Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Christmas Hamper the President Cannot Despise

The president of Ogyakrom Professor Evans Atta Mills has asked all presidential hamper wielding Ghanaians to look for other destinations apart from the castle to deliver their goodies. He simply doesn't want to be indebted to anybody because of a hamper. Unlike Cain, he is not selling his birth right for a meal. He needs a free conscience to crack the whip when he has to, not even the celebration of the good news of the birth of Christ will take that away from him. In the coming year, I expect him to Fast Track a couple of Kuffuor's appointees either to Nsawam or Freedom Square, fire a few of his predecessor's appointees and replace them with loyal but hungry NDC faithfuls and maybe throw a few of his own ministers out of job. It is all part of his calling, some decisions are not nice but they must be taken.

I believe that if we are to tackle corruption in Africa, we must deal with gifts in very unconventional terms. I do not believe that ordinarily a Christmas hamper will corrupt a president, but with the disingenuous use of gifts to oil the wheels of the corruption train in Africa, only God knows what people have done in the past and were preparing to do with Christmas hampers. For that reason, I congratulate Uncle Fiifii for derailing the Africa Gift Train this Christmas. Unlike his predecessors he has rejected any ride on the train. Rejecting Christmas hampers resonates loudly in a country like Ghana where it is considered rude to reject a gift. If you lose track of time, three signs appearing at the same time can tell you that Christmas is near; decorations including the Christmas tree which doesn't grow in Ghana, Christmas carols some of which are meaningless in our context talking about snow fall and white Christmas at a time that we are experiencing dry harmattan winds, and of course the hampers. The gifts always cause the greatest controversies. My Jehovah's Witness colleague, Santa Rob had a problem with the Christmas prefix, so he had to rechristen many items to ensure he doesn't miss out of what we have all toiled for. He will say end of year party instead of Christmas party, hamper instead of Christmas hamper. If Christmas hampers and gifts are given in the spirit of Christmas, how come they are mostly given to those who do not need them? If you take a tally in any office, the people lower down the ladder like the messenger hardly receive any hamper from suppliers, they are mostly delivered to people of influence like the CEO and other managers who have the power to switch suppliers. For the receptionist, being female, young and beautiful enhances your hamper receiving status. The driver who is always in the view of the so called business partners throughout the year is totally forgotten at Christmas. There must be more to this hamper business, Mr. President is right! If you think God has touched your heart this Christmas, please send your gifts and hampers to the Osu children's home, they really need them.

Regardless of these controversies associated with gifts, I am proposing a gift to the president that he cannot refuse. My vote come 2012. I will present this gift on one condition- Sack the Hawkers!

It has become an urban myth that if you clear our streets of hawkers, you will lose an election. I haven't yet seen any poll backing that claim, but it is one that politicians hold dear and hate to love. I suspect it has to do with the numbers that brandish all manner of goods at you on the streets and pavements. If all those numbers are converted to votes, either for or against, what a difference it will make at the polls. But the politicians seem to forget the other critical mass that drives on the streets of major towns and cities and is tired of having to dodge hawkers every day of the week. There is also another group who just wishes the pavements will be used for what they were built for- pedestrian walk. The good news is that they all have votes. The day the NPP government stopped Adjiri Blankson from clearing hawkers off the streets of Accra , I made two decisions; to stop shopping in the central business district until we learn to be civilized, and to withhold my votes from the short sighted politicians who couldn't see beyond cheap popularity. I have since carried out those decisions but unfortunately for Professor Mills, he didn't benefit from the second decision because I blamed his party for some irresponsible campaigning leading to the election. But I am assuring the president of my vote if he takes the tough decision of making the streets of Ghana look like it is part of civilization.

Sincerely, I appreciate the dilemma Politicians face when the issue of hawkers and our streets rear its head. It sounds like common sense, the market is created for shopping, the streets for driving and the pavement for walking. Why should the shops move to take over the streets and the pavements? The answer though simple, raises difficult problems. This is the result of decades of poor governance. We have an educational system that creates armies of youth mostly from rural Ghana who are only equipped to buy and sell. Sacking them from the streets means you must find alternate employment for them. Employment for unemployable youth is a promise every government has made but failed to deliver. That is the real headache for politicians when they hear "drive the hawkers away". The easiest solution is the ostrich approach; turn a blind eye to the problem on our streets. But politicians must balance this headache with my right to walk on pavements constructed with my tax money without being harassed and pushed by people who think it is their right to sell and my right to drive safely on streets constructed for that purpose. I don't want to add to my stress level dodging running hawkers on the streets after a stressful day in the office. There is only one way a politician can win this battle; satisfy the ever growing army of youth and satisfy me. The solution will require short, medium and long term measures that have been carefully thought of and crafted. Providing such solutions is the reason we elect leaders and we must task them to provide the answers. Politics is not just another avenue for employment; it is the embodiment for our hopes and aspirations as a people. For us in Ghana and Africa, we have a long way to go to actualize those dreams. Therefore ostrich solutions will not suffice.

Mr. President, I want my street back and I want my pavement back. You may have ordered Mayor Vandapuije to stop decongesting Accra , but please note that he has my support and the support of many road users who will not necessarily congregate to show our support. Also note that we also have votes. I will consign my vote to you as a Pre-Christmas present in 2012 if you deliver the streets back to us, and I suspect many other people will do same. This is one hamper you can't ignore.

PS: Is the President, through State Protocol, giving out hampers this Christmas?

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