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13.02.2005 Feature Article

Of Constitutions and Conscience: Oh JAK, How Silent Thou Art!

Of Constitutions and Conscience: Oh JAK, How Silent Thou Art!
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Last night, I clung to a pair of headphones desperately hoping that the latest version of RealPlayer wouldn't disappoint me. I was trying to stay posted on the latest developments in Togo. It was one of those fortunate nights of web-surfing you could say. Only a few interruptions in Radio Lome's web broadcast. I must admit that all that gospel music they played during the broadcast has left me in a pensive mood. You could say that a bout of sainthood has consumed me this morning. And what better way for a saint – even if only for a few hours – to start his day and this piece? May I please request the services of a minstrel? Ehhhh, ehmm…

“Oh Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder...mmm…
Consider all the works that John-Agyekum-Kufuor has done.

I see zero tolerance, I hear the National Reconciliation Commission, The silence on Faure Gnassingbe displayed!

The sings my soul, my JAK, I question thee! How silent thou art! How silent thou art! The sings my soul, my JAK, please explain to me! How silent thou art, how siiiiiilent thou art?” I feel better now. My soul is at ease and I can freely speak on that which troubles my heart. Truly, music is good for the soul. Thank you minstrel, you may go now. The keyboard will suffice from here on. Recent Political Events in Togo Since yesterday's swearing in of 39-year-old Faure Gnassingbe, son of the late Gnassingbe Eyadema, the longest serving African head-of-state and who died of a reported heart attack on Saturday, many are the voices clamouring to condemn the violation of Togo's constitution. Togo's multiparty constitution was ratified by its National Assembly in September 1992, a move that later saw the National Assembly occupied by the military and the Assembly chairman along with 38 others held hostage by pro-Eyadema soldiers. Political violence that followed in 1993 would give opposition leaders a real hint of the late president's convictions on multiparty democracy. Recent events in Togo have also provided evidence of Faure Gnassingbe's convictions on constitutional matters. Article 65 of the Togolese constitution states that,

Original: “En cas de vacance de la Présidence de la République par décès, démission ou empêchement définitif, la fonction présidentielle est exercée provisoirement par le Président de l'Assemblée Nationale. La Vacance est constatée par la Cour Constitutionelle saisie par le gouvernment. Le Gouvernement convoque le corps électoral dans les soixante jours de l'ouverture de la vacance pour l'élection d'un nouveau Président de la République pour une période de cinq ans.” English Translation: In the event of a vacancy of the Presidency of the Republic by death, resignation or termination of office, the presidential duty is to be performed by the President of the National Assembly. The vacancy is to be noted by the Constitutional Court convened under the authority of the government. The Government is to convene the electorate within the sixty days from the opening of the vacancy for the election of a new President of the Republic for a period of five years."

One must wonder what Faure Gnassingbe meant when he raised his right hand on Monday and swore the presidential oath to the Togolese people, “solemnly promising to protect the sanctity of Togo's constitution.” Clearly, Faure Gnassingbe's idea of sanctity can be compared to his late father's views on multiparty democracy. Despite constitutional provisions on power transition in the case of a president's death, Togo's military circumvented the constitution and amended it to allow Faure Gnassingbe to assume the presidential office and to finish the remaining 3 years of his father's term. This means that Eyadema Junior as Togo's new president was recently called by Niger President and ECOWAS Chairman Mamadou Tandja, would be able to remain in office until 2008. Eyadema Junior? Sounds like a fitting title. Political Conscience Among Africa's political leaders, no one seems to have been more vocal and clear on his stance about unfolding events in Togo than Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo. The Nigerian president, who is also the current African Union (AU) chairman, is reported to have urged other African leaders not to recognize Faure Gnassingbe's presidency. President Obasanjo has said, “Events that have happened since the death of President Eyadema do not give us comfort that peace will follow in that country.”

Early in 2001, during his first term of office, President John Kufuor of Ghana, Togo's eastern neighbour, came under fire from various segments of the Ghanaian populace for what was widely viewed as his flirting with the “Butcher of Lome”. Kufuor paid several calls on President Eyadema during his first term in office, including a visit to Togo to commemorate Eyadema's coup of January 13, 1963 when Togo's first president Sylvanus Olympio was assassinated. Kufuor's escapades with the Eyadema clique put many among Ghana's Ewe nationality on alert. The Ewe people are found in Ghana and Togo, as well as the Republic of Benin. Sensitivities between Ewes and some quarters among the late Eyadema's Kabye ethnicity were heightened during his 38 years in office due to murders and disappearances of Togolese activists, many who were of Ewe origin. Similarly, sensitivities did build up in Ghana due to Jerry Rawlings' – Rawlings was born to an Ewe mother - over 18 years in office as Ghana's head-of-state. Currently, Ghanaians are becoming increasingly vocal about John Kufuor's silence on unfolding events in Togo.

Yesterday, Ghana's presidential spokesperson, Kwabena Agyepong described the actions of Togo's military in moving Faure Gnassingbe to the presidential seat as “perhaps immature or unfortunate to say the least”. At a time when some Ghanaians are wondering about John Kufuor's manifested moral stance on Togo – Kufuor has been quite silent on the matter except for some second hand comments from his spokesperson – one can only wonder what is causing John Kufuor's tongue to mark time. Kufuor and Ghana's Constitution It is often said that “when you live in a glass house, don't throw stones.” But John Kufuor doesn't live in a glass house. He lives at Osu Castle, Ghana's seat of government in Accra, and owns a private residence at Tetteh Quarshie Circle where it was reported during his first term in office that he had purchased an ultra-modern, seven-storey hotel from a Lebanese owner for an undisclosed amount. The area where the hotel is located has been popularly labeled “HIPC Junction”.

Also, since his first term, despite his calls for “zero tolerance” on corruption in government, John Kufuor has been quite silent about the alleged and confirmed activities of some of his ministers. Case in point is Dr. Richard Anane, MP Bantama. The Road and Transport Minister designate was recently exposed in an unfolding extra-marital scandal with an American woman with whom he has a child. Sex, lies and corruption is written all over this minister's dossier. Dr. Anane, formerly Ghana's Health Minister is also being asked why he didn't use a condom.

Central Region Minister Isaac Edumadze is another head that is likely to do some rolling should certain members of his constituency have their way.

In the constitution department, another issue that has once again reared its head in Ghana is the constitutional requirement that public officials declare their assets before taking office. Despite claims that this was done during Kufuor's first term in office, records do not substantiate that rules on asset declaration were strictly followed. Article 286 of the Ghanaian constitution states,

“1) A person who holds a public office mentioned in clause (5) of this article shall submit to the Auditor-General a written declaration of all property or assets owned by, or liabilities owed by, him whether directly or indirectly. (a) within three months after the coming into force of this Constitution or before taking office, as the case may be, (b) at the end of every four years; and (c) at the end of his term of office.

(2) Failure to declare or knowingly making false declaration shall be a contravention of this Constitution and shall be dealt with in accordance with article 287 of this Constitution.”

Given that the vetting of Ghana's ministerial appointees has just ended, your guess is as good as that of the average Ghanaian on whether this time around, Ghana's public officials will decide to truly uphold and defend the constitution. If they don't, at least there can be some understanding of why John Kufuor has been so silent on developments in Togo. A Day in the Life of a Saint It is said that a wise person should be of few words. That's why I kept it short. But I need to mention that of the political representatives that attended Faure Gnassingbe's swearing-in-ceremony on Monday, one of them was Ghana's ambassador to Togo. Mr. Kufuor what happened? Nenema (Ewe for “so it's like that”)?

I end with admonishments to Ghana's president. “Oh, Mr. President…that you were hot or cold I do wish that you would come to a decision. So then because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, it may be that Ghanaians will have no other choice but to spew thee out of their mouths. They shall continue to verbally chastise you for your silence on Togo.”

And all the other acts of John Kufuor, do we not have the past 4 years and the next 3 years and ten months from which to learn?

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