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12.10.2008 General News

All In A Day's Work, Buddy

I do not remember the last time any Ghanaian, even in death, remained in such unyielding competition with the most prominent national events for prime time news headlines for a straight fortnight running.

Parliament reconvened on Tuesday in an atmosphere of brooding gloom and MPs dispensed with hearing the day's business as a mark of respect for the late MP and Minister of Finance, Mr Baah-Wiredu.

It has all got me thinking about a few things which may or may not be related to the Finance Minster's death. Now, consider the stress and fatigue of cross-continental, long haul air travel and the particular case of a Minister of State (not the late Finance Minster necessarily), who has no sooner descended the gangway of a plane, than he is hopping onto one again even before his second foot has touched the tarmac!

On another day, such an official arrives at KIA from Tokyo and is driven home. He has no sooner had dinner and a bit of good old shut-eye, than he is off again, bound this time for Geneva and thence to Washington and London. Thus, he spends a lot of time, his time, doing one thing: Sitting down. When he is not seated all day on planes bobbing about in the sky, he is sitting down at meetings which last a 48-hour day.

When he is not travelling or trapped in all-day and all-night meetings, he is poring over mountainous stacks of data, figures and other sensitive documents we mortals never see.

At the weekend, urgent business calls him back to duty and if he ever gets a bit of time to unwind, friends, relations and all manner of people seeking the influence and power of his office for the advancement of their personal interests, launch merciless attacks on what is left of the man's time.

From day to day, through the seasons, the man has no time for rest or leisure. The human body can only endure so much in stress and physical inactivity, Jomo.

The next president of the republic may consider making it mandatory for every Minister of State to sign up with a Cabinet and ministerial keep-fit club of sorts.

At least twice a week, except where very urgent business or emergencies call, they congregate at El Wak Stadium where a retired drill sergeant from the Ghana Army takes them through their ageing paces:

They jump up and down and hop about, sweating, huffing and puffing, torsos and bellies heaving, and if some fat is shed in the process, why, we get a healthier Executive to run the nation and Major Quashigah gets to save some cash from the annual health budget.

That is what the late Thomas Sankara did in Burkina Faso when, after launching his almighty revolution, he found he had inherited a civil service populated with middle-aged folks carrying beer-fat-laden tummies up and down office stairways.

His revolution was not one with room for arguments. Civil servants were subjected to the jump, squat, hop and pant for dear life regimen. Civil servants became much more active and the health bill reportedly took a dip.

Methinks it would help too if some Ministers of State learn to hand over appropriate official notes to their deputies, and delegate travel assignments to the deputies so that the latter too get to pocket some dollar per diems, yah?

If an individual is described as hardworking with the repetitiveness, emphasis and intensity with which the late Finance Minister has been described, then it probably means one thing: The man so described is slowly being killed by an overly taxing and punishing job schedule with mayhap, a little help from his own genetic disposition to being a workaholic:

Years ago, Jomo, I went to present a paper on the media and national unity at the New Year School at the University of Ghana, Legon, and found to my disbelief, that there was only ONE Minister of Sate in the audience: Mr Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu.

He later came to me in the Junior Common Room where resource persons were having a coffee break, grabbed and pumped my hand enthusiastically in congratulation. The man who was then Minister of Local Government told me he had returned only hours before from a tour of the Savanna which took him to Bawku.

“I went all the way up to Garu-Tempane. Your people are so very hardworking,” he told me. Talk about a hardworking man talking about hardworking men!

The last time I met the man was at a meeting he held with customs officials and freight forwarders at the Tema Port. He noticed me sitting quietly in a corner and spoke up from across the room when a subject was under discussion, “Mr Abugri, what is your opinion...?”

As for the elections, all is set for the big day and the electrical static that usually charges the atmosphere in seasons such as this, is already building up in the air.

Every election in this country since independence has always been very keenly contested but the stakes in the coming one are really up there somewhere in the outer space, Jomo:

Having lost political power and being in opposition for the past eight years, the prospect of another four years in opposition must be too distressing for the NDC to even contemplate. Knowing the political history of this country and the perceived implications of a loss, the NPP may be just as determined to stay in power.

That exposes the real reasons for the ever present threat of violence in elections in Africa, yah? The roots of the problem seem to lie in the unwritten principles of African democracy: Ruling party attitudes towards the opposition in African countries often combine to make the opposition a hellish nightmare or nightmarish hell, whichever captures your literary fancy more compellingly.

It is the principle of “the winning political party takes all and rides it roughshod over all opposition parties.”

Student activists, top public officials, clergymen, leaders of professional bodies, top police and military officers, industrialists, businessmen and women, contractors, etc. who are perceived to be sympathetic to the opposition, find themselves out in the cold.

No business contracts, no deserving appointments, stalled promotions and other forms of exclusion and discrimination, all perpetuated discreetly.

When the opposition and those subtly discriminated against on account of their perceived political leanings endure this for say, eight years and the time comes for an opportunity to change a government, the stakes shoot for the blue sky:

The incumbent cannot imagine being voted out of power and finding itself at the receiving end of this Third World political medicine. The opposition wont let slip by an opportunity to take a turn with the giant aprapansa. So? So enter the so-called power-sharing madness, which is beginning to afflict democracy in Africa. That is no democracy, so what do we do now, Jomo?

By George Sydney Abugri