Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Our ‘governors’ have failed us again

I have always said that prophesy can sometimes be such an easy exercise, you do not need spiritual powers to have that gift. The just ended Accra Summit of Heads of State of Africa has more than reinforced that belief in me.

I predicted quietly to myself, and I am sure many others did same, that the whole talk about a grand debate taking place at the Summit is a joke, because I did not believe that our leaders are bothered or have the time for such important debates let alone worry themselves about changing the existing situation, which will mean that for those of them who still want to remain in office for a long time, their roles will change from Presidents to Governors of States (formerly countries).

You know what that means by extension? Their globetrotting and opportunities to wine & dine with presidents of rich nations (never mind the fact that a lot of times they have to wait for hours for a 15 minute meeting with these leaders) will cease. And for those who know very well that they cannot even continue to win elections in their home countries unless they continue to perpetuate fraud & jumbled elections, they’ll not even contemplate contesting for the Presidency of Africa.

I enjoyed the pre-Summit Civil Society activities, which helped greatly in putting the issues, the concerns, why it must be now etc, into perspective and get the public to be excited about what was expected during the three days of the heads of state meeting. With all said and done however, what some of us expected is exactly what came to pass... no properly defined position and decision on a forward march to the consolidation of our suffering continent into one?

A decision that would have necessitated that the leaders engage in critical thinking sessions to map out strategies for ensuring that all preparatory works and consolidation of systems start. But they didn’t have the time to do that, and I knew that the quest and agitation by many around the continent and the Diaspora that a firm decision be taken to form a Union Government will not happen. Infact there was no debate let alone a grand one.

The only ones among the African leaders who were outspoken and passionate about Africa coming together were Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe) and Brother Gadafi (Lybia). They, we all knew where they stood, and in as much as we expected that some of their colleagues will join them in pushing their agenda, these are for Christ sake, only two out of fifty-three heads of state. So it came to pass that the leaders, like the period of Ghana’s struggle for Independence, chose to ignore the call for Unity Now.

What that means though is that, the Union government may not materialise during my life time, because even the Now agenda was intended for 2015 (eight years away). So, what did the heads of state come to do here?

At least, Bob Mugabe & Brother Gadafi took the opportunity to touch base with their folks (tell you what, a lot of the people bussed to these programs knew next to nothing about the two individuals) and Mugabe is still the eloquent orator that he is. The leaders though, just took an opportunity to fly out of their countries, had some good luncheons and dinners and temporarily forgot about the troubles and pressures back home.

But on a more serious note, our leaders are NOT SERIOUS.

Can you imagine that a meeting of the APRM council that should have taken place on Saturday June 30 did not happen because the heads of state billed for that session had not arrived? Why?

Poor organisation
Our organisation is always botched as a country. Other than that, why on earth can we coordinate the most lousy arrival plan for the heads of state & their spouses to the Conference venue, a situation that led to late arrivals, uncoordinated drop off etc?

Clearly, whoever the people who were in charge of organisation and implementation were, they failed woefully and again succeeded in subjecting the country to negative comments from visiting delegates and journalists.

For many who were watching the heads of state & their spouses arrive, driven by clearly confused drivers who had either not been properly briefed or overwhelmed at driving a president, and further confused by overzealous police officers who clearly were not qualified to be there and also displayed such undiplomatic & bad manners, it was a clear case of confusion everywhere.

An AFP reporter who has been their AU correspondent for many years could not agree more with one of the delegates that this is the worst AU summit organisation they’ve attended. The AFP reporter’s conclusion was further enhanced by the shabby, regrettable & avoidable treatment meted out to journalists, many of whom struggled for days to secure their accreditation.

To give you a classical case of one of the police officers who kept on confusing the presidential convoys when they arrive at the Centre... this man shocked many onlookers when he repeatedly asked the drivers to roll down their windows and asked “who is inside? President...? From where..?” All these to the full hearing of the VVVIP occupant of the car. And believe me, these cars had the names of the countries embossed as number plates, so my office watchman can even determine that this is a president or first lady.

What a disgrace?

At some point, some unhappy folks had to pass on information to him that he’s disgracing the country. I do not mean any offence, but why won’t we just allow the military especially the MPs to be in charge of these things? They are more efficient, professional, take instructions (no matter the person’s personal character traits) from superiors and will not be walking about engaging in conversations all around when there’s a job to be done.

Of media friendliness & botched plans
Left with no choice but to stand in the sun and count the arrivals, having been ‘banned’ from the main conference hall, my colleague and I enjoyed the spectacle of a confused police officer and drivers for a long time.

And know what? A number of the heads of state and their first ladies did not come in with a despatch rider, just their car with some men running after it. Yet still others came in with as many as six despatch riders. Know what that tells me?

The In-charge clearly failed on the day, because at least one outrider should have come in with the convoys, and that will have resolved the confusion of some aide de camps alighting at the stairs when the leaders should be getting down at the VVIP entrance.

And why were we banned? Let me not talk about it, except to say that I was compelled to speak out on that day very strongly because I felt rather insulted by the treatment meted out to us and especially the foreign journalists, and the impressions they were carrying away about us.

For how can anyone explain that I flew into a country to cover a program, get pictures and get some good interviews, spent days to get accredited, not to talk about hotel bills, airfare etc, and on the D-day, I fail to send back to my newspaper, TV or radio station any ‘GOOD’ stories?

That was the situation that befell journalists. And before we are insulted and described as people who want to be favoured always, let me explain that for me personally, my interest is not going to sit in a hall with the heads of state. No.

Good event planning and strategy would have seen the setting up of a professional media centre with audio (and possibly video) feeds, big screens providing shots of the hall from various angles and allowing only accredited photojournalists and TV cameramen to the Conference venue.

The accredited journalists will then be allowed into the Conference area after the ceremony so we can do interviews and get clarification from officials, where required. But that was not the case.

We were all accredited and a day to the D-day, news came that only 150 journalists (excluding cameramen) will be allowed in there.

And on Sunday, they decided that journalists and cameramen will go in batches of (was it) 5 or 15 minutes and come out. Jesus? Foreign TV stations were asked to pick their feed from GTV, as if GTV will do interviews for the Chinese TV crew or the France TV crew who were around.

GTV was charging some dollars for the feed, and their sound was awful with equally bad pictures, and when the GTV feed went off, the foreign crew who were not picking the feed anyway, suddenly started filming the empty screens. Can you blame them?

Blame whoever thought that the last minute decision to get both radio & TV journalists to get their audio & video from none other than GBC. Ha ha ha!!! And when the opening ceremony was over, journalists were barred, forcefully and shamelessly prevented from living the media village either to go home or catch a delegate or two at the entrance for an interview.

You should see how our overzealous policemen were manhandling anybody in sight unless you have a tag that is not media or your tag has GBC under it. As was noted by my friend Raymond, was that place a media centre or exhibition centre? On sale were different kinds of bitters (also available for free tasting), chocolates, kente etc, and the place was more like a walk about for just anybody.

Those who were contracted to manage and coordinate the Media Centre, have no business providing that kind of service because they do not understand what it means to do that. Let’s save ourselves these embarrassments, and I only hope that the Information Ministry officials will begin to realise that the impressions visitors especially journalists take home about us can be damaging.

As for the GJA, sometimes I don’t know what to say. But thanks all the same to Frank Agyekum & Mathew McKwame for their not too successful efforts at helping, only because things had deteriorated before they moved in. And is the Information ministry and the GJA aware of the treatment meted out to the BBC World Service crew at the Summit... their satellites, laptop, camera and other equipment thrown away and scattered by one of the security operatives?

The BBC was told in the face by this senior security operative that they are not needed in Ghana. This is supposed to be a media friendly administration, is it not? At least somebody, outside of the Information ministry though, heard and has requested to meet and apologise to the BBC team in town. Maybe, the information ministry is not bothered about that. Oh, GH.



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