Is President Mahama travelling too much?

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Folks, one major issue that has bothered Ghanaians over the years is the foreign travels undertaken by the heads of state that involve huge expenditure of the tax-payers’ money. Of course, a good thing sells itself; and if Ghana were good, it needn’t be marketed through foreign travels by its heads of state. And Ghana is well-known for what it is. No need to elaborate.

Foreign travels by Ghanaian heads of state since independence have an interesting history. The Great Osagyefo went abroad, selling Ghana and himself as an emancipator only to swallow a bitter pill on his peace-making mission to Hanoi (North Vietnam) that saw him diverting his course to Guinea to become a joint President with Sekou Toure and not the “Showboy of Africa” that he had been constructed in Ghana.

Many others after him used foreign travels to do whatever they thought would make Ghana an attraction to the international community. Only Ignatius Kutu Acheampong failed to do so. He never went on foreign trips, apparently rumoured as fearing his own shadow. I saw him dash off to the Ghana-Togo border at Aflao in those days only to rush back to Accra in a jiffy. But it didn’t save him from the bitter Fate that ended his life in obscurity at the Kpeshie Shooting Range on June 16, 1979. His successor, Fred Akufo didn’t bother about foreign trips either.

Rawlings went all over the place in the hope of re-engineering himself and “selling” Ghana to the international community. The outcome belongs to history.

When it was Kufuor’s turn, tongues wagged a lot, much of which condemned him for being frivolous—undertaking close to 200 foreign trips in 8 years in power. Unprecedented in the annals of Ghana’s history, earning him the unenviable ridicule of a globe trotter!! His supporters justified all that he did, claiming that the dividends redounded to Ghana’s good. I was one of those who derided him—or plainly condemned him for being a junketing President!! And the NDC released its arsenal to darken him as such.

Intriguingly, when the late Atta Mills took over, he couldn’t do without foreign travels too, some of which in his latter days in office ended up being ridiculed by his opponents as trips for personal health issues.

Come in John Dramani Mahama. Tongues are wagging feverishly and vehemently against him for emulating Kufuor, contrary to the barrage of condemnation given him by the NDC. Some public comments have suggested that President Mahama is going on “frivolous trips” to the country’s disadvantage. Indeed, he has gone on many trips, some coming when least expected, whether to countries in the West African sub-region or far beyond.

His critics think that his trips aren’t purposeful or designed to provide solutions to the pertinent problems that continue to undermine his administration. His supporters think otherwise. In all that is happening, he hasn’t relented and is bent on going further afield.

The latest trip is to Qatar, and it comes with many ramifications. According to the news report on it, he left Accra last night on a three-day state visit to Qatar and is expected to make a strong pitch for Qatari investments into Ghana’s energy sector and also in the construction of an integrated aluminum refinery in Ghana, during his three-day visit. He will return to Accra on Tuesday, December 2.

There is a lot to chew on, according to the official statement from the Presidency:

  1. President Mahama will meet the ruler of the State of Qatar, His Highness the Amir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, for discussions centered on strengthening Ghana’s relations with Qatar, including specific investment proposals for boosting the energy sector.
  2. He is also scheduled to hold meetings with Qatar’s Minister for Energy and Industry, the Head of Qatar International Petroleum, the Managing Director of Qatar Iron and Steel Industry, and the Chief Executive Officer of the Qatar Investment Authority, as well as the leadership of the Qatar Foundation, which promotes world class tertiary education and philanthropic causes.
  3. The objectives of the President’s state visit to Qatar is aimed at achieving “energy security, stability and affordability for Ghanaians, and also make Ghana the energy hub for West Africa.”
  4. The statement pointed out that “Qatar’s development path and experiences offer valuable lessons for Ghana’s economic transformation, in view of the points of commonality between the two nations, especially in the oil and gas sector, petro-chemicals, hotels and hospitality, education, agriculture and agro-business.”

And the President is accompanied by a powerful team: the Minister-designate for Power, Dr. Kwabena Donkor, the Minister for Water Resources, Works and Housing, Alhaji Collins Dauda, and the Chief Executive Officers of the Volta River Authority (VRA), GridCo and the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre, (GIPC), as well as other senior officials will be accompanying the President. (See http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=337162).

MY COMMENTS

Folks, here we are. The President seeks to draw attention to serious problems facing Ghana and to seek support to solve problems. This is not the first time that any initiative of this sort is being taken to bring in foreign support. Rawlings did it; Kufuor emulated it; Atta Mills did same; and Mahama is back to that trail. What has practically been achieved? Nothing to write home about except what the Great Osagyefo did with the Kaiser Aluminum Company to give us the Akosombo Dam and Rawlings’ Aboadze Thermal Plant.

We take note of the gas project going on under President Mahama and praise him for it; but that project raises other questions on the purpose of the West African Gas Pipeline on which billions of the tax-payers’ money has been spent for Nigeria to supply natural gas to the ECOWAS sub-region, Ghana being the prime beneficiary. The heartless attitude of Nigeria to this project has endangered Ghana’s interests and created serious credibility problems for the Mahama-led administration. Will it be feasible anymore to rely on Nigeria, especially now that Ghana is coming into her own with its Jubilee Oilfields to supply gas?

Beyond all the local issues raised by foreign travels by Ghana’s leaders, will what John Mahama has been doing all; this while make any difference? And how many more trips does he have to undertake at the tax-payers’ expense? Truly, if track is kept of what is going on, the President’s foreign trips may end being more of a political campaign “hot cake” than any perceived benefits to disarm the NPP loudmouths. If the benefits don’t materialize, these foreign trips will go down as profligate ventures to the disadvantage of the country and its people. Then, President Mahama will rub shoulders with Kufuor on that score. None of our leaders ever went abroad as much as they have done. What matters most is the outcome of such trips, not the frequency or urgency!!

How many trips do Presidents of other countries undertake to make themselves and their countries relevant? Can our leaders not ever know that in this 21st century when information is the most easily accessible commodity at little cost there is no need for the physical presence of a Head of State anywhere to proclaim the existence of a country or to draw attention to whatever potentialities that country may have?

For God’s sake, we are in the 21st century and we expect our leaders to act judiciously so the tax-payer doesn’t have to lose any sleep!! And the truth is that the more sleep the tax-payers are forced to lose, the more likely it will be that they will become estranged and disaffected. Demoralized to that extent, they won’t do what is needed to grow our democracy. Therein lies the danger to be wary of. Anybody taking note at all?

I shall return…

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