Human beings do not like to be reminded of unpleasant facts. But we Ghanaians seem to have this human quality in great measure.
We seem to have it ingrained in our character to refuse even to remember uncomfortable truths. Thus if you swear the great oath which recalls a community or tribal calamity you are made to pay a great price for reminding the people of an incident which is best forgotten.
The character expresses itself with a vengeance in modern times when we comment unfavourably on unwelcome events. We are accused of being antigovernment when we recall even in passing unpleasant national events.
The practice makes public officers get away with murder because no one dare criticise them especially if he or she wants favours from authority. These officers hide behind the “criticism immunity” of government and authority and the rot continues in high places.
We must try to get over the tendency to look away from facts however uncomfortable they make us. We must do this if we want to benefit from the experience of the past 50 years of self-rule. Let us begin with the independence anniversary celebrations.
Ghanaians took over the celebrations as their own. They put colour, joy and national fervour into the festivities. The celebrations were therefore a great success from the overall point of view.
But the enemy of the best is that which is better. And we cannot aspire after excellence if we do not aim at doing things better. And so without pointing an accusing finger at anyone we should ask whether the performances could have been better. And specifically did our visitors enjoy themselves and what impressions would they carry away?
To begin with we should observe that the planning started too late unless we the ordinary people did not know what was happening.
Second, history and institutional memory tell us that such plans are not left to ministers however learned. It has been tried before and it failed. Ministers simply do not have the time for the work involved and are not conversant with the nitty gritty of administration in the Ghanaian setting.
The independence celebrations in 1957 were organised largely by expatriate civil servants assisted by Ghanaians who knew they had to learn quickly.
The conference of Independent African States in 1958 was organised by young Ghanaian civil servants led by A. L. Adu. The many conferences, state visits and meetings which were common during the first Republic were handled with competence by Ghanaian civil and public officers.
The last major event was the OAU conference in Accra in 1965. A whole Conference Centre, Job 600 was built within a year. I remarked rather too strongly that a year was too short a time to get the building and all facilities ready within a year.
As a punishment for my foreboding, I was made administrator-general of the conference facilities. To keep my head on my shoulders I had to work like you know what.And what was even more important than working hard.
I consulted very widely. As a result I had an extension made at the Ridge Hospital to accommodate Heads of State who might fall sick. It was never used as was the huge generator which was procured.
A full dress-rehearsal for the state banquet however proved useful. The Ambassador Hotel staff assumed that the Banquet Hall had all the required utensils and kitchen cutlery.
Going for these requirements made the banquet start 35 minutes late. If this had happened on the day itself my head would certainly have gone even though I was not directly responsible and the minister had okayed all the arrangements.
The point of this story is that the institutional memory for handling such events existed. If it has disappeared we should face the facts of how this happened and stop the further emasculation of a tried and effective system.
Grand new systems which ignore our character and experience will not work. To continue with the celebrations, a minister had delayed the approval of a menu for a dinner before.
The result was that what guests ate was not what was on the menu card. Rumour has it that something similar occurred at the 50th Anniversary dinner banquet. Is this progress?
Worse still some who were at the banquet said that when the President and his august visitors left they had only taken the first course. It was even said that some important visitors were not served and a few helped themselves at a Buffet arranged for second tier guests outside the hall.
And this is 25 years after a friend of mine lost his job because some guests were not fed at a state dinner! Some progress indeed!
Accommodation of guests also appeared to have caused some problems. We are supposed to live in a democratic free market society. The government cannot simply order hotels at short notice to surrender suites which have been ordered and paid for by clients.
The authorities should organise themselves in time and go by the rules.
So far as the parade was concerned it was good but there were a few hiccups. Arrangements for the press were not good. Some foreign correspondents had to squat to work.
Allocations for television crews were unsatisfactory. The crowds blocked the view.
But the happy Ghanaians were accommodating and made way for the foreign Camera crews to work. Ghanaians can certainly be good when they are happy.
The parking of cars for delegations was not adequately considered. There were too many police “captains” giving orders and it took too long for cars to arrive at the parade grounds to evacuate the august visitors.
Soon we would have another big gathering. It is to be hoped that we would learn from our mistakes and remember what we have done successfully in years gone by.
The 50th anniversary celebrations showed that we are a proud united nation. Let us not give our detractors cause to question our pride and the ebullient confidence displayed during the celebrations.
Article by K. B. Asante