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06.03.2006 General News

“Independence Day” Message from Arthur Kennedy

By Arthur Kobina Kennedy

“Independence Day” Message

Ghana! Nearly at the half century mark.

So old in terms of a life yet so young in the life of a nation. Despite the short span, nations like Singapore have shown that it is enough time to move from third to first world status.

When Nkrumah declared on the eve of Independence that we were free forever, were we? What have been our achievements? What have been our failures?

Let met start from the failures:

- Persistent underdevelopment

- An absence of effective and viable institutions

- A dearth of effective and credible leaders

- Rampart Tribalism and nepotism

- An absence of tolerance for other peoples rights and opinions

The positives are rather disappointing: - A nation still intact despite the rending forces it has been subjected to

- The 2001 transition of power from one elected government to another peacefully

- The passage of ROPAA to give diasporans an effective place at the table

- Our arrival finally at the most prestigious gathering place of elite soccer nations, the world cup!

In order to focus on the present and the future, I will not defend my choices, either of achievements or failures. It is clear that the future can occupy our time, energies, intellect and resources fully.

The events surrounding the passage of ROPAA clearly brought into focus our nation's strengths and weaknesses. First the NDC, a party purportedly committed to democracy was together with her allies in the media and civil society, determined to deny lawful Ghanaians rights guaranteed by the constitution by any means necessary. In pursuit of the unfortunate goal, the party of the man whose goons used to attack peaceful demonstrators routinely took to the streets to denounce the tyranny of the majority.

In this misguided enterprise, they found support in some very respectable quarters, including the editorial pages of some of our most reputable newspapers, amongst them, the “chronicle.” At the eleventh hour, there were frenzied efforts by some well-meaning but misguided individuals and organizations to withdraw the bill in the interest of peace. In contrast to President Kufuor who valiantly stood up for extending the rights of Ghanaians and encouraged his party to stand for principle, some in the NPP are already in retreat on the implementation of the new bill. Some members of the NPP are already joining the NDC demands to delay the implementation. On this issue, they are wrong and the President, NPP and all who believe our nation should do its duty – must stand firm. Justice delayed is justice denied and the rights of diasporans have been denied long enough. The Electoral Commission already has in place arrangements that permit Ghanaians in diplomatic missions, employees of international organizations and students on government scholarships to vote. It should not be very hard to extend these arrangements to other Ghanaians who in most cases are the next-door-neighbors of those who already vote. All diasporans must have a reasonable opportunity to vote in 2008.

The NPP, and the President's principled stand on this diasporan issue, has demonstrated that despite its weaknesses, it has commendable and reassuring progressive tendencies. Ultimately, the NDC showed that it is committed to the voice of one man while the NPP is committed to expanding the right to vote for millions of our countrymen. The Electoral Commission should move expeditiously to bring Ghana into the ranks of the progressive nations whose citizens, no matter where they reside can vote. We must all work to heal the divisions that came in the wake of the new law. The Electoral Commission must be open-minded and fair as it moves to meet the mandate of the law. The vote gives the nation new opportunities on several fronts. It is hoped that diasporans will deepen their commitment to the nation by increasing investments, having a high voter turnout that could potentially determine the outcome of elections and increase their participation in other aspect of national life. Our nation should not stop at ROPAA. Ghanaians should be more welcoming of diasporans as investors, civil servants and experts deserving of the same respect and acceptability reserved routinely for foreign experts.

In addition to these benefits that we hope to derive from ROPAA, we must reform and modernize our institutions. As Monet said “Nothing is possible without men but nothing is lasting without institutions”. Let us modernize institutions like chieftaincy, parliament and the Electoral Commission to mention just a few. Chieftaincy, which is vital must be modernized and made accountable to the people and the law while respecting its ancient customs and rituals. While traditional rulers like the Asantehene have been a visionary and progressive rulers, often Chieftaincy, has become a tool to divide people rather than unite them. Indeed we must move proactively to deal compassionately, justly and firmly with issues like the Dagbon crisis that is a ticking time bomb. We should not pass on difficult issues to future presidents, parliaments or people to deal with. We should reform and strengthen parliament so that it can carry out more effective oversight of government functionaries and institutions to improve performance and reduce corruption. As the rancour surrounding ROPAA vividly demonstrated, we must support, reform and strengthen the Electoral Commission so that we can have elections that will not only be fair but be seen to be fair by all. Despite their unacceptable methods, the NDC's concerns must be fully addressed whenever reasonable and possible.

In the next 49 years may we become a more prosperous nation, where any citizen who wants to can work and earn a living wage, where every child can be educated to be a productive citizen, where our population will be healthier and be a more united nation, certainly greater than the sum of our varied parts and ever more free and more just!

Let us all be new men and women with new attitudes and new competencies. Reflecting this, let us work to unite rather than divide our people, to build bridges to one another rather than walls, and to move forward rather than sideways or backwards! Together, we can and must do better!

May God bless our nation and our endeavors!