Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

For the Sake of Peace and Prosperity

Anis Haffar

As we gather enough spirit of patriotism to begin to dare to take a closer look at the essentials in our march towards freedom and justice, the pandemonium of subsequent kangaroo courts should remind us how far and fast things have stopped since 1957.
Since 1957, the varied regimes in Ghana have tried to have their kenkey and eat it too. However, an iron law of social life was that as governments got more dictatorial, they passed more repressive laws but the legislative controls and enforcement of the important legitimate laws lessened. A law is a sub- stantive rule that regulates private conduct or directs operations of government. As it slides to fulfill a small group's whims, beware, the country is sinking into a state of disorder.

And that is why today when all Ghanaians should be minding their own business, playing soccer, and drinking palm wine and star beer under the canopy of God's blue skies, the soldiers have imposed curfews, kangaroo courts and death squads. Every other sergeant on the street wielding a gun is a law unto himself; the judge and jury, so to speak.

Many of the 'laws' passed by Ghana's administrators were merely expressions of personal benefits, values and options. Regulation writers in the bowels of the political or military bureaucracy have notoriously emitted one sheer sentiment after the other. The result was a thick set of decrees, threats and intimidation.

An example published (September 12th 83) went like this: "The PNDC has placed a ban on the importation of motor cars by individuals into Ghana until further notice (and) that any motor car imported into the country in contravention of provisions of PNDC Law 27 shall be forfeited to the state. The prohibition concluded with the blatant loophole: "Where the PNDC deems it necessary... it may grant exemption."

In plain talk, the historical interpretation was that you could bring in a car subject to one of two conditions: One, if you knew somebody, fine, no problem. Two, if you didn't, your car would be used with pleasure in Accra by someone else - whether you liked it or not. Similar laws were passed with respect to food importation by individuals; in which case, your bread would be seized by the state and eaten. The whole thing smacked of false soldiering.

The moral riddle will not go away. Why the plentiful laws, one might be bold enough to ask. Even the ten commandments are only ten laws. Mahatma Gandhi put it simply: "There are unjust laws as there are unjust men."

Recently, Dr Eugene Cotran, defence counsel for Kwame Pianim in the 23rd November '83 treason trial cited one case of foul play after another. The tribunal initially decided by a four-to-one majority to acquit Pianim, but 'executive pressure' was brought upon them to change the verdict, and to convict him, confiscate his property, pass the death sentence, the whole bit. Dr Cotran exposed 'the general breakdown of law and order,' and warned, "I think that is worrying for Ghana's legal system."

Now, the rulings of the PNDC decrees have forced Ghanaians to face disconcerting facts about the way the military worked. There was a stark conflict between the revolutionary rhetoric they expressed as values, and the regime's practices that have grown in utter confusion.

Can the folks in the Castle fool all the people all the time? Will the ravishing and despoiling and debauching come to an end? There are legitimate questions regarding the managerial capacity to lead 12 million people. As for government, the amateurish enthusiasm will not do. Are we asking the basic questions now: experience with government, demonstrable administrative skills, abilities in legislative procedures and controls, sound economic planning; in short, the ability to lead 12 million people successfully. The person who would understand the modern world must come to grips with this reality.

As we gather enough spirit of patriotism to begin to dare to take a closer look at the essentials in our march towards freedom and justice, the pandemonium of subsequent kangaroo courts should remind us how far and fast things have stopped since 1957.

Entrepreneurs in the economic system

Today's valiant and heroic experiments seemed to arise from the disposition to hunt down entrepreneurs as if they were some noxious beasts. It is a very attractive sport, and once it got started quite a lot of people everywhere were found ready to join the chase. The pursuit is long and exciting and everyone's blood is infected with its ardour. The question arises whether the general well-being of the masses of the community will be advanced by the excessive indulgence in this type of amusement.

Meanwhile, aspiring enterprises have crumbled to the ground. Confidence is low. Frankly, entrepreneurs should be honoured and cherished partners in the overall economic system. If the latter statement is rejected, there is always of course the totalitarian alternative. It is doubtful though that people will be content for long with the dull, brutish servitude of such an alternative.

As for the economic program now in force, the control pricing may offer some kind of temporary relief. But eventually, it will require prudent instinct to discard those attempts at price fixing which, in our experience always broke down in practice. Such measures are appropriate to break monopolies or gangsterisms, but can never be accepted as a humdrum foundation for economic life.

There can never be good wages or good employment for a good length of time without good returns. The sooner this is recognized, the earlier we will turn the corner. Prosperity is not a dirty word; it may well be our divine right. The natural cynicism of the marketplace is a better alternative than the political optimism of governments.

We have seen governments come and go but the marketplace, even if bombed, will take root elsewhere.

It is no use marching against ordinary business people working on small margins as if they were the corrupt officials of government offices who so long as they promised to attend to their duties have done their job. There are elements of contrivance, good account keeping, and risk taking which are essential to all productive activity. Again, prosperity may well be our divine right. A law to prevent a man from getting rich would do more harm than good. Just imagine, 12 million rich Ghanaians.

talking drums 1984-01-16 waiting for confusion in Nigeria - another food crisis year