Opinion: What comes after the number 59?
Date published: Sunday, 13th March 2016
The Author, Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng
The answer, of course, is sixty, six-zero. Ghana will be 60 years in less than 12 months from now, which is an important milestone.
The 60th anniversary, known as the diamond jubilee, has been an important historic milestone around the world since Queen Victoria of Britain celebrated her 60th anniversary in June 1897.
Another reason why the Diamond Jubilee is regarded as important is because of the character of the diamond gem; the word “diamond” comes from the Greek word adamas, which means unbreakable or unconquerable.
Many commentators have likened the 59-year-old Ghana to a person approaching old age pension, and while there is nothing wrong with glorious old age, 60 years in the life of a nation is really nothing but baby years.
Therefore, we must go into our Diamond Jubilee believing that we are a nation of unbreakable spirit, and the best is yet to come.
Unfortunately, as the Akan proverb says, nsu reba a, mframa di kan, to wit, the rain is preceded by the wind, or coming events cast their shadows.
The nature of the 59th anniversary independence celebration, or indeed the golden jubilee nine years ago, should alert us to the probability of the diamond celebration ending up as an embarrassing shambles.
In most countries in the world, we should see signs of preparation one year to such an important anniversary. At the very least, the main preparatory committees would be in place. As at now, there is no indication of any awareness of the coming jubilee, and therein lies the danger of a repetition of the bad aftertaste of the golden jubilee celebration.
The past week has been traumatic for us as Ghanaians. The small matter of the badly produced Independence Day brochure has been a huge issue, especially on social media where the disaster started trending while the parade was underway at the Black Star Square.
The issue has been wrapped in the usual cocoon of black humour, but it is no laughing matter. This was one issue that pricked the self-respect of every Ghanaian who has national pride coursing through his or her veins.
The disaster now known as “brochuregate” should not have happened and it is important that we understand why it happened in order to ensure that such national shame will not befall us again. It is unfortunate that this issue has landed on the desk of Mr Francis Arthur, the acting Director of the Information Services Department, who is my friend and fellow member of the National Media Commission. He is a diligent person who must be pained for such a mishap to occur under his watch.
One cannot be certain why and how the brochure was printed without proper editing, and it is too much to expect a proper public postmortem to be conducted in Ghana; that is not our way. We can only speculate and conjecture about what happened and provide speculative remedies which may or may not apply.
One of the most probable causes of the fiasco is TIME. In Ghana, we do not value time. We do not see time as a vital resource which ought to be managed like any other management variable in order to arrive at the desired EXCELLENT result.
It is possible that that the brochure was produced on March 5, or even in the morning of the Independence Day itself. I have no way of knowing if this is what happened but generally in event planning in Ghana, we tend to leave communication matters to the last minute as an afterthought.
We could not have forgotten so soon the other public communication debacle that befell President Mahama; I am referring to the case of the missing presidential speech pages. Then again, time played a major role in the painful episode as it turned out that the speech was printed and collated very close to the delivery time at the event at which it occurred.
As a matter of routine practice, we wait too long before embarking on tasks that are definitely going to have to be executed by set dates. Even Christmas catches us by surprise in this country. Is this by design or default?
We all know that when jobs are given out on time, all sides can scrutinise the contract to ensure that it is properly set out with financial efficiency built into it. So we lose by spending a lot more for badly done jobs.
A case in point is the Golden Jubilee celebration nine years ago. The Golden Jubilee is an even more important milestone and yet the planning committee was set up with less than a year to go. The Minority and Majority MPs jostled over the committee and budget almost to the day of the event.
Today, there is little that can be shown as evidence that this country celebrated its golden jubilee less than a decade ago.
Indeed, the whole golden jubilee celebration was mired in accusations of corruption and the aftertaste, which still lingers on, is rather bitter. If the planning committee had been set up earlier with proper mechanisms for scrutiny and discussion the result could have been different.
Another possible cause of the debacle is who did what as opposed to who was supposed to do what. As at this writing, it has emerged that the ISD did not as an institution produce the brochure; it was produced by a subcommittee of the “planning committee”. Was this a public planning committee and who were on it? What were their terms of reference and mandate? Who were they accountable to and how was their work financed?
We have to answer these questions because of we have allowed “ad-hocism”, the state of making policy and creating institutions on the hoof, to become a fact of life.
In the life of this country over the past 59 years, we have created thousands of committees, subcommittees, and the like, at a huge cost to the nation but with no clear value for money plan. This ad-hocism is not the result of incompetence as some contend, but often the result of recourse to political expedience that works to the advantage of the party in power.
In Ghana, we don’t like planning. We even glorify in spontaneity as a mark of cleverness. I have seen people described on events programmes as “Guest Speaker” turn up to speak without notes. They think they are being clever but it shows lack of discipline and respect for the audience.
Similarly, we cannot do things just “anyhow by heart”, as we put it, and expect excellent results. Things don’t work that way. The diamond jubilee is on its way; we should not leave it to chance, or worse to a party clique to execute. We have seen it done before in that way, and we did not like it. The authorities must begin the planning now. It is an important moment to emphasise national excellence and unity of purpose.
We must remember the famous poem by Longfellow:
The heights by great men
reached and kept were not
attained by sudden flight,
but they, while their companions slept,
were toiling upward in the night
In other words, there is nothing spontaneous about greatness. We have to remember the dictum by our own Dr Kwame Nkrumah: ORGANISATION DECIDES EVERYTHING. At the heart of organisation is PLANNING.
The planning for an excellent celebration in 2017 must start now. It must be an inclusive process and must define our purpose as a nation. It must be transparent and efficient. It must represent the best of Ghana.
So, what comes after 59? The answer is not just 60 but planning for 60!