Thursday, January 17, 2019
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Miner's Canary - Book Review

Africa - A Miner’s Canary Into the 21st Century.                                 

Review by Ken Ofori-Atta

Ivor Agyeman-Duah said to me I can elect to disagree with his book. Now that was a startling statement, given that I have been told am such an agreeable person in nature. On the last page of his introduction he wrote “There may be a bit of political economy here and there, REVISIONIST HISTORY along the line.........but the main theme would be on POLITICAL LEADERSHIP AND THE RULING CLASS". So I sojourned on. Ivor has travelled to some 20 African countries and his knowledge and keen sense of the politics of these countries is uncanny and intimidating. I counted my travels and I had been to some 29 of our 54 countries but it has mostly been to work on Capital markets or such mundane wealth accretive assignments over the past 20 years trying to make money!

As Ghanaians we will be proud of this book, as it lifts our stature amongst the comity of African nations. And if you are also a Kufuor, I will dare say that some of the chapters of the sequel to "Between Faith and History" have been written! The book chronicles our President’s assignments for the World Food Programme and other international bodies as he motivates, encourages, mentors and pushes an agenda for, may I be pardoned to  say, a Better Africa with his colleague Heads of State! In Liberia, Ivor notes that President Kufuor's support ensured that President Sirleaf's promise of light in the streets of Monrovia by the 100th day of her inauguration was a reality. A fantastic team from the Volta River Authority got the job done while Databank Financial Services bridged the financing through CAL Bank, as the development agencies were still dotting the i's and crossing the t's, oblivious to the potential fallout of a broken promise in a post conflict society; with embers still burning. It got done and the light was switched on at an impressive and emotional ceremony at the JFK Memorial Hospital in Monrovia in April 2006. Ivor seems though to buy into the oppositions’ mantra that “her later decision not to respect her own promise was considered deceitful..."  A war of 15 years, with the Chief protagonist at the International Criminal Court and warlords in the Senate, it may be irresponsible to stick to such a promise to run for one term with a minority representation in Congress and no obvious successor yet from your party. However WEB Du Bois’ warning that one needs more than the "the talented tenth" to rule, rings true in Liberia; and the continual use of the coat of arms which states that" the Love of Liberty brought us here" strikes a jarring tone of 2 nations yet to come to terms with its "oneness".........but then even President Master Sgt. Doe did not change it!  President Sirleaf is not only optimistic about Liberia, but believes that Africa will Rise!!

On the other hand one notes a certain admiration for Rwanda's Kagame as he states that “In 2010 Kagame has the confidence of his people and won over 90% approval in general elections in a free and fair atmosphere." Kagame may be liked even loved but not worshipped to gain a 90% success in the polls.  Here too in Rwanda Ghanaians are prominent as the architect of Rwanda's ICT strategy is a Ghanaian and the longest serving and most admired civil servant at the Ministry of Finance, Fred Quarshie is also Ghanaian. But then the Rwandan Genocide, the massacre of a million people within 90 days, has become Kofi Annan's  ANNUS HORRIBILIS and Ghana's as well! Kagame remains an enigma and there is no saying how their story will end, the economy, not unlike Houphouet's Côte d'Ivoire is being managed with discipline and forthrightness. But what happens to a nation, especially one with such a history, and in a hotbed of ethnic and religious conflict; after a towering figure such as a Kagame bows out?

In South Africa we encounter Africa's sole philosopher king, Thabo Mbeki whom Ivor aptly likens to Coriolanus. Though he lives among such legends as Mandela, Tutu, Buthelezi, Ramapoza, and Biko he is yet able to exhibit Shakespearean flaws of obduracy and intellectual pride which led to his fall to President Zuma. Will Mbeki leave the ANC and join the Volscian Army as Coriolanus  did to exact his revenge? Mbeki remains unbroken  and he says " let us err today and say nothing can stop us now" and for Africa he opines "however improbable it may sound to the skeptics, Africa will prosper" Mbeki might very well become Africa's Jimmy Carter, thus contributing more to the continent in the years ahead. The Rainbow nation has given us a Mandela, Mbeki and a Zuma, the cards dealt by democracy even here do have jokers, Kings and Queens .  Ghana can of course, even here, lay some claim to South Africa’s emergence with its support of the erstwhile liberation fighters in Nkrumah’s time.

In Kenya, Kufuor is hailed as "The man who saved Kenya" during the launch of the new constitution in Uhuru Park as he, the then AU Chairman had set up a committee of Kofi Annan, Graca Machel and President Mkapa which brokered the first power sharing agreement that ended the deadlock between Odinga and Kibaki. The new constitution which devolves much power to the grassroots may see the end of the dominance of the Kikuyus in every corner of the country and 'restricting' them to Nairobi and their homeland, but potentially still dominating national politics through alliances such as we saw in the recent elections between Kenyatta and Ruto. Ivor gives us a vivid glimpse of the Maasai people, festooned in their colorful regalia, but in the habit of collecting free rations from NGO's and going " happily back to their tents" according to Ivor in contrast to the Maasai of Ethiopia where Meles Zenawi’s policy was to accept such aid only in emergencies in order to avoid dependency.

The island of Mauritius cuts an image of peace and tranquility and foresight: to become the "miracle of social welfare" and the " Gateway to Africa from Asia". Here there seems to be more administration than politics.  He cites how such clarity has enabled them establish a financial services industry akin to the establishment of Tony Elumelu Foundation in Lagos and thank you Ivor, Databank in the past 20 years.

Ivor indulges himself with a very personal and powerful reversed "Roots" voyage to The Seychelles where his great grand father Chief Kwame Boatin was exiled with the Asantehene. Those were the nostalgic periods of much mutual respect, as the other kings in then Gold Coast successfully lobbied for the return of Nana Sir Prempeh to his Kingdom in 1924.

I left the great wager between Houphouet and Nkrumah; where Houphouet was committed to growing gradually with the French in what he called a Franco-African community of equality and fraternity, and an economic development plan based on improving its agriculture sector; Nkrumah on the other hand was committed to extricating Ghana from its colonial past, seeking first the political kingdom and lounging into a massive programme of industrialization. In the end Ghana was broke by the time Nkrumah was overthrown, having spent the £250 million in reserves thus by 1966 Houphouet was seen to have won economically, while Nkrumah’s experiment was later seen to have won politically especially since our 4th Republican constitution. But is it Nkrumah or is it the Danquahs,  Busias,  Barfour Akotos, the Dombos  et al who can claim this victory and the Pa Grants, and Henry Djabas and Addo's of Begoro who funded these "freedom fighters." ?

This is my big point of departure from Ivor. The Ghana story could have been fuller. Nkrumah did all he could to suppress, imprison and eventually exact the death of a number of these heroes in prison. It was these people who against all odds kept prying the gates of freedom and justice and democracy open...and paid the ultimate price...with their lives. It is only when writers do not forget these truths that we shall build the political consciousness, across political divides and for all our fellow citizens  to be bold to defend our country and have the courage to resist oppressors rule due to a shared and collective oneness.
I think it was an opportunity missed in this book to reeducate the middle class, or sensitize them to their responsibilities as citizens. The greater call is to be outraged when institutions are bastardized and when people we know are complicit in such audacious subversion. We cannot continue to quietly welcome them into our fekuos as we all walk around living a lie. We risk then returning to the dark days in the 70s and the early 80s , and we may be  fast approaching that even now, and therefore stand a good chance of losing the Houphouet wager on both fronts- the political and the Economic for as John Stuart Mill said " A people may prefer a free government, but if, from indolence, or carelessness, or cowardice, or want of public spirit, they are unequal to the exertions necessary for preserving it,......they are more or less unfit for liberty .....and they are unlikely long to enjoy it"

The constitutional arrangement we have signed up for depends on our institutions which are upheld by the quality of each individual citizen and as Roosevelt said " in the long run, success or failure will be conditioned upon the way in which the average man, the average woman, does his or her duty, first in ordinary, every-day affairs of life, and next in those great occasional cries which calls for heroic virtues. The average citizen must be a good citizen if our republic is to succeed."  

That is why Ivor’s Africa’s A Miner’s Canary should have shown the light on how Ghana won the political wager and has subsequently also taken the economic mantle by the sacrifice of the Danquah’s, Dombo’s and the philosophy they have. The educated elite cannot pose as cynics, stay away from dispassionate political discourse and analyses and count on the poor to protect them. We must at every opportunity ensure that the standard of the average citizen is maintained at a high level.

I believe most Ghanaians and others who follow Africa will be surprised at the non-mention of Nana Akufo-Addo in the Ghana-section of the book. After Ivor Agyeman-Duah’s travels through Africa, tied to the mast as Odysseus’ was so he could hear the Sirens and still come home safely, he saw the destruction of war in Liberia, Rwanda, Kenya, and Côte d'Ivoire that are perpetuated by some of the presidents Ivor had conversations with. We were that close as a nation and in the spirit of the legacy of President Kufuor’s party, Nana Addo did what was good for the country. It is such times that Roosevelt refers to as " those great occasional cries which calls for heroic virtues" else we might not be sitting here.  Writers need to cultivate a spirit of positive re-enforcement.

So my assessment, I did not see much in revisionist history, unless Ivor is defining lapses such as I have pointed out as such. The book is a must read. It is well documented, almost conversational, reinforces Ghana's continual influence on the continent and our goodness. The good works  of President Kufuor and a clinical dissection of the political leadership and the ruling class. He gloriously ends with Africa rising and a call by VS Naipaul to all of us Africans that " the world is what it is, men who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it."  Let us as Africans claim our manifest destiny of greatness... The stars are lined up. I am impressed with where Ivor is leading us and I pulled out this poem called the Bridge Builder by Will Droomgoole, which captures what I believe Ivor has done for all of us and posterity .
[Africa – A Miner’s Canary Into the 21st Century : Essays on Economic Governance written by Ivor Agyeman-Duah and published by Bookcraft of Nigeria was launched by Mr. Ken Ofori-Atta with the British High Commissioner to Ghana, HE Peter Jones as Guest Speaker and Prof. Ernest Aryeetey, Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana as chair.]