Dialectic of the Village Fools: Nana Addo and his 110 Problems

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Two friends, Apuu and Tɔɔ meet on a dead path somewhere in their village in Nanakrom

Tɔɔ: Apuu

Apuu: Tɔɔ. You are a fool to fools

Tɔɔ: That makes me a bit wiser than you my well-decorated fool

Apuu: I hear Nana Addo’s bald head has become a public drum

Tɔɔ: What has Nana Kyeiwaa Part 4 done this time? Falling asleep again?

Apuu: Look at this fool. Are you the only one who has not heard that the sleeping beauty has swelled ministerial appointments to an unprecedented 110?

Tɔɔ: Yes. So what?

Apuu: So what? Is your grandfather’s cocoa farm income going to pay their obese salaries, garden boy, driver, and Legon girls? Even some people who voted for him want to shine his head. This is a serious matter, you fool.

Tɔɔ: I see. The old man has 110 problems and a bitch ain’t one? He disappoints me.

Apuu: You painful fool. This is not the time for unproven ashawo allegations. Our economy is in trouble. People are working hard but their efforts end up in the devil’s pocket. Nana Addo promised so much; how could he now be so insensitive to our plight? What does he need 110 people for? The Finance, Energy, Agric, and Local Government Ministries have 3 deputy ministers each. What kills me is that even the propaganda club called the Information Ministry has 3 deputy minsters. Can you believe that nonsense?

Tɔɔ: Ah, I am surprised people are complaining now. I thought we had it coming. Didn’t people notice that the man appointed 40 ministers for various roles? That is some 38% increment in number compared to Mahama’s 29. That percentage reflects his overall number of 110 compared to Mahama’s 98. I think the old man has been consistent. So why are people crying now? Or Ghanaians can’t think in percentages only in absolute numbers?

Apuu: Ha! This fool has suddenly grown smart and cocky. Who cares about percentages? We think in terms of cost and tax payer’s money.

Tɔɔ: Who doesn’t? We say we want a democracy. Well, a democracy is a representational government. If our population has been increasing, and not remained static or declined, then it makes sense that we increase the number of ministers who serve the increasing population. I tell you what. I think this is a commendable text-book application of a key principle of democracy. It is a brilliant experiment that I think everyone else who lays claim to a democracy should note. Let the old man be.

Apuu: My friend, even established democracies who have larger populations than us do not have such overpopulated ministerial portfolios. The UK has 21, Australia has 20, and the US has 15; meanwhile Nanakrom has 40. What kind of over-learning is that! And then we have to pay them all these ridiculous amounts of money and benefits. For what?

Tɔɔ: Well, you are talking about established democracies. Ours is not, so I reckon we need more people to do the work, don’t you think? In any case, these countries you cited operate a federal system. That is very different from our unitary state system. If Ghana were a federal state, then each of the ten regions will have its own governor, cabinet, parliament, police, and members of the judiciary. Of course then we wouldn’t need 40 federal cabinet ministers because the states would handle many of their own domestic issues, including raising and using their own funds. But we are not. I don’t think that we are doing anything abnormal here with 40 cabinet ministers for 28 million people. As for the monies we pay, even the President of Ghana does not make half what a cabinet minister in America makes.

Apuu: Tɔɔ, I think you are lost in your head. You shouldn’t even be making that comparison. Those are advanced economies. We have big problems and cannot afford to even dream of getting close to them. The average annual income per person in the US is over $53,000. Do you know the average income per person in Ghana? $3900 a year! That is 7% of what an average American earns. So if I am to follow your kantamanto logic, why should our president be earning 19% of what an American president earns. Why shouldn’t he earn 7% of that? Don’t even get me started on all the allowances and galamsey monies that no one accounts for. And he is there doing job for the boys adding ministers like he is doing long division. And you also have the audacity to defend it. You must be out of your mind.

Tɔɔ: I am sure I am because I have succeeded in smoking out a fool’s temper. Look, your argument is sound. But then if we have more problems than America, then certainly our president and ministers deserve to be rewarded more because their work is harder. Using average income is fair. But if America with their $18.9 trillion national debt can afford to take care of their president and ministers, we can also certainly manage around our national debt of only $22.7 billion to take care of our politicians who have more difficult problems to solve. Anaa?

Apuu: Massa, massa, Daavi’s apio is toasting your brain. What has any politician ever done for you? What hard work? Don’t get me worked up. I have not had my breakfast yet.

Tɔɔ: Apuu, this is not really about the numbers, is it?

Apuu: What do you mean?

Tɔɔ: I mean the problem you and many people are complaining about has got nothing to do with the number of minsters or what they are being paid.

Apuu: Did I have water in my mouth when I was talking. Ah, ok so what is about.

Tɔɔ: I think the actual problem pertains to a general perception that people in politics do not add much value to the welfare of the populace, except to their own back accounts.

Apuu: Oh but that is obvious. After all, most ministers get their jobs as rewards for campaign exertions and not due to their competence for the job.

Tɔɔ: Good, so regardless of their competence, you think they treat their appointments as pay checks for campaign effort and use them to cash out unthinkable financial rewards.

Apuu: I don’t disagree. I think that every additional minister is just another another “greedy bastard” to feed.

Tɔɔ: You see o. Because if we really believed that every minister is another competent human resource to work for our welfare, then we would rather ask for more numbers. After all, as the Akans say, “a lot of meat does not spoil the soup”.

Apuu: Yes, this one is a case of adding more bad nuts to the other bad nuts that we are painfully chewing but can’t spit out.

Tɔɔ: So you agree with me that although the financial cost of maintaining ministers in Ghana is high, that is not really the problem.

Apuu: Well, the general complaint is specifically about the cost of paying salaries, allowances, support staff, and so on.

Tɔɔ: Yes, but you can see that what they are actually complaining about is having to spend so much remuneration for personnel they do not value highly anyway. I think reasonably, people would not mind paying a lot for extremely good service. But in this case, people do not see the value for money because they strongly assume that political staff do not add much value to the people’s welfare.

Apuu: I can agree with that. So what’s your point?

Tɔɔ: I think what Nana Addo needs to be really responding to—in deeds, not words—is that these 110 are going to add value to the economy and welfare of people; that they are not there for chop chop; that this is not a job for the boys, but jobbing for the people. If he shows authority on this and show through obvious change that the 110 are really delivering results we can see, people will even ask for more ministers.

Apuu: I must admit, for a moment, you stopped being a fool. You are right. But I am afraid you are also being a hopeless optimist. I don’t think the old man has shown any evidence so far that he will uproot corruption as he promised.

Tɔɔ: Don’t be an impatient fool. Let us give him time. That is why I consider this an experiment. I agree that it is so abrupt that it irks people. But sometimes the only way to implement change is to take a Nike mantra, and just do it. Democracy can be slow, so maybe he is being a decisive leader and doing what he thinks will help him do the job he wants to do. Let’s give him time. But let us also be vigilant citizens and yes, let us criticize when we must. In four years, the ballot box will give us the chance to pass an overall judgment on the old man and his 110. Until then, we will keep watching; we will keep checking if the promised change is making any difference in the weight of our pockets.

Apuu: I will tell you what I need now?

Tɔɔ: Palm wine?

Apuu: Fool. Palm wine and some meat. Why just palm wine? Do you want to kill me?

Tɔɔ: Hahaha. I think we are in the same boat.

Apuu: Well, let us take this conversation to Daavi’s spot; good meat and an educated palm wine always open the brains up.

Tɔɔ: Ah! God bless Daavi.

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Marwako vs. The People of Ghana

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The Ghanaian “consumer jihad” against Jihad Chabaan and Marwako is a public trial for our business systems and support institutions. Chabaan, the Lebanese supervisor at Marwako’s Abelemkpe restaurant allegedly shoved a female employee’s head into blended pepper (chili) apparently for spoiling the blender. So far thousands have signed petitions, ministers, celebrities, the second lady and Amnesty International have joined the pre-trial jury that is calling for heads to roll.

Chabaan is facing trial, but he is not alone here. Marwako has been put on trial and the consumer jury has already sentenced the brand to a lifetime boycott without parole. The police are on trial, and are being judged for their ability to carry out due process. Government is on trial to determine if it will help make an example of this case. Every employer and brand in the country is on trial as employees who have been assaulted, abused and cheated sign up as witnesses against unfair business and labour practices.

The lucky culprit who has escaped trial but should be on trial is our mediocrity, our culture of silence and “leave it to God”, our willingness to forgive and forget unforgivable and poor customer services, our fear of power, and our “short-term memories” that easily bury fatal negligence by service professionals. A petition that calls for an end to “inhumane treatment of Ghanaians by foreigners” is reasonable under the circumstance, but myopic because it is not only foreigners who mete out inhumane treatment to Ghanaians. This is the mediocrity of thought—the lucky bastard—who has escaped trial.

I too celebrate this trend of activism. The Ghanaian consumer is holding a brand accountable for its abuse of its internal customer—an employee. Excellent. But unless we make such public trials a culture, we may only be making an example of a piss in the ocean. So let’s report offences and workplace abuse, complain about poor services, write online reviews, and share our terrible service experiences on social media. Let’s hold ALL businesses and brands accountable, now and always. Vela damus!

Branding the Enemy: NDC, NPP and the Politics of Stigma

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My unfortunately educated brother, Yaw Boateng Festival once told me a story. It is common knowledge that the traders in Kumasi Central Market are NPP mouth soldiers. So once, just to piss them off, he decided to play the NDC spokesperson in an argument with them. One of the women rebuked him angrily, “You, we sent you to school to educate you and you have turned out to be an NDC member”. I bet you didn’t see that coming. I bet you did.

There is a chronic perception that the NDC is the party of the uneducated, the so-called verandah boys. The NPP on the other hand is the party of the elite, well-spoken and educated people. The woman’s statement is probably the crudest way I have ever heard anyone represent this belief, and yet, alas, there it is. The NDC and NPP have such divergent brand images in this regard. But the jury seems to agree that NDC’s image is a problem.

First, let’s interrogate the validity of each party’s perceived brand image. Is it really true that NDC is the party of illiterates? Well, that is a questionable assertion. The NDC has provided three presidents and the NPP two, and it is only the NDC who gave us a PhD holder as president. I have heard some NPP friends say NPP has more “men”—that is educated people—to run the country than the babies with sharp teeth that the NDC has been assigning to ministerial portfolios. Besides the misogyny of this assertion, I am not convinced by this one either. Many of the current batch of NPP ministers under Nana Addo are recycled from Kuffuor’s government. The new faces like Ken Ofori Attah were co-opted from the public, just like Mahama co-opted Prof Jane Opoku-Agyeman. So where are the “men”?

Here’s where I think the issue lies: history. The NDC is a re-imagined and rebranded military regime. Like all successful military leaders and dictators, Rawlings was a populist. His NDC was then birthed in this image of populism, appealing to the commoner, engaging with the unremembered villager and raising affection through charisma, drama and politics of action. And consistently in the NDC, these things are rewarded over anything else. That is why babies with sharp teeth thrive in this party, and only very likeable people front the NDC as presidential candidates.

The NPP on the other hand is built on tradition: a tradition of an organized educational elite who seek to oppose an existing political process. The UGCC was established by elite men to oppose colonialism and through the Danquah-Busia tradition, was reborn as the NPP to oppose what they saw as Rawlings’ undemocratic regime. This is why the NPP seems to have a factory of elites, appeals to the educated, and follows tradition to choose their presidential candidates.

So the answer lies with history. The NDC is a populist military regime reborn as a political party; the NPP is the new face of a tradition of elite opposition to the dominant political process. For this reason, the NDC has been seen as the common man’s party and the NPP has been seen as the educated man’s party. By current practices, in reality, neither party is more significantly elite or populist. But their respective histories have given them their current image and such images have been enduring.

Hardcore party members will fire me over this and argue that this is not true. But I will encourage them to do some market research first and not get pointless intellectual erections over this. What is more important is for us to interrogate the value of the respective party’s brand image now that we know why many people perceive the parties in that light. You must wonder, what is wrong with being populist? Why does the NDC have to bear their image as stigma and the NPP wallow in the privilege of their image. Well, that is a freaking complicated question. But the easy answer lies in our culture.

The Westernization of our culture since colonial rule has made us believe that the educated person is more valuable and intelligent than the uneducated person. In Ghana, a gentleman [krakye] refers to an educated man, not a well-mannered man. Indeed, it is now a global perception that education is the key to progress. The general perception then is that it is better to have an elite group running the country. Even if they are book-long, that is still more respectable than having a bunch of know-nothings directing the affairs of our country. For this reason, the NPP is perceived to have a better image than the NDC.

Of course this has not stopped the NDC from winning elections, and you cannot also rule out tribal voting in our politics yet. The NPP has been justifiably branded an Akan party. Again this is steeped in their history as well as their decision to choose only Akan presidential candidates till date. They have a real opportunity to change this trend with the very competent Dr Bawumia; it is an opportunity that will be unfortunate to say the least if they don’t take it. But I won’t digress into this matter today because this is not yet a problem. I don’t consider their Akan image to be a stigma since there is no stigma in being Akan or being any tribe for that matter. I don’t have the tolerance for tribal and discriminatory nonsense. So let’s stick to the stigma that has proper teeth.

Here, there is a looming danger for the NDC. If you look at the voting patterns of the last 20 years, more educated people tend to vote for the NPP, whiles more uneducated people tend to vote for the NDC. It is increasingly becoming a social crime for an educated person to be or vote NDC. This is regardless of the fact that both parties have been led by elites and have had populist manifestos and campaign strategies. It has everything to do with their image. If this pattern is to continue, we can then project that as more and more people become educated and the less educated people phase out, over time, the NDC will be seriously threatened as it will lose its core voter base. I know this looks gloom.

What should the NDC do? I have seen some attempts to challenge the perception that you don’t need an education to run a country well. Nonsense. No where in history has that ever been true. Wisdom is not in the classroom but it lies in education, and these days education is formal and in the classroom. Fighting such a well-established belief is a horse that won’t run.

So should the NDC engage in an explosive rebranding towards a more elitist outlook? That may be considered inauthentic—a mere imitation of their opponents—and may end up alienating their still large core following. Should they stick with their current image and make the most of it, hoping against time that such projections are unfounded and will not hurt them in the long term? That’s also a risky venture.

Politics—like religion and marketing—is a game of perception, and perceptions beget image. I am not sure if they know, but the NPP has a glaring flaw in the way their party’s brand is presented. And the NDC has some interesting assets sitting deep within the stigma of their verandah boys image. I think the NDC has the perfect recipe to make an amazing comeback with a different brand position that will play out on the strength of their current image, and exploit the flaws in the NPP’s image. It will also serve them well in the long term.

But…I am not going to provide any specific ideas here to help either party. Plus, I don’t do stuff like this for free anymore since I am paid well for my ideas. But if someone is interested ahead of 2024, you know where to find me. Wink.