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Red Friday

Over the weekend, I travelled to the Western region of Ghana to visit the Benso plantations. As we turned off the main Takoradi – Tarkwa road towards Adum Banso at Apawa, and we got into the cool of the trees, as the tall, majestic lords of the forest returned my gaze, I felt a deep sense of calm and my soul was at peace.

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The next two days, I woke up early just to enjoy the tranquillity of the view of palm trees spread over hectares and hectares of land, and to just breath in the freshness of air.

There is something indescribably spiritual about coming to one’s land, one’s own country, to be in the midst of one’s own kith and kin.

I love Ghana. This is the only country I have known. This is the only country I can truly call home.

That is why I support every initiative, every action, every intention to make Ghana better, so my children and my children’s children can be proud of it. So I can leave it in a better shape than when I was born. So I can change the narrative from feeling that the past of Ghana looks brighter than the future. So I can true bequeath to them a better Ghana.

That is why I support #occupyghana. That is why I support #redfriday.

That is why I will wear red today.

My name is Nana Awere Damoah and I am a Ghanaian.

A worker sent a form for salary advance to his manager who refused to sign it based on the reason given. The manager said the situation the worker had stated as an emergency couldn’t be.

The worker had written that he needed the money for a family emergency: his wife had given birth.

“It is not an emergency,” the boss insisted, “you had a 9-month notice.”

We knew four years ago that Brazil 2014 will happen and fortunately we qualified a year ago. So how did the payment of fees to players become an emergency for which we had to marshal all forces like we were being rushed like the Israelites out of Egypt after the Passover, to display our shame to the world?

Four years ago, South Africa 2010 came to an end and the attention of the football-loving world turned to Brazil. Having done Ghana and Africa proud by its performance and being cruelly denied a progression to the semi-finals by a certain Luiz Suarez – for which some of us have stubbornly put aside our cultural and religious injunction to forgive our fellow men and continue to call on the ancestors to continually tickle his proboscis unto biting works – the Black Stars were being supported by all to qualify for Brazil 2014 and make us even prouder.

Our road to Brazil started with a qualification to the second round of the qualifying rounds as the third-ranked side in Africa, and in the second round, we topped our group which included Lesotho, Sudan and Zambia, with five wins out of six. In the third round, in November 2013, we sealed our qualification with a drubbing of Egypt, a score line of 7-3 over two legs that sent ripples across the globe and, once again, confirmed Ghana’s status as a footballing nation.

Having been to the World Cup twice already – in 2006 and 2010 – and with the FA being run by key hands who were involved in the previous participation, if there was an concern, it would have been about how the black Stars could improve on our sterling output in the past and beat our own benchmark.

The FIFA World Cup was taking place in June 2014 and so we had at least five months to plan from the time we sealed our qualification.

And we did plan. Or at least showed semblance of planning. The committees were in place and work was on-going. But, as is said, the devil is in the detail and when the cow dung (read what I really wanted to write here) hits the fan, that is where the quality of the preparation usually becomes evident.

And, boy, did it hit.

The straw grade of our preparation is best demonstrated by the appearance fee saga and how as a nation, we didn’t just wash our dirty linen in public but actually used palm oil instead of water!

So we had at least five months to plan to play for three matches at least. We had this same period to know that we will be taking twenty three players to the world stage. And we did have this period to put in all the necessary arrangements for this to happen in a normal way, just as nations with reasonable foresight, and same technical skills as we do, did.

But what did we do?

When all you know is how to use a hammer, you think every problem should be solved by hitting. And hit we did, in the gut of every right-thinking Ghanaian and African who has a modicum of pride.

I have heard officials and even the President say that it was an emergency because we were being held to ransom by the players. Just as that manager told his staff that a delivery after nine months gave at least nine months of advance warning, so we had at least five months of warning of an emergency, if we can even call it so.

What was displayed on a grand scale on the world stage was a picture of a country which was plagued with ineptitude, indecision and plain foolishness. A country that was reactive and didn’t think of options upfront before starting a project. A nation with inexperienced ministers who don’t know when to keep their mouths shut and what to disclose versus what not to disclose. A country without an plan.

What makes it more painful is the fact that, in my humble estimation, on the field, we played excellent football and, in the game against Germany, gave the world one of the best meals of football: flair, pace, excitement, end-to-end action. A moment of pride later in the Portugal game was to have Asamoah Gyan surpass the legendary Roger Milla to become the top African scorer of World Cup goals. Post our elimination, no one is talking about our football. No one. The enduring image is of a convoy of cars with flashing lights escorting dollars and of players kissing their money. Ah!

And as a Ghanaian, I pray for grace to overcome this embarrassment.

Beyond that grace, I pray that this plague is eradicated from other aspects of our national development and institutions. Because I see it all around me as well. For instance, ask why almost four years after we started commercial production we still don’t have a gas plant ready. Hopefully, this year we shall have the plant in full operation. But ask why we didn’t plan the gas plant alongside the infrastructure for the crude oil production?

Hope is a good breakfast but a bad dinner, it has been said, but in Ghana, we have deteriorated to the point of having hope as desert after dinner. We don’t plan anything and the future just seems to happen to us, without our input. All we seem to do is to just show up.

This is just not right and the shambolic manner we portrayed our national flag in Brazil should tell us that the consequences are not pretty.

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May I reminisce?

11th July 1994 was a Monday. I was still 26, bright-eyed, and a tad confused about life and its twists and turns. At 10:00am, it was definitely a nervous me who was ushered into the room where I was to defend my masters thesis with a long title: THE DESIGN AND OPERATION OF TAX INCENTIVES FOR FOREIGN DIRECT INVESTMENT IN LESS DEVELOPED COUNTRIES.

You see, for the preceding 11 months I had been a student at the Faculty of Law, Queens University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada studying and writing, in an attempt to acquire a Master of Laws degree in International Taxation Law. The course itself was not stressful. Earlier in February, I had indicated to my supervisor, the late Professor Alec Easson (an extremely pleasant Englishman, Oxford and LSE grad), that I thought that I was ready to defend the thesis. He patiently explained to me that my course had a three-semester residency requirement, and that although he agreed that I was ready, I simply had to wait. I absolutely admired and adored Alec. He was the first law teacher to tell me “Ace, my name is Alec, not Prof Easson.” Another time, he said to me, when I was busily regurgitating law, “Ace, I am not really interested in how much law you know. I am more interested in what you think about the law you know.” Alec shaped my life and thinking in more ways than he ever knew, and I quietly mourned him when he died in January 2007.

Thus between March and July, I just had fun. I worked for Alec as his Research Assistant to make some extra money. And then I watched loads of TV. I also spent time discovering the more interesting aspects of Canadian life with my key buddies, Tanzanian lawyer Hamudi Majamba (now Professor of Law at the University of Dar es Salaam) and Barbadian engineer Robert Bascom. And there was fun-loving Camerounian lawyer Nicoline Ambe (who still looks like she is 16), and Ghanaian MBA Aba Cato Andah, who was my movie-watching mate (yeah, Tuesdays were cheap nights). Ah, there was that Christmas 9-hour drive from Kingston to Philadelphia with American human rights lawyer Alan Clark (He has never stopped reminding me we got lost at some point because I couldn’t read, and then I left my passport in his car!!) But easily my ‘classleader’ was Andrea Timoll, whose thesis was on deconstructing Antigone and had coined the word “phallologocentrism.” And the encouragement of Prof Rosemary Ofei-Aboagye King. I wrote, arranged old Joyful Way songs, and did sequencing and pre-production of the songs that ended up on Joyful Way’s 1994 Osabarima album. And I did a lot of “church”, helping to organise a gospel music concert at my church. Incidentally, I am struggling to contact the church now. It seems to have disappeared. Yes, it was months of fun. But I digress.

When I entered the room, the law professors were there, some seated, and others grabbing a cup of coffee. Of course, Prof Easson was there. I also remember that Prof Venkata Raman (whose Foreign Investment/NAFTA course I had audited in the First Semester) was seated. I think the Dean of the Faculty, Prof Don Carter, was also there. And then there was the external examiner, Prof Vern Krishna, International Taxation expert from the University of Ottawa. and the then Executive Director of the National Committee on Accreditation of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada

I was directed to sit in a chair at the head of the table, my heart beating, but at the same time confident. For the next two hours, I thoroughly enjoyed the banter, question and answer, a unique opportunity to joust with my betters, my superiors and established academics in my area of study. At the end of it I was asked to leave the room for the panel to confer. When I was called back, Prof Krishna announced that I had passed, and that all I had to do was to fix some typos and formatting.

As was the tradition, the panel took me to lunch in some flashy restaurant in downtown Kingston. I was seated next to Prof Krishna. In the course of lunch he asked what my next plans were, and I said that although I had gained admission to do further grad work in Michigan, I was going back home to Ghana. He could not believe it. He calmly advised that I stay and apply to University of Ottawa to do the doctorate programme in international taxation law. He added that he would also recommend me for accreditation so that I could write the Bar exam and qualify to practice in Canada. He turned to Prof Easson and said to him, “this gentleman should not be going back to Ghana.”

Excited? Yes! Flattered? Yes! Tempting? Yes! I could simply melt into Canada, say bye-bye to Ghana. New life. New prospects.

But what did I do? That evening, I went through my thesis to fix the typos and formatting issues. I spent the next day, 12th July 1994 doing nothing but thinking. I made some hard decisions. I called my family in Philly to tell them what I was going to do. That night, I partied (like I had never done) with my flatmates who had organised a party for me. The next morning, I caught a Greyhound bus to Lester Pearson Airport in Toronto. It was from the airport that I called my cousins in Toronto to tell them that I was returning to Ghana. I boarded the Air India flight to London. I got to London the next day, 13th July 1994, spent the night with my sister at Maida Vale and was on the Ghana Airways flight back home to Ghana, touching down at Kotoka in the evening of 14th July 1994.

Why? Because the night of 12th July 1994 was a turning point in my life. I had the degree that I went to Canada to get. I thought long and hard. Did I really want a doctorate in law, so that I would become “Dr. Ankomah” by when I am 30? But was that what I wanted to do with my life? To the disappointment of my profs and some family members, I concluded that I did not want to spend the next 4 years of my life studying one area of the law just to add some more alphabets before and after my name. That was all a doctorate meant to me. Canada was a great country, but it was clearly not for me. North America was not for me. It was there that I discovered that I was black. I wasn’t ever going to get used to being checked out when I enter a shop, because being black meant that I was a potential shoplifter. I wanted to live and work in a country where most of the people I meet, would look like me!

I was only 26 years old. But I wanted to make some money, I mean real MONEY. I had spent a year as a scholarship student in Canada, and I didn’t want to spend more years like that. 20 years on, I am pretty certain that I would take the same decision if I was faced with it today.

So I arrived in Accra within 2 days of defending my thesis, got married, resumed work at my law firm, babies came along (yes, 3 of them in 5 years), Associate, Lecturer, Senior Associate, Senior Lecturer, Partner, Managing Partner…

[And now for the tired cliche] “The rest,” as they say, “is history.”

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I work in Nigeria and one thing that amused me initially was how people were quick to say sorry when they consciously do wrong and you bring it to their attention. What moved that amusement to anger and shock was how when the person said sorry, he got angry when you still went further to reprimand and demand reasons. It is as if just saying sorry is enough to cover all ineptitude.

The government publicly acknowledging that we are in difficult times is not enough. Sorry is not enough. Why? Because if you don’t know and understand how you moved from A to B in your journey south, no amount of optimism can prevent you from moving towards C in the same direction.

What brought us to this difficulty? What could we have done better? How do we reverse this trend?

These are more important than just simple acknowledgement.

This is part of the full picture.

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I had maintained that the Black Stars played good in Brazil. Never lost my vim for them. As I always say, even Arsenal still has supporters and in their Moyefied abyss, we still heard GGMU from red lips.

I am not as much worried about what the GFA and Ministry officials are saying post-Brazil as I am about what the players are saying about themselves, their team and coach. Brazil taught us even in their defeat.

And that is why even though I have heard and read people call Essien’s statement “lame”, I think it is the most mature.

By all means, let’s change the dirty water in the basin and ask why it became so dirty so quickly. But, for Ghana’s sake, let’s not throw the baby away with it.

Good morning.

OccupY

No need for permit
No need for physical
Convergence
Occupy
Where you are
Occupy
Your space
Occupy
The globe
Occupy
The mind
Occupy
Space
Just don’t
Occupy
That fence
Get involved
For Ghana

#redfriday #occupyghana

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Timeless

No issues have I
When brand me
They do
For whilst
Change they do,
Constant I remain
Today Key soap
They call I
Moro Duck soap
They shall call I
Only I know
I remain
Just
a
golden yellow
laundry
bar.

Timeless.

(c) NAD, 060714

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