Faced with the mounting threat of Covid-19 and with an eye on the December elections, Ghana’s President Akufo-Addo is once again making extravagant pledges. Why should anybody believe him? asks Baffour Ankomah.
I had wanted to continue from where I left off in my previous article – telling the story of Ghana’s first President, Kwame Nkrumah’s betrayal which was hatched in the bowels of the very White House where Mr Trump now holds sway.
But something has happened in my native Ghana that must break my stride. “A time has come when silence is betrayal. That time is now,” said Dr Martin Luther King at the time the odds were heavily against the Civil Rights Movement in the US in the 1960s. So he spoke! And the rest is history.
So, encouraged by Dr King, and similarly by British writer and essayist George Orwell (author of 1984), who said: “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act”, I am going to speak here, hoping that the rest will be history.
What is the grave matter then? On Sunday 25 April, Ghana’s President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo gave a televised address and said something that he should not have said.
But having said it, he reminded me of a character that Ian Smith, the last Prime Minister of Rhodesia, so eloquently illustrated in his book, The Great Betrayal: “A statesman thinks of the next generation, a politician thinks of the next election,” Ian Smith wrote.
On 25 April, Akufo-Addo, facing re-election this coming December, behaved much like Ian Smith’s “politician” who thinks of the next election, instead of the statesman Akufo-Addo thinks himself to be.
According to him, in the televised address, the coronavirus pandemic has made him realise the inadequacy of Ghana’s health infrastructure. This is a President who has been in power for three-and-a-half years already! And he did not know the strength of his health service until a virus came to tell him.
But let’s listen to him: “There are 88 districts in our country without district hospitals,” Akufo-Addo, informed by the coronavirus, now tells the nation. “We have six new regions without regional hospitals. That is why [the] government has decided to undertake a major investment in our healthcare infrastructure.
“We will this year, begin constructing 88 hospitals in the districts without hospitals … Each of them will be a quality, standard design 100-bed hospital with accommodation for doctors, nurses and other health workers. The intention is to complete them within a year. We are also putting in place plans to construct six new regional hospitals in the six new regions, and the rehabilitation of Effia Nkwanta Hospital in Sekondi which is the regional hospital for the Western Region.”
This normally should be good news worth celebrating. But this time it isn’t. Rather, it is an insult to the intelligence of the good people of Ghana.
Empty election pledges
Why? First, during the 2016 election campaign that brought him to power, Akufo-Addo promised that if elected, he would build one factory in each of the 216 districts of the country to provide employment for people, especially the jobless youths.
He would build one dam in each of the villages of the dry northern regions of the country. He would also give each of the 275 constituencies in the country $1m every year for development projects of the constituencies’ choice. Three-and-a-half years later, those promises are largely unfulfilled, proving that he is not a man of his word.
Second, Akufo-Addo came to power on the back of an aggressive infrastructure building programme by the man he defeated at the 2016 election, former President John Mahama.
There has only been one man in Ghana’s history who was a greater builder than Mahama – the eternal Kwame Nkrumah. In one term of four years, Mahama drove himself like a man possessed to leave a healthy legacy of infrastructure projects all over the country, including hospitals (some of which he could not complete before the election defeat).
What did Akufo-Addo do when he came to power? He left most of Mahama’s uncompleted projects in stasis. Some of the hospitals have, in fact, been overtaken by weeds. Not only that; Akufo-Addo – you just cannot believe it, kind reader – has also let some of the completed hospitals go to waste, like the splendid Legon Hospital in the grounds of the University of Ghana, and the Bank Hospital built by the Bank of Ghana in Cantonments in Accra.
The first phase of the Legon Hospital was opened by Mahama after the election defeat, before he left office on 7 January 2017. But this massive hospital, the like of which you don’t even see in Europe, has been standing idle since December 2016. It was only when coronavirus hit the country in February 2020 that Akufo-Addo’s government allowed some patients to be taken there for treatment.
This impressive teaching hospital, the first of its kind in West Africa, had been initiated by the University of Ghana in partnership with an Israeli hospital group to provide specialist referral facilities for Ghana and West Africa. For three-and-a-half years, Akufo-Addo let this fully-equipped hospital stand idle, for reasons best known to his government.
The pettiness that Akufo-Addo has demonstrated in his first term astounds! In fact, it belies his education and history. A man who fought all his political life to gain justice and respect of human rights for Ghanaians from a cruel military dictatorship run by his now bosom friend, Jerry Rawlings; a man who could not be stopped by two bitter electoral defeats (only winning on the third attempt) could not be this myopic, dear Lord.
I supported him in the 2008 elections and felt very sore when he lost by a whisker. From my home in Kumasi, I watched in sheer disbelief when he pulled out of the Tain re-run and allowed Prof. John Atta Mills to win by 40,000 votes. Maybe, it was a blessing for Ghana that Akufo-Addo did not become President in 2008, especially judging from his behaviour in office.
The distance from his office in State House to the Accra airport where Mahama had almost completed a spanking new Terminal Three before losing the 2016 election, is just about a mile and a bit. But Akufo-Addo would not (and did not) go to open Terminal Three when it was finished in 2018, because it was built by Mahama.
Now he wants to abuse our ears by promising to build 94 hospitals in one year – 88 district and six regional hospitals! Our dear people do not deserve this insult, especially when he said nothing in his televised address about the hospitals and other projects started by Mahama which are now overgrown by weeds.
The shame of it all is that all these infrastructure projects were started with state financial resources, much of it borrowed from abroad, which Ghana is going to pay for decades to come.
And now, with only six months to the next elections, Akufo-Addo wants to build 94 hospitals. What was he doing for three-and-a-half years? The Akan people of Ghana have a proverb: “When a naked man promises you clothes, listen to his name first.”