A Stroll in the Park on Republic Day! – REJOINDER – by Ace Ankomah

The Editor

Daily Graphic newspaper

Accra

Dear Sir:

I read with some amusement, the Opinion of my friend and senior Mfantsipim old boy, Colin Essamuah in his Abura Epistle column, and titled ‘A Stroll in the Park on Republic Day!’ I could not help but notice that although the Opinion was published in the July 4 2014 edition of the Daily Graphic, the page on which the Opinion is published bore the date “June 4”! The printer’s devil has a cruel sense of humour!

I participated in, and was very vocal at, what Mr. Essamuah derisorily called “A Stroll in the Park,” a particularly remarkable description of an event that involved braving a heavy rainfall, facing police blockades and risking arrests.

Middle Class?
Who cares? Tags don’t matter, and Mr. Essamuah knows that more than I do. I recall (faintly) that many years ago when his membership of the New Patriotic Party was challenged on the fatuous ground that he didn’t have a party card, he famously and rightly retorted that the NPP was not the Communist Party for which a party card was a be-all-and-end-all, or words to that effect. I am a Ghanaian. That is all that matters. Until July 1 2014, I had never participated in any demonstration. But that morning, I looked at my circumstances and that of the country, and concluded that the 4-year wait to “speak” only through a vote, is cowardice. The constitutionally guaranteed democratic space permits us to continuously give flesh and voice to what we think and feel about how this country is ruled.

Just like Mr. Essamuah, I had public secondary and university education in Ghana. That meant that both he and I, enjoyed government subsidies funded by the sacrifices of the Ghanaians, many of whom, and whose children, did not have the same opportunities. We owe to them what we have become, at least in part. I don’t know which class I belong to; I don’t care. The privilege of education imposes a duty upon me to fully occupy my democratic space when I see or feel that things are going off beam.

Have Things Gone Off Beam?
Of course they have. Mr. Essamuah doesn’t deny that. He only wants us to remain incurable optimists. But Electricity. Water. Fuel. Roads. Education. Basic needs. The lack of them. Under my ‘social contract’ with the government, I work (or starve), pay taxes and obey the law (or go to jail). The government has to provide all of the above, and more. But name it, and the government is unable to provide it; yet it gets antsy and the kittens when we demand that it should fulfil its side of the bargain?

Yes, for me, one other immediate cause was BRAZIL! Mr. Essamuah is right and wrong. It was not the elimination of the Black Stars (I didn’t think that they would get far anyway), but the embarrassment caused by that “money-on-plane” saga. This is against the background of our government and central bank restricting access to our legitimately acquired foreign currency in the banks. Fair, that’s the law. We live with it. Then our government (with our central bank’s approval or connivance), turns around, puts millions of foreign currency on our presidential jet and flies it into Brazil to live TV coverage and soap-opera rivaling ‘bling,’ exposing us to worldwide derision. A twitter handle purporting to be that of Steven Gerrard, England and Liverpool captain, cryptically said: “Pride and passion with commitment can’t be bought with a private jet carrying $3m.” And as if to prove him right, within days, we, who showed such sickening opulence in Brazil, announced that we are going to borrow foreign money to provide basic needs, such as sanitary pads to school girls. Mr. Essamuah might not see anything wrong with this picture. That is his democratic right. I see everything wrong with it; my democratic right.

And so I am tickled when Mr. Essamuah calls our views “preaching hopelessness.” Optimism is good. Baseless optimism is unwise. If the situation is pretty much hopeless, we must say it. It is the government’s duty to fix it!

Private Schools?
Mr. Essamuah has a problem with people whose children are in private schools, claiming that “most of the protesters” pay “fees in dollars and are ready to ship them out to foreign schools to become taxpaying citizens of other countries, as they look down upon our public schools.” That is intriguing. Mr. Essamuah, from which statistical bases did you arrive at or settle on your word “most”? What was your sample space and margin of error? And, by the way, it is illegal to pay fees in dollars in Ghana. If you know anyone who is still doing that, call the Bank of Ghana! But what takes the biscuit is your claim that the ability to send one’s children to foreign schools means one cannot love Ghana. Mr. Essamuah, can we ask the President which schools HIS children attend in Ghana and elsewhere? And, you and I, at some point, lived and studied in other countries. What does your conclusion say about you?

NPP?
Mr. Essamuah massages the refusal of the demonstrators to allow his good friend and one-time political ally, Asamoah Boateng to address them, and concludes that an unnamed “main rival” in the NPP was linked to this. That is funny. Obviously, Mr. Essamuah was not there. The chant was “no politician!” Need I say more?

Conclusion
The 1/7/14 #OccupyFlagStaffHouse demonstration was spontaneous. Unlike political parties, no one was bused there or paid money or given T-Shirts to appear. People got up from their homes, found their own way there, made their point, and went back home. Some government actors have desperately and laboriously sought to diminish what happened in many ways. But they have failed. The more they speak and write, the more they give traction to #OccupyFlagStaffHouse, and the more it becomes obvious that those “few” people drove a strong point home. The political establishment (howsoever constituted) has been forced to take notice. Even if the petition found its way into the nearest trash bin or shredder at the Flagstaff House, government has been put on notice that it doesn’t take a crowd to force a change. Sometimes all it takes is a few good men and women and children, prepared to take a “Stroll in the Park,” brave the elements and show no fear for fully-attired riot police!

Thanks, Mr. Essamuah for your “June 4 Opinion.” It reminds me of the statement ascribed to the murdered Thomas-a-Becket in T. S. Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral,” that:

We do not know very much of the future
Except that from generation to generation
The same things happen again and again.
Men learn little from others’ experience.
But in the life of one man, never
The same time returns. Sever
The cord, shed the scale. Only
The fool, fixed in his folly, may think
He can turn the wheel on which he turns.

In Tunisia, it took just one man!

Yours faithfully,

Ace Anan Ankomah

PS: Mr Essamuah’s article can be found here – http://www.graphic.com.gh/features/opinion/26491-a-stroll-in-the-park-on-republic-day.html

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