The Politics of the State of the Nation

BY: Colin Essamuah / Daily Graphic / Ghana

The State of the Nation Address by President John Mahama was effortlessly delivered  last Tuesday in Parliament.  The suspects are, as usual, in a state of consternation, genuine or contrived, about what he said and did not say. The reasons for the disquiet are not far to seek. The perturbation perhaps, and this is my view, arises from the wrong expectation and perception that the President, whoever he is at any time, must necessarily see things as his critics, and even friends, see them.

Today, I will try to see things my own way, as I assess the speech. It is very important to be relaxed in the approach to such matters, because a steadiness of mind and emotion in the midst of palpable storms is the surest way to get out of trouble, not panic and disorderly confusion.

Heavy and malodorous portents of economic disaster had been heaped on all of us days before the address, as if to suggest that the person at the driving wheel cannot but take note and incorporate them in his speech to Parliament. Some of us had practically ordered our President to preach national failure and declare Ghana a failed state, to suit their propensity for scolding like old maids. It is curious why some of us believed so much in our own doomsday scenarios, then turned around to proclaim disappointment when the helmsman paid no heed.

Throughout, our validly elected President demonstrated comfortable self-assurance, folksy but solid knowledge of the issues he chose to raise, and an infectious sense of humour which completely and totally disarmed his critics in the chamber of Parliament and defanged those outside. 

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President Mahama not only studiously refused to condemn our economy, but as a responsible nationalist politician, talked it up. I believe that it is the duty of patriots to encourage one another in the task of nation building, not to tear down each other in the dangerous game of political bloodletting to score points.  Our President displayed his pride in how far we have come, and his transparent love for this country. He was not going to drive down the confidence level in a seven per cent GDP growth economy by pandering to the ritual negativity of the naysayers.

There are two major things I noted in the discussion before and after the speech worth commenting on at some length here. The first is the fashionable description of our economy as a Guggisberg Economy, which has not seen any major changes since the days of Governor Frederick Gordon Guggisberg at the end of WW1 in 1919! The other matter is the President’s decision to implement Free SHS education starting next year with the community schools coming up as part of the promise to construct 200 new community SHS.

 But before I touch on these two, let me dispose of one area where I diverge slightly from the view of the President regarding demolition of structures of trespassers on public lands in recent times. Many have, I think, wrongly, bemoaned the fact that demolition was being done after the processes of buying land, getting building permits, and construction itself have reached an advanced stage. The destruction seems like a callous response to years of looking on unconcerned while the illegalities are perpetrated.

Our higher institutions of learning, as a matter of fact, do their own demolitions of the future careers of their students on a regular basis. They carry out meticulous investigations and audits of entry credentials and results of students legitimately admitted earlier and who are far advanced in their academic careers in these institutions. That advancement and successful progression have never stopped the institutions from dismissing outright fraudulent interlopers when they are discovered. We have always approved this when it happens. 

Actually, the same thinking underlies the Supreme Court’s opinion in the Waterville and Isofoton cases; once the prior remit of our Parliament was absent, ipso facto, the contracts must be invalidated, and the payments for work done, or undone, must be retrieved.

Why do some of us, for whatever reason, believe that the Guggisberg Economy was bad for this country because, according to them, it served the interests of a foreign occupying power, and not our own indigenous interests?

Every national asset we have today, sprang from the Guggisberg Economy.  Achimota School for several years up to 1961, I think, had a department in the Education Ministry looking after its affairs. Takoradi and Tema harbours, Korle Bu Hospital, Komfo Anokye Hospital, the thousands of primary and secondary schools built by Nkrumah and other leaders; Akosombo, Kpong and Bui dams were all built during this period when we are allegedly not benefiting from the so-called Guggisberg Economy. Really? 

I think some of us say this as part of their own guilt-trip with regard to the pace and direction of economic change they disagree with.  It is a boring and uninteresting analysis.

The rather sharp and extremely negative reaction to President Mahama’s decision to implement aspects of the free SHS electoral promise of his opponents in the NPP leaves me amused and bewildered at the same time. The NPP, in their rage, have forgotten the adage that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and screaming that their idea has been stolen in broad daylight. Of course we all acknowledge the Free SHS was the brainchild of Dr Nduom in 2008, just as the NDC effectively took over his slogan ‘Yeresesam’, to wit; ‘We are changing Government’, also in the 2008 campaign.

The writer

Way back in June 1949, Nkrumah also stole the name CPP from the UGCC, and went on to win elections without a sweat. Is it not strange that the UGCC could not even craft a catchy reply to the ‘Self-Government Now’ slogan of the CPP? Party politics is a competition in ideas, strategies and programmes. One would have thought that the people who took the National Health Insurance idea from the NDC and practicalised it, would have rather patted themselves on the back for making Free SHS a ‘stealable’ idea. When it comes to ideas and slogans, we are all stealers.  Nothing to be ashamed of, or to complain about.