America and Americans are known for grand and sweeping gestures. In addition to that, politicians are inclined to exaggerate their achievements a little bit. That is how former US Vice-President and Nobel laureate Al Gore claimed in 2000 that he had invented the internet.
On an official visit to Washington D.C., President Mills seemed to have been affected by this rather peculiar ill of being a politician and being in America. According to Joy fm, during an interaction with journalists, the President said ďGhanaians have seen his unprecedented achievements.Ē That was a rather gargantuan claim.
The President identified some of the areas of his unprecedented success as the macro-economy, sound education and a buoyant energy sector. Actually, after making that claim, I was expecting to hear that deep-throated joyous laughter that would have indicated that the President was having some fun at the expense of the journalists. But alas, he was serious. Predictably, the Presidentís ďAmen cornerĒ has taken up the chant of unprecedented achievements. Looking at the Presidentís claims, I want to respectfully ask for ďadabrakaĒ on behalf of Ghanaians.
Before addressing His Excellencyís gargantuan claims, let me begin with the visit. Every elected President under the fourth Republic has visited Washington at the invitation of an American PresidentóRawlings went to visit Clinton; Kufuor went to visit Bush and Mills has visited with Obama and that is a good thing. However, we must look at invitations to visit with American Presidents in context. In the past, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, General Doe of Liberia, Augusto Pinochet and many others have all visited with American Presidents in Washington and been hailed as exemplary leaders. While President Mills is certainly not in their class, the fact that these leaders have been celebrated in Washington suggests that we must be careful about what we read into President Obamaís commendation of President Mills. Often, American praise for these leaders has angered those struggling for freedom and emancipation in their countries. As Indian Prime Minister Nehru once put it memorably, ďWhenever the west starts praising me, I wonder whether I have done something wrong against my people.Ē As a general rule, whenever leaders start soliciting and trumpeting praise abroad, it means that they have trouble at home. Indeed, it turns out that Mr. Obama himself is facing a difficult re-election this November.
In the course of the Presidentís address during which he made those claims, he pointed out helpfully that Ghanaians have seen his achievements. That would be true if indeed there were unprecedented achievements. I must confess that I am having difficulty seeing the Presidentís unprecedented achievements.
Hopefully, in reaction to this, some of the brilliant men and women around him will help me and the millions of Ghanaians who have difficulty seeing his achievements to see well. While those inclined to defend the President can reasonably accuse me of bias in not appreciating the Presidentís achievements, I am in some good company. While I can cite many of such people, just one name will suffice. The Presidentís mentor and former boss, former President Rawlings also appears to be having difficulty appreciating his achievements. He has described the Presidentís administration as dull and filled with ďteam BĒ or ď greedy bastardsĒ. Certainly one cannot accuse former President Rawlings of bias against his former protťgť?
As for the Presidentís claims, they strain credulity a bit. While many Ghanaians agree that not much have been achieved since independence, we are really in trouble if the last three years have been unprecedented in terms of development.
Which of the Presidentís achievements in education will be considered unprecedented in the face of Nkrumahís doubling of primary school enrollment between 1951 and 1954 as well as the creation of the two Universities in Kumasi (KNUST) and Cape Coast respectively? The Universities in Ho and Sunyani respectively that only exist on paper or the school uniforms to a handful of pupils? Haba Prof!
Which of the Presidentís achievements in infrastructure will qualify as unprecedented in the face of Nkrumahís Tema harbour and numerous factories? Come on, Prof!
Which of the Presidentís energy sector achievements will be considered unprecedented compared with Nkrumahís Akosombo dam, Rawlingís Aboadze thermal plant coupled with extension of the national grid to the north or Kufuorís discovery of oil plus obtaining funding for Bui dam? The NDCís rural electrification programme? Come on, Mr. President!
Which of the Presidentís achievements in the economy will be considered unprecedented compared with Nkrumahís impressive industrialization or Kufuorís reduction of poverty by a third or Rawlingsí opening of our economy in the telecommunications field? Hon. Okudzeto-Ablakwaís phantom 1.6 million jobs? Come on, Mr. President.
Which of the Presidentís foreign policy achievements will be unprecedented compared to Nkrumahís dominance of the world and African stage or Kufuorís Chairmanship of the AU coupled with his unprecedented involvement in G-8 meetings? The UN address on school uniforms or the about-face on Gbagbo? Come on, Mr. President.
There are more of these examples I can cite but out of respect for the President, we can leave it here.
Suffice it to state that the President got bad advice before he stepped in front of the press in the United States. It seems that in case after case, the President and his team confused their dreams with their performance. While the President, like his predecessors, dreams of unprecedented things, he has not done them yet.
If there is one area where things have been unprecedented, it may be in Woyomegate. However, since the President did not bring it up in the US, I will not bring it here either.
The Presidentís claims raise some very important issues.
First, who are the people giving the President the impression that his achievements are unprecedented? Do these people love the President? Do they really wish him well? Are they serving him selflessly? While I am loath to judge lest I be judged, my humble advice to the President is that he should be wary of the advice he is getting and who is giving that advice.
Second, if indeed the President believes that his achievements to date have been unprecedented, would it be reasonable to infer that he does not really see the need to improve upon his performance?
A President going for re-election can have one of two approaches.
The first is the ďmea-culpaĒ one. That approach states basically that the President has not done as well as he had hoped but that he has done enough and deserves a chance to finish what he has started. That was the case that Bush in America and Kufuor in Ghana both made in 2004 and both were successful in getting re-elected. Kufuor captured that in the slogan, ďSo faróso goodĒ.
The second is the ďlet the good times rollĒ approach. In this one, basically, the Presidentís argument is that these are good times for the electorate and that they must let the good times roll on. Reagan made this argument in 1984 and Americans agreed, handing him a forty-nine state landslide.
The problem with this approach is to use it when people do not believe that things are going well. It makes the electorate believe that the President may be out of touch. In this case, the electorate is likely to reject the President making this argument and turn him out of office. To be candid, I do not profess to know with any certainty what Ghanaians know and will do in 2012. I expect that we will listen to the Presidentís case for a second term and his opponentís case that he has underperformed and should therefore be turned out. Then we will look into our lives and make a decision.
We will decide whether the unprecedented macro-economic stability being touted in Washington by elites in Washington in suites and ties has touched our lives in places like Tetekasum, Nkenkenso, Hohoe and Walewale by making yam, rice, gari and cooking-oil cheaper or not.
We will decide whether the unprecedented achievements in education has affected our children or ourselves or whether our children are still failing JSS in gargantuan numbers or going on to become unemployed graduates.
We will decide whether the unprecedented achievements in energy have led to more reliable and cheaper electricity or to unpredictable blackouts and more expensive electricity.
It will come down to an accounting of all the promises that were supposed to make our lives better and whether they were kept or not.
It will come down to ďHwe woabrabo mu na to abaĒ and the answer to the question that was posed by challenger Ronald Reagan to voters in 1980:
ARE WE BETTER OFF THAN WE WERE FOUR YEARS AGO?
Mr. President, welcome home in this gargantuan election year. Akwaaba.
Let us move forwardótogether.
Source: Arthur Kobina Kennedy, University of Cape Coast
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