Sorry, I have to shamelessly borrow the new phrase from the acceptance speech of the new hottest kid on the block, Barack Obama: Yes, we can!
In three days Ghanaians shall have the once-in-four-years power to elect their governors. By sheer good luck, we have this year’s earth-shattering American election to guide us. Like in the just-concluded American elections, our local politicians have been engaged in very bitter political contest. The languages have occasionally been very vitriolic, and there have been fatal clashes here and there. Thank goodness, level headedness has prevailed not to allow it to degenerate into more robust intercinine warfare.
The Americans also waged their own bitter electioneering campaign – though no one lost a head or a limb as far as I gathered. But it was so heart-warming to see Senator McCain gracefully conceding and to graciously acknowledge the historic victory of his opponent. Whether or not Senator McCain was sincere is a moot point; the point being that in whatever they do, Americans put the love for their country first! For Americans, it’s America first and last. A deep sense of patriotism is imbued into every American right from infancy! Very few people love to wave their national flags like Americans. Coupled with this is the deep belief of Americans that their nation has a divine manifest to be great. And they believe that it is their patriotic duty to contribute to this greatness.
And Senator, sorry, President-Elect Barack Obama hasn’t disappointed. Like a sprinter who couldn’t wait to hear the whistle, Mr. Obama has hit the road running. His acceptance speech was one of the best crafted political speeches I have read in a long, long time. Yes, we can! Goodness me, what a brilliant piece of political oratory. And it was delivered flawlessly. The man can talk the talk and he has since shown that he can also walk the walk.
“IF there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer. It's the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference.
“I know you didn't do this just to win an election and I know you didn't do it for me. You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime - two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century. Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us. There are mothers and fathers who will lie awake after their children fall asleep and wonder how they'll make the mortgage, or pay their doctor's bills, or save enough for college. There is new energy to harness and new jobs to be created; new schools to build and threats to meet and alliances to repair. The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep.
We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America - I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you - we as a people will get there. There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government can't solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it's been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years - block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.
Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, "We are not enemies, but friends...though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection."
That was a vintage political speechifying.
It may come as great surprise to readers of this column that among my favorite literatures are American Presidential Speeches. If you take your reading seriously like I do, I advise that you go through as many of these speeches as possible: a lot of them are pure marvels. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, FDR, and Bill Clinton are among my favorites.
FDR’s first acceptance speech reads in part: “I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our Nation impels. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.
In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties. They concern, thank God, only material things. Values have shrunken to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce; the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone.
Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously. It can be accomplished in part by direct recruiting by the Government itself, treating the task as we would treat the emergency of a war, but at the same time, through this employment, accomplishing greatly needed projects to stimulate and reorganize the use of our natural resources.”
Not unless an earthquake occur to challenge all our political calculations, this election is going to be a straight fight between the ruling NPP and the main NDC. So what we are left with are the persons of Nana Akufo Addo and Professor Atta Mills. Ok, ok, Akufo Addo is no Barack Obama, and no one can accuse Atta Mills of possessing great oratorical skills. But between the two will emerge the man who is going to steer the affairs of our dear nation for the next four years. This is where the Obama factor comes in.
Within days of being elected Obama has assembled an impressive array of high-caliber people to form the inner core of his cabinet. He has thus demonstrated great leadership skills. Forgetting political partisanship and ideological orientations, Obama tapped into the best brains his nation, America, possesses. Recognizing the battered image of his country in the international fora, Obama picked his bitter rival for the Democratic candidacy contest, Hilary Clinton, to become his foreign minister or Secretary of State.
Noting that he’s inheriting two wars (three if we count Pakistan) and that he lacked military experience, Obama called upon the incumbent Defense Minister, Robert Gates, to stay on to guide his defense policies. What all these demonstrate is that Obama’s love for his country transcends everything else. To him the challenge to make his great country greater is the greatest passion. America is going through very rough patches, we all know that. But Obama has confidence in his nation and its people ability to rise above current travails.
Luckily for him, Obama has history to guide him. Americans have done it before and he believes that they could do it again. FDR inherited a bankrupted economy but he told his people that the only thing to fear is fear itself. FDR radically transformed his country for the better – he remains among the best loved American Presidents to date. His legacies are written all over American political, economic and social landscape.
It was also FDR who proclaimed that economic laws are not laws of nature; that they were made by men. In order to rebuild his nation’s economy and put Americans to work, FDR shorn political orthodoxy and he rejected prevailing economic tenets. FDR believed that people ought not to suffer deprivations while economists prattle about theories.
Going by the steps he has taken so far, it appears that Obama is a student of FDR. Would either Atta Mills or Akufo Addo show the same kind of determined and passionately patriotic leadership? Would either man let his love for his nation transcends his love for his tribe or political party? This is the mother of all the questions confronting you as a voter as you enter the booth to cast your ballot.
Between them the NPP and the NDC has ruled Ghana for sixteen years. The two parties share the blame for whatever failings we still see around us. But this is no time to pass blame or engage in recriminations. The hope now is that whoever emerges as the next President will recognize ours as an emergency situation. We simply cannot carry on as though things are fine and nice for our people.
It was Oscar Wilde who joked that America was the first country to emerge from barbarism into decadence without the benefits of a civilization. Going by the unbridled conspicuous consumption of our elite, Ghana is doomed to be the second. Whoever emerges as our President should have the courage to tell us some home truth about ourselves. Principal among these is that our level of consumption vis-à-vis our productivity is unsustainable.
Except for the sightless, Ghana is definitely not moving anywhere, much less forward. We do not feed ourselves, neither do we cloth or house ourselves decently. Whilst our noveaux rich are tooling around in 4-wheel jeeps with tinted glasses and patented plate numbers, our men and women folks are still fighting over obroni wawu (discarded cloths from Euro-America). Whoever emerges our leader should consider it a great shame that we spent more money importing rice than we earn from selling our gold.
The next president should declare emergency in the following areas:
Employment: There is a saying that an idle mind is the devils workshop. A gainfully employed person will have very little proclivity to involve himself in violence. There is nothing intrinsically atavistic about our brothers and sisters in the north that makes them appear seemingly violent-prone. Were we in the south to suffer from the same economic deprivations like they do in the north, we will also be killing each other with the same abandonment.
There is no reason why a country like Ghana suffers from high unemployment when all our infrastructures are crying for renovations and reconstructions. We can also put our people to work through government-instigated public works like FDR did with his New Deal, and the Europeans with their Marshall Plan. Or are we not also in need of dams, highways, irrigation systems etc, etc.
Sadly, the man with the best idea on tackling our unemployment, the PNC boss, Dr. Edward Nasigre Mahama, is too far below in the polls to have a meaningful shot at the presidency.
Education: Consider this: The Royal Kingdom of the Netherlands was among the countries that hosted outgoing President Kufuor in his trips to thank the ‘Donor’ countries. Holland is a tiny (41,526 sq km) with a population of 16.6 million people. Ghana’s 23+ million inhabitants a country of some 239,460 sq km of real estate. We ought to ask how tiny Holland with a lower population comes to be ‘donating’ money to Ghana.
The answer could be found in the fact that the Netherlands is a highly knowledge-based economy whilst Ghana continue to be primary commodity producer - as it has been since the dawn of time.
A visit to any of our tertiary institutions will show how we continue to graduate students whose contribution to our nation’s development will remain zero. Our universities are littered with myriads of churches and our universities which should be training open minded graduates continue to churn out religious bigots.
Again, the PNC Dr. Mahama has the best education policy. A beneficiary of Nkrumah’s free education policy, Dr. Mahama rightly opined that that there is little sense in building a university in every village and hamlet in Ghana if there’s no linkage between our educational institutions and our industries.
Agriculture: Whichever advanced economy we study we learn that each and every economy we called developed today first strived to attain food-sufficiency before anything else. The reason should not be far-fetched as our elders have a saying that a hungry stomach cannot accommodate any other thought.
With our vast and arable land and high unemployment there is no reason why we shouldn’t be producing enough food to feed ourselves and have surplus to sell. It bothers on criminal insanity when we spend more than what we earn from our gold in importing rice.
Health: The Neo-colonial (they call it neo-liberal) policies we have pursued over the years have only resulted in our trained health personnel voting with their feet whilst our own people die of curable diseases.
A Patriotic President with the love of his people at heart must pursue a “Ghana First’ internal and external policy. The passion to make Ghana take its rightful place at the comity of nations is what has set Kwame Nkrumah apart from all our other leaders so far. It is said that a country’s external policy is a reflection of its internal policy. Nkrumah pursued a vigorous internal policies and this is reflected in his robust and unmatched foreign policy achievements.
Regional Integration: A travel across the West African sub-region will reveal only one thing: the oneness of the people. It will also reveal the ingenuity of the African to make do with any and all resources. Take a look at how our ‘illiterate’ peasants take advantage of every bus and railway terminus to establish enterprise with which to cater for his\her family. Our people do not cry out for handouts or welfare checks like they do in Europe. No, all they ask for are the infrastructures to enable them live their lives.
Once again, the PNC leader has the best idea when he suggested the building of a trans-West African rail system. One can only imagine how our high unemployment will be mitigated by such an endeavour.
Our next President should emulate FDR and Barack Obama and tapped into the expertise of Ghanaians anywhere they are on earth and of whichever political orientation. The nation belongs to us all and our greatest wish should be to bequeath a better country to our children and also to posterity.
Thank goodness, in this election no single party is likely to dominate our political landscape. Both the NPP and the NDC should admit that neither of them has a monopoly on knowledgeable people. They have both had two good chances and we are still where we are; hence my call for an all-inclusive government.
Long live the Republic of Ghana! Long Live Africa!