Swans Commentary » swans.com October 10, 2011  



Of School Uniforms And Other Jazz
A Critique of the President's UN Speech


by Femi Akomolafe





(Swans - October 10, 2011)  

-  Femi, I think I have to reconsider my position on the death penalty.

-  Ah, why? You have spent a great part of your life campaigning against it. What has happened? Why the change of heart? Whom do you want to shoot and why?

-  I think the president's speechwriters should be shot.

-  What!?!

-  You heard me. They all should be lined up at the Teshie shooting range and dispatched to both kingdom come and kingdom uncome.

-  You cannot be serious! Are you talking about the speechwriters of the president of our one and only republic?

-  Yes, yes, and yes.

-  You cannot be serious. Have you heard of felony, sedition, treason...

-  Yes, I have heard all that, and I have also heard that the BNI (Bureau of National Investigations) guys are everywhere now ready to pounce on both real and imagined enemies of state. But I still hold that those guys and gals that so shockingly embarrassed Mother Ghana by drafting such a daft and abysmal presidential speech that our president read at the last General Assembly of the UN should all be guillotined. There should be a law against causing such national embarrassment to the republic. I am still reeling from the humiliation. I never imagined that I'd live to see my dear country reduced to such a ridiculous level whereby our president would be trumpeting sheer inanities as high national achievements. Oh Gosh! Femi, the sheer disgrace, I think I will die of mortification!

-  What do you find so odious about the speech? From what I gather it was well received and it was punctuated with several applauses by delegates. Do you think that the assembly would applaud it so vigorously were it deemed to be unsubstantial?

-  Get out there, Femi; those guys and gals the UN are programmed to applaud anything. Do they do anything apart from sip champagne and applaud like robots?

-  Are you not being too harsh on the world's diplomats?

-  I am not hard or harsh on anyone; everyone knows that diplomats are paid to laugh at whatever absurdity they hear. Anyhow, I am not here to discuss UN diplomats, I am crying my eyes out from my own personal embarrassment at our president's address to the world body.

-  But didn't you read what our local pundits are saying; everyone is praising the president. They consider his speech balanced, apolitical, and statesmanlike. From what I read and heard he's won kudos from several pundits. Some even suggested that he should be given the Nobel Prize for Peace.

-  Please, Femi, don't make me laugh. Why would any sane person suggest a Nobel Prize for such an abjectly apathetic and uninspiring speech?

-  Don't ask me. Ask those who praise the president's speech that you find so detestable.

-  Now I can begin to understand why we are in such terrible mess in this country. What is in that speech to make any Ghanaian feel proud?

-  Maybe you're the oddball here. I have listened to many analysts praising the president for delivering a flawless performance and here you are, condemning it and talking about shooting the speechwriters. Throughout the day yesterday, nothing but analyses of the president's speech was on the airwaves and most analysts believed that he gave a sterling performance at the UN.

-  Sterling, ah! Have you listened to the speech yourself?

-  Me, no! Schools have resumed and I am busy hustling to look for money to pay my children's school fees. I have very little time for such things. But I caught the gist on the radio and I also listened to the analysts. At least they are supposed to know what they are talking about.

-  Since when did our so-called analysts know what they talk about? Do you really believe that those hackneyed plagiarists listen to anything at all? Those shameless charlatans have sold their souls to the highest bidders. They will defend any point of view that will guarantee them the next meal ticket. Most of them are just mouthing enough nonsense to justify the monthly paychecks they receive from their political masters.

-  What exactly are you griping about? What is your own take on the president's speech?

-  It was simply abysmally pedestrian. Those are the only words with which to describe what our president did at the UN General Assembly.

-  That's rather harsh, Femi.

-  Harsh? It is anything but. Actually, I am being charitable. This is the land of Kwame Nkrumah, for crying out loud. Close to fifty years ago, our founding president delivered a pungent speech that almost set the UN afire. Nkrumah firmly stamped his authority on the world stage so much so that many people begin to equate tiny Ghana with the African continent. Today, we are reduced to our president cataloguing the elimination of schools under trees, distribution of free exercise books, and uniforms as high achievements. Oh my Gosh!

-  And why do you believe that those are not solid achievements?

-  They might be achievements in our local environment where we crave mediocrity. But for a nation that is fifty-four years old, they certainly are not worth beating the chest about. Come on, countries of our age are dreaming of sending their nationals to the moon. Indians are at the pinnacle of global science and technology. Forget the pretensions of imperialist, war-mongering USA; China is the most important country today and for good measure. With its US$3+ trillion in reserves, China can reshape the world economy and politics in its image if it so desires. And do not forget that China is just eight years older than our sweet motherland! The country has become the world's factory and it is up there in scientific and technological breakthroughs. China is building structures from airports to dams that simply dwarf everything built before. The Chinese have just announced their plans for a space station. Can you imagine the Chinese president standing before a world audience and telling them that he felt proud that his nation has achieved the feat of providing school uniforms for some children? The Chinese have enough national pride that their leader will not so humiliate them.

-  Sorry, I failed to get you. Are you saying that it was wrong for our president to provide uniforms for our children or are you peeved that he said that he did it at the UN?

-  Both, actually.

-  Now, you are losing me. What do you have against government providing uniforms?

-  I find it abjectly paternalistic. It is not and it should not be the business of governments to provide school feeding and school uniforms. It is such handouts that have turned our people into groveling, hapless beggars, and have made them lose the will to take care of themselves and their families. Government should provide an enabling environment for people to find work and earn decent pay to take care of themselves and their families. Governments are not Father Christmas and should not pretend to be. There is dignity in labor; it is time we revisit this. What our president should tout as achievement is how many Ghanaians have found decent work under his government. If jobs are being created and people are earning decent pay, there will be no need for government to get involved in the provision of school uniforms which, in my opinion, only breeds corruption.

-  I thought you were a socialist. What have you got against governments helping to cater for children from deprived areas?

-  Ah, now you put your fingers squarely on it. Why don't we ask ourselves why some communities in our blessed republic are still deprived after fifty-four years of self-governance? What is wrong with us that after fifty years we still cannot get the basic right? I think that we truly should be affronted when we hear the nauseating lamentations of those that charge themselves with governing us. Come on, how many months does it take to grow rice, maize, and the other crops we need to feed ourselves? How many months does it take to grow cotton to get the yarn to make our cloth? What does it cost to put up classrooms so that our children can go to school?

-  But you talk as though those things do not cost money! Where is the money supposed to come from? The government is doing its best and the least we citizens ought to do is to give kudos where it is deserved.

-  Ah, Now I begin to understand why our governors continue to take us for a sweet ride. I say so long as we continue to have those types of minimalist mindsets, so long shall we continue to be the world's underachievers and so long shall we continue to lag behind other races. You said things cost money and you asked where money is supposed to come from. Several things are wrong with such thesis. First, where did the money come from to purchase all the SUVs we see on our roads? Where did the money come from to grant each of our 230 parliamentarians a US$50,000 car loan? It is wrong to think that our problem is lack of money; we simply have our priorities wrong, very wrong. Second, when did we imbibe the culture of monetizing everything? A time there was when we built roads, schools, hospitals, you name it through community efforts. In those days our people were simply mobilized to build their community schools. The people built the structures and made the furniture. The government only provided teachers. We talk today as though we did not do things before with little or no money. We have promoted money to the center stage of our lives and we simply cannot think in terms of doing anything without it. Another problem with your argument is that it fails to take into cognizance the simple fact that money is a human creation. Money was not a creation of nature; it was man-made. And since no human being came into this world with a single pesewa, we ought to ask ourselves how the so-called rich nations accumulated their money. Our leaders travel to other countries, they see the monumental physical, technical, architectural, structural, scientific, and technological accomplishments of the other races and they have the effrontery to insult our intelligence with baloneys like touting the provision of school uniforms as high achievements. It is a great shame that our president would choose New York, of all places, to give such a run of the mill (no pun intended) speech. He and his entourage should have taken a few hours just to tour the massive, awe-inspiring wonder that is the New York Metro System. They should have taken time off to see the tall buildings in Manhattan that seem to scrape the heavens; or visit Times Square and see how far behind the other races we truly are. The councilor of a borough in New York City will have enough sense of shame not to consider the provision of school uniforms as achievement worth blowing a trumpet about.

-  The problem with that type of thinking is that people like you supposed that there is any country in our wide world that has managed to solve all its developmental challenges.

-  Once again, the problem with that manner of thinking is that you flew off on an unnecessary tangent. No one is talking about solving all developmental challenges. Human life is dynamic; it means that so long as we draw a breath we shall continue to struggle to solve one problem or the other. We are talking very, even ultra basic things here. Why do we, after fifty years of nationhood, find something to celebrate in feeding and clothing our children? What, tell me, is there for a man of fifty years of age to celebrate because he is feeding and clothing his family? I can only imagine the chuckle our president's address would draw as he catalogued what he thought of as solid achievements of his government. I can only imagine the laughter of derision from more serious delegates at the UN Assembly.

-  But you are being very uncharitable. An African proverb quoted by Chinua Achebe says that a lizard that jumps from the Iroko tree says it will praise itself if no else does.

-  If you put our president's address in its proper context you will see how inappropriate that proverb is. If the president is on a campaign stomp and decides to give those types of smallish catalogues as solid achievements, I would have no problem with it whatsoever. The General Assembly of the United Nations is a World stage. It is the only time of the year that every nation is given EQUAL opportunity to stand before the world and tell its own story in its own words. That explains why I am so anguished at how our president blew a golden chance to blow our trumpets. He is not on a campaign train for his political party; he stands there as the representative of the Republic of Ghana. Who cares about the provision of school uniforms at the General Assembly of the UN? There are agencies of the UN where such things like school uniforms might be appropriate but certainly not the General Assembly where more ponderous global issues are supposed to find attention. China and India are nations that are of the same age group as our blessed nation. Can you imagine the president of China or that of India going to a world assembly and touting provision of uniforms as national achievements? Come, on! I say that it is time that we in this country start to get serious. As Shakespeare said, our ambitions should be made of sterner stuffs. Our president travels with his retinue of high officials and hanger-ons. Can you imagine how much a presidential trips cost the nation? Even if our president is not receiving his own, the fawning officials in his entourage are going to get their per diem paid in dollars. We are not counting the flight and hotel expenses. Gosh! The presidency is such an important office that nothing but the most serious should ever emanate from it.

-  But can you blame the president? He has to read what his officials wrote for him.

-  Come on, now. Our president is not a mindless simpleton. We are not taking about an illiterate here; the man is a full professor for Christ sake! Our president ought to be informed; he ought to read and consult widely. He ought to be conversant with global affairs. He ought to know his audience. He ought to know what type of speech to deliver to which audience. Granted that he is human and can make mistakes, his over-compensated officials ought to help him, which explains why my biggest beef is with the speechwriters. They ought to be dispatched with haste. They have absolutely no business being at the citadel of power in this country.


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About the Author

Femi Akomolafe (see his profile on Swans) is a computer consultant, a writer and social commentator, an avid reader, and a passionate Pan-Africanist who lives in Kasoa, Ghana. Femi is known to hold strong opinions and to express them in the strongest terms possible. As he likes to remind his readers: "As my Yoruba people say: Oju orun teye fo, lai fara gbara. It means that the sky is big enough for all the birds to fly without touching wings." Femi Akomolafe's views, opinions, and thoughts can be accessed on the blog he maintains: http://ekitiparapo.blogspot.com/.   (back)


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published October 10, 2011