Monday, November 2, 2009

The African Gift Train

In a chat with some colleagues in the office last week I cited a bribery allegation brought against Ghana and Nigeria by Liberia in 2001 and the defense put up by Nigeria, to illustrate a point about corruption apologists. Events in Senegal over the week resonate with what happened in the run up to qualification for the FIFA 2002 world cup.

Ghana, Nigeria and Liberia among other countries had to fight for one of Africa’s five slots in the FIFA 2002 world cup. After the penultimate matches in the group, it became clear that even though Ghana’s chances of representing Africa were gone, it would act as the king maker in the group to determine whether Liberia or Nigeria qualifies. If Ghana gets a draw against Nigeria in the last match, Liberia goes through to represent Africa from their group. In the match itself, Ghana fielded a weakened team and lost their goal keeper through a needless act that attracted the red card from the referee. Ghana lost the match by three goals to nil (Nigeria 3: Ghana 0), and Nigeria qualified from the group. After the match, a Nigerian governor from Rivers state presented a gift of $25 000 to the Ghanaian team at reception he held for both teams.   Liberia reported this incident to FIFA’s disciplinary committee. In its defense to the disciplinary committee, Nigeria explained that it is a local tradition to give out gifts to visiting teams; FIFA accepted the explanation , case close. How did I miss that tradition in Africa?

Last week in Senegal, the Government was forced, after initial denials, to admit that it gave a gift of two hundred thousand US dollars ($200,000.00) to Alex Segura, an IMF official, after his tour of duty had come to an end. .  According to the Prime Minister, Souleymane Ndene Ndiaye, the money represented a goodbye present - part of an African tradition. He said, "We in Africa have a tradition - when someone visits you, you give him a gift at departure".  The tradition again!  It is just not fair that some of us have lived in Africa for so long but have managed to miss out on the most lucrative African tradition.  On a continent that conjures memories of hunger, famine and extreme poverty, a tradition of dollar denominated gifts is a powerful tool to restore humanity to many. But somehow, our society has contrived to conceal this great tradition from the people who need it most.

I have realized that the ubiquitous African gift train travels with engines powered by tradition or friendship. When the history of Ghana’s 4th republican adventure gets chronicled for posterity, I am sure there are many who will want the former president, J2R, credited as the greatest Apostle of Probity and Accountability.  It is worth noting that this gentleman, whose supporters claim made no fortunes for himself when he superintended the affairs of Ogyakrom for almost two decades, took a coach on the gift train. When Ogyakromians wanted to know how the former first family managed to educate their kids abroad, they were told that the expensive educational bills were funded by friends. As if on cue, a former minister in that government who was convicted before the fast track high court for causing financial loss to Ghana also claimed to have benefited from a gift train powered by friends when he had to educate his kids abroad. A couple of years later, it was the turn of a health minister in K4’s government to announce that the gods of Africa have blessed him with a ride on the golden rails. This gentleman had misplaced a condom whiles attending a conference on AIDS,  resulting in a bouncy baby boy.  He was asked to justify how he raised over ninety thousand US dollars for the upkeep of his son, you guessed right, from friends.

I am particularly upset at the gods for denying me a ride on the train. But I have planned my revenge. If any young man mistakes my head for ‘Odomankoma’s’ wisdom pot, and he asks me, “Ogyakromian, what can I do to be rich?” My answer shall be  
“Find the African Gift train. Get on board. The engine driving it may be tradition or it may be friends, it makes rich anyway. The consequences are yours”. If he understands my wisdom and asks    “How do we make Africa rich in the midst of Africa’s riches?” There I have my revenge. My answer shall be “Derail the African gift train!”.


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