Thoko Banda, the Malawian diplomat who turned down the ambassadorial job to Zimbabwe, has shown great audacity for his convictions and principles. Thoko told the BBC’s Focus on Africa: “Someone like me is not somebody to send to a place like Zimbabwe, where they have a leader who wants you to endorse whatever he does with impunity.” He added that “People of conscience need to stand with the Zimbabwean population, especially those living in poverty and suffering human rights violations.”
Malawian President Peter Mutharika recently appointed Banda to represent the country as Ambassador to the former Rhodesia, where Mugabe continues to court controversy, especially from the West, because of his stern control over the people of his country and his authoritative brand of democratic rule. Banda, who had earlier been pencilled for Belgium and the European Union but was changed to Zimbabwe, explained that “The only difference between Mugabe and some of the other leaders is that Mugabe hurts not only his own people but also foreigners. That is why they hate him so much in the West.” Being opposed to dictatorship, Banda has turned down the job offer.
Banda is not the only person who does not want to have anything to do with Zimbabwe. In the early 2000s, Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, cut his dog collar into little pieces on British television to declare his personal protest and objection to the Mugabe regime. Shocked host Andrew Marr could not hide his emotions and exclaimed, “The world will remember this.” Sentamu promised he would not wear his dog collar again until Mugabe is out of power. Now, that is audacity. It is a statement.
Mugabe has been in power since 1980 (34 years ago) and it is alleged that there are arrangements to have his wife Grace Mugabe take over the reins after he steps down. Here in West Africa, Burkina Faso is on our minds, as we look into the womb of time to see how the country will fare after President Blaise Campoaré was chased out of office amidst protests after he allegedly tried to amend the constitution to extend his 27-year rule. The people of neighbouring Burkina Faso deployed their people power to send a strong message to the world that when political outrage promises to be too outrageous, it is cowardice not to show any form of outrage. That is also audacity. Whether there is hope for reform or no hope at all, people have learnt to hope against hope.
In March last year, Emmanuel Bombande’s West African Network for Peace-building (WANEP) predicted a heated political temperature in countries in the sub region, including Burkina Faso, where the political class seemed to have maintained never-ending control over the masses. These regimes are usually marked by human rights abuses, poverty, unemployment and general despondency among the working class.
On Friday, 7th November 2014, panellists on Joy FM’s Ghana Connect show discussed the economic and political realities in Ghana in the light of recent happenings in neighbouring Burkina Faso and other countries on the continent. If middle class Ghanaian citizens could mobilise themselves to ‘Occupy the Flagstaff House’ to protest the harsh living conditions in the country, it is a harbinger of things to come, a panellist opined. The discussion was also against the background that some top religious personalities in the country had warned of upheavals and an Arab Spring type of public dissent if we did not pray for our dear country. Is it time to reappraise and reassess the temperament of the Ghanaian in the face of worsening economic living conditions?
Like the Chinese, we believe in proverbs. When you see your neighbour’s beard on fire, don’t hurry to quench it. Instead, fill all the empty vessels in your house with water. As you prop the plantain in your farm, spare a thought for the bananas too, for there would be hunger. Well, there could be hunger in Ghana, but there would never be a bloody Ghana Spring, even if living conditions become worse. We would continue to express dissent and bare our teeth to the politicians of this country up to the tipping point, but we will never tip over the last point. And I say this with some audacity too.
Well, maybe I just fell of the turnip truck (uninformed or naïve) considering the biting reality around us, where water is an expensive luxury and electricity is rationed like blood for patients on their sickbeds. When you look around you, there isn’t much progress except platitudes and promises which promise nothing. Yet there is also the angry feeling that there is mismanagement, public graft and colossal waste of our limited resources while the rest of us are made to believe that our geese are swans (to be too optimistic). If the conditions here are as bad as those in Burkina Faso and Cameroon and Zimbabwe, then the prophets have spoken.
With a number of coups and other political misadventures in our checkered history, we wouldn’t say we do not have the audacity to shout when we feel the pinch. Indeed most Ghanaians would have a bigger audacity to cut their dog collars like Archbishop Sentamu, or show obstinate disproval to tyranny like Thoko Banda, but Ghanaians recognise that the times ahead would be harder if we do not respond appropriately. That is not cowardice; it is a tacit acknowledgement of the painful reality that things will not change simply because violence was deployed. We do not have a very solid democracy here; mostly we have survived trying moments because we have learnt to make do and make mend of whatever we have been able to save from the rubble.
Well, incidentally, that is where the danger lies. How long can people make do and make mend? When people are pushed too close to the tipping point, they cannot tickle themselves and laugh. That will be flapdoodle (nonsense). They may tip over.
By Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin