By Nana Yaa Ofori Atta
If you live and work in my side of Africa, as in the wild wild West, you know what time of day it is. The harmattan has arrived, as in very fine particles of dust blown by an easterly/north-easterly wind from the Sahel. It will hover in a gritty daze, for weeks (usually between December and February but with global warming and climate change ….) over everything.
Extreme weather – wintry storms, freezing fog patches and a blitz of amber weather warnings – in former colonial Britain, the advent of the Christmas season and cheap airfares. Means the cousins, nieces, nephews and their friends from the Diaspora, those who have papers and can travel without imminent fear of Mr Trump’s dawn immigration tweets or a sudden turn in the Brexit negotiations, will soon invade Ghana. Adding further to the traffic, the noise and the stress.
The top ten performing currencies on this continent at some point in 2017, were: the Egyptian Pound; the Eritrean Nakffa; South Africa’s Rand; Botswana’s Pula; the Moroccan Dirham; Zambia’s Kwacha, the Sudanese Pound, Ghana’s Cedi, Tunisia’s Dinar and the Libyan Dinar. In Accra, for the duration of the dizzy season, the exchange rate for pounds, dollars, euro, anything of value, except of course African currencies, many of which you can’t give away even as a joke, will fluctuate.
Fortunately, the Diasporans have no staying power, they will depart by the second week of January 2018, weighed down by the double effects of our national diet of complex carbohydrates – kenkey, banku, brodi – and the pyramid of debt that comes from the onslaught of cousin/auntie/uncle coming to ‘greet. Cynical Ahasporans like me will apply shea butter to our parched skins and lips, with a wry smile. This harmattan too shall pass.
I also have a soft spot for older men. They do have to be gentlemen, in possession of bifocal glasses, their own teeth, able to move freely, arthritis can be managed. Said older man must be non-violent. Physically as well as in publicly expressed thought. Lest my position hardens.
An older man worthy of a second look, is the Speaker of the 7th Parliament of Ghana’s Fourth Republic, Professor Aaron Mike Ocquaye. We are co-equals, only, in terms of our abbreviated physical height. While I am probably taller, the Right Honourable Ocquaye’s resume is much more impressive.
A former Member (twice) of Parliament for Dome-Kwabenya – a constituency in Accra -, he was elected the Second Deputy Speaker of Parliament (2009-2013), served as Ghana’s former High Commissioner to India (2001-2004) and was Minister of Energy, briefly, then Minister of Communications (2006-2009). Mr. Speaker is also a lawyer and an author who has published severally on matters politics and human rights. I am unreliably informed, that he has recently added ordained clergy to his towering list of accomplishments.
When our cerebral Right Honourable Speaker took the Oath of Office on January 7th 2017, he stated publicly “I need to remind the new MPs that the highly procedural nature of Parliament calls for an equally high level of commitment to the rules and procedures of the institution. Serious learning will therefore have to be undertaken to sharpen your competencies in order to function optimally.” Polite speak for ‘grow up, get a grip and get on with it’.
I could commend and comment on how happily I received the speed with which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs publicly clapped back and shut down the Right Honourable Ocquaye for granting a recent interview during which he apparently unilaterally, welcomed the singular decision of US President Donald Trump, recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. I will not.
As I offered, I have a spot, it is hardening, quickly though, for a certain type of older man. Especially when he needs serious learning to sharpen his competencies in not projecting his personal opinion in a way that is not optimal and can publicly undermine the functioning official government position. Our Embassy will stay in Tel Aviv, as will the Embassies of the European Union. And Russia.
Democracy is tiring and required
Another older man who warrants a ‘no you did not’ is Tanzania’s President John Pombe Joseph Magafuli. Note: he has two biblical names. A former Minister of Livestock and Fisheries, a former Minister of Lands and Human Settlement, he too was a Member of Parliament. Character is like pregnancy, it will always out.
As president, Magafuli has made a maverick name for himself by defying the odds. This is the man who banned luxe public celebrations of national holidays including his inauguration, this is the man who walked into a government hospital, found victim citizens prostrate on the floor and apparently issued firing letters to the absent senior management. Magafuli has also recently pardoned a number of prisoners, including a father and son convicted of raping 10 school girls. In June 2017, Magafuli also spoke publicly in support of a ban on pregnant girls from attending school.
I will not say something about this older bespectacled African leader as well. What I will do is present comments attributed to the Director of an Arusha based civil society organisation, Community for Children’s Rights. Ms Kate McAlpine has been quoted as saying President Magafuli’s pardon of the 2 pedophiles, demonstrates his “lack of understanding of violence against children”. She is also quoted in the same report as stating “he has a blind spot when it comes to recognising children as victims”.
Welcome to the harmattan, the impending invasion of the Diasporans and a word to men of a certain vintage in paid public office. Older and acting up in public is undignified, unwelcome, unjust and can be dangerous. Careful, Grandpa. Dinosaurs are extinct for a reason. They failed to read the tea leaves and the weather. You could end up in Serbia.