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Spygalss:Ghana, Africa’s Darling? 

By Azore Opio

When you fly out of Cameroon, you fly out of a mouldy airport over shacks hastily flung here and there in lush foliage. If you are flying further west, as I did a fortnight ago, the late November Accra air welcomes you even before you touch down. The sun is baking. The air is crisply hot and glutinous. The sky is leaden. The heat has a creeping quality that permeates soil, wood, tarmac, cloth and melts the flesh.

You begin to experience the Accra go-slow seven kilometers before the city centre; the important difference is that it is orderly! Organised, if you like. At least, motorists are seen to respect road signs; they even pause to let schoolchildren cross the street.

I was also surprised at the beauty and spaciousness of the houses; graceful in their angles and lines, you know, coming from a country where a jumble of incoherent buildings have been thrown up, a country without zoning or sign control, a country which has destroyed itself with trashy cities with ugly buildings; a country that stinks high with corruption whose damage is difficult to calculate; a country where politicians have turned on it with tooth and claw; a country where there is no moral leadership, no integrity and systematic approach to governance or rule of law.

Ghana is popular, I tell you. Considered a model student of the World Bank and the IMF, she won over the hearts of the international donor community many years earlier. And since 1992, Ghana has conducted free elections in peaceful, democratic change of power. She is now an oasis of stability in crisis-haunted West Africa.

The drive from Kotoko International Airport took me through a very clean part of Accra; I mean swept and manicured. Ghanaians are not people you could say are beautiful, because I really looked around and couldn’t see any that could fit that description, but they seem to put an artistic touch to everything – the clean taxi, the clean street, the house, the paint, the signboards, the well-groomed beggar in a designer T-shirt, the policeman who does not only ask for "tea", but also the bread and butter! Now, you could hazard to pin down the Ghana national character and say there is a change of heart in Ghanaians.

My drive took me to Ho, a neat, steamy town in the Volta Region where I woke up to the famous akpeteshie. I had never liked potent gin, but this glass of akpeteshie distilled from nails seemed particularly galling. It is fast to brew. Many people prefer it because it is cheap and has a rapid knock-on effect. Whenever luck smiles on you and you see a Ghanaian sipping akpeteshie, it is because he has "chi-chinga" [my spelling] (soya) that compels him to go slow. Otherwise, akpeteshie is knocked down the throat as demanded by etiquette. From the akpeteshie joint, I went out in search of a funeral procession. I didn’t have to look too long.

Along the street came one; men and women all dressed in black marching down the street to the rhythm of a rag-tag brass band of one bass drum, a rusty trumpet, a bugle and a rattle gourd. I would learn later that the corpse had been left to chill in the morgue for six months waiting for the mourners to spruce up with new wigs, new beads and bracelets, new dresses and shoes and all the like for the big show day.

Mais monsieur, Ghana is not all glitter; it stinks of lavender! Sewage canals eruct nose-tingling, eye-watering and dizzying smells. One has to pick his way through heaps of filth left behind by street urchins, street hawkers and slum dwellers in Accra’s business district. And there are still dark shadows in the political set-up that stain the darling of Africa.

For example, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) seemed to have shot the treasury in the head and left the NDC (National Democratic Congress) to pick up the pieces in bewilderment. These are the sort of groups that create favourable conditions for the socio-politico-economic breakdowns so reminiscent of most African nations. As I write, President John Evans Atta Mills has ordered a forensic audit into the huge debts incurred by the NPP of the John Kufuor-led mandate.

Reports have it that the NPP, while it ran the assemblies (councils) breached the Ghana Procurement Law by allegedly not awarding most of the assemblies contracts on tender and in the process, overspent far in excess of their budgets, leaving behind a crippling debt crisis. It is estimated that in one region alone (Brong Ahafo Region) all the 22 municipal and district assemblies owed a total of a whopping 12,463,974 cedis (circa US $ 9 million) followed by the Central, Ashanti and Greater Regions also fraught with crippling debts as they owe billions of cedis (Ghana Palaver, Vol. 16. No. 62, November 23-24, 2009)

Meanwhile, two ex-ministers; Kwadwo Okyere Mpiani for Presidential Affairs and Ernest Debrah of Agriculture are accused of causing the state of Ghana the loss of 110 billion cedis (€ 5 million) in the messy handling of an of irrigation contract (The Enquirer Vol.10 No. 089 November 23-24). For his part, former Bank of Ghana Governor, Paul Acquah, bought a bogus software (T24) at € 50 million purportedly to help the central bank in its operations. The software turned out to be a white elephant from India. The former Governor is likely to be probed.

Another African darling that turned Jezebel is Uganda. Recently, the Daily Monitor reported that over 80 percent of property owned by public servants is acquired through theft. This announcement was made by the State Minister for Ethics and Integrity, Dr. James Nsaba Baturo. Meanwhile, World Bank statistics last year said Uganda loses circa 500 billion shillings (US $ 250,000,000) yearly to theft. Will Ghana remain Africa’s darling for ever?

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