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26.11.2019 Feature Article

The 'Gravy Train' Riders: Are Our Presidents Culprits Or Victims?

The 'Gravy Train' Riders: Are Our Presidents Culprits Or Victims?

Ever heard the expression: "Come to Hollywood and get on the gravy train?" Well, that train doesn't ply only on the streets of Hollywood. It glides through the roads right at our backyard. Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, has spoken about this century-old idiom.

He says:"Politics should be the path to service and not the gravy train to personal wealth."

On Friday 22, November, Otumfuo said: "Men and women should enter politics not because it will make them wealthy but because it will make them worthy to serve their fellow men."

And I can authoritatively say, the gravy train rides across the whole continent of Africa,

In my homeland Ghana, it's having a joyride.

The word 'gravy' has long meant easy profits.

In the 1920s rail road men invented the idiom 'gravy' because they worked little yet were paid good.

That sounds familiar isn't it?

Like the good old rail road workers some African politicians literally work too little.

Yet they make too much wealth in a too little time. Much enough for themselves, much for their families and much for their cronies, while the masses are left impoverished.

Look for the word Selflessness, you and wouldn't find it anywhere in their lexicon.

Instead, they espouse selfishness, greed, nepotism, and cronyism. Indeed, a good number of them have found themselves neck-deep in corruption. Certainly, corruption abounds everywhere even in advanced democracies. But it's endemic in Africa.

In Ghana, somehow, politics has become a trade and it's being alleged that with little or no sweat, some politicians have become instant millionaires.

Yes, some have made huge fortunes and others are still making the big bucks here, not in Holllywood. They pay themselves fat cheques, fat bonuses and fat freebies.

The profligacy is too much. The rot is too deep. One would say it stinks like skunk.

The Asantehene was speaking on the topic: "Leadership Strengthening Democratic Institutions for National Development' of the 3rd Annual University of Professional Studies Accra (UPSA) leadership lecture series in Accra.

According to him successive Presidents have felt obliged to tacitly promote nepotism because it provides the only means through which they can reward supporters on whose votes they depend during their tenures.

“It is no surprise that every President since the promulgation of the 1992 Constitution has faced accusations of nepotism, cronyism, and various forms of abuse."

Otumfuo pointed out that, while the accusations may be well founded, in his own words: " my view they miss the knob of the problem which is the real point being the system we have entrenched which makes political patronage the sole source of reward.”

But the question is:

Who created the system?

Fact is, we have made the system to be what it is. We've deliberately undermined the very institutions that are supposed to check the morass in the supposed system.

A police officer arrests a reckless driver.

Within seconds the driver calls the Interior minister and he hands the phone over to the police. In a sec, he freezes. And that's the end if it. C'est fini (in French).

How about this one: Kofi Konfanko, minister in charge of the Ocean has wilfully caused financial loss to the state, instead of facing the courts he runs to some powerful chiefs or influential individuals in society to plead on his behalf. What happens thereafter?

Case is dead!

That's the system we've deliberately made.

And the leadership, traditional rulers, journalists, civil society groups, politicians, teachers, and everyone is responsible for this system that's woefully failed to work for the good of humanity.

So are our presidents culprits or victims?

According to Otumfuo, “Our Presidents themselves have become victims of the system, entrapped in a prison from which they are obliged to dole out largesse to their army of supporters on pain of losing their loyalty.”

“I have no doubt that any President will prefer to be liberated from this entanglement so they can devote all attention to the pursuit of the good of all. This is not an aspiration we should wish from our leaders.

It is an imperative our nation must now seek,” he added.

He made it clear that “the nation can no longer ignore the correlation between the existence of strong state institutions with an impersonal system of rewards and the outcome of good governance and strong economies.”

In my view, some of our presidents are culprits.

They've contributed immensely to the woes of the African youth who's running to Europe or Fat East or North America to seek greener pastures. Some of them have stolen billions of dollars, laundered monies and destabilised the economies.

I think the presidents should remember they're called to serve the people and not their cronies. The nation must always come first, anything short of that defeats the purpose and the call to office. Therefore, they should choose this day who they will serve. Their cronies or the nation?

What's the way forward?

There's need for attitudinal change and this was underscored by Otumfuo in his poignant speech:

“A drastic change of attitude to politics should be the first order of business,” he said.

“Politics should be the path to service and not the gravy train to personal wealth.”

“Men and women should enter politics not because it will make them wealthy, but because it will make them worthy to serve their fellow men,” he advised.

He said “we have enough evidence of such dedicated politicians in our history and even in the politics of today.

The tragedy is that they are outnumbered and outshone by those whose actions cast politics in such bad light.”

“As a nation, we need to recognize that the men who create wealth are the entrepreneurs, the farmers, the builders.

It is the creators and innovators, the writers and craftsmen through whose research and knowledge national wealth is created.

The task of politics is to create an environment in which the talent of the creators flourishes, to serve them so the nation may be enriched by them and not for them to serve the politicians."

Gordon Offin-Amaniampong
Gordon Offin-Amaniampong, © 2019

The author has 340 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: GordonOffinAmaniampong

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