15.02.2002 Feature Article

On The Presidential Travels

On The Presidential Travels
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There is a Ghanaian aphorism that goes like this: "Se Wote Faako a Wote W'adieso"! Translated loosely into English as: When one rests on one's oars, or adopts a cavalier attitude to making advances in life, and not making hay while the sun shines; one is reduced to a sorry state of putrefaction.
As a nation, I believe we have remained putrefied for a long time. Our heads of state and presidents refused to travel because they were afraid of being overthrown. In the first ten years of PNDC administration, Jerry Rawlings hardly left Ghana. He was concerned, and afraid that what he did to president Hila Liman, would be reciprocated. Rawlings merely cavorted with fellow autocrats and coup makers such as Babangida and Abacha of Nigeria and Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso. Birds of the same feathers did fly together, and co-habit. These friendships impacted negatively on the image of Ghana, and indeed that of Rawlings.
Then came 1992, and the return to multiparty political regime in Ghana. All of a sudden, Rawlings felt freed from the cage that his autocracy had enmeshed him in. From then on, he felt secured to travel the globe and meet leaders who came to power not by using the barrel of a gun; but by being freely elected by their people. He met leaders whose modus operandi were not rule by force and by decrees; but leaders who adhered to the rule of law.
All of a sudden, Rawlings was transformed from the image of an urban cowboy, much in tune with dictatorship, to that of an engaging erudite politician on the world stage. Rawlings became a mouthpiece for Africa as a whole. His views and opinions were sought in Western capitals when the problems besieging Africa were being discussed. This metamorphosis of Rawlings, benefitted Ghana, as much as it benefitted Rawlings. From 1996, Ghana became part of what is termed the civilized comity of nations.
Why and how did this transformation occur? The answer is not far to seek: Jerry Rawlings broke free of the cocoon that he had placed himself in. He changed from hardly traveled, to frequent traveler. Indeed, such was Rawlings' fondness for traveling the world, that he used scarce national resources to purchase an airplane to better facilitate his travels. Suddenly, Tokyo; Brunei; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; London; Paris; Johannesburg; and sundry world capitals and countries seemed like a hop-step-and-jump for president Jerry Rawlings. The president traveled not so much to see the world (though his presentation of a Ghana state sword to pop icon Michael Jackson seemed to fulfil Rawlings' teenage dreams, rather than state imperatives!); but to promote Ghana as a stable nation with doors wide open to investors.
Moreover, since the 1980's a new phrase has aggressively entered the lexicon of international economic development. That phrase is, "donor nations". No matter how the under-developed world pretends that it can paddle their own canoes, the fact of the matter is that they will need a huge infusion of capital, in the form of donated aid money from the wealthy developed and industrialized nations of the West. President Rawlings' travels helped to secure needed funds and equipments for specific national development projects.
In the year 2000, Jerry Rawlings left office because of term-limit provisions embedded in our Constitution. A new political party and a new president assumed power on January 7, 2001. The peaceful change was a great chapter in the annals of our political history.
There appeared a new Sheriff in town whose avowed aim was to develop Ghana in a manner that will make us all proud of our country. President Kuffour had his work cut out for him. The national coffers were nearly empty. A huge national debt hang over us like the sword of Damocles! Added to these, development goals of the previous governments had been skewed in a way that rewarded inefficiency and political party connections. In this manner, the main arteries of Ghana, such as the Accra-Kumasi motor road was left in disarray. Everyone agreed that there had to be a modern bridge constructed over the river Densu at Nsawam. Yet it was never done. What passes for a bridge over the Densu is not dissimilar to the foot bridge over rivers that traverse the route to our farms! This is just one example of a development project where we need foreign financial assistance form outside.
What was president Kuffour to do! Would he, to indulge an American expression; merely sit on his ass and do nothing! Would the president stay put and do nothing as the Ghanaian aphorism warns!! After all, it was ex-president Jerry Rawlings who gave a popular rendition to a Ghanaian proverb by saying "if a bird does not fly, it stands still"! It is a fair warning to the do-nothing crowd. A bird has to fly in order to attain nourishment. The message here cannot be under-estimated. One ignores it at one's certain peril.
In order to sell Ghana, the president has to show his face to the crowd outside where the resources are. In order to effectively make his case for development assistance, the president has to travel to countries where the money is. In order to promote good relations with our neighbours, the president has to travel around West Africa to impress upon his fellow leaders the need for peace and stability in the West Africa region. Should there be a civil conflagration in Nigeria or Ivory Coast, the impact on Ghana' resources would be incalculable.
The president of Ghana is in a unique position to teach our neighbours the benefits of adherence to the rule of law. When he travels to Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Togo, or Ivory Coast; the president of Ghana is viewed as coming from a nation of civilized people who have decided to shun ethnic conflicts to carve a national political agenda to the benefit of all. When the president travels to Senegal or Mali, he shares a bond with fellow West African leaders whose countries have shed divisions in order to embrace democracy and good governance.
Apart from setting good example to renegade leaders in our region, when the president pays these reciprocal visits, it emboldens the citizens of other countries to follow our example. But importantly, these trips and meetings are done in the wider context of regional economic development and regional political development.
Yet, the disgruntled opposition in Ghana have decided to put a negative spin on the presidential travels. Of course, that ought not come as a surprise to Ghanaians. The opposition NDC has proven to be an incapable group whose pronouncements can easily be described as anti-Ghanaian in their context. Bereft of real issues to work on, and confronted by the shadow of Rawlings, the NDC has behave like mere barking dogs who lack bite.
A mouthpiece of the nattering opposition, the Ghanaian Palaver newspaper for example ignorantly asks why the president should travel to meet a group of world leaders that include British Premier Tony Blair, because the latter had just concluded a visit to Ghana! One thought the good people at Ghana Palaver would understand that nothing works better in public relations, and product promotion than being endorsed by a highly respected individual of world standing. Would the Ghana Palaver understand the benefits that will accrue to Ghana were Mr. Blair to introduce president Kuffour's and tell the other leaders that here is a guy we can help because he delivers results!!
When Mikhail Gorbachev assumed the presidency of the then Soviet Union, the United States was in no mood to engage Gorbachev in any discussions because then US president Ronald Reagan had already pronounced the Soviet Union an Evil Empire. It took a Gorbachev visit to Britain, whose government leader was an ideological soul mate of Reagan to produce the required effect. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher upon meeting Gorbachev helped to diffuse the tension by famously declaring of Gorbachev that he was a man with whom "I can do business".
The point here is that it is irrelevant wether president Kuffour has met with a particular leader for a zillion times. It is rather the context and circumstances of the meeting that determines wether the meeting is fruitless or not. To date, none of the presidential trips can even be described as fruitless, as claimed by the opposition.
Nor does the claim by the opposition that the president goes on foreign trips just so he will collect per diem make any sense at all. For the first time in our history, Ghana has elected a president who actually was wealthy prior to assuming office. President Kuffour already has houses in Accra and Kumase. He has already educated all his children through the university level. All of his immediate siblings and family members are highly, and gainfully employed. This is not a man who became a president merely to enrich himself. President Kuffour has been there and done that. Getting on a plane and traveling the world is not a novel experience to him. He did that long before Ghana became a republic. He did that as deputy foreign minister in the Second Republic. And he did that as a private citizen and also as presidential candidate.
The opposition fudges the debate on national issues, when it projects what can only be described as childish tantrums into serious national concerns. The travels are part of the job requirements of a president. In the 21st century, the president of developing country is as much a manager of national affairs, as he is a fund-raiser! He has to sell Ghana. He has to promote Ghana. He has to ensure that Ghana gets a piece of the international financial development pie that would supplement what our own resources allow for national development. In that sense the noise being made about too much travel are just that. The ship of state is good and stable hands.
And that is what we can expect from our president.

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