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16.12.2005 Feature Article

Mojo Odyssey: Presidential Travels, Myth & Reality

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Ludwig Wittgenstein, the renowned German Philosopher said: “Tell me 'how' you seek and I will tell you 'what' you are seeking”. What would those presidents of developing nations with a penchant for foreign travel tell Wittgenstein as to 'how' they seek 'what' they desire when they arrive, with cup in hand, on foreign soil?

Dear Reader, come along with me from the dark into the light on an odyssey of discovery. Ponder what Wittgenstein would have told any of those leaders regarding their incessant and! seeming addiction to traveling. Consider also, whether Wittgenstein's conclusion would have been that these hapless leaders usually chose the wrong path of traveling as a one-stop solution to their country's problems. Do they embark on these trips to far away lands with the mistaken notion that developed nations are indeed Santa Clausians with free goodies in their political chimneys? As is the parlance in those nations, “nothing is free.”

Many of these leaders advertise their lack of vision by their incessant trips, and absentee style of leadership, where matters of national interest are avoided or ignored, simply by jumping on a plane and leaving the country and its problems behind for the perceived 'real rulers' and old geezers with no political mandate, to resolve.

When such visionless folks become presidents, they lead the masses to believe they would first seek what is the best for their country, even though they almost immediately succumb to personal greed and avarice. Indeed, even those who would not necessarily be in their corner are willing to give them the benefit of goodwill with a strong hope that they represent something new and fresh, something one of them actually would call positive change. The reservoir of goodwill for such leaders would be depleted, leaving the tank empty, when the people discover that the first order of priority for such nation wreckers masquerading as leaders was to fill their giant pockets with Tax-payer monies through morally wrong and foul methods. How do people allow such 'calamity' to happen?

THE CASE OF GHANA AND ITS TRAVELING INCUMBENT:

When Mr. Kufuor decided he wanted to be President of Ghana, he had the ability to choose the path to pursue in order to reach his objective. The plethora of promises he made were too salivating to be both true and achievable. Having grasped power, did he choose the subject matter and conflict that have today defined his presidency? Yes, Kufuor chose foreign travel to every nation on earth as the centerpiece of his plan to propel Ghana to a middle-class status originally thought to be 2020, but not anymore according to JH Mensah, Kufuor's brother-in law, who is amongst those actually calling the shots and rul! ing Ghana de facto. Kufuor chose to act and behave in a manner leading to the questions and disastrous predicaments he is facing today.

Wittgenstein was right when he philosophized, “a good guide will take you through the more important streets more often than he takes you down side streets; a bad guide will do the opposite.” As Ghana's President, Kufuor would have shown himself to be “a good guide” had he focused more on the country itself, and spent less time meandering down the “side streets” of international travel. His jet-setting Presidency reveals his leadership to be distant, hands-off, and disconnected from th! e heart of the Afram Plains, which ought to be Ghana's breadbasket.

Since his inauguration, on January 7, 2001, John Kufuor's Presidency has taken him to many places around the world. Although his predecessors also traveled to foreign lands, Mr. Kufuor's case seems to be more extreme than most. There are significant costs when a President travels, more so, when the President is from a small, developing country such as Ghana. When a President travels, it is a significant undertaking requiring advance preparation, a Presidential entourage that includes Ministers of State and their assistants, hotel rooms, facility rentals, an! d so on. Furthermore, a President who travels too much runs the risk of neglecting important responsibilities at home. It is also not unlikely that Presidents may seek to travel abroad to escape scandals and political crises in their home country.

Why should the people of Ghana care how much Kufuor travels? Well, the primary reason Ghanaians should care about Kufuor's traveling habits is because they are paying for it. And just as the parent who pays for his child's school trip would expect to monitor how the child is performing, so do Ghanaians have a right, and even a responsibility, to determine whether their taxpayer monies are being used properly. Therefore, Ghanaians need to pay close attention to this question because of the large investment of time and money that ! is dedicated toward planning and carrying out each and every Presidential trip.

A chronological record of visits by President Kufuor is not readily ascertainable because there is no central public record of them all. This in itself is disturbing, because the information should be freely and easily available, whether in print or online, not only for journalistic purposes, but also for academic and future posterity.

Kufuor was inaugurated as President on January 7, 2001. His first visit after he assumed office came only 6 days later, on January 13, 2001, to Lama Kara, Togo to celebrate the late Eyadema's 1967 military coup anniversary only to have headless chicken and goat sprouting blood on his feet in a sacrificial ritual. In his first one and a half years of office, Kufuor made a total of 42 trips abroad. At this same brisk pace, by the time the President's term expires in 2008, Kufuor will have made 224 Presidential trips! Although some might claim that trips to Mali, Togo, Nigeria, and other regional “neighbors” would be less costly, it is the old Presidential Plane, which was refurbished, that is used on trips within West Africa. The fixed costs of using this plane, like fuel, and maintenance, often equates to those of longer haul journeys where he is accompanied by a larger entourage.

Should his trips last a minimum of four d! ays on average, then by the end of 2008, Kufuor will have spent 896 days away from Ghana. That's almost two and a half years spent away from Ghana on foreign soil! Already, in 5 years of office, Kufuor has hit on the total of more than 100 foreign trips mark, an average of some 20 Presidential trips each year. Indeed, by September 2002, Kufuor had exceeded this average by making more than 33 trips outside Ghana.

Because of the sheer cost involved, footed by the Ghanaian taxpayer, it is important that the President provide the public with good reasons for traveling abroad. Thus, it is necessary that the public be reassured that trips overseas are! reserved for important matters of State, that they are not frivolous, and, in Kufuor's case, will generate a promised return. However, Kufuor's frequent trips suggest that travel is possibly sometimes undertaken for reasons other than the national interest. Is it coincidence that Kufuor stayed abroad for a week after participating in a short conference within the same week when Ghana was disgraced by the arrest of NPP MP, Eric Amoateng in his alleged heroin bust in New York? What of Harouna Esseku's claim of Castle kickback scandal and Kufuor's subsequently unannounced flight to Mali? Traveling to escape?

Who knows why the President takes the trips he does? Why d! oes he appear to accept all invitations and in some instances like his 2001 and 2002 trips to France and to China when his host Presidents themselves were on Foreign State Visit? Did he not appear to invite himself to those Foreign State Visits? I'm sure that many Presidents also enjoy traveling in foreign countries because all the pomp and pageantry helps to make them feel Presidential again, and not so taken for granted, like they might be at home. If there are any ongoing scandals or political crises back at home, then leaving the country is definitely a great way to dodge the fallout.

It would be very helpful if, before and after every Presidential visit, the President's Office issued a report, de! tailing his itinerary, and whether the visit resulted in any potential investment opportunities or trade agreements for Ghana. It is not expected that every single visit would yield productive leads, but at the very least, in the spirit of transparency, it would improve matters to provide some accountability. Because Kufuor has made traveling the centerpiece of his administration, it is imperative that he reports diligently to those who gave him the mandate to rule, as well as pay for his trips. The Presidency is not a monarchy, and Kufuor is not a King; so he cannot expect to jet off at will without being held to account by the people.

For instance, South Africa annually publishes a yearbook, in which, among oth! er things, details a whole chapter to Foreign Relations, Presidential State visits, and the Results – investments, trade agreements, settlements, etc- of those trips. Making information about Presidential trips public is an easy and democratic thing to do.

Where the Presidential plane is not used, the primary cost of Presidential trips will include:

(i) the cost of first and business class air tickets for the President and his entourage, respectively

(ii) travel expenses such as lodging, and meals for the President and his entourage,

(iii) telecommunication, transportation, vehicle rentals, equipment rentals, and other logistics ! for the trip,

(iv) planning expenses for those agencies in Ghana that were involved in planning and coordinating the trip, and

(v) per diem payments made to the President and other members of his entourage, which the government has not been forthcoming of the exact figure, be they US $3 000 or $3 or 3 cents (the proverbial "tro-tro").

The recent brouhaha generated by the 47-man Presidential trip to Willard's Hotel in Washington DC to view a Documentary on Presidential Tour Guidance, partly came about due to lack of transparency and accountability.

In light of some of the facts outlined above, are Kufuor's frequent trips alerting ! potential foreign investors to Ghana's investment potential? This is a very difficult question to answer, with many caveats attached. In the first place, it is not very likely that investors invest in a given country simply because its President visits them. While this may occur in some instances, it is highly unlikely that the vast majority of rational investors make their financial decisions based on a visit. More often than not, entrepreneurs decide to invest because conditions in some country are favorable towards investment. In particular, conditions that might invite investment include internal infrastructural development, laws that favor enterprise and private property ownership, as well as favorable political conditions in the country and its surrounding environment.

As a result, a valid argument would be that it would be more cost-effective to concentrate on creating the abovementioned favorable atmosphere conditions rather than incessantly traveling abroad. As discussed in previous Mojo Odysseys, in particular, land reform is of the utmost urgency. Infrastructure is also vital to attract investment – roads, railway systems, ports, harbors, and other means of communication need to be revitalized.

As taxpayers, Ghanaians both possess and deserve the right to ask questions about President Kufuor's trips abroad. First, do Presidents of a small, developing country need to travel as much as Kufuor does? Second, what about costs? Although the President needs to travel safely an! d in a comfortable manner, do taxpayers really need to pay as much in per diems for the President and other members of his entourage? Third, how necessary are all the members of the President's entourage anyway? And for that matter, couldn't some of Ghana's ambassadors represent Kufuor at some of the less important functions, like they are paid very well to do? After all, Ghana spends trillions in staffing, maintaining, and supporting its embassies abroad. Why not use them other than meeting and greeting at airports and hotels?

The key to economic development is to attract private investment. When the President travels overseas, he mostly consorts with other world leaders. While he may be a! ble to secure loans, grants, and pledges of debt forgiveness from these world leaders, Kufuor should not forget that all these are essentially public transfers. They are not private forms of investment, and as such, are not the impetus that a developing country needs to boost its economic development. At best, promises of loans, grants, and debt forgiveness from other world leaders act as placeholders; they maintain the status quo and keep the bottom from falling out of the barrel. But they will only very rarely enable Ghana to go the extra mile and improve rapidly her economic situation. For that to happen, Ghana needs private investment. And that is something that requires the less glamorous work of traveling around your own c! ountry to improve the domestic situation first.

Merry X'mas, Dear Visiting Absentee President; Renowned World 1st Class Traveler.

Happy Holidays to Taxpayers of Ghana who have not yet defaulted on any Bills from British Airways and Hilton Hotels,(yuck, to think Ghanaian Taxpayers are footing bills for the lifestyle of Paris Hilton and siblings!). Is there any correlation between the President's choice of staying in Hilton Hotels and the Hilton Project in Ghana? Seems like the Hilton family and acolytes have bested the Marriott Family just as BA has trumped KLM in the Kufuor travel bonanza.

The 2005 MOJO Odyssey comes to a conclusion. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Ebby Koney
Ebby Koney, © 2005

The author has 22 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: EbbyKoney

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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