Since President Kufuor took office on 7th January 2001, many are those who have been complaining that the President travels too much. Those critics on any available platform have repeated this accusation. I believe that there are even well trained professionals who are spending the whole of their entire lifetime just to follow and keep records of every single travel the President makes.
It is sometimes disheartening when one hears some Members of Parliament, who are supposed to know better join this unwarranted leveling of accusations by openly criticising the President of too much travel outside the country. In some instances, MPs and other critics use Kufuor´s travels as an interlude during programmes. Professionals, who are very keen to keep track of the President's travels, put it around 80-90 times.
Does this matter most as far our development process is concerned? Certainly people have different opinions and everyone is entitled to his or her opinion but it is also equally important that sometimes the records must be set straight so that the larger Ghanaians are not misinformed, and even the critics themselves.
I share the believe that trying to profile the travels the President makes outside Ghana and broadcasting it on every platform at any least opportune time either to score cheap political marks or for the fancy of it is a non-starter. Certain key questions ought to be asked: Why does the President Travel? Does he travel for his own personal comfort or because he enjoys it? I once heard someone say the President travels a lot because he and his entourage want to get more travel allowances and per diem. I may be wrong but I stand for correction. I do not think the President has ever traveled abroad for holidays and even if he does what is wrong about it? After all, individual Ghanaians do also travel outside the country for holidays. What is crystal clear is that all his travels are official ones meant to cement better relationship with our global development partners or/and to ask for foreign aid for the development of this country we call Ghana.
The profilers (professionals) of Kufuor's travels are missing something quite significant and that missing link is that they close one of their eyes when they make their case to the general public. What these critics need to do is to have holistic view about everything by matching each travel with the accruing benefits to Ghana. It is hollow and unfair for any Ghanaian to just take one side of the equation and try to make some conclusions without subjecting all the variables on the other side of the equation to scrutiny. Every now and then, innocent Ghanaians are being misinformed and a picture is painted that Kufuor travels for nothing just misusing our scarce resources.
But thank God those who are so myopic in their judgements have been proved wrong. If they are really sincere of themselves they should bow their faces in shame. After all Kufuor's travels is not a wasting effort. As a matter of fact it brings into this country, hard currency that is very hard to come by. The recent visit of President Kufuor to United Kingdom where he met the British Prime Minister Tony Blair on 26th April 2004 is a case in point.
A total of 156.86 million pounds sterling support for Ghana came out from one visit. This is made up of 138million pounds in development aid, 16million pounds in support of primary education, 362,000 pounds for Ghana's men and women trying to restore peace to war torn areas and 2.5milliom pounds towards Kofi Annan Peace Keeping and Training Centre.
This money, as matter of fact is not going into the private pocket of Kufuor neither is it going to be shared by anybody but rather the money is intended to be used judiciously to develop, transform and change the destiny of Ghana, of which we are all part of. It is going to be used to improve the living conditions of Ghanaians no matter your religious, ethnic, or political lineage.
Where are the critics? Have they now checked their balance scorecard well and does the cost of Kufuor's travels outweigh the benefits it brings? It is financially prudent for example someone to be asked to board a car to Accra from Tamale at a cost of 100,000 cedis for 500,000 cedis. This is because the person's financial position will definitely change upon receipt of the money. The same is true about the travels of President Kufuor.
Even in the instances where the cost of travel far outweighs the benefits, one should not have a blind eye to the fact that there are other intangible benefits such as good international relations and networking, which could be potential source of tangible benefits in the future. No one can put price money for a country to have good neighbourliness with our sister countries because it brings peace in the sub region and foster regional trade, which we badly need.
It is now time for the critics to view things in another perspective. It is also time to weigh both sides of the coin and do proper analysis devoid of any preconceived notion.
If one travel could bring to this country such an amount for the development of this country, then it stands to reason that more of such travels are necessary and I believe there have not been any of his travels that have not brought either immediate tangible benefits or intangible benefits thereafter. If it is not for any political expediency and calculated attempt to just criticise, then there is no wisdom for any individual or group of individuals to make public speeches about Kufuor's travels. Even though our democracy is young, I truly believe that we have crossed that barrier of cheap political talks. The least talk about his travels the better because it should not be an issue for public discussion. Ghana is not an island of self-sufficiency. So long as we belong to the civilised global economy with limited resources, the President has, as a matter of necessity; make the required contacts around the world to solicit financial and other form of assistance.
It is too dangerous for any political party to make a case out of President's travels. Let us leave that prerogative to the President. If one day someone is also voted into power and decides to not to travel and that policy works for Ghana so be it. But now I trust that we need more of such travels because apart from the financial benefits, Ghana establishes networking with the larger international community, which is the single most important asset, any nation of modern times can have.
Let the critics continue with their work whilst the President makes every strive to change the fortune of the nation. But instead of wasting precious time on the debate of whether the President travels too much or not, they could make very good use of their time to contribute to national debate on how good environmental and sanitation could be improved in our communities, how education could be enhanced and other issues like fighting AIDS. These are issues that need public debate so that we can move this nation forward.
It is time we begin to do and have constructive engagement on national issues devoid of any political or sectional interest. The nation's interest should be put first because government, the governed and all minority parties should speak with one voice when it comes to certain national issues. Despite our differences, that should not be a hindrance to our collective quest to develop Ghana. Let us not forget that there is a saying in Akan that “Yenkum dwa nni dwa” which literally means you don't kill your co-seller so that people could buy from you alone.
Constructive criticism is very good for this nation and we all, in the process of putting the government on its tones, should not to subject every trivial issue out of proportion and build a case out of it so as to make the government unpopular. If people criticise with such premeditated mind, then they are in fact doing this nation a great disservice.
Let constructive engagement be our sole focus and Ghana will not be same no matter who is government and who is governed. Thomas Kwaku Obeng Luleå University of Technology Sweden Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.
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