Bedlam? It’s beginning to look and sound like it! For an opinion piece writer like me in Ghana these days, there’s never a dull moment, for there are so many subjects to choose from, one often feels like the proverbial child in a candy store, only that these are not palatable matters being served!
Before one has finished tapping one’s first sentence on a trending topic, something else would have popped up to render the topic obsolete, though not irrelevant… The subject of the following article had been trending around when the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), was taking place in late September but all of a sudden, Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) had intruded and taken over – a subject that should have seen the dismissal or resignation of the Minister of Education, but I digress and more on that in a future piece…
Rutgers University, New Jersey’s highly esteemed state owned institution of higher learning was recently the scene of a very bizarre Ghanaian occurrence. A clip of what took place there has since gone viral, and I am sure anyone who would read these columns would also have seen the clip and therefore familiar with the details.
But memories often need refreshing: A town hall type meeting was organized for/by the visiting Ghanaian delegation to the UNGA led by Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo as Head of State. A young man, with a confirmed ticket for the event, had travelled all the way from Colorado to New Jersey to participate and put his questions across.
He had previously asked a question which it seemed, hat not got down well with the organizers and so this time round he was barred entry by, in his own words, “macho men” from Accra. The video clip shows him angrily venting his protest in the grips of New Jersey police who were restraining him…
These meetings, depending on the motives of organizers can be either very sincere outreach programmes for diaspora Ghanaians or simply political rallies for partisan politicking.
A Head of State travels abroad when invited by a colleague to pay a State Visit. He/she may also go on a working, private, official, holiday, medical visit; even the funeral of a statesman can offer the opportunity for travel and provide a platform for networking. The tabs are usually borne by the taxpayer except for the private, which may not meet the scrutiny and approval of the government book keepers!
Attendance at the UNGA, usually in September, sits atop all multilateral engagements. Then also the regional multilaterals like the AU, down to the sub-regionals like ECOWAS and then the bilateral ones like Ghana and Togo, etc., all offer opportunities for a Head of State or government to pick up more and more air miles.
There are other relationships that also add to an incumbent’s travel time if he or she wishes; for example, Ghana has signed up to membership of Francophonie; there is also the Japanese TICAD and its Chinese variant, not forgetting CHOGM and sometimes special invitations to the G7, the Davos Economic Forum and more.
They are all “Summits” in nature – a word originally coined by Churchill during WWII to characterise meetings of the Allied leaders. Around these summits and meetings a country gets to give meaning to its Foreign Policy.
What incumbents do with it to benefit their compatriots at home and abroad very much depends on their appreciation of what true national interest is. In fact, should a Head of State decide to honour all invitations, he/she can be out of the country for the better part of a year attending this or that summit. There are that many of them!
In this our hot tropical environment, should our Head of State decide to attend a summit at the North or South Pole, we will have to allow him, in good faith, trusting that it would be in our national interest. Foreign travel is a necessary part of the job description and with the shrinkage of the globe due to air travel, it is now a matter of have plane, will travel…
As diplomacy goes, these opportunities for travel abound; it is up toeach country to prioritise on which ones advance their foreign policy objectives or attract investors to their domestic policies.
As a media man, I had the privilege of travelling with President J.A. Kufuor on a trip to the UK and a town hall was held for Ghanaian residents at the tail end of his visit. Every one willing and able who came was accorded the necessary respect and time and allowed to interact with their President.
All who wanted were welcome to listen to and question the President. Everything was for and about Ghana not political parties. Looking back, it was unthinkable that any Ghanaian of sound mind would have been barred from such an event as was done at the Rutgers event.
It was also inconceivable that Kufuor would have inspired such a move on the grounds that he could not handle or tolerate a fellow citizen’s line of questioning. And for macho men to take over and rough up a fellow citizen and bring the name of our country into disrepute on foreign soil would neither have crossed President Kufuor’s mind nor his aides’.
Years later, I had come into my own and was in a position to organize one myself when as Head of Mission I hosted President Mahama’s State Visit to the Republic of Botswana in 2015. It is a very rare privilege indeed for a Head of Mission to host his or her Head of State, but the Heads of Mission at the multilateral institutions like the UN get to do it all the time.
The logistics are simply mind boggling! It is during the planning stages that the mischief of turning it into a partisan affair can be hatched.
The Botswana State Visit was a big one! In conjunction with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration (MFARI) and its Botswana counterpart, we went over all the details from arrival to departure, including bilateral meetings, agreements of cooperation, familiarization tours, official luncheons/dinners and meeting with Ghanaian residents.
On that, an open invitation was sent out to all Ghanaians through their Association for all those who would be able, to attend, and just like the Kufuor experience, attend they did in their numbers! It even had a carnival air about it as our compatriots tried to outdo one another in their sartorial statements as to who would look more Ghanaian. President Mahama delivered what could only be describes as a mini state of the nation address covering all sectors of our polity and fielded questions from his Ghanaian compatriots.
After the encounter, a photographer sidled up to me and said in clear Twi that he was born into the political tradition of the NPP, but if there was an election, he would “vote for this man”! His sentiment, I was later to learn, was generally echoed by many others. This was because the meeting had been purely non-partisan. The President spoke, his compatriots listened. They asked questions, he answered…The question of shutting someone out never arose! And by the way, the photographer, a member of the Ghanaian community, did pictures, some of which I must credit to him in this opinion piece…
When out of his/her jurisdiction, a President can use the opportunity to interact with members of the diaspora, which is good practice. It starts being unacceptable when it assumes a patently partisan format and other citizens excluded.
Oh yes, a party chapter can meet a visiting incumbent, but then it cannot qualify as a meeting of the representatives of the Ghanaian community. Could that be what happened at Rutgers in New Jersey? The clip raised many issues: Was the leader of the Ghanaian delegation aware? Did he act in any way to prevent or encourage the harassment of a fellow citizen? Did he find a way of extending to his aggrieved compatriot words of redress?
Were the macho men actually flown in from Accra? Did the Ghanaian taxpayer take the tab of those too? Has Nana Akufo-Addo “disappointed” those who reposed trust in his campaign messages for the 2016 Elections as claimed by the aggrieved citizen?? Whatever the answers, the 2019 UNGA would be forever remembered for all the wrong reasons, due to an occurrence not on the floor of the Assembly Hall, but an act tantamount to the suppression of freedom of expression in an entirely different venue – a meeting of, by, for Ghanaians. Subsequent clips from the same person, also gone viral, are making very serious allegations about a grand rigging plan to be operationalized by the NPP for Election 2020…
Foreign travel by state officials, right from the Head of State to the lowly civil/public servant is a very expensive undertaking and in terms of value for money, must have yields that can be justified by the national interest.
As far as UNGA 2019 is concerned, in spite of whatever speech may have delivered on the floor of the General Assembly, an opportunity to unite Ghanaians in the diaspora by those who represented Ghana was missed, thanks to the disgraceful Rutgers event…I will not go as far as say that was causing financial loss to the State – but certainly there was misuse of taxpayer money and abuse of office…
At the time of writing, a yet to be validated letter purported to be from the victim of the Rutgers disgrace has surfaced announcing his resignation from the NPP…
By Amb. Alhaji Abdul-Rahman Harruna Attah, MOV