wisdom and assert controversial ideas. It seems president Thabo Mbeki never graduated from the rhetoric of a freedom fighter, to that of a consummate politician. Wherever Mr. Mbeki travels, the issue regarding his stance on AIDS, drum out, and undermine his agenda. Mr. Mbeki did not learn much from the saintly Dr. Nelson Mandela. Congo which ought to be the greatest country in Africa, by virtue of her immense natural wealth is nearly partitioned by interlopers: Zimbabwe, Angola, Rwanda, and Uganda; as well as by assorted Congolese warlords. The huge mineral and natural wealth of Congo has proven to be a curse. Since King Leopold of Belgium acquired the country as his personal property in the 1880's, the good people of the Congo have really not partaken in the wealth that God has so charitably afforded them. The Congolese president, the junior Kabila could care less because he controls enough of the country to assure himself of a good bit of the wealth! Congo's case is singularly pathetic. Nigeria, South Africa, and Congo ought to be the fulcrum of African development. Perhaps, the problems faced by these countries in articulating their respective developmental ideas, are symptomatic of the African condition. Their size, population and resources alone, should make these countries the natural leaders of Africa and Africans. Somalia, is now a "mere geographical expression", to borrow the phrase used by the Austrian Chancellor Prince Metternich at the beginning of the 19th century to describe Italy. Chief Obafemi Awolowo of Nigeria described Nigeria in similar terms; and he was probably right!!! It is interesting to note that the head of Somalia's Football Association Farah Addo, who also happens to be a vice-president of the Confederation of African Football has expressed harsh words against FIFA because the latter ranks Somalia as the "worst football nation" in the world! At least in the matter of football, Somalia remains united!! I will not even venture an opinion on the Arab North Africa. Democracy is anathema in those parts. With everything that is going on in Africa, Ghana seems poised to once again lead Africa into political and economic maturity. That, in spite of her small size and population. It is often said that a country's greatest resource are her people. When the USA was savagely attacked by religious zealots on September 11, 2001; her people rallied to show the thugs that the people of the USA could not be used as pawns in the destruction of the USA. To wit, the sale of flags since the dastardly act has been phenomenal. Flying, and showing the flag is now a national pastime. Samuel Johnson, the English wordsmith wrote that "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel". That may be true. However, patriotism can also become an instrument of a strong-willed people to assert the strength and unity of their nation. Patriotism can become a catalyst for national development. Therein lies a lesson for Ghana. Like the city of Houston in the 1980's, Ghana faces some tough economic choices. With proper planning and proper layout of priorities, the NPP government can truly deliver Ghana from our economic nadir. We will need the type of patriotism that has engulfed the United States of America since the events of September 11, 2001. And, there is no doubt that Ghanaians have been more than patriotic in our understanding of the peculiar problems faced by the country. In its development program, one area where the NPP government can truly make a difference is in the award of contracts for the construction of roads. Without good roads, a nations wheels of development are mired in mud. Unfortunately, with layers upon layers of "contractors" vying for the lucrative government road contracts, neither the best contractor, nor all the money ends up in the construction of roads. Much of the money intended for the actual road construction ends up in greasing official palms, and smoothing official throats. Such has been our lot. I have taken a look at the loans made available to Ghana over the past several years by the World Bank. Even a cursory look a the loans and the purpose for which they were granted, indicate that in one area such as roads, Ghana ought to have excellent roads than she has now. Ghana has not gotten her money's worth in the construction of roads. The greatest impediment to building better roads in Ghana is corruption in the award of contracts for the construction of roads. To say that our contracting culture is corrupt is to be charitable. The system is rotten to the core. If the NPP government is able to reduce corruption in the award of contracts, it will go a long way in ensuring that contractors are able to construct the best roads possible. Otherwise, the country will be beset by treacherous roads for years to come. The reason is simply this: Due to unspeakable corruption in the award of contracts, which ensures that numerous bribes have to paid, the contract winner is left with just enough money to provide shoddy work. And, the officials who have received the bribes are more prone to certify shoddy construction work as done. Ghanaians end up as losers in getting bad roads, and being stuck with huge debt re-payment! I hope that with the onset of the New Year, there will be a new regime in the award of contracts to ensure that much of the money ends up in road construction, rather that official pockets through bribes.

Kofi Ellison
Kofi Ellison, © 2002

The author has 60 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: KofiEllison

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