In his 'lame duck' days President John Kufuor has been very busy racking up the frequent flyer miles. He's ending his presidency just as he started it. In the beginning we were told that he needed to travel the world to “sell” Ghana to investors. But these days, there isn't much focus on selling Ghana – if he couldn't convince the investors to come here in the last seven years, what more can he do in his last days in office? So now, the emphasis seems to be on selling himself.
This, I think, has been part of the grand scheme all this while. Quite a number of Kufuor's foreign trips seem to have been deliberately planned to make him 'relevant' in international affairs. Why else will he jump on a plane to help end post-election ethnic strife in Kenya at a time when the Kusasis and Mamprusis in Bawku were hacking each other with machetes?
This week, his efforts were recognised by no less an institution as Britain's Chatham House – a 'think tank' which specialises in international affairs. I don't see how Kufuor helped to pull Kenya back from the brink of civil war. But the guys at Chatham House think he had something to do with it. If my grey and white matter have not been mixed up to form a useless mushy mess, my memory tells me that at the height of the Kenyan crisis, the two protagonists didn't seem so interested in listening to him. They didn't even want to sit down together with him. A minister said Kufuor had gone to Nairobi to drink tea. At his wits end, the president had to call in former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan – who eventually brokered the peace deal between Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki. I think Annan did more for the Kenyans than Kufuor did. But whatever the president did helped him to get the Chatham House accolade. Kenya, though, was not the only reason why our president won the prize from the “home of the Royal Society of International Relations”. Apparently, he also did a whole lot to help end the civil wars in Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire.
This week's Chatham House award, I suppose, should be a big boost for the president's retirement plans. I don't think he's so eager to retire into a quiet existence. I also don't think the president is so keen on managing – or, at least helping to manage – his (son's) hotel. He needs another job that will keep him travelling constantly around the world.
A few weeks ago, there was a story on the frontpage of the 'Daily Graphic' shamelessly proclaiming that the president was getting a lot of offers to work with some international organisations at the end of his tenure. Among the organisations offering Kufuor a post-tenure job, according to the newspaper, is an Italian organisations called Alliance for Africa.
I have 'googled' 'Alliance for Africa' but I got nothing on them. Isn't it rather curious that an organisation being touted by our president as his next probable employer doesn't even have a website? Well, the president is keeping hope alive.
“There are many things and if one more comes from the United Nation's all well and good”, the 'Daily Graphic' quotes him as saying.
It seems to me that the president is angling for a job, preferably with the UN and that story in the Daily Graphic was only meant to notify the UN to act quickly – otherwise organisations like Milan-based Alliance for Africa for will snap him up.
Now, the question bugging my mind is this: why will the president not stay at home, enjoy his retirement, help manage his (son's) hotel and just have fun? I have been thinking that if he doesn't want to just be an idle old man – if hotel management won't occupy him enough – he could as well use his retirement to revive and turn most of his failed “special initiatives” into resounding successes. I don't think this has occurred to his special advisor, Mary Chinery-Hesse, just yet and so our president has been left with no choice than to look for an “international” job which will keep him travelling.
You see, a job with the UN (or that Italian organisation) affords the president another opportunity to enjoy one of the things he loves so much – getting paid to travel the world on someone else's dime. So far, he must have made a fortune out of travelling – mostly from per diem, the daily allowance he gets for racking up the frequent-flyer miles. In case, you didn't know, it doesn't pay – at least from his perspective – for the president to stay at home. We don't know exactly how much per diem he earns per trip but it is rumoured to be quite a lot.
A friend of mine put it this way: “assuming it [the per diem] is $1500 per day and he travels averagely four days per trip, and he has so far travelled not less than 140 times then the equation would be $1500x4x140=$840,000. Almost $1million in eight years. No wonder everyone wants to be president these days.”
I think the president earns more than $1500 as per diem. And he definitely has travelled more than 140 times. According his vice president, Kufuor has been out of the country for at least two out of his almost eight-year tenure. As he prepares to leave office, we have been told that he has received several invitations to visit so many other countries. And, it seems, he intends to honour each of them. He has already been to America – at the invitation of George Bush. Before that he was in Germany – at the invitation of Angela Merkel and recently, he was in the Netherlands – at the invitation of Queen Beatrix. He was honouring a similar “invitation” to Equatorial Guinea when his plane developed a serious problem and was forced to return to base. I am certain they missed him very much during Equatorial Guinea's Independence celebrations and I won't be surprised if he arranges to go there before he leaves office.
Perhaps, we must give him the benefit of the doubt and understand that as his term comes to an end, the president desires to make a last sales pitch for Ghana before he leaves office. But, don't forget, he also needs a job that will keep him travelling.
That's why I'm organising this competition... simply predict where the president will be travelling to next. All correct predictions will be entered into a draw and the first name to be picked out of the lot wins a handsome prize: a rare opportunity to be at the airport to wave 'good bye' as Kufuor jumps on the next available plane. Unfortunately, you can't travel with him – unless you are a journalist he loves, a close friend, a family member, a minister of state or Duncan Williams. Whatever the case may be, we just can't wait for a president who doesn't actively seek excuses to fly away, can we?
Credit: Ato Kwamena Dadzie