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29.01.2009 Feature Article

Ghana has the one thing money can't buy

The recent elections in Ghana have generated intense debate in Nigeria , ranging from sober reflections about what Nigeria could have been to the mind-boggling refusal to tell ourselves the truth.

That truth is that the problem of Nigeria remains as Achebe said many years ago, the problem of leadership.

Nigeria 's unique brand of leadership dates back to its founding some 150 years ago when a bunch of booty hunters, the most notable of which was the Royal Niger Company, founded the country solely for their own aggrandizement. Our foreign founders simply came to take as much as they could while the harvest lasted. This is our original leadership tradition.

Archives from that era and memoirs of colonial administrators in what later became Nigeria have shown that this early state tradition was further entrenched during formal colonial rule and then passed on to our post-colonial elite who have since perfected it to an art form. It appears that post-colonial political elites in some of our neighboring countries of which Ghana is a shining example did not imbibe the booty-hunter leadership tradition of our colonial overlords. At least, not to the same degree as our leaders did.

That's why Ghana , our smaller and less endowed neighbour is doing much better in governance, elections and public decorum.

Many recent Ghanaian politicians articulate ideological visions that match deeply-held values of the average Ghanaian before seeking the highest office. Frequently these visions described a better future to which the citizens have a moral right.

They point to civilized political culture, the type that is still largely foreign to politicking among our Nigerian political elite. This is usually evident in the behavior of Ghanaian public officials.

Consider this. The Ghanaian president does not travel with more than six cars in his entourage, and often his siren is not switched on unless there is traffic jam, of which Accra is unfortunately increasingly becoming notorious. The immediate past president's personal house in the airport residential area was guarded by no more than two policemen.

Most Nigerians would be scandalized to learn that “a whole” Rawlings ruled Ghana for 19 years and had to wait for former President Kufuor to build him a decent house for his retirement. And, did you know that President Mills was still publishing papers in referred academic journals as late as 2006, despite having been vice president of the country?

Or that you could actually make an appointment, and would actually get to see the president, vice president, ministers, the speaker and members of the National parliament, if you apply through the appropriate public affairs officers.

Where this fails, you should not be surprised to receive an apology or invitation to reschedule on the phone. Or that radio and TV news bulletins rarely begin with “Government has warned …” as we're used to here, where some big shot recently asked us lesser mortals to go learn “how to talk to those of us in power.” Or that when it re-denominated its currency in 2007 convoys of truck loads of the new currency were transported all over the country often with one police escort per truck, and without any incidence of attacks on those vehicles!

It appears that even robbers respect the legitimacy of public order in Ghana which may explain one reason general elections there are not the brutish 'do or die' affairs they have become in Nigeria.
Still some Nigerians laugh all of these off and say “but Ghana is a small country.”

Well, we invite them all to try getting appointment with the maximum leader of The Gambia, that sliver of 200 mile-by-30 mile territory with only 1.5 million people. If they are lucky to escape without being branded accomplices to a phantom coup, they may try in Equatorial Guinea with less than a fifth of the total population of Kano city. And if that's too much trouble, then we suggest a visit to the office of the “Executive Chairman” of a local government council right here at home.

Our point is that a political culture and state tradition that socializes future leaders into seeking their turn at the trough should not be expected to produce leaders who would do anything less.

Ghana has lots of developmental problems and would probably never have the kind of big wallet that Nigeria has. But, it is a country where “servant leadership” seems to be practised as an integral part of the wider societal ethos. You cannot buy this with oil money.

Source: Ebere Onwudiwe & Okey C. Iheduru, Business Day, Nigeria

MyjoyOnline, © 2009

This author has authored 338 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: myjoyonline

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