On Thursday, March 2, 2023, Manasseh Azure Awuni, the Editor-In-Chief of The Fourth Estate, delivered the 75th Anniversary public lecture of the University of Ghana, which was organised to mark Ghana’s 66th Independence anniversary. The lecture was on the Theme: “Our Ghana: Reflections on the core values of resilience and integrity.”
Below is the full text of the lecture, which was chaired by former Chief Justice Sophia Akuffo:
Madam Chairperson and Chairperson of the Governing Council of the University of Ghana, Chief Justice Sophia Akuffo (Rtd)
Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana, Professor Nana Aba Appiah Amfo
Faculty, Students and Alumni of our Great University
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:
Before I say anything, kindly permit me to express my profound appreciation to the Vice-Chancellor and the 75th Anniversary Planning Committee for the enormous honour to speak at this lecture. I have spoken on many platforms, including public lectures, but this is, by far, the biggest platform. I do not take it for granted that out of the thousands of great men and women who have been watered and nourished by this mighty fountain of knowledge, the committee found me among the select few worthy of this task. I find it extremely humbling.
Madam Chair, the letter inviting me to this lecture said the organisers wanted it to be “intellectual but less technical or academic”. That came as a huge relief. I’m neither an academic nor a technician, apart from my claim to some technical journalistic tools for catching grand thieves in our republic. Besides, these core values we are called to reflect on this evening are more of the intrinsic moral obligations that define our humanity than they are of academic constructs. The possession and application of these values have little to do with the knowledge about their existence or relevance. It has more to do with the will to live by them. Drawing heavily from my personal encounters with these values and my work as an anti-corruption journalist, I will attempt to appeal more to hearts and conscience than minds.
I hope to be as politically incorrect as possible, knowing that I’m fortified by four different kinds of freedoms. First, I am clothed with academic freedom because this is Legon. I am also covered by freedom of expression and of thought, a privilege the Constitution of Ghana grants all of us as well as a third freedom—the freedom of the media.
The fourth and most important freedom, however, is the fact that I am relatively young and permitted to have the freedom of naivety, the freedom with which the little child in Hans Christian Anderson’s 1837 classic, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” said what the wise elders feared to say—”The King is naked” Having been sued six times for defamation for stories or writings under my byline, however, I’m minded that those freedoms come with responsibility. It is worth disclosing that on all six occasions, those who sued me ran away from their own cases when I filed my defence.
A JOURNEY OF RESILIENCE
Madam Chair, as an independent nation, Ghana is 66 years old. If our country were a person, she would have been on retirement and, perhaps, picketing at the Finance Ministry to be exempted from the “headcut” of the Domestic Debt Exchange programme. I was born in 1985, after the last military intervention in Ghana. I started my full-time practice as a journalist a month before John Dramani Mahama became the fourth president of the Fourth Republic of Ghana. He was also the fourth John to be president after John Rawlings, John Kufuor and John Atta Mills. It was during the Mahama Presidency that I became more active in the affairs of our country, breaking some of the top corruption stories that served as fodder for civil society and weapons with which the opposition New Patriotic Party attacked and defeated the Mahama administration in 2016.
On December 9, 2016, when the Electoral Commission declared Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo winner of the presidential election, I said to myself, “Never again should Ghana be subjected to this level of obscenity.” I repeated to those who had ears to spare for my naïve prophecy that if President Akufo-Addo should commit a quarter of President John Mahama’s mess, Ghana would crash. Six years later, there appears to be a consensus that Nana Akufo-Addo has not committed a quarter of the governance sins of the Mahama era. He has quadrupled them. And the fact that Ghana is still surviving speaks to the resilience of our country, an endowed nation battered by indescribable greed, mismanagement and corruption.
When I began preparation for this lecture, I decided to consult the dictionary to confirm whether the word “resilience” meant the same as I thought it was. The dictionary says resilience means “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” Resilience is a positive trait for both humans and nations and it abounds in both Ghana and Ghanaians. If each of us were asked to recount a story of resilience, I believe many of us in this room would do so in the first-person narrative, because the average Ghanaian who makes it to the top has to be tough.
The major worry, however, is that our resilience is becoming an eternal endurance. The external and self-inflicted suffering we endure comes in droves. We do not have enough time to recover from one shock before contending with the next.
After we survived slavery, colonialism continued from where the slave traders left off. The joy that greeted the declaration of independence 66 years ago was therefore justified. The same can be said of the powerful rays of hope that outshone the dark skies of the night Dr. Kwame Nkrumah announced: “We are going to demonstrate to the world, to the other nations, that we are prepared to lay our foundation – our own African personality. …we are going to create our own Africa personality and identity. It is the only way we can show the world that we are ready for our own battles.”
Six decades and six years after this declaration, those who swallowed Nkrumah’s words with hope would be feeling the same way or worse than what some of us felt six years ago when we ushered in a new administration.
With the support of some Western powers, Nkrumah, who is still considered the greatest leader Ghana ever had, was overthrown in 1966. Whatever foundation he laid for us suffered and continues to suffer serious erosions. Our journey to prosperity was badly punctuated by military interventions until Ft. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings, who had seized and handed over power in 1979, returned in December 1981 with a New Year package. That package would last until 1992 when we agreed to resort to the ballot box every four years to determine who leads us.
Multi-party democracy came with renewed hope. It was believed that the marketplace of ideas would allow for the best and most meritorious ones to emerge from the possible options. After thirty years, however, we are stuck in a quagmire that is threatening not only our resilience as a people but also our survival. If you asked me where we went wrong, I would say it is the deficit in the second core value for our reflection for today—integrity.
God says in the book of Hosea that His “people are destroyed for lack of knowledge”, but we are perishing not because we lack knowledge. Ghana’s problem is an integrity problem, a problem with our character. What confronts us is not a multi-trillion-dollar economy whose management needs extra-ordinarily capable heads. Even if it were, we have the men and women to do that. I believe the NPP administration has more than enough competent people to manage the economy, but no amount of brilliance will affect the economy positively if those taking the economic decisions first think about what is in it for them and their families. Ghana is not launching complex spacecraft or fending off rival superpowers. We are not shouldering the world’s problems. Ours are the basic problems of creating jobs for the hopeless army of youth who teem the nation with degrees and diplomas. Our problem is how to provide safe drinking water for our citizens, how to maintain a stable electricity supply and provide decent classrooms and furniture for children to study. Ours is how to feed our people with the abundance of fertile land God has given us. These are not problems that require the intervention of space scientists or Nobel Prize-winning economists to manage. We have the men and, of course, the women to surmount these challenges. How to do it is not the problem.
Professor Eric Danquah of the University of Ghana is the current holder of the Africa Food Prize, so the fact that poultry farmers in Ghana cannot produce because they lack poultry feed is not because we lack brains to guide us on how to feed the nation. It is an integrity problem, a lack of the ethical leadership needed to propel us to prosperity. And if we don’t get integrity right, we will not get any meaningful national endeavour right.
Without integrity, we cannot defeat corruption. We cannot fight illegal mining when those leading the fight are stealing and selling seized excavators. Without integrity, we can invest in planting for food and jobs, but there won’t be food and jobs to show for it apart from imaginary figures and false claims from the Agric Ministry that have kept Fact-Check Ghana busy over the years. Without integrity in our body politic, we cannot achieve “Ghana beyond aid.” And without integrity, the highly misplaced national cathedral project will become an endless slideshow of scandals because people will still want to steal in the name of God’s church. Without integrity, we will continue to carry our begging bowl round the world and be tutored by foreign diplomats on the things every average first-year university student knows we should be doing. Without integrity, we will continue to beg Germany to go and beg China on our behalf because we cannot pay what we have borrowed. And without integrity, Africa with a population of 1.43 billion people and with one of the most fertile arable lands in the world, will continue to rely on Ukraine with a population of only 43 million people to feed us with grains even at a time that country is fighting a war of survival.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is needless to say integrity, which is the “quality of being honest and having strong moral principles” is in short supply in our country.
Like most of our problems, some blame the corruption of our society and the erosion of our moral values on the white man. They say Ghanaians were honest until the Whiteman introduced us to his ways and corrupted us. It is, however, important to note that even before we gained independence, our white colonisers expressed concerns about the high level of corruption among blacks in the Gold Coast, now Ghana.
The Aiken Watson Commission of Enquiry which was set up to investigate the disturbances in the Gold Coast in February 1948, could not ignore the issue of corruption in its report. Here is what the committee said about corruption among natives of the Gold Coast:
“It would be idle to ignore the existence of bribery and corruption in many walks of life in the Gold Coast admitted to us by every responsible African to whom we addressed the question. That it may spread as further responsibility devolves upon the African is a possibility which cannot be denied.
“No nation can rise to greatness upon any such foundations. It is a challenge, therefore, to the Gold Coast Africans to set their house in order and a challenge which we believe will be taken up under the weight of responsibility. In any event, in our view, its existence cannot be accepted as a barrier on the road to self-government.”
Indeed, the prevalence of corruption did not become a barrier to self-governance, but as the committee predicted, we could not build a great nation upon the foundation of corruption. It became the major reason for the toppling of civilian governments and military regimes. In 1979, a 31-year-old junior military officer rose to the challenge by putting his life on the line to fight corruption. Ft. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings’ approach is considered the most brutal attempt at eliminating corruption and instilling integrity into the body politic of Ghana. Some people, including former heads of state, were killed by firing squads. Some people were tried and imprisoned.
Market women accused of hoarding were flogged publicly while many who could not explain the sources of their wealth had their properties confiscated by the state. But corruption did not go anywhere, even under the military regime led by Rawlings.
In his book, “Working with Rawlings”, Professor Kwamena Ahwoi, who was the Coordinator of the Office of Revenue Commissioners, Investigations and Tribunals (CORCIT) in the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) regime, recounts how Rawlings was overpowered by the corruption that forced him from Burma Camp to the Osu Castle. Professor Ahwoi tells the story of Operation Hawk, which, in the 1980s, uncovered so much corruption in the public sector that both he and Rawlings agreed that if the exercise did not stop, the entire public sector would collapse. Corruption won despite the jailing, dismissals, confiscation of property and publication of names of corrupt officials in the Daily Graphic in a series titled “Know Your Embezzlers and How they Fared.”
In the Fourth Republic, things got worse and the stakes on how to excel in looting our country continue to rise. The globally accepted attempts to scientifically measure the prevalence of corruption are in the form of surveys. The annual Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International shows that Ghana is a failure. We continue to score below 50, and I daresay if we had a Corruption “Reality” Index, we would be at the top of the list.
The critical question we should be asking is where did we go wrong. Who are the architects of the corruption we all claim to hate? Why has integrity become scarcer than armed robbery cases in Burma Camp? If we are to restore some semblance of sanity and build integrity into our national life, where do we begin? Or should we just throw up our hands in despair and consider the situation irredeemable, for if Rawlings and his guns failed, how would the ill-funded Office of the Special Prosecutor and the “wailers band” succeed? Were we born dishonest, for which reason we cannot do anything about it?
I once read a poem by one Nartey Larweh titled, “So Many Rivers to Cross” and though I lost the book and could not trace the author, the following lines stuck with me:
I have reached a stage in life
Where moving forward is perilous,
Flinching backwards is cowardice,
Standing still is suicidal,
But I will persevere
For life without a challenge is worthless
If we do not do something about our current situation, it will be suicidal. If we do not collapse under another military takeover or a destructive popular revolution, we will one day be like our big Brother Nigeria, where bandits, jihadists, kidnappers and cult groups brazenly kill, abduct and terrorise citizens with impunity.
So how do we proceed? The countries with high levels of accountability and integrity were not created as such. They created the societies they wish for, systems that work for them. In the preface of his memoir, Lee Kuan Yew, the man transformed Singapore from a third-world country that was more hopeless than Ghana at independence to a first-world centre of excellence, said:
“Those who have been through the trauma of war in 1942 and the Japanese occupation, and taken part in building a new economy for Singapore, are not so sanguine. We cannot afford to forget that public order, personal security, economic and social progress and prosperity are not the natural order of things, that they depend on a ceaseless effort and attention from an honest and effective government that the people must elect.”
Leadership, they say, is the cause and everything else is effect. Singapore didn’t have the resources we had at independence. Their situation was even more precarious because the tension among the three main ethnic groups in that country was so dangerous that getting them together to form an army was difficult. Today, Singapore is one of the least corrupt countries in the world, ranking 5th in the latest Corruption Perception Index. The public sector integrity built by the government is responsible for the massive development. Writing on how Singapore became an important financial centre of the world, Lee Kuan Yew said:
“Our foundations for our financial centre were the rule of law, an independent judiciary, and a stable, competent and honest government that pursued sound macroeconomic policies, with budget surplus almost every year.”
Lee Kuan Yew’s emphasis on an honest government does not need an explanation. We pay taxes to the government. We give it the power to spend on our behalf and make major decisions on our behalf. The government has the power to punish corruption and that is the only reason.
Unfortunately for us, however, the institutions and arms of government we ought to depend on to fight corruption are considered the most corrupt.
According to the latest Afrobarometer survey, which was published in 2022, the Ghana Police Service, was said to be the most corrupt. Next to the police are the three arms of government—the Office of the President, followed closely by members of Parliament and then the judges and magistrates. Traditional leaders and religious leaders, who are considered the custodians of our values, are on the list of the fifteen most corrupt institutions and groups contained in the survey.
The Ghana Police Service has often fought off its unenviable place in the ranking, but I think its position is influenced by the fact that they demand the police “road duty allowances” in the full glare of the public. However hard they argue, the fact is that one cannot walk into an average police station and get redress without being asked to pay money. Corruption is the fuel that keeps the vehicles of the Ghana Police Service running—literally. It is a fact that part of the monies they extort is used to fuel and maintain their operational vehicles.
But groups and institutions that do not make it to the top of the dishonesty list do not have a good reason to rejoice. Corruption has become so pervasive that it is difficult to exempt anyone. Many Ghanaians now prefer artisans from Togo to work on their building projects. They believe the Togolese artisans are honest and would not steal your cement if you give them the job. Some of those shouting the loudest are only doing so because they have no opportunity to steal. Parents who are supposed to be the primary source of socialization, the first teachers of morality and integrity to their children, are engaged in paying bribes to get questions for their children to write.
THE WAY FORWARD
- Individual commitment
Madam Chair, Ladies and Gentlemen, the destruction of a nation, it is said, begins in the homes of its people. If we are to fix the problem, it should begin with the self. It is said that if you cannot beat them, join them, but joining the looting brigade will only destroy us more. I say this knowing how it has almost become criminal to be honest in Ghana.
There are some who believe that integrity, like any other moral value, should not be determined by external factors. They believe integrity is an independent character trait and there should not be any reason to justify one’s lack of it. Some also argue that certain factors make integrity either possible or easy to uphold as a virtue. My view on the second school of thought was strengthened by an intelligent and outspoken girl called Afua Boadi-Asamoah. Afua, who has just gained admission to Wesley Girls High School, is a Junior Youth member of the branch of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana where I worship and teach the Junior Youth class. One day, one of the teachers mentioned, as an example of sin, children who steal meat from soup. Afua halted the lesson and argued that it didn’t make sense to say a child would steal meat from soup. She argued that the food is for the child. Sometimes parents even begged children to eat as much as they could, she said. Why would a child steal food that he or she is being begged or forced to eat?
I know the kind of home Afua is from and I understood why our counter-argument made little sense to her. As someone with a background that is the extreme opposite of Afua’s, that encounter left me with a perspective I had never paid attention to. I started to realise that some integrity challenges do not apply to some people due to their situations in life. It cemented my belief that a person’s integrity, to a certain degree, can be influenced by external factors
I must, however, be quick to add that I’m not in any way justifying the stealing or corruption that is sinking our nation. In other words, I am not saying there should be a good reason not to uphold integrity. In my field of work, the temptation to be corrupt is high, and if there are journalists who should use poverty or need as an excuse to be corrupt, then I very much qualify.
I recently stumbled on my father’s pay slip for 2006, the year I gained admission to the Ghana Institute of Journalism. As a night watchman, his net salary was GH₵ 52 a month. He has 11 children and I am number two of those children. I couldn’t have dreamt of pursuing a degree programme if I had not worked after secondary school to make some money. I thought the suffering my siblings and I endured in Bongo and later in Kete-Krachi was bad enough until I met my mother, whom I had been separated from for 22 years. She recounted the tough times we had endured before I was old enough to remember. One of them stands out like a giant monument in my mind.
My twin sister and I had fallen ill and she took us to a herbalist for treatment because she couldn’t afford the hospital. At the time of our visit, the herbalist was taking his bath and my mother said she heard his apprentice call out to him saying, a certain mad woman with twins had come to look for him. The young man concluded my mother was mad because instead of a cloth, my mother used fertilizer sacks to strap us.
Years later, while working as a farm labourer in Kete-Krachi, my father got a job as a night watchman and we joined him there. Life in Krachi was still a test of our resilience, but it was better than life in Bongo, where we sometimes woke up without the faintest clue about where our next meal would come from. It was the reason I settled on Manasseh when I was looking for a Christian name in Primary Six and saw one that had a meaning like “God has made me forget the suffering in my father’s house.” (The name I had from birth was Azure Awuni.)
If there was ever a good reason to be corrupt, my background could have been an excuse when, as a twenty-something-year-old journalist, I came face to face with financial inducements that could change my family’s destiny forever. When I was investigating the GYEEDA Scandal that led to the imprisonment of people, the cancellation of contracts, and the savings of hundreds of millions of cedis, my father was sleeping on benches at the Krachi Government Hospital as a night watchman. When I did the SADA investigations, the president’s Ford story and had won the journalist of the year, my father was still a nightwatchman and the family was struggling. These were stories that people were prepared to pay anything to stop from being published. Having rejected all these and persevered, I would not say there is a good reason to be corrupt and bereft of integrity. But I still believe external factors influence people’s integrity. Even as individuals must make a commitment to be men and women of integrity, the external factors and systems that impede people’s integrity decisions should be looked at.
- Dealing with the pressure to conform
In 2019, Richard Adongo, a student of the Kumasi campus of Ghana School of Law faced the most embarrassing spectacle of his life. A lawyer and law lecturer had asked him to read a text from a certain law book and when he didn’t have it, he was subjected to verbal abuse. The lawyer told him law wasn’t for poor people like him and that he could have become a teacher or anything else instead of studying to become a lawyer. Richard said he wept and later rejected an offer from the Law Students Christian Fellowship when they reached out to assist him financially after the attack he suffered in class. He told them if there was any assistance, it was to get the lecturer to book for that behaviour. Richard said he later faced ridicule from colleague lawyers in Bolga because as a pupil, he rode a motorbike to the court. Actress Yvonne Nelson was not spared. Someone on Instagram mocked her for repeating the same pair of slippers in many of her photos. In 2012, a man at GBC told me that as the journalist of the year, I was the face of journalists in Ghana and should not be riding a small motorbike around. He said I had to get a car. When I shared photos of my predicament at Abolo Bridge area in Banana Inn after the June 3 disaster, someone told my wife-to-be that where I lived did not befit my status. If you add this to the media’s celebration of wealth without questioning its source, the pressure to conform to society’s expectations is real. If integrity can be encouraged, then we must take a stand against people like the law lecturer and celebrate the likes of Richard, instead of ridiculing them. Individuals should also be strong in their convictions and not yield to undue pressures.
- The role of the government
I will not waste your time pretending to proffer any solution as to how the government can enhance integrity. Our constitution makes the executive very powerful, and the president has the power to do anything. Even if a president is too weak to reshuffle his ministers, the constitution makes him powerful enough to sack the Chairperson of the Electoral Commission and the Auditor-General from office. Our only hope with the executive arm of government is that one day we may get a president who is honest and also willing to tackle the rot in our nation. Kwame Nkrumah had his faults, but not even his detractors could point to any wealth he had amassed with his “absolute” power. In our recent history, many Ghanaians will agree that President John Evans Atta Mills was not a thief. He had no appetite for our money, but he was too weak to stop the stealing in his administration. If we one day get an honest but firm Atta-Mills, things may change with the executive.
The legislature is a lost cause. Our parliamentarians do not represent us. They have sold their birthright to the executive and have gone to sleep. It is for this reason that our MPs, especially those on the majority side, cannot be absolved of the mess we are in. Those who want the Finance Minister, Ken Ofori-Atta, out should tell us which of Ken Ofori-Atta’s loans they opposed. What was their position when the minority MPs raised concerns that Ken Ofori-Atta, who was leading us to borrow, was benefitting from the borrowing through Databank? Are the NPP MPs able to tell us which expenditures of Ken Ofori-Atta they did not approve or what they did when they saw that he spent money they did not approve?
The framers of our constitution knew that the executive would never be occupied by angels. Even if a minister dresses like an angel, speaks like an angel, behaves and poses for photographs like an angel, and quotes the Bible more than an angel, the lawmakers cannot renege on their duty, especially when some ministers are said to be more powerful than the president.
- The Judiciary
Madam Chairperson, the only arm of government left now is the judiciary, even if that arm is suffering from a mild stroke. I want to address the judiciary differently because it is our only hope now. If we lose it, then everybody must as well get a gun to protect themselves. The judiciary is the only body that can still, to some extent, hold the executive and the legislature in check. It is the only body that can hold the rich and poor, young and old, mighty and powerless to account. Unfortunately, Ghana’s judiciary does not appear to have a mind of its own when it comes to dealing with the executive.
Lee Kuan Yew emphasised an independent judiciary in the building of a credible financial centre for a good reason. Investors who cannot trust the judiciary of a country will be reluctant to put their resources there. A judiciary that takes a stand against the ills of our society will not only be independent but will also give meaning to the rule of law. That seems not to be the case here. The Supreme Court of Ghana appears complicit in the government’s hounding of the former Auditor General from office when he disallowed and surcharged then Senior Minister Yaw Osafo Maafo and Kroll Associates. The failure or refusal of the Supreme Court to rule on the matter that was referred to it by the high court changed the eventual verdict in Yaw Osafo Maafo and his group’s favour. Instead of ruling on whether the purported evidence Osafo Maafo and his people were hiding from the Auditor-General was a national security secret, the Supreme Court ordered the Auditor-General to go and inspect it. That was not what the high court referred to the Supreme Court for a ruling. Before the Auditor-General could go and inspect the so-called evidence of work done as ordered by the Supreme Court, the President forced him to proceed on leave. A day after his forced leave, the man the president appointed to act as Auditor-General said he inspected and was satisfied with the evidence of work done. The high court proceeded to pass judgment in favour of the senior minister and his associates.
Again, when some public-spirited individuals and civil society groups went to the Supreme Court to challenge the president’s directive on the Auditor-General to proceed on leave, the case delayed until after six months when the leave was over the plaintiffs lost interest in the case and withdrew it. There was the excuse that the parties, and not the Supreme Court, was to blame. But this was the same Supreme Court that determined suits against the Electoral Commission sometimes within a week. Those suits were mainly meant to frustrate the EC’s timetable and scuttle registration processes, but the Supreme Court did not allow that to happen. Why could the court not see any such urgency in the Auditor-General’s case, knowing that it was time bound?
Our judiciary needs to purge itself. There are honest and upright judges. And long before Anas Ayremeyaw Anas showed us evidence, Professor Raymond Atuguba was taken to the cleaners by the ostriches who treated his comments about judicial corruption as an act of sacrilege. Now we know there are also corrupt judges. And there are judges who are honest but not courageous enough to stand for their principles and suffer for them. There are also those who work to catch the eye of the executive for elevation.
What every judge must know is that he or she holds the key to the prosperity of our nation. They, like other Ghanaians, will suffer the consequences of the deterioration the nation suffers of they fail us. The Fantes have a saying that after every successful Asafo dance, the performers do not sleep in the market square. They retire home. Today, you’re judges. Tomorrow you will retire and join the rest of us, mere mortals. Even as judges you should know that the effect of bad governance is like rain. It doesn’t fall on only one roof. I agree with the former Chief Justice, Sophia Akuffo, who recently said her mouth was gagged while she was in office. In fact, any sensible judge must first learn to tame his or her tongue before taking office. But dear judges, if your mouths are gagged, your conscience should be free. And if you ungag your conscience while on the bench, you may have no need to ungag your mouth when you’re on retirement.
- The role of education and academia
Madam Chair, we have lost the past and lost the present. If we can salvage the future, then we need to target the young ones, and this is the reason I strongly believe that one important way to do that is to get our education right. I have faith in our educational institution’s ability to succeed where all institutions have failed. Ashesi University is leading in the production of ethical leaders. Long before Ashesi came, there was Wesley Girls.
I have been in conversations when the speaker, in trying in vain to describe a lady’s, attitude would say something like, “I don’t know how to put it, but you know that kind of Wesley Girls attitude, that Ewuraba kind of life.” When I encountered Wesley Girls in 2008, vowed to make sure my daughter would be trained in that school. By way of update, I married an old student of Ghana National College, and do not have a daughter yet.
When I went to interview the Minister of Education as part of The Fourth Estate’s investigation into school placement fraud, the Minister, Dr. Yaw Osei Adwutwum, mentioned that he had engaged a former headmistress of Wesley Girls, Mrs. Betty Dzokoto, to imbibe the Wesley Girls culture in the newly created Bosomtwe Girls STEM High School in the Ashanti Region. This is a recognition at the highest level of the importance of values in our education. If Wesley Girls can do it, Accra Girls and Prempeh college should be able to do it. If Bosomtwe Girls, which is in the Education Minister’s constituency, should deserve the Wesley Girls culture, then Bolga Girls deserves it as well. And I look forward to the day when discipline, integrity and resilience would be the defining characteristics of products of the University of Ghana.
Academia should also take a stand against dishonesty in our country and challenge authorities with the power of their knowledge. Before the government announced the opening of Ghana’s borders, they hurriedly put together a shady company to undertake antigen testing at the Kotoka International Airport. Besides the questions surrounding the company which have not been answered to date, the government quoted outrageous cost of the testing. In an interview with Joy FM, a scientist with the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research, Dr. Kofi Bonney, said the $150 being charged for the antigen test was high. He said antigen tests were far less expensive than PCR tests and should cost between $10 and $20, instead of the $150 dollars the government was forcing all arriving passengers to pay and undertake at the airport.
When his statement was beginning to put pressure on the government and Noguchi was being cited as the source, the Director of Noguchi, Professor Abraham Kwabena Annan, issued a press statement, distancing Noguchi from the statement. He said the scientist shared his personal views and not the views of the institute. With that disclaimer, the advocacy that was being built based on Dr. Bonney’s revelation died down and the government was empowered to rob Ghanaians and foreigners who were coming to Ghana. Meanwhile an investigation by The Fourth Estate that the same antigen tests were being conducted in East Legon for as low as $16, while at the airport where thousands of passengers were forced to test every day charged $150. That was robbery the government perpetuated on Ghanaians and foreigners traveling into the country.
Another instance when academia failed the nation in the Covid-19 corruption that rocked Ghana was when the fumigation of schools started. It was launched here at the University of Ghana, with the vice chancellor at the time in attendance. It was an act of fraud that had the blessing of President Akufo-Addo. I have evidence that the president initiated that fraudulent deal. It was a fraud and did not have the backing of science or common sense. When I investigated the scandal, I spoke to scientists at Noguchi, KCCR and the venerable Prof. Gordon Awandare of WACCBIP and all of them could not find the scientific basis for undertaking the project.
The dumbest person in this university should have known that if you shut down a university for about four months, you don’t go splashing chlorine solution all over the roads, hard concrete floors and pavements to kill a virus that was not detected in any school in Ghana before closure. Yet the Education and Local Government ministries alone spent about 500 million on that exercise. Many other state institutions such as the airports poured the chlorine solution on the tarmacs. Even if the exercise was needed, we didn’t have to spend another pesewa for it. Zoomlion already had multiple fumigation and disinfection contracts with every assembly in Ghana. Most of the assemblies also had equipment and machines to do their own fumigation, but they were asked to stop so that Zoomlion would do it at an additional cost to the state. Our scientists academia looked on and supported the exercise without raising any questions.
Apart from advocacy, our universities can also take a stand against corruption and dishonesty and show it by not associating with persons or institutions known to be purveyors of corruption.
In 2020, the head of Legal at Ghana’s Food and Drugs Authority, Mrs. Dapaah-Ntow applied to study LLM in Healthcare & Pharm Compliance at a university in the U.S., but the admission team sent her the following response in an email:
“Thank you for applying to Drexel University. After careful consideration of your application, the Admissions Committee has determined that we are unable to offer you admission.”
Unsatisfied with the response and curious to know the reason for the denial of admission, the FDA lawyer wrote to the university to find out.
“I am passionate about the programme and would want to reapply,” she said in her letter. “I hope you will be kind enough to point to me what worked against me in my last application so I do not repeat the same in my next attempt.”
In response, the university explained that the denial of admission had nothing to do with her academic credentials.
“We found you to be a very qualified candidate, however, it came to the attention of the admissions committee that you were under investigation for allegations of bribery which is not in line with our values and code of conduct,” the university said in an email to the FDA lawyer.
When I checked, the motto of Drexel University is “Ambition Can’t Wait.” It is not about integrity, but they took integrity so seriously that they dug into the lawyer’s background and denied her admission when the FDA was reluctant to ask her to proceed on leave while investigations were ongoing. The question I ask is: if this woman had applied to the University of Ghana, whose motto is “Proceed with Integrity”, what would have happened? Would she have gained admission?
I cannot state how my alma mater would have handled this test case of integrity, but what I can confirm is that in the 2022 Annual New Year School (ANYS), the University of Ghana selected Joseph Siaw Agyepong of the Jospong Group as one of the eminent persons that formed the ANYS and Corporate Advisory team.
If the University of Ghana did not trust the numerous corruption scandals Jospong was involved in here in Ghana, it should not have ignored the fact that, in 2013, the World Bank banned Zoomlion from participating in any World Bank funded project. The Bank said it took the decision after Zoomlion admitted to a charge of paying bribes in Liberia. The University of Ghana should have overlooked the fact that since 2006 till date the government of Ghana and Zoomlion have conspired to treat sweepers like slaves. Currently, the arrangement is that 600 cedis is allocated to each of the 45,000 sweepers across the country. Out of that, the sweepers are paid 180 cedis for sweeping the streets and gutters for a month, while 480 cedis goes to Zoomlion. In my book, The Fourth John: Reign, Rejection and Rebound, I stated that whenever Zoomlion and the Jospong Group were involved, government officials acted without consulting their brains.
The government and the politicians failed, but “the nation’s hope and glory” should not have failed us. There are many Ghanaian businesses that could have been brought to the respected New Year School to talk about how they innovated and survived Covid-19. A shady company that was used by the government to rob Ghanaians during the pandemic should not be presented as a role model.
6. The Church
The church should be the conscience of society, but it appears Ghana’s church only finds its voice when it’s about homosexuality. No science or common sense has been able to convince me that the anus is a sex organ. And if my child says he or she is trapped in the body of another sex, I will call a psychologist and not a human rights lawyer. But one does not have to be a homosexual to have concerns with the church in Ghana. The corruption and greed that makes people suffer and die needlessly in hospitals are worse than the effects of homosexuality. If I were to decide whether a homosexual or a corrupt person should have access to heaven, I will not think twice before giving the homosexual access. If our church is to be taken seriously, it should make its voice audible in the restoration of integrity in the country.
7. The Middle Class
The middle class is supposed to hold the ruling class accountable to the working class, but the middle class in Ghana appears to have joined hands with the ruling class to oppress the working class. Some only make noise to be noticed, and when they’re invited to the dining table, they observe table manners and leave the poor to their fate. When the mess hit the ceiling and the investments of the middle class were threatened, they began to realise how their silence is hurting everyone. The voices of accountability are loud and impactful when they come from men and women of substance. The appearance of the former Chief Justice at the finance ministry, for instance, was more than ten thousand people picketing. It was a typical case of the faecal matter of one elephant producing more impact than the combined effort of a million mosquitoes. The middle class must wake up, stand up, and be counted.
8. The Youth
Dear youth of Ghana, your future is being stolen from you. You do not have to make the perilous journey through the Sahara Desert in order to survive. Ghana has enough for you. Wake up and wise up. Stop fighting one another and fight the system that is destroying you. It doesn’t make sense to continue with campus violence just because you think your hall of residence is an enemy of another hall of residence. The Vandals have contacted me on Twitter to add my voice against what they call the lawlessness of management of the University of Ghana despite a court injunction against the conversion of their hall into a mixed hall. I understand how you feel, but Ghanaians are concerned that universities are increasingly becoming breeding grounds for violent thugs. I support every effort to stop the lawlessness, even if it means the university has to take extreme decisions such as this. Such rowdiness will always have the backing of many in society, but those backing you will not wish their children did that. Our elders say the antics of the market buffoon create laughter but no one wants their son to be the market buffoon.
9. The collective image of the Black race
Madam Chair, Ladies and Gentlemen, at Independence, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah declared that Ghana’s independence was meaningless unless it was linked up with the total liberation of Africa. I posit that the discussion of our core values of integrity would be more meaningful if we link it up with the rest of Africa and the black race in general. It will help us to examine what is fundamentally wrong with us and how the actions of individuals or countries tend to affect the entire race.
There is no doubt that ours is the least respected race in the world. I have held the view that the only way racism against blacks will end is when blacks are prepared to end the things that predispose us to disrespect. It is said that a man who is to be eaten does not oil himself and sit by fire, but that is exactly what we do. I won’t justify racism. I have been subjected to racial profiling at foreign airports and it is dehumanizing. But having travelled a bit to the US, Europe and Asia and some parts of Africa, I cannot pretend that if I were a white man in America, Germany, Japan or Britain, I would respect blacks the same way I would respect whites. Our elders say if you call your calabash worthless, you lose the right to complain when your neighbour uses it to fetch rubbish.
I believe blacks are as capable as people from other races. In sports, science, entertainment, academia, and all spheres of life, blacks are among the top performers. But such talents are hardly groomed here. I stated somewhere that since 1986, all the Olympic Games’ 100 metres gold medalists have been black, but none of them has represented an African country. In the last World Athletic Championships, the gold, silver and bronze medalists in the 4X100 metres relay were won by Canada, the United States and Great Britain respectively. All the four men who represented each of the three European and North American countries for the victory were blacks. We have the talent, but our greed does not allow us to collectively harness those talents and become giants on the global stage.
It is this greed that is responsible for the disregard for integrity and the values that would propel us into prosperity. So even though we are enormously endowed with human and natural resources, we cannot mine our gold and oil and bauxite or add value to our cocoa. We are still waiting for the white man to discover us in every sense and we should not be surprised if we are disrespected.
In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, here is how Odenigbo, a professor of Mathematics at Nsuka University gave orientation to young Ugwu who was brought to him from the village before the boy started school:
“They will teach you that a white man called Mungo Park discovered River Niger. That is rubbish. Our people fished in the Niger long before Mungo Park’s grandfather was born. But in your exam, write that it was Mungo Park.”
It hurts when a stranger lays claim to the discovery of your heritage. We are still waiting for the white man to discover us. But long after the disputed discovery of River Niger, Ghana had to rely on a discovery by another Mungo Park as our striker when we were to play in the qualification to the last World Cup. Felix Afena Gyan was discovered by a foreign scout and taken out shortly before we recognized that he had talent. And when we qualified and our inefficiency stared us in the face, we had to rely on foreign-based players to go. Meanwhile, we abound in talents. It took young Tom Vernon from Denmark to discover enormous football talents here and later set up the Right to Dream Academy to nurture them. That’s the academy that produced our best player in the 2022 World Cup, Mohammed Kudus, as well as Kamaldeen Sulemana and Abdul Waris Majeed. What have we been doing here? If we are to make progress, we have to first admit the pathetic reality of our situation. It has its roots in greed, selfishness and the lack of ethical leadership that will produce results. If we are to make progress, we have to stop blaming slavery and the white man and look within to find out what is wrong with us.
Reverend Andre Scheffler, a minister of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in Africa once told Nelson Mandela and his band of freedom fighters in jail: “You know, the white man has a more difficult task than the black man in this country. Whenever there is a problem, we have to find a solution. But whenever you blacks have a problem, you have an excuse. You can simply say, “It is the whites.”
Here was Nelson Mandela’s response as he wrote in his memoir, Long Walk to Freedom: “He was saying that we could always blame all of our troubles on the white man. His message was that we must also look within ourselves and become responsible for our actions — sentiments with which I wholeheartedly agreed.”
It will be criminal to deny the effects of slavery, especially on our brothers and sisters who were uprooted and left in foreign lands and cultures to figure out their own roots. Whenever I hear of reparation for slavery, they are the people it should be paid to. They are the ones who deserve the apology from both the white slave traders and their accomplices in black Africa. But we have to, at this point, begin to do serious self-introspection and find out why the Jews are moving on despite the Holocaust while we are still stuck here and appear to be getting worse.
In his Man Booker Prize-winning novel about race, “The Sellout”, the American writer Paul Beatty said the following about blacks: “I didn’t ruin his dreams by telling him that black people all think alike. They won’t admit it, but every black person thinks they are better than every other black person.”
This desire to be better than one another is the source of our greed and dishonesty, which ends up making all of us worse in the eyes of the rest of the world. We end up being measured not by our individual successes but by our collective failures. And we cannot blame others because that is what it is. Dr. Ephraim Amu pointed out to us that “Pride, cheating and selfishness has scarred our character, and diminished our affection for our land”. We cheat to stand out and be celebrated. One profound way of communicating success in Ghana is when people say family gatherings would have to be called off if they are absent. What they forget is that their dignity is tied to the dignity of the family in general.
While Clarissa Ward of CNN and her team were returning to London and heaping praises on me for helping them undertake a successful investigation here in Ghana, my concern was how they saw Ghanaians in general.
When we went to James Town beach to shoot one morning, we had to keep our eyes on the ground while walking because people had defecated along the beach and many were still defecating. So, it didn’t matter how they saw me. What mattered most was how they saw Ghana, of which I was a part.
If we want the world to read us differently, we must change the script. We want Americans and Europeans to know that black lives matter, we should begin to show them that our lives matter in the home continent of the black race. In 2015, the Prime Minister of Romania resigned when 36 people died in a nightclub fire accident. This week, the transport minister of Greece resigned because of a train accident and thousands are protesting across cities in Greece. The government of Turkey has arrested over 180 people, including property owners and building contractors because of the devastation that resulted from the earthquake. Yes, it was a natural disaster but they are holding people accountable.
Here, when the Melcom disaster happened and 14 people died, the mayor of Accra said he would not take responsibility for the lack of a permit and other lapses that resulted in the accident. He said he was not in office at the time the building was put up. In 2015, when more than 150 people were killed in the avoidable flood and fire disaster, the mayor of Accra told the BBC that he owed no one an apology. No single person was punished for causing the leakage of the fuel or for the flooding. The only person who was briefly detained was a young man who was said to have smoked a cigarette and thrown the tub in the flood waters. A few months later, Accra came to a standstill when the mayor picked up a form to contest a parliamentary seat. Today, he is called “Honourable”.
If the story of Africa and the black race would change, we should get serious with our lives. Our universities have taught enough of how the white colonialists destroyed us. The black colonialists, such as Abacha, who stole billions of dollars from his country and stashed them in foreign accounts, are worse than the white colonialists. Jacob Zuma, who after fighting apartheid and finally being in charge decided to hand over his country’s wealth to the Indians, is worse than the white colonialists. We see their likes here and their signatures on many transactions that dissipate our collective wealth.
10. A charge to our universities
Madam Chair, my charge to the university, therefore, is to help shape the mindset of our youth to think collectively. Teach them that in the eyes of the international community, there is no difference in the reverence or disdain for the rich and the poor from Ghana or sub-Saharan Africa. Teach them that we are interconnected and that at Heathrow Airport in the UK or Dulles in Washington DC, members of the East Legon Executive Club and the Kasoa Hustlers Association will receive the same treatment. They will be tarred with the same brush of disdain that sub-Saharan Africans have earned.
Teach them that the destiny of all Ghanaians and the black race is so connected that if you steal and become better than the rest, you will still be measured by the standard of the masses living in squalor. Teach them that if we create a fair and just society, a society that thinks about the vulnerable, we may be preparing the stage for our own ease. Teach them that a president who was nicknamed the “Gentle Giant” is, today, confined to a wheelchair and his mobility would depend on how well duty bearers implemented the Disability Act of making buildings accessible to persons with disability.
Teach them that our actions and inactions, like dangerous spells, have a way of affecting us someday. Our elders say if you cast a dangerous spell, the gods of justice have a way of directing part of it to your tongue. The saying is even more profound in Twi:
“Sɛ wo to aduro bɔne a, ɛbi ka Databank.”
Dear teachers, teach our future leaders to fight corruption and injustice and not be neutral. Teach them that Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the late South African Anglican clergyman and anti-apartheid stalwart, once said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
Teach them to have altruistic spirits and not expect rewards for every good they do for the world sometimes gives you the opposite of what you offer.
Teach them that, when it is all over, we will be reduced to only memory and the memories that abide are not those that amassed wealth illegally and flaunted it to the rest of the world. Teach them that Ghandi, Mandela, Luther King Jnr, and Nkrumah are not remembered because of the net worth of their wealth, but the net worth of their service to humanity. Teach them not to cut corners because the path to one’s destiny isn’t always a straight line. Sometimes the road that takes you there starts in the opposite direction and you should not sabotage yourself by cutting corners.
Teach them that life is full of competition, but it is not a race. Even if they see life as a race, they should remember everyone has a different starting point and different finishing lines. Teach them not to be obsessed with power, for their greatness lies in their service to humanity and not how powerful they become. Remind them that 100 years from now, a preacher from Alabama who was murdered at age 39 will be quoted and his ideals will be cited at the market squares of ideas such as on this occasion while a certain powerful queen who died at age 96 and had headed the most prestigious monarchy and 15 countries might not be remembered for anything notable.
Finally, teach them that the currency of wealth is not only in monetary terms, but progress we make. Teach them to define their own parametres of success and not be pressured by someone’s tunes when their life’s dance is agbadza. I often like to remind people that despite the modest gains I have made in my career, one of my greatest success stories is changing an identity that I resented. When I was young, I felt ashamed of my father and laboured with shame when declaring his profession in response to a teacher’s question. When you picked a fight with a colleague, part of the insult was that your father was a night watchman. And when your friend’s parent asked whose son is that, the description was always that’s the son of the hospital watchman. Today when dignitaries, including heads of state, visit Kete-Krachi and my father is being introduced, they don’t seem to remember him as the hospital night watchman. They say that is the father of Manasseh, the award-winning journalist. To me, that is progress. That is an indication that a good name is still better than riches.
Thank you for your attention.
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