Whose voice matters?

Let me state why I would not fight for an elected political office: it is because I very likely would be treated the way the likes of Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Muamar Gadhafi and many other African leaders were treated.

I have a great deal of admiration for the Agogohene of Asante, Nana Akuoko Sarpong. He is a great statesman, lawyer, politician and traditional ruler. My first encounter with Nana was at a media encounter in one of the restaurants at Oxford Street at Osu. It was a forum at which public figures met with senior journalists to discuss background information on certain trending policies and events.

I cannot recollect the exact date because all my diaries were destroyed in the floods that hit my home in the night of June 19, 2009, here in Accra. But what I remember is that it was about the time Asanteman had lost Otumfuor Opoku Ware II and some names popped up as likely successor to the Golden Stool. After the death of the Asantehene there were rumours that the government of the time had a favoured candidate for the Stool. Also in attendance was Ambassador Victor Gbeho.

I cannot remember if I was the one who sought Nana Sarpong’s take on the issue, but the issue was raised and he responded in a manner that still resonates with me. Nana said no one, not even the government he served in, could dictate to Asanteman who should be Asantehene. He has won my heart ever since that statement. Only recently, Nana Agogohene made another statement to the effect that Ghana should consider moving the nation’s capital away from Accra. The media carried his call on front pages. Less than a few days later, three engineers picked up the tune in support of Nana’s call.

I take nothing away from Nana and his call, but I remember writing a comprehensive treatise on why the capital should move from Accra and had it published. The only person to call and congratulate me on that piece was the late elder statesman, Mr. K. B. Asante. My question, since after Nana’s call, is: do we have to be prominent people before our voices can be heard? Then I remember in the middle of 1986 after I had returned to Ghana, I wrote a letter to the then Ministry of Transport & Communications on the numbering of automobiles.

I suggested the numbering that is in place now, but with a system that would make identifying the Region, District or even local areas easily identifiable from the number plate. Till date, no letter came from that Ministry acknowledging receipt of my letter. Very likely, I am not considered prominent enough to have a voice. I still read many articles making very lofty and nationalistic analyses on which way the country can move forward, but because the authors are not names that evoke a certain presence, these beautiful ideas fade into oblivion.

Even when officialdom commissions fora for brainstorming on certain pertinent national issues, very little, if any, action is taken on their recommendations. How much more when a single person makes suggestions for national development? Visionaries hardly live to see their dreams come into fruition, but the first step is just as important as the realisation of their dreams. In our case, however, the visionary dies and takes his dreams along with him.

Listen to the people chatting away in commercial vehicles. Listen to the chatter in the marketplace. Listen to the conversation among students. These are our sources of inspiration. And listen to the ordinary people. These people speak wisdom and you are in awe of the depth of their wisdom. Officialdom is cocooned in their air-conditioned offices and cars; they shut the world of realities outside the door. The only issues that catch their attention are suggestions from ‘prominent’ citizens. But these people have become prominent because they achieved something for themselves or from positions thrust upon them. What about the ordinary man in the street on whose behalf we run the affairs of state?

Only recently, Sir Sam Jonah, at a forum organized by the Rotary Club, made a statement to the effect that authority is uncomfortable when truth is told them. This is very true, especially in an era where political activism is rife on social media and the hounds of the political class will descend on you like a pack of wolves for daring to speak truth to authority. Sir Jonah intoned that government policies determine whether or not investors would want to do business in Ghana.

He touched on a wide range of issues of national importance, but the question remains as to whether his voice goes far enough for us to listen. Listen to him: ”….what is baffling is that those who used to have voices on these things seem to have lost their voices. People speak on issues based on who is in power. Is our deafening silence suggesting that we are no longer concerned with issues that we complained about not too long ago, particularly when those issues persist…?”

Then he turned his attention on me and my colleagues: “Our media landscape is so polarised and partisan. There is hardly any objectivity, because a lot of the media stations are owned by politicians whose interest is in swaying voters one way or the other. Independent media practice seems to have faded into oblivion and journalism has become a conveyor belt for political propaganda, insults and acrimony.”

I can say, with near certainty, that Ghana’s capital will remain Accra for the next 100 years. Who would want their multimillion investments in plush real estate to go bust when the capital moves from Accra and their values tumble? Who would want their pet baby of a 5,000 capacity cathedral become only a tourist attraction if the capital moves from Accra? Instead of investing in industrial infrastructure to create jobs for our teeming youth, our priority is a cathedral for us to pray in for jobs. Now, to get the capital out of Accra? It will not happen, if I knew the mentality of our leaders and their captains of industry and influence.

I can bet my last pesewa that Nana Agogohene’s voice is not even powerful enough. The power is in the pockets of the moneybags whose economic and financial fortunes outweigh any national agenda for development. And they call the shots. Meanwhile, Accra has reached Kasoa and Gomoa Buduburam in the Central Region. Accra has caught up with the Akuapem Mountains and Miotso to the east. Truth be told, Accra has outlived its usefulness as a nation’s capital. Indeed, Accra is suffocating.

One reason the capital will move is when the realisation dawns on us that Accra has fallen below the level of the Atlantic Ocean. Even that will meet a resistance with the excuse that the Netherlands live under water. We cannot manage the annual deluge when the rains set in but we will quickly compare ourselves to the Netherlands. We are almost in the rainy season now and our preparedness will be put to the test once again.

The other reason might be only under a military government the way Abuja was created in Nigeria. I am by no means calling for a military regime for this country. Far from that, but it will take a revolution of the mind to get a movement of Ghana’s capital off the ground. As the saying goes, a journey of a thousand kilometres begins with a step. Nana Agogohene has spoken. Sir Sam Jonah has spoken just like many others, but whose voice matters?

By Dr. Akofa K. Segbefia

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