This Day (Lagos)

13 December 2008

Africa: And Ghana Did It Again

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Lagos — I can confidently claim to be a Ghanaian by association. I encountered Ghana nearly fourteen years ago, as I made my escape from Abacha's Nigeria, and headed to the United Kingdom.

The full story of that epic journey is better reserved for my forthcoming memoir, Born to Fly. Ghana for me was an instant mystery. The only way I could express my instant impression was to change her name to Little Europe. A fighter pilot, Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings, was in power then. He looked very fearsome. He was said to have come to enforce a revolution. And blood flowed. The blood of those regarded as decadent elite. The ordinary man hailed him as Black Jesus, while members of the privileged class called him Black Judas. He was loved with a passion by the former, and hated to death by the latter. I was a bit confused by the commotion on ground. But everywhere I went, there were loads of activities going on. Roads were being constructed or rehabilitated. The city of Accra, in most parts, looked very clean.

Life was available, even if expensive. The most amazing thing to a Nigerian like me was the uninterrupted power supply. If the lights blinked, there must have been an important reason. The Electricity Company of Ghana spent good time and money on making announcements to the general public on load shedding, when lights would go off and return. Any citizen could pick his phone and call ECG to query lights off in the neighborhood. Water flowed from our taps. Security was good. Accra became the only place in the world where I could drive alone at night.

As a first time visitor, Accra was too good to be true. As a Nigerian, my appreciation and admiration of Ghana was exceptional and sometimes hyperbolic. What I saw baffled me. It was impossible for a Nigerian not to fall in love with Ghana. Mine became an obsession in years to come. And I eventually made Ghana my third home, after Nigeria and Great Britain. I was determined to contribute to the success of Ghana. I had been a great student of Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah whose famous book, Africa Must Unite, had become a Bible for all pan-Africanists. The decision to set up home and businesses in Ghana, must have existed somewhere in my sub-consciousness. I finally crossed the Rubicon when I saw the office that was set up by Chief Moshood Abiola's children and the relative peace they enjoyed.

For me, Ghana became a mission to be accomplished. I moved a substantial arm of my operations to Ghana and was lucky to find a place close to President John Agyekum Kufuour's private residence, where the number one citizen of Ghana has lived for the past eight years. I then realized that simplicity and humility were not synonymous with revolutionaries alone. There were no road blocks on our street preventing anyone, not even the proletariat, from venturing near the area. At night, there was always minimal security, very polite and friendly, checking vehicles and waving you off almost immediately.

My first encounter with President Kufuour had left me stunned. He was only a few days old as president, nearly eight years ago. The occasion was the 40th birthday extravaganza of Edwina Baaba Banda, wife of the wealthy shipping magnate, Alhaji Asoma Banda in the airport residential area of Accra. Everyone knew the president was going to attend the one-in-town bash. I was therefore surprised to notice that the security around was not as tight as we were used to elsewhere. Alhaji Banda also offered to introduce me to the perfect gentleman. He took me to his table and the president greeted me so warmly as if we've been old buddies. I told him to kindly give me an appointment for an interview and he said he was ready right away. We conducted the interview right there and then and I went away very impressed. I did not see an overzealous press secretary, or aide de camp, hovering in the wings to flex muscles.

I would have so many other encounters in the years to come. A very good example I must mention was during the last presidential election in 2004. Many Nigerian journalists had descended on the easy-going city of Accra. A prominent member of our press back home in Nigeria, Segun Adeniyi was present and stayed in my house. The president voted at a polling station down the road from us and everything was generally peaceful. Segun asked me if he could interview the president. He could not believe the magic as everything was arranged within minutes, and President Kufuour and his wonderful wife, a woman I call Mother Theresa, even waited by their garden to receive us. We were later joined by the crew of Silverbird and AIT and everything went very well. I recollect the joke cracked by the First Lady when Stella Din sought her permission to take some photo sessions with Mr. President, and Mother Theresa replied, "Please, go ahead, I know you can't take him away from me." Such camaraderie was a rarity in most African countries. We all left their home talking endlessly about the First Couple of Ghana.

No matter your camp, President Kufuour worked very hard to distinguish himself on the African continent and in the comity of nations. He was both Chairman of ECOWAS and the African Union. His was a respected voice. He worked closely with his vice president, Alhaji Mahama, another perfect gentleman and their chemistry was brilliant. He never stifled his deputy, the way other presidents were fond of doing. His mission was to take Ghana to the next level and he accomplished so much. Today, Ghana has become one of the favourite destinations for investors and tourists. He would be proudly remembered by neutral historians as a father of modern Ghana. Ghana is wearing a new look with exotic housing estates springing up everywhere. The country parades some of the most beautiful hotels in Africa, and at affordable tariffs. Ghana successfully packaged the redenomination of her currency, which brought an end to those days when a paltry $100 turned a visitor into an emergency millionaire. Today, the Ghana Cedi is largely at par with the dollar. Ghanaians have won the confidence of the international community. They obtain visas of usually difficult countries with unbelievable ease. Students can obtain up to a five year visa to the United Kingdom and the United States of America. What is more, Ghana only recently found oil in commercial quantity.

As in all good things, there are always the down sides. Many Ghanaians believe the development seen on the streets is not reflected in their pockets and in their homes. They believe that wealth is now concentrated in a few hands. Such skeptics also cast aspersions on the president's war against corruption.

There is also the growing animosity between the Ghanaian and Nigerian business communities. Last year, some Nigerian businesses were shut down forcefully under the cover of a retrogressive legislation which requires foreigners (many believe Nigerians and the Chinese were the main targets) to invest a minimum of $300,000 before they can trade. I'm yet to see any nation in the world where Nigerian or Ghanaian traders are requested to meet such impossible conditions. If that was the case, all the Nigerian and Ghanaian shops in Europe and America would have closed down. Why would Africans make it impossible for their kith and kin to enjoy a friendly business climate in Africa? It is even more tragic because Nigerians and Ghanaians enjoy the closest relationships on the continent.

This is why the recent Ghanaian election generated so much feverish interests in Nigeria. Nigerians love Ghana and even envy how they've gotten their act right. Many of us pray frantically for a day when our leaders would wake up with the zeal, commitment, patriotism, discipline and contentment of Ghanaians. We regret the lack of seriousness and the lack of vision on the part of our coupists who merely came to rape our land. This why, as I said during a radio interview in Ghana, that Nigerians would gladly vote for Rawlings as the president of West Africa. Don't blame us, we have never been so lucky to have a Junior Jesus, we've only been accursed with Junior Judases who were nothing but armed robbers.

Ghanaians must thank their stars always. If Rawlings was a Nigerian, he will never quit power, unless he gets killed or a terminal disease terminates his life. Also, if President Kufuour was our father in Ota, he would have declared the election results of December 7 in favour of his party and challenge the heavens to fall. I told my friends who cared to listen, as all manner of election figures flew out of Accra by SMS, that I trust President Kufuour so much and he will never ruin his nation the way some reckless leaders did elsewhere in Africa. President Kufuour is a child of destiny. He tried several times before he eventually made it to power. No one expected Rawlings to hand over to him. I'm sure he has not forgotten that miracle. In our back yard, some leaders who were rescued from the jaws of the lion would have come out to play God.

We must salute Ghanaians for doing Africa proud again and for showing that we are not monkeys as some try to portray us.

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