Ghanaians who had thought that their long-drawn December 2007 polls, which spoiled their yuletide celebrations, confounded their New Year revelry, exacerbated the ethnic tensions in their country, polarized their body politics, and ended in the record books as the presidential polls decided by the narrowest of margin possible was the worst thing they could imagine, were soon to be sorely disappointed.
They were sufficiently discombobulated when it emerged that, a day before the handover to the new government on January 7, 2009, a mind-bending and super-extravagant presidential and parliamentarian retirement package had been approved by the outgoing parliament. The package was so excessive in its generosity that it left Ghanaians totally flabberwhelmed (a contraption of flabbergasted and overwhelmed).
Ghanaians are long used to insensitive politicians taking good care of their stomachs, while exhorting the ordinary people to tighten their belts and make sacrifices in the interest of the nation. But the sheer magnitude of the new package just took the breath of the people away -- literally and metaphorically. In order to put things in their proper context, it is necessary to throw some statistics around.
Ghana is a small country with a population of some 23 million people and a land mass of 238,500 square kilometers. A paltry GDP of US$10.7 billion gives the nation a measly GNP of some US$478. Ghana has a high illiteracy rate and the infant mortality rate is also very high. By all the indices known to statisticians, Ghana is a poor country. Many Ghanaians struggle to get just one meal a day, and many folks still live in conditions of shocking poverty. Many villages, especially in the northern part of the country, rely on NGOs for their education and health care.
The paradox is that Ghana is a nation immensely blessed with natural resources (gold, manganese, bauxite, diamond and, now, oil, among others), yet many Ghanaians are very poor, even by Africa's low standards. Yet, the poverty of a vast numbers of the citizens did not stop Ghanaian MPs (230 of them) from taking a car loan from the state. It did not stop the president of the Republic from tooling around town in an expensive 4-wheel-drive Jeep cavalcade. It did not stop ministers and other political jobbers from taking from the state free houses, free cars, free fuel, and other emoluments! And they go around shamelessly mouthing the outrageous lies that they are the "servants of the people!"
A debt of some US$7 billion emphatically compounded the country's economic woes. This made the former government embrace the Highly Indebted and Poor Country (HIPC) initiatives of the IMF and World Bank. HIPC was one in the long stream of acronyms the twin Breton Wood institutions foisted on poor countries in order to allow Western multinationals to continue the rape of their resources.
According to its apostles, the HIPC initiative would, among other things, allow the adhering countries to get some relief from their unbearable debt burden. The leaders of the poor countries were made to swallow their pride and proclaimed their countries HEAVILY INDEBTED AND POOR! Ghana was among them, and the man that took his nation into the HIPC club was ex-president John Kufuor. And it was the same president who, on retiring after his two terms, was to enjoy a bonanza that would enable him to live like an Arabian sovereign.
Ghanaians were not amused. In calls to their numerous radio stations, they searched and reached for the most uncomplimentary adjectives to describe the unconscionable actions of their elected leaders. And the reasons should be understandable.