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24.10.2002 Feature Article

Cassava, Cape Coast Road, and "Charlie Wote" Sandals.

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Rhapsodies On Kindness! Verse 3 Today I stand accused! I have been vilified, castigated and criticised for the greatest sin of all. The sin of not being a true Ghanaian. My crime is that, unlike other Ghanaians, I refuse to applaud those miniscule efforts made by our leaders to 'bring' development into the nation. E-mail responses to my articles on the 'kindness' of the state power have discovered my biggest secret. Did you know that my articles are motivated by my allegiance to Junior Jesus? Well, I never knew that myself, but most of the responses pointed that out to me. So today I have decided to be magnanimous. I shall try to spare the feelings of those sensitive livers who see good in everything this government is doing. I will do my utmost best to be Ghanaian. I shall succumb to the euphoric haze of gradualism. Japan has been 'kind' to Ghana. She is giving Ghana $80 million to build a road between Accra and Cape Coast. At long last, that winding death trap between the two cities will be robbed of the opportunity to slaughter more innocent people. And the 'gentle giant' himself, has donned his best designer 'kneepads' to claim the $80 million. I remember, in 1978, when I was a humble sixth former in Cape Coast, Carl Ploetner - later Construction Pioneers (CP), a German Firm, built the Yamoransa to Cape Coast stretch of the road, and we students who watched most of the construction, marvelled at the technology and speed of construction of a road that we compared to the Tema Motorway. Thanks to Japan's 'kindness', we might see that kind of road again. Now to many people, it matters not who built the road so long as it is there. But to people like me, we question the rationale behind a whole President travelling thousands of miles away from his home to negotiate the building of a road from his capital to a big town ninety miles away. Some how the math does not add up, but when does it ever, in a neo-colonial state. From the little engineering I know, a road needs engineers, planners, materials, earth-moving machines and workers - give or take a few more. Don't we have all of these in Ghana? So why Japan? The answer is clear enough. The neo-colonial economy, as my unlearned friend once said is 'robbing Peter to pay Paul'. You borrow $80 million from Japan to build your road, then you sell Japan cocoa beans to make chocolate, manganese to make steel, and octopus and shark fins to make culinary delicacies! . In return Japan sells us automobiles, machinery and electronic equipment. And if anyone says that's unfair, you look him squarely in the eyes and in the most sophisticated way, you tell him 'comparative advantage'! The effect of 'comparative advantage' is that the country is always broke. Any new government has to start a new round of borrowing and that is why every single successor government in Ghana has accused the previous one of leaving the country's coffers dry. They all 'rob Peter to pay Paul' Still talking about the math not adding up, did you know that the first cassava harvest of the President's starch initiative has just been announced? 6000 acres of cassava planted by 4000 farmers will be boiled and pressed into starch at the $7 million dollar Ayensu starch factory. In terms of the productivity of labour, simple maths tells us that each farmer on the average farmed 1.5 acres of land. How productive is that? If, under a land reform program each farmer had access to 50 acres of land, only 120 farmers would be required to feed this plant. That sure would have made the President's initiative very special. But I forget, I promised to be 'magnanimous' to the 'gentle giant'. So Junior Jesus has become a globetrotter in his own right! Washington, London, he is mentioned in the same breadth as Clinton and Mandela. It looks like the erstwhile pilot who wrecked Ghana for almost 20 years has been given an opportunity to do some good. It is quite gratifying that he has a chance at some redemption. But one cannot help but regard Jerry with some pity. The former undisputed Master of Ghana, who took ineptitude, patronage and repression to such lofty heights, must be quite uncomfortable in his new role of raising funds for such a mundane, African affliction such as AIDS. I seriously think the NPP government should give him a platform, maybe once a month, to air his tedious tirades to the Ghanaian public. If nothing, the fun of experiencing his oftentimes-incoherent babbles will be good fodder for our journalists who seem to have nothi! ng much else to write about. Finally, I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation to the tracksuit wearing Asantehene who refused the 'gifts' of the shorts and 'charlie wote' wearing 'oyibos'. I know this issue has become quite controversial because of the sartorial challenges of these 'well meaning' Americans facing the ravages of that relentless African sun, but my special interest is in the refusal of gifts. During colonial times, it was white men wearing shorts and white shirts, with boots - 'charlie wote' was not invented then - that used gifts to corrupt our kings. So shorts and 'charlie wote' notwithstanding, we praise His Royal Tracksuit-Wearing Excellency for his refusal of those gifts. And we thank the International Friendship Force (IFF) for making the gifts and financial contributions available to the other NGOs, who probably need them most. A word of caution to the delegation from the IFF. Next time go to the Asantehene decked out in fancy black suits with ties. The Kumasi heat will teach you a lesson, but who cares, protocol would have been served. Ask those porters (kaya kaya) at former Tema station. They are the only people in this world who have mastered the art of wearing winter coats whilst carrying heavy goods under the Accra heat and stench.

Kwesi Yeboah
Kwesi Yeboah, © 2002

The author has 34 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: KwesiYeboah

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