The Pope is the most travelled Head of State in the world. Well, he was until Ghanaians elected John Agyekum Kufuor President of Ghana in the year 2000. During the 22 years that he has been Pope, John Paul II is said to have made 150 foreign trips, which works out to an average of 7 trips a year. During the one and a half years he has been President, the 'Palaver' newspaper says J. A. Kufuor has made 42 foreign trips, an average of 28 trips a year. Our President is well on the way to securing a place in the 'Guinness Book of Records.' A lot of Ghanaians must be wondering why so many foreign trips have kept our President away for a good period of the time he has been in office to the extent that during the last independence day celebrations he was not present in his own country. The anniversary did not seem to hold too much meaning for him. The nation had just been to the polls for the District Level elections and our President was yet again thousands of miles away from home. Political commentators and analysts are struggling to find reasons for the low voter turnout during the district elections. The Electoral Commission and the National Commission on Civic Education (NCCE) have both been blamed for lack of proper organization and public educational campaign. But to some of us, nothing expresses this voter apathy as eloquently as the absence of the President from the country during this all-important event in our country's political calendar. Of course, we do realize that foreign travels are part of a President's job description. But it is also very important that a President is seen to be directly involved with important activities in his country and is in constant touch with his countrymen so that he can identify with the problems his people face as they go about their daily lives. Perhaps, it will be necessary to re-echo the words of one of Africa's illustrious sons; the late Samora Machel of Mozambique, who once said, "It is necessary to know the temperature inside one's own country, and the people are the thermometer." Compared with his foreign trips, how many local trips has President Kufuor made within his one and a half years in office? Despite the spin that has been put out to explain his absence, it will generally be viewed that Kufuor has not shown the right level of concern as a leader in the Yendi crisis. Even considering their usefulness to the nation, are Ghanaians to conclude that all these trips around the world take precedence over the turmoil in Yendi? A leader soon loses touch with reality when that personal bond with his people is severed. The government will argue that a lot of Kufuor's trips are made to solicit foreign investors, which will in the long run benefit the country. In theory this sounds great, but it takes a lot more than presidential foreign travels to attract investors into a country like Ghana which does o't have much going for it in terms of what will attract foreign businessmen, apart from our leaders assurances that our country is now a place they can confidently invest their moneys. As we are beginning to suspect, these assurances are not having the desired effects that is why the Minister of Finance recently complained that the foreign investments are not coming in as expected. But we are told Indian business concerns were highly impressed by presentations made by President Kufuor and his delegation and twenty-five Indian industrial giants have indicated their willingness to invest in Ghana. We shall be keeping our fingers crossed. While visiting India's Silicon Valley in Bangalore, it was reported in the newspapers that President Kufuor and his entourage interacted with officials of Indian's Cyber City to know more about how they achieved the IT revolution. I wonder what words of wisdom were imparted to our presidential entourage but consider this. It took Ghana 30 years to build a science laboratory costing $4 million for the University of Ghana. When that laboratory project was started, I was a child writing my Common Entrance Examination to enter Secondary School. My generation grew up, went to University and completed it without a well-equipped modern science laboratory. Meanwhile it took this same country just a few months to raise $4 million to buy cars for its Members of Parliament. Every four years since 1992 this country is able to find money to buy cars for Members of Parliament, while schools in the country are without educational materials to teach our children. Recently the boss of Volta River Authority tried to justify to pressmen why this country has to spend $2 million to buy luxury Volvo cars for a few managers in his organization. During these 30 years that Ghana could not find money for a science laboratory but the then governments were busy buying fleets of luxury vehicles for government officials, India and Malaysia were investing the little resources they had productively, with a lot of priority given to educating their children. The Indians and Malaysians would have used the $25 million Rawlings' government spent on a presidential jet for a more productive enterprise. I have not travelled to India, but it is quite clear to me why that country today has a Cyber City generating national wealth of $8 billion a year and creating employment for 500,000 citizens, while the Ghanaian youth, who have grown up during the years of neglect of our educational system, are today on the streets selling imported apples. It is all a question of where our priorities as a nation lie. These days, it is much easier to find foreign apples on our streets than it is to get locally produced oranges; just another of the daily reminders of our misplaced priorities which encourage the importation of foreign goods to the detriment of our local industries even as our Ministers go about preaching the cliché that we buy Ghanaian. While our leaders are searching for the reason why India is today so successful, readers should think about what an Indian immigrant in Kenya said to a writer of a book on "The African." "When I moved to Nairobi eight years ago," he said, "I came with nothing. Absolutely nothing. I lived on bananas and a pint of milk a day for two years, putting every shilling into my business. I wasn't afraid to work and I wanted my children to have a future. An African wouldn't do that." The meaning of this Indian immigrant's words is quite clear. The African is not prepared to sacrifice for the sake of future generations. The future progress of this country, which depends to a large extent on how well we educate our children, has often been mortgaged for the frivolous living of a few. Ghana will not achieve anything so long as Ghanaian leaders do not change their mentality that places priority on things that do not enhance the development of our nation. As George Bernard Shaw wrote, "Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their mentality cannot change anything." We hope our President and his delegation have returned to Ghana not only with new IT knowledge after visiting India's Cyber City, a visit that Kwamena Bartels described as the "most rewarding trip ever made." We hope they have returned with a new way of thinking.
Ghanaian Chronicle (Accra) Selassie Ameko