Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Acquired Information Deficiency Syndrome or affliction of Third World countries

By Kwaku Kpatakpa Gyampo

While most developing countries are aware and clamour for a new information order in the world to counterbalance the effects Acquired of western information deluge, few accept that they are slowly dying from the effect of AIDS-2.
Most countries in West Africa, since independence have been afflicted by an overpowering disease Information Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS. Elsewhere, it is called "lack of press freedom" or "press-gagging". I have chosen to crown it AIDS-2 to differentiate it from its more dreadful counterpart, the real Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (call it AIDS-1). Without seeking to lighten the lethal effects of AIDS-1, AIDS-2 is equally devastating, particularly in an era of in- formation revolution, because of its debilitating consequences.

The syndrome induces intellectual cretinism, numbs creativity and dehumanises a people. It fosters intolerance, and, in its worst form, stifles the natural proclivities of a people toward the demo- cratic management of national affairs. It has the tendency to neutralise the potential benefits of long-term national investments in education and in other national knowledge-producing institutional forms, and conduces more dependency than independence. The information kwashiorkor induced by the information deficiency syndrome, ironically, is self-imposed, and therefore, curable, unlike AIDS-1 whose cure has eluded scientists.

Acquired Information Deficiency Syndrome has many manifestations: in the crudest form, it shows up in writs like General Buhari's Decree 4, or Sergeant Doe's outright banning of the Footprints newspaper or People's Defence Committee thugs invading the Free Press offices in Ghana, or in soldiers molesting journalists of The Pioneer newspaper in Kumasi.

The syndrome can also manifest itself in more subtle ways. These include with- holding of import licences from printers of non-governmental news magazines that are critical of government policy (e.g. the late General Acheampong's ploy to squeeze the The Legon Observer out of circulation by threatening Liberty Press to stop printing the magazine or Incidentally, the PNDC regime adopted that strategy in the aftermath of the 1983 murder of the judges); such subtleties as slapping punitive taxes on news magazines coming from abroad, as Liberia did to the Talking Drums and West Africa are also common..

Recently, the withdrawal by the Ghana Ministry of Information of the licence of The Catholic Standard (a euphemism for outright ban), is yet another subtle way to acquire information deficiency. Paradoxes But the paradoxes which trail AIDS-2 are mind-boggling. Let's take Ghana as an illustrative case: since December 1985, there has been a plethora of interviews granted news magazines of foreign origin by various PNDC officials, in addition to talk shows, particularly on the BBC, all in a frantic effort to justify the policies of the government. The alacrity with which these government officials grant inter- views to such magazines is only matched by the intensity with which they stifle internal debate. Thus, not surprisingly, while the international image of the PNDC for example has greatly improved, the claims of the success of the Economic Recovery Programme (ERP) is in doubt at home. Why would public officials strive to legitimise their policies to the outside world and yet be impervious to what is happening at home?

The alacrity with which these government officials grant interviews to foreign magazines is only matched by the intensity with which they stifle internal debate. Thus not surprisingly, while the international image of the PNDC for example has greatly improved...

But AIDS-2 raises a great many disturbing questions:

What is it about public service that metamorphoses otherwise nice and well-meaning ladies and gentlemen to behave the way they do?

How can a government that sports an impressive array of highly credentialed and eloquent men and women condone a political environment in which only the voices of government officials are worth hearing?

What kind of educational system is ours that manufactures such chameleons who, when on the opposite side of the political spectrum are upholders of democratic principles, but when they find themselves in power turn into the very tigers they fought to eliminate?

Just take a look at the profiles of a sample of the PNDC operatives, and you begin to wonder about the future of our country, and the wisdom in investing so much money in educational systems: First begin from the Ministry of Information: Mr Kofi Totobi Quakyi: Graduate of the University of Cape Coast; former students leader opposed Acheampong's totalitarian regime, and fought against UNIGOV (Union Government, a concept of government in which the police, army and civilians were to be equal partners); participated in underground literature when Acheampong banned the NUGSNEWS (a student journal); almost died in a motor car accident, allegedly triggered off by Acheampong's security personnel who were pursuing him. Now Undersecretary for Information, underwriting the banning of the Catholic Standard. What happened to principles?

Mrs. Sackeyfio: PNDC information buff at the Castle, Osu; former writer under the pseudonym Yaa Asantewah, used the columns of the Pioneer to dish out her critiques of the Acheampong and Limann governments. Is she party to the ban of the Standard?

Dr. Kwesi Botchwey: J.D., former senior lecturer in law at the University of Ghana, Legon; former Marxist, now Secretary for Finance and Economic Planning. Ms. Joyce Aryee, B.A. (Ghana), Secretary for Education; former Secretary for Information, and one-time Executive Secretary for the Environ- mental Protection Council; Justice D.F. Annan, Lincoln Inn, retired Appeal Court Judge, eternal collator of views on participatory democracy in Ghana, now member of PNDC;

Kofi Awoonor, poet, author, former University Professor, now Ghana's ambassador to Brazil; Dr. Abbey, Ghana's Ambassador Extraordinary and Pleni- potentiary, Ph.D. Economics, London School of Economics, Ghana's High Commissioner to Canada, and PNDC economic advisor; Tsatsu Tsikata, LLB (Ghana), M.A. in Law, (Oxford), PNDC thinker, and legal advisor, and so on....

The above sample shows an impressive mix of highly educated people who, one might have thought, would be able to take on their peers in verbal combat, engage in lively debates, clear their names when fal- sely accused, and use contrary views as guideposts for the evaluation of their policies. Are all these ladies and gentle- men privy to our self-induced information deficiency? In this age when policy formulation and decision-making have been reduced to a science, how do they arrive at decisions when there is such paucity of reading material?

The intellectual kwashiorkor which this kind of arbitrary proscription engenders is very serious when viewed in light of the following crude statistics: The Daily Graphic prints an average of 8 pages per day per year; the Ghanaian Times prints about 8 pages, the Pioneer 4, the Free Press 4, and The Echo 4. That adds up to about 26 pages of space for printed information per day per year. If you divide 26 by 14,000,000, you have 000001856 or .0002 % per capita of space for the dissemination of information. If you view this crude statistic in light of the fact that we pour millions of cedis yearly, and have spent billions more in the past to educate our people, the magnitude of this information deficiency becomes clear. Why are we committing this intellectual suicide?

Ghanaian fascination with debate and the written word is the reason why we have an Institute of Journalism, and the Graduate School of Journalism and Com- munications at Legon. Where would the graduates of these schools practice their art, given the few opportunities available, and the government's knack for banning publications?

The information deficiency syndrome transcends the streets of the urban areas. On the campuses of the universities, the situation is even more grim. As mentioned earlier, the Legon Observer was banned by the PNDC in 1983, following Acheampong's style. Most research journals like the Universitas, The Ghana Science Journal, The Ghana Sociological Journal, The Ghana Historical Journal, and even the Ghana Economic Survey, are all moribund. The last time the Ghana Education Journal was published was in 1978. The Ghana Medical Journal appears only irregularly.

Of course part of the blame for information deficiency on the campuses is attributable to the intellectual amnesia that has gripped our campuses for some time now. However, the lack of dynamic leadership at these institutions and the general academic lethargy of some fossilising academics are equally responsible for our condition. But a major portion of the blame should be placed on successive governments which have proved to be allergic to intellectualism. How can we as a nation move forward in this highly competitive world, when we deliberately impose on ourselves such suicidal nonsense?

It may be easy to blame our pathological condition on the soldiers, but as the above profiles have shown, they are not alone to blame. Our own opportunistic peers who ironically cling to their copies of the Newsweek, London Times, Talking Drums, and West Africa etc., are unfortunately not men enough to face their own peers in competitive debate and analyses of alternative ways of running our country!

Ultimately the leadership of the country should bear the overall blame. Analysts of fallen regimes have often reminisced along these lines: "As for so and so, he was o.k. It was his henchmen who let him down." Such was said of Nkrumah, Busia, Acheampong, Limann. And so now it is being said: "As for Rawlings, he is o.k. It is only his cousin's " Such excuses should be untenable. If someone like Rawlings is no longer his own man, then he might as well call it quits. On the other hand if he is really in charge, he should assume the leadership mantle and OVERRULE the Information Ministry's decision not to renew the licence of the Standard.

Next, he should encourage the Legon Observer to start publication. If that magazine had been in publication, the one-way method of talking at our people might not have been. Why shouldn't Kwesi Botchwey be able to debate economic issues with people like Profes- sor Kojo Ewusi of the University of Ghana, a trained economist, whose re- search on varying aspects of Ghana's economy is well respected all over the world? If, as a nation, we behave as if the rest of the world were in a state of sus- pended animation, waiting for us to catch up, then we are dumb ostriches.

Comparisons are odious, the cliche says, but the vibrant press and intellectual and scientific culture being nurtured next door in Nigeria, ought to awaken our political and intellectual leaders alike to the risk we are exposing ourselves to by deliberately acquiring information deficiency. The cure for AIDS-2 is in leadership, and let those who claim to be leaders, political as well as intellectual, take note.

talking drums 1986-03-10 Information blackout spreading aids-2 in Ghana - Babangida - Coup plotters executed in Nigeria