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19.03.2009 Feature Article

The freedom to express oneself!

ON DECEMBER 15, 2008, President J. A. Kufuor,  (the then President in Office of our Republic), on what could be seen as his last campaign trail, in support of his protégé,  met  with journalists, and broadcasters in  the City of  Kumasi, heartland of Ashanti. 

On this occasion, it was said, he would “pour soothing oil on troubled waters, in a campaign, which had seen so much of acrimony, between the two major political parties, the NPP, and the NDC”.

The run-off of the Presidential part of the General Election was believed to be gathering momentum, (the ruling NPP having shown what even sympathizers called an abysmal performance), even if numerically, they were slightly ahead.  Among complaints from Kumasi were items like, the President not having encouraged any development projects in Kumasi , to match those of Accra . Streets were still in pretty bad shape in Kumasi , and when a “fly-over” is said to be constructed in Kumasi , it turns out to be miniatures of those in Accra .

The President, in the eight years of his tenure, had traveled outside on the average, every two weeks. The tax-payer had footed the sum of some eighteen million United States Dollars, (US$18 million), for the national Chief Executive to travel, believably, in the interest of the nation.

On his travels, only Journalists from the capital city had the privilege to accompany him. Worst still, the president had, in his tenure, channeled a whopping 67% of foreign investments to Accra alone. Perhaps, it may be interesting to note that, the National Chief Executive we are talking about hails from the Ashanti Heartland, and from a village, not so far away from Kumasi .  For those of us listening into the program, and hence, not looking at the face of the president directly, his embarrassed face could be seen all the same. The program went on, in the form of “questions & answers”. It must not have been his day, simply put.

For historical comparison, just digest an European factum, following World War II. The carnage in Europe , 1939-45, left poverty and devastation only behind.  The Federal Republic of Germany, elected their first Chancellor, called Konrad Adenauer. (1876-1967). He was Chancellor from 1949,-1963.  In the 14 years of his tenure, this Chancellor did a couple of things: His home town, a village between the industrial city of Cologne , and the township, Bonn , was called Rhoendorf.  The Chancellor saw the potential advantage in Bringing the Capital City , which for hundreds of years was in Berlin , to Bonn .

He went ahead, and did just that for obvious reasons.  Truly, Bonn benefited from the development that usually accompanies a capital city. 

Bonn was turned into the IT-hub of Germany , even though, the Capital has shifted back to Berlin , for a thousand and one reasons.  Bonn got an unprecedented bonus, that no-one would have thought of, not even in a dream.

In an article on the subject of “Criticism”, penned by the same author in the “CHRONICLE” the latter part of the year, 2007, the issue of people, with great concern for their well-being, when they must express an opinion that might be seen as being criticism, a senior police officer would not pass on a comment to his superior. It was the issue in which the senior police officer received a complaint from a client, in which he the client, coming to the police-station to file a complaint could not get a chair to sit on.  There were four chairs however around a “center-table.”  The police officer on duty sat on one chair, but he swiftly and vehemently stopped the complainant, from using any of the three remaining chairs.

His excuse was that, they all had broken legs, and he could not take the responsibility of seeing a man injured in his office, attempting to use a broken-legged chair.  He had made a report to his superior, but that was all he could do. The chairs had been in that situation for almost half-a-year. Thinking I was “smart and a tough-guy”, I pushed on, by trying to ask further questions, such as why he thought his superior would not push hard enough, to get the chairs replaced. Then giggling, but trying at the same time to hide it, he confided in me, “If you push too hard, they will transfer you to a remote village.” You have not heard it, have you?

In elementary school those days, I almost always got a leadership role in the class. I thought it was all so easy.  In my formative years beyond teenage, I was in a different culture, where leadership roles, and racial matters, coupled with culture came packaged in very many tricks.  But, I have begun to study a brand new subject in my country, which I find more difficult than anything I have hitherto studied.  Here you are with an establishment, which encompasses everything, (the Americans talk of an “Uncle Sam”). It is the biggest bread-giver.  The fear of the unknown has most people wrapped tight, and none “seems to have been raised by a fool”.

As I listened to the “questions & answers” forum between the press and the National Chief Executive on December 15, 2008 , I tried to digest their disenchantment since all the eight years. They did not like it the least bit, his style of handling them. People in Kumasi had lots of complaints too. But, why did they not say anything until the day, when they almost had lost any chance of voicing out anything by way of grievances?

It reminded me, of a Kremlin episode, when Nikita Khrushchev, (1894-1971) was the Soviet leader, Premier, (1958-1964).  Khrushchev tried to usher in a reform package, similar to that of Gorbaschov, in the '80s.  Nikita was not so lucky. He was stopped before he could have gotten anywhere.

At a Kremlin meeting one day, he literarily bombarded his colleagues, (his underlings), with the shortcomings of Josef Stalin's inefficiencies. He sought with that, a condemnation of Stalinism, and with that again, the fall of the rigid non-productive economic course, which was the “albatross” of the Soviet economic order. In the midst of one such round-table discussion, a piece of paper went round, until it reached Chairman Khrushchev himself.  It read, “Chairman Nikita, you were a high-ranking member of the Central Committee, at the time of Chairman Stalin. I have just been wondering, why you did not utter your opinion then” 

The answer was so easy for Khrushchev.  It went like this:

The Chairman raised the flier, and said: Comrades, someone has raised this question. This is what it says, (reading it aloud).

May I please, know who it was? Please, raise up your hand.” He waited five long minutes. All hands still down. “Comrades”, he said, with all the irony on his face, “that was how it was then.” Khrushchev concluded.  End of the show.

Abraham Lincoln had said generations earlier:  “Almost any man can withstand adversities. But, if you want to know the character of any man, just give him power!”

Ghanaian Chronicle
Ghanaian Chronicle, © 2009

This author has authored 1023 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: GhanaianChronicle

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