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22 July 2014

Why we do not deserve US Embassy’s apology.

 
 OPINION
Once upon a time in Ohiakrom, there lived a poverty-conscripted man called Kwasi Manu, a middle-aged man with five children and a wife. Kwasi Manu’s children would have starved to death but for the benevolence of a wealthy farmer called Kofi Odoom.
Kwasi Manu was not only poor, but he was also irresponsible to the extent that he misused money given to him by Kofi Odoom to fend for his wife and children. Apart from his numerous concubines, he was a regular visitor to some of the finest palm wine joints in Ohiakrom, where he sponsored any drinker who had a spare stomach to fill.
 He lived as though there was no tomorrow. Appeals from his wife and children to tone down on his excessive debauchery fell on rocks that were harder and drier than those on Tongo Hills. Everybody in Ohiakrom knew that his poverty was self-inflicted due to his careless lifestyle.


One day, his benefactor, Kofi Odoom, who had often praised him for being responsible to the dismay of many, rebuked him publicly. To the surprise of the people of Ohiakrom, Kwasi Manu’s wife and children were outraged and verbally lynched the wealthy farmer. Even when the wealthy farmer publicly apologised and said he had made that comment while he had too much wine in his head, the loyal wife of Kwasi Manu would not forgive him.
They said Mr Odoom should mind his own business and not interfere with the affairs of their family. “What right does he have to question the head of our family, knowing that our father is a grown and independent man?” they asked.

If you’re wondering why I should bore you with this tale which does not seem to bear any relevance to the above headline, then let me give you a real life scenario:
On Friday, July 18, 2014, the sun settled on the parliamentarians of the Republic of Ghana in the chamber of the house. It was past 7pm and the motion on the floor of the house was item 27 on page 19 of the day’s Order Paper. The house was approving the second compact of the Millennium Challenge Account of $498,200,000 from the government of the United States of America.  This time Sheikh IC Quaye was not around to exclaim: “The money is big ooo.” However, the minority New Patriotic Party (NPP) members in the house would not miss an opportunity to remind the majority National Democratic Congress (NDC) that the first tranche of the money was obtained by the John Agyekum Kufuor-led NPP government.

MP for Nsawam Adoagyiri, Frank Annor Dompreh, who was nearly stopped from singing the praise of former President Kufuor by majority members of the house, was very grateful when the speaker ruled that he could proceed: “Mr Speaker, thank you and may you live long for that wonderful ruling,” he said before continuing his praise singing.
Outside the floor of parliament, on social media, hell came crushing onto mother earth as some so-called patriotic Ghanaians hissed and cursed the US Embassy in Ghana bitterly for what they called a disrespectful attitude towards the President and people of Ghana. For those of you who are just awaking from a long sleep, this is how it started.
As usual, President John Mahama, who is very active on social media, took to Twitter to make yet another promise to Ghanaians:

“As a people, we have had to make sacrifices. I wish to assure you that results of these sacrifices would begin to show very soon.”
Three minutes after the President tweeted, the US Embassy in Accra replied: “And what sacrifices are you making? Don’t tell me that pay cut.”
The US Embassy subsequently apologized to the President and the people of Ghana, describing the reply as an “errant tweet.” According to the Embassy, someone had mistakenly mixed a private Twitter handle with that of the embassy. This kind of explanation sounds logical to every level-headed person who knows how social media works unless they have reason to prove that it was intentional. But the apology and explanation did not go down with many Ghanaians.

Ms. Hanna Tetteh, the Foreign Affairs Minister who went to social media to ridicule the #OccupyFlagstaffHouse protestors while her ministry did not have materials to print passports, went livid. “The tweet was public & was associated with your twitter handle. It was not a private/personal account,” she replied in a tweet.
The acting CEO of the Ghana Youth Authority, Ras Mubarak, replied the US Embassy: “What a load of twaddle. No remorse, just arrogance. U shd be apologizing to JM [John Mahama] & Ghanaians & sackin da officer.”
I didn’t know how offended some Ghanaians were about the US Embassy’s tweet until I posted about it on Saturday. I said Ghanaians did not need the US Embassy’s apology for speaking the truth. 

Then came a torrential rain of insults, from party foot soldiers and those who claimed to love Ghana and were more patriotic than me. I was labeled a traitor who had sold his country just because the US Ambassador invited me to watch the Ghana-USA World Cup match at his residence. What they forgot to add was that there was enough drinks and food at the ambassador’s residence to help cure the remnants of my childhood kwashiorkor.
I agree it is a serious diplomatic blunder for an embassy to publicly rebuke or criticise the leader of another country. I also think the “errant tweet” may have come from someone who mistook the Embassy’s Twitter handle for his private one, hence the sentence, “Don’t tell ME that pay cut.” On that diplomatic point of view, the apology was in order.


However, granted that the Embassy intentionally said what was contained in that tweet, I sincerely think the content of that message is perfectly true and we don’t deserve any apology.
In these hard times who would not have asked the President that same question? And if the statement was offensive because it was coming from the US Embassy, can the aggrieved officials tell me the foreign missions in Ghana don’t meddle in our affairs? Is it that they are incurably ignorant about the extent to which these foreign nations twist the hands of leaders to make decisions that affect us? Or do they consider the sarcastic question asked our President more harmful than the hand twisting?
 
It is true that a tenant cannot meddle in the affairs of a landlord and not risk being sacked from the house, but the story is different if the tenant is the one feeding the landlord. In any case, the tweet did not ask the president when and how he mounts his wife; it questioned him on something that affects the suffering masses.
Unless we are a bunch of irredeemable hypocrites, we should not be talking about sovereignty when we lost it in 1966 when we collaborated with the Super Powers to overthrow Dr Kwame Nkrumah. Our President and our ministers never fail to remind us that the current economic woes are a result of the refusal of donors to release money. Will Kojo Manu pay the piper and allow Yaw Mensah to call the tune?

We have sold our dignity and respect to anyone who has a coin to drop in our begging bowl. We put ourselves in this situation through our indescribably corrupt attitudes. A report commissioned by the African Union in 2002 showed that Africa loses $148 billion every year through corruption. This figure is five times more than all the aid the continent receives as aid.
In his critical essay entitled, The Trouble with Nigeria, Chinua Achebe said, “My frank and honest opinion is that anybody who can say corruption in Nigeria has not yet become alarming is either a fool, a crook or else does not live in this country.”

Apart from those who landed from the planet Pluto last night and the children too young to know what time of the day it is, I think any Ghanaian who can say corruption is not the main bane of our current predicament is a either fool or a beneficiary of the create, loot and share system. The corruption did not start with this government. As former President Kufuor is often quoted as saying, “Corruption started from Adam.”  It is possible that past governments and leaders were more corrupt than this current government.
The reason it seems worse is now is the incentives which the President John Mahama government is providing for corruption to thrive. And what are these incentives? The lack of political will to punish corrupt officials and the commitment to retrieve what has been stolen from the poor citizens are the incentives.
We are too poor to initiate and fund any policy or project in this country. However, we are rich enough to pay GH¢75 million to Subah Info solutions for work not done. For those who do not understand the Subah scandal, this is an easy analogy:

Your father gives money to a barber to cut your hair every month and claim payment afterwards. After years of taking the money from your father, you came out to say that you don’t even know this barber let alone give your hair to him to cut. This intervention notwithstanding, your father still pays the money to the barber.
I challenge any government official to tell Ghanaians why the government has not retrieved a pesewa from the Jospong Groups of Companies, one of those cited in the GYEEDA scandal. This entity was supposed to repay over GH¢140 million to the state according to the Ministerial Committee on GYEEDA. President John Mahama told us last year that he had given the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO) and the Ministry of Justice and Attorney-General up to December 31, 2013 to secure refunds of all money wrongfully paid to the companies and initiate legal actions to punish the culprits.

It is evident that the businesses which played the major roles in the scandal, Joseph Siaw Agyapong’s Jospong Group of Companies and Roland Agambire’s AGAMS Group of Companies will not be prosecuted, but why should they get away with our money?
The Ministerial Committee on GYEEDA met with these companies and they agreed and confessed that they did not provide some of the services for which they received payments. The differences were calculated and the companies were asked to repay. So if you have a President who presides over all these acts of corruption and others such as SADA, why would you believe him when he talks about sacrifices? And unless I have had my sanity tampered with, why should I jump to his defence when a foreigner questions him about his sacrifice?

Our leaders have subjected us to too much insults and ridicule in the international community, and the only way we can progress from our quagmire of doom and gloom is to confront the reality, tell them the bitter truth and find solution to our woes.
If there is any apology the US Embassy and other powerful countries must render to Ghanaians, then it should be the false praises they sang about our poor nation and showered undeservedly on our leaders in the past. President Obama was full of praise for us when he visited us in 2009:
“Here in Ghana, you show us a face of Africa that is too often overlooked by a world that sees only tragedy or the need for charity. The people of Ghana have worked hard to put democracy on a firmer footing, with peaceful transfers of power even in the wake of closely contested elections. And with improved governance and an emerging civil society, Ghana's economy has shown impressive rates of growth.”

I often feel insulted when they say this. The reason? We are not second class humans. Unless those who sing our praise think that we deserve the kind of miserable lives we live here, they should never rate us high in our development.
Ghanaians often live with the false sense of our strong democratic credentials. Apart from the fact that we narrowly escaped deteriorating into violence in our elections, we don’t deserve any praise. As far as I am concerned, the only pillar of democracy worth commending in Ghana is our free and vibrant media.
No election is free and fair when one of the major indicators of victory is the spending power of the political party.
When politicians steal, hoard and distribute to retain their seats you don’t call that election free and fair. That aside, democracy goes beyond free and fair elections.

What is the essence of democracy when the citizens cannot live decent lives in their countries? Or as Mahatma Gandhi puts it: "What does it matter to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?"
I consider Libya under Gaddafi more democratic than Ghana’s Fourth Republic. It is a weird view that I am prepared to defend. And if you disagree with me, do this simple assignment:
Ask the tens of thousands of young and old head porters and truck pushers  who have no roof over their heads after their daily toils; ask the thousands of energetic youth who line up the streets of Accra, Kumasi other cities to roast in the merciless sun and inhale toxic fumes from vehicles, all in the name of doing business; ask the poor farmer who does not only lose income from the sweat of his labour due to inaccessibility to the market, but who also lost his pregnant wife because there is no health facility or transportation to seek healthcare elsewhere; ask the Ghanaian university graduates who have consigned themselves to the fact that it is easier to swim across the Atlantic Ocean with a 50kg bag of cement across tied around your neck than to secure a job in Ghana. Go and ask the ordinary Ghanaian whether they care more about food, water, electricity and healthcare or the one who rules them?

I will only stand by my President if he is attacked for doing something of interest to those who elected him. If my President were attacked for his refusal to sign the Economic Partnership Agreement, I would be prepared to enlist in an army that would defend him to the peril of my life. But such policies, which have made us subservient to powerful economies and crippled our industrialization efforts go through despite strong resistance from the citizens.
According to our leaders, signing the EPA was a necessity.  “If Ghana fails to sign and, for instance, Cote d’Ivoire sign Ghana would lose out,” they argued. If that was the case, then why did we have to decide as a sub-regional bloc? Why can’t Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire agree to stand together to safeguard their common interest as superpowers in the cocoa sector? Why couldn’t Nigeria, Cameroon and their neighbours meet to fight the trans-border threat of Boko Haram but had to wait until they were invited by the French President to do so in France?

Those spitting fire and brimstone at the US Embassy have lost the battle on every moral ground.  If we have any vestige of pride left, let’s save it and stop contemplating any demonstration. Let's leave the US Embassy alone and restore our dignity by doing the right thing. President Obama or Prime Minister David Cameron cannot go to Saudi Arabia and tell them to respect gay rights. So why should they tell African leaders how to run their countries?
Our wise elders say the host often considers the status of a stranger before deciding whether or not to prepare his soup with one-eyed fowl.

The writer, Manasseh Azure Awuni, is a Senior Broadcast Journalist with Joy 99.7 FM. His email address is azureachebe2@yahoo.com

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