05.06.2013 Feature Article

Why Are African Professors Becoming Politicians?

H.E. John Evans Atta Mills late, former president of GhanaH.E. John Evans Atta Mills (late), former president of Ghana
05.06.2013 LISTEN

Recently, when one critically examines the kind of political figures dominating African politics, there is no doubt that majority of them were once serving as university lecturers/professors who finally had a change of mind and ventured into politics as a means of earning a 'better' living. I must however admit that this trend is not only an African development but very common phenomenon in the developed world.

It is an established fact that even Barack Obama, the president of the United States of America, became a politician after several years of working as a university lecturer/professor.

The list of all professors who ended up as politicians is too tall for me to enumerate. In Ghana alone, one can cite a tall list of such 'political professors'.

For instance, before he became the vice president in January 1997 and president of Ghana in 2009, Professor John Atta Mills had been teaching law at the University of Ghana for many years. It was discovered that his salary as a lecturer was NOT very good. Today, thanks to President Mills, though he managed to increase the salary of the teachers by a very high margin (the Single Spine Salary Structure), the amount is too tiny when compared with that of the politicians today.

Then in 2008, Professor Agyemang Badu Akosa, a strong medical professor and academician, attempted to venture into politics with the hope of becoming Ghana's president through the Convention People's Party's ticket (CPP), the political party founded by Kwame Nkrumah in the early 50s.

Also, Professor Michael Quay of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) had to abandon working as academic proffer, in order to nurture his political ambitions. He thus served as an MP, a minister of state and later as a deputy speaker of Ghana's parliament.

Professor Frimpong Boateng, Africa's finest heart surgeon, almost abandoned his calling in the medical field and his academic responsibilities, all in pursuit of political ambitions. If he had managed to win the elections, that could have been the end for all the young doctors who were studying under his tutorship and probably the end of all those patients who needed the services of Ghana's ONLY heart surgeon for their survival.

Today, there are still many professors serving as MPs, ministers and ambassadors while our local universities and research institutions run short of professors. Countless others can be found in the rest of Africa most especially in Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Uganda, among others..

But why are many of the professors gradually abandoning their calling in the classroom for politics at a time when the tertiary institutions need them most? The answer is not far-fetched.

The so-called 'democracy' is booming in Africa, especially here in Ghana. Most importantly, in Africa, politics is currently the highest paid job! There is no doubt about that. Just check the affluent lifestyle of the politicians who contending with American hip-hop stars and European footballers who have been flaunting their wealth everywhere.

Imagine a whole professor, who manages to teach some 'small boys' to become graduates in 4 year. Then just after 2 years, these small boys become MPs/ministers, get paid $10,000 per month, ride Toyota land cruisers, buy V8 type of cars with free fuel, live in mansions, travel abroad on diplomatic passports, and have all the other under benefit. Why do you think the professors will want to remain in the classroom when they consider themselves more knowledgeable and hardworking than these politicians?

For instance, while teachers in Kenya are paid a meager salary of about $250 per months, Kenyan MPs earn a basic salary of $6,000 per month excluding other bonuses such as free accommodation, expensive official vehicles, fuel allowance among others, totaling over $500,000 per MP per year in real revenue. As if that is not enough, the politicians embark on numerous overseas trips for holidays, all paid by the taxpayer. No wonder even retired MPs are demanding diplomatic passports as their birth right in Kenya, Ghana and many places in Africa.

As if that is not enough, these MPs (in Kenya) who recently found themselves in parliament barely two months ago, have just voted to increase their salaries to $10,000/month per MP ($120,000/yr) at a time when the average worker in Kenya earns merely $1,600 a year. This is after MPs in the previous parliament awarded themselves a $107,000 retirement bonus in of the last sessions before the just-ended elections.

What is the justification for demanding this ridiculous pay? These politicians claim they're working hard.

Meanwhile, when the health minister is sick, he catches the next available flight to Europe for his medical treatment; leaving the poor taxpayers to die in horrible hospitals in Kenya. Even in Ghana and Nigeria, when our MPs, the senators and the president are sick they all fly to Europe and America to seek medical treatment at ridiculously inflated prices while pregnant women lay on the bare floors in the collapsing local hospitals.

Here in Ghana, the recent out-going MPs cashed $150,000 each as their ex-gratia whiles those remaining in the parliament house took home $100,000 each. This does not include the huge amounts of moneys/aid which some of them looted while in office.

Why Business Is Booming In Ghana Politics
Immediately after taking the oath of office in January 2013, each Ghanaian MP cashed $25,000 as accommodate allowance. Seven (7) days later, they were awarded another $50,000 each to buy state of the art vehicles: land cruisers Prados, Toyota Tundra, Range Rovers, depending on individual preferences.

Apart from their monthly salary of $3,200 MPs in Ghana receive free fuel, unlimited mobile phone calls; other bonuses including $30,000 monthly allowances paid into their account (consolidated fund), which ought to be used for "emergencies".

Although the consolidated fund is intended to cater for the needs of their constituents and other developmental projects (roads, hospitals, classroom blocks, libraries etc.), the reality is that in Ghana, most MPs spend such monies with their girlfriends; others keep a huge percentage of the consolidated fund as the main source of funding their political campaigns during the next elections.

Ghana MPs usually abandon all developmental projects and wait until the election season finally kicks off. It is until then that little attempt it made to initiate a few road projects, only to be abandoned later as soon as the elections are over.

Meanwhile the minority (in Ghana) had been boycotting parliament, for many weeks, despite claiming all their salaries, bonuses and all personal entitlements.

If these politicians are not wicked, then probably I don't know the true definition of wickedness.

Today, because the MPs are enjoying so much wealth and power, even professors are abandoning their calling in the classroom for politics. The attitude of our politicians suggests that politics in now a lucrative business! It is probably a business which is booming far better than oil & gas and perhaps even the cocaine business itself.

No wonder politics is all that our media talks about every day and night. Even on weekends, our local media doesn't spare us those election and political debates, especially on issues bothering on the welfare of the political elites and why their salaries must be increased. Meanwhile medical doctors and nurses have been threatening to go on strike if their salaries are not paid in the coming months while politicians keep wasting all the taxpayers' money.

But one question which is not being asked by the media panelists is this:

"Why is politics dominating our lives as a people?"

The answer, at least in part, is that Politics in Africa is the highest paid industry. With corruption taking place unchecked and unpunished, the best place to be is the political arena. It is here that access to the money is greatest, stealing is easiest and the quantity of the bounty is greatest!

We, as a people, need to rethink the meaning of political leadership especially. With regard to the many challenges we face as a people, it will be very useful if political leaders is designed and implemented as a service to a people rather than having a political system which is all about a few people amassing wealth for their families.

True leadership is the Servant Leadership type like the one epitomized by Jesus Christ. Unfortunately we in Africa have allowed crooks and thieves to masquerade as 'leaders' while we stand by as they plunder our land and render the lives of millions impoverished. We can do better than that!

We have to find ways to demand that corruption gets severely punished. Until then, political office will remain too "lucrative" to invite the reforms necessary to get the right people at the helm of affairs.

It is time for our professors to rather come out with practical solutions to Africa's political crises, rather than merely seeking to join the bandwagon of the politicians as a means to enrich themselves and worsen Africa's economic challenges.

Honourable Saka
The writer is a Pan-African analyst, anti-corruption campaigner and the founder of the ProjectPan-Africa (PPA), an organization established to unlock the minds of the African people to reclaim their destinies. E-mail: [email protected]

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