During the first week of October 2009 in Ghana the news waves were saturated with reports that some ministers of government had decided to have a taste of what hoi polloi go through every day in the transportation department.
The ministers abandoned their brand new air-conditioned, four-wheel-drive jeeps -- bought, fueled and maintained at the taxpayers' expense -- and hopped into the contraptions we called Trotro around here, which is the only mode of transport available to the majority of Ghanaians. To those not in the know, Trotro are giant metal cages on wheels, and they are a common sight on many an African road. They are simply utility vehicles meant to transport you from point A to point B, period. Looking for comfort, then forget the Trotro. You should simply count yourself lucky if you emerge from a Trotro without your fabric torn by metal that protrudes from every part of the contraption that forms the major part of African transport system.
Some of the ministers later came on air mouthing such baloney like that they were doing it in solidarity with the common man/woman. Some of them said that it would enable them to get a feel of what the ordinary masses go through every day.
Whatever the reason, the sight was so unbecoming that journalists left their normal beats and rushed to capture it for entranced citizens. The news so captured the imagination of the people that analysts browbeat it to death.
It shows serious disconnect between the governors and the governed when news of governors sharing public transport becomes a big-time news item. In other normal societies, it is normal -- very normal -- for rulers to share in the anguish of their people. But in our part of the world where the rulers continue to behave like colonial overlords, the spectacle of them partaking in what their people go through every day is considered newsworthy.
Several times in these pages, I have provided instances of Dutch politicians, including the prime ministers, riding their own cars or taking public transport. It is considered so normal in the Netherlands that it is not newsworthy when an MP takes a train. High Dutch officials, the Queen included, joyfully ride bicycles. So enamored are the Dutch with their bicycles that they have special lanes for them.
A few years ago, it was reported that the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair had been fined for riding in a train without a ticket. Her excuse that she was in a hurry to get to her office was not bought by the (gasp!) black train conductor who slapped her with the fine.
In our part of the world, the wife of a District chief executive (equivalent of the head of a County) would not be caught dead in any of our public transport. And god helped the "stupid" policeman foolish enough to harass the wife of an African minister.
Also in my columns, I have railed against the inability (or is it unwillingness?) of the African political class to share in the burden of anguish they imposed on their citizens. It is this capacity of African leaders to set themselves far above their people that, I believe is responsible for much of the worrisome poverty that keeps defacing the face of this beautiful continent. It is this inability of African rulers to have solidarity with their own that informed their exchanging their folks for gin, trinkets, guns, and the other goodies that the slavers used to dazzle them. We see the same pattern today where African leaders accept bribes from Western multinationals and allow the imperialists to loot our resources.
As soon as they get into position of authority, African leaders, whatever their political coloration, easily eased themselves into the Orwellian land of all animals are simply not equal. All over Africa, we have big, opulent presidential palaces constructed in sharp contrast to gigantic slums.
Kenya is a classical case of where the so-called opposition has joined the so-called "government" in high living. Members of the Kenyan parliament, no matter to which political party they belong, eagerly and very enthusiastically voted for pay rises and car allowances. Kenyan ministers of every political persuasion are reluctant, very reluctant to trade their big Mercedes Benzes for smaller cars to save money for the Kenyan treasury. Nigeria's otiose political elites are a class unto themselves; they have transformed the business of looting public treasury into a fine art. So totally shameless are Nigerian politicians that stories of high corruption no longer bother them.