|Source: The Black Narrator|
Dear President Mahama,
It’s me again. The lady who wrote you an open letter about Ghanaians living in darkness, yeah that one. Once again, I’m writing to you, because although I strongly believe that any real change in Ghana’s state of affairs will ultimately have to come from the fabric of our society – we Ghanaians – the fact is that you are our president, our chosen leader for this era of our national existence. And so, for the second time, I’m addressing you, with all due respect.
What do I know about politics? Not much besides what I learned in school, hear on the radio, or see from Ghana’s politicians. Oh, and of course, from the oh-so-awesome TV show Scandal which captures DC politics. So yeah, I know very little about the political game – which I hear isn’t so endearing to begin with – and probably much less about being president of a nation of almost 25million. Point is, what I’m about to say might just sound like a mosquito buzzing in your ear, inconsequential, naive, to be ignored. But I hope you hear me out. For the simple fact that I am a young Ghanaian who is deeply concerned, I hope you take a moment to read and listen.
I still remember that fateful eve after President Atta Mills’ passing had been announced. Not so much the eerie calm in the usually bustling capital, but the uncertainty. It’s usually the intangible which unnerves us so, isn’t it? I also remember you. Stepping up to the plate, taking charge, and delivering what could only be described as a very appropriate speech in parliament, to assure Ghanaians that we would get through the difficult time. And we did. Not just once, but many times, on the cusp of uncertainty. You were vice-president, but as fate would have it, you became president. Beyond that, you led. You accepted responsibility and you inspired some level of confidence where uncertainty had taken root.
Fast forward to today, and I’m wondering where that leader went. Let’s not mince words about it, Ghana is not doing well, and it’s under your watch. Like it or not, people will automatically attribute what happens to Ghana during your presidential term to you – the good, the bad, the ugly, the confusing, all of it. You’ve been a public servant for a while and have served in various capacities, under various presidents. Whatever you might have done, nobody – besides yourself and those closest to you perhaps – truly remembers your having done it.
Your previous accomplishments in service will probably go down under the category of “during the presidency of so-so and so”. Why? Because the human brain can only retain so much detail. Especially when it comes to something as complex and ever-changing as politics. But now you’re no longer communications minister, no longer vice president. You are the president. That comes with power. And so, any and everything that happens under your watch will automatically be attributed to you. It’s your name, your credibility, your reputation, your record of service on the line here. Not your ministers’, your opponents’, the business cronies, international donor partners. No. You. John Dramani Mahama.
I’ve been following Ghana news for most of my adult life and have taken great interest in the affairs of our dear nation. We have come a long way, but have an even longer way to go. Perhaps now more than ever we have the opportunity to not only solidify our reputation as a must-visit African nation, but also to break a couple more barriers, set a few more trends, defy all sense of what’s normal in Africa. We haven’t really done that since…let’s see..1957? It’s about time for the Black Star to shine brightly again, don’t you think?
Being an economics and development enthusiast, I take a keen interest in our economy. I remember waking up one morning some months back with a feeling of dread. Out of nowhere; intangible but very real, like the cloud of uncertainty which shrouded Ghana following Mills’ demise. Call it my female intuition, but since then there have been numerous news reports highlighting Ghana’s increasing national debt – 40% of GDP – waning investor confidence, worsening business environment, and so on. I mean, if it’s reports we want, we have a whole lot to choose from. Most attributed it to the then-ongoing Supreme Court case, but the message was clear: we needed to get our economic house in order, and fast! Now however, it seems we have more than just the economy to get on track.
Many Ghanaian news sites referred to this Gallup article on the polling organization’s recent Global States of Mind report which surveys corruption perception in 129 countries. Ghana comes in as the 3rd most corrupt country of the free press countries surveyed and I’m just reading that the government issued a statement saying the news sites were misleading in their reportage. The killer? This:
“Government notes with satisfaction that Ghana was classified in the “Free press” countries alongside established democracies like the United States of America, Portugal, Italy, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Australia and Norway – a development which Gallup acknowledges as an “indicator of good governance and development”. Ghana was also one of only two countries in Africa to be classified as “Free Press” countries, the other being South Africa.”
I appreciate the attempt at damage control, but I think government is missing the point by issuing that statement. The key point here is the fact that the country is perceived as being corrupt. By the very people you lead. That’s the real problem. Furthermore, the US, Netherlands and so on were listed as countries with free press where corruption is NOT perceived to be widespread. We’re not innocent by association. Besides, Ghana might have free press – theoretically – but given the levels of corruption, it’s fair to say some percentage of that press might be tainted. And that’s not even taking into account the so-called journalism we tout as being news.
In my opinion, the fact that 89% of Ghanaians surveyed considered the government corrupt – in spite of the free press and other democratic institutions, I should add – is worse, not better. Essentially, we’re the worst of the best (see table below, comments in red are mine), and maybe our corruption is more culture-based than we’d like to acknowledge. It’s impossible to think corruption could have gotten any worse in Ghana, but I have to agree that it has. Along with mediocrity and apathy. If our leaders truly believe otherwise, don’t just issue statements, show us, address the issues.
These days all I read about are demonstrations. While the latest Ibrahim Index indicates that civic participation in Ghana might be waning – people no longer see the point – there’s a growing civilian dissidence in the country in the form of demonstrations. In black, in red, in the nude, I’ve kind of lost count. It probably doesn’t do much for attempts to get the economy back on track and we’ll probably get there faster if people stayed in their offices and did their work diligently, but the point is that people feel unheard. Yes, despite all the complaints, the talk, the prayers, the free press, Ghanaians feel unheard. Why? Because you are yet to set the record straight.
While I might be young, a tad naive, a little too hopeful, and probably too unknowledgeable about politics and governance, I do know what it feels like to be lied to. It’s not fun. To feel like your intelligence is being undermined. That’s a recipe for all sorts of backlash. “The truth shall set you free”, that’s what all major religions preach, and in Ghana’s case, Mr. President, I think that’s exactly what we need: a healthy dose of the truth.
Is government broke? Is it not? Do we even know? Will prices change tomorrow? Can I count on being paid? Will the trotro mate ask me for 50 pesewas more? Firstly, it’s not doing much for national cohesion when you leave people’s imaginations to run a gamut about what’s going on in the country. In uncertainty, survival tendencies kick in and that could mean anything for Ghana. Secondly, in order to solve our problems we need to identify and acknowledge what those problems are. Then we need to prioritize. Denial isn’t helping us much. Finally, Mr. President, you need us – Ghanaians – in order to move the country forward. The Black Stars alone can’t keep us together as a nation. The task at hand is large as I’m sure you, more than anyone else, are aware. How can Ghanians come on board to help if you won’t let them in on what’s really going on? Telling the truth is the first step to rebuilding our broken nation.
You might say that you have great people around you. And you probably do. But they are not president. You are. That allows you some level of power at a time like this. Listen to your people, determine a plan of attack, then use it. As I stated earlier, this is your legacy in the making. You have to define what you want your mark to be. You have to set the precedent for your team to follow. More than anything, in periods of crisis and difficulty, you have to take charge of the wheel you have been assigned. Be the president, make the difficult decisions, for all our sakes, before there’s nothing left to preside over. Thank you for your time Mr. President. I hope to hear more encouraging news from our dear nation soon. Until we change, Ghana won’t change.
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.