Of Governments And Words

What a boring speech Emmerson Mnangagwa made on his assumption of office as President of Zimbabwe on 24 November 2017. His speech did him a great disservice, and must have already awakened a longing in some of his hearers, for the usually well-constructed renderings of the ousted Comrade Bob.

Presidents are very often failed by their speech-writers, for it is not easy to judge what to say when. Speech-writers are usually not to blame, for they are handed several drafts from different areas of expertise (to say nothing of political viewpoint) and unless the speech-writers are extremely skilled (to say nothing of being ruthless) they hand their boss an unwieldy and hardly coherent pastiche of a document that is hard on the tongue, diffuse in its reach and – therefore, usually unmemorable.

Well, it’s probably a good thing that a speech such as Mnangagwa’s should have been so anti-climatic. For it is better to be aware, from the very beginning that a change does not necessarily presage a good future. Nor do promises necessarily translate into the actual transformation of society along beneficial lines (as all citizens cannot but hope for, on the day of change). Indeed, the future can be cruel, especially to those in whom a change reawakens a longing for something great to happen in their country.

For the trouble with modern politics is that words have taken over from action as the principal means of fulfilling the unstated, but nevertheless binding, pact between governments and the citizens they rule. The populace is sold a “PR” “package” that is aimed at seducing it. But seduction is not the same thing as patient wooing. Hence the cynicism that marks the relationship between government and people in so many countries.

It was not always so. Some of the leaders of past years who are remembered today stood out more for what they did rather than what they said. For instance, off the top of my head, I can remember reading about President Franklin D. Roosevelt and how his “New Deal” of 1933-38 saved many Americans during the Great Depression.

Aneurin Bevan comes to mind for establishing the unparalleled National Health Service in the United Kingdom in 1948. Try as they have, the Conservatives and right-wing Labour politicians have not succeeded, over the past 69 years, in dismantling the NHS. Why? Because it is so self-evidently good that it has become not only the envy of the world but also, indestructible through propaganda. Whatever the right-wing media say about it is dispelled almost in totality, the moment one personally uses NHS facilities in the UK.

In the same vein, Vladimir Lenin cannot be forgotten because he made “the electrification of the Russian countryside” a m ajor plank of Soviet policy beginning in December 1920. The brutal Benito Mussolini of Italy “made the trains run on time”. And even good old Adolf Hitler did one good thing for which he is universally admired: he bequeathed autobahns [first-class motorways] to Germany. Nearer home, who can ever forget Kwame Nkrumah and the Akosombo Dam?

I hope our new rulers in Ghana will each find something concrete to do that will let us remember his name for ever. We remember Kojo Botsio because he was the Minister

President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo will match Botsio’s achievement if the free Senior High School education project becomes a success. But do all members of his government harbour the same ambition to make it a success?

We hear of nibbling problems that are fast becoming regular features of the programme. Food, accommodation, books, etcetera – were such problems associated with these aspects of the programme, not foreseen or anticipated before the programme was launched? Why are we still hearing about them almost three months after it kicked off?

Words alone are not enough oooo! Tong! [Do you hear well?] Let’s see some real change, guys.

Don’t keep blaming the Mahama administration for lapses in the country’s administration. You were elected to replace that administration’s incompetence with a first-rate approach, such as your social and educational backgrounds presuppose. You cannot dodge that responsibility.

What are you doing to eradicate dirt from our streets and markets? When are you going to create pavements on our roads and cover the stinking gutters to make walking – the only choice for many of our people – safe and even pleasurable? When are our dimly-lit roads going to be well enough lit as to provide safety to all road-users?

You cannot achieve such progress with words only. If MPs formed pressure groups, and adopted some of these crucially-needed measures as their ‘Issues’ regarding which they would not let the sector Ministers rest until they had achieved tangible results, they would succeed in transforming Ghana. The Ministries and government departments cannot bring national development by themselves. They need support and encouragement. The knowledge that the elected representatives of the people are behind them – but are also watching to detect lapses in their performance – can galvanise them to action.

But mere words cannot wake anyone up from the stupor associated with enjoying a settled life in a public service where one is paid whether one works well or not. People do get used to things, as life teaches us. Who has never been shocked, on first entering public premises, to find that toilet facilities for the public, for instance, are below standard? But after a while, even the most shocked person will begin to accept the situation as normal. For the alternative, in many cases, is to protest and protest – thus making oneself unpopular.

If Mr Emmerson Mnangagwa is able to remember the simple things that he and his comrades used to dream about when they were hiding in caves away from the Selous Scouts of Ian Smith & Co., and resolve to provide them for every Zimbabwean, his dud speech at his inauguration won’t matter. I wish him good luck – and deliverance from the unwieldy hands of – speech-writers. How I wish he could have had the comradeship and advice of his fellow freedom fighters – such as his sadly departed comrades, Noel Mukono and Simpson Mutanengwe.


By Cameron Duodu