Let’s Acknowledge Dr Kwesi Botchwey’s Political Grace!

My readers would recall that I commented on Dr Mahamudu Bawumia’s lecture right here in this column, and suggested to the organisers at Central University that the other side of the story of our economy should be told on the same platform by the likes of Professor Kwesi Botchwey, Mr Ato Ahwoi or Mr Kwame Peprah for a balanced view to be made available to the Ghanaian public.

As it turned out, Prof. Kwesi Botchwey secured the opportunity to give that version, and he did so last Tuesday evening. Since Central University never published beforehand the list of speakers billed to give these lectures, I am not in a position to claim either way that my suggestion to them carried any weight.

Be that as it may, I am now compelled by my own earlier reaction to Dr Bawumia lecture to say a few things about that of Prof. Botchwey. The main difference in approach between the two lectures was that while Dr Bawumia kept to the purely economic with jabs at the politics, Prof. Botchwey, with his practical experience as a former finance minister, hewed with his usual skill and confidence to the path of political economy, that is, assessing the political drivers of economic decision making as the path to explaining changes in living conditions and popular perceptions of same.

One would have expected those who had hailed Dr Bawumia to have immediately issued a statement congratulating Prof. Botchwey on agreeing with the former in their individual assessments and gone ahead to offer concrete suggestions on a consensual way forward in economic decision making in these trying times. Rather, the convergence of views between the politically experienced Prof. Botchwey and the technocrat Dr Bawumia has become an opportunity for the gross display of the politics of cynicism, gleeful and malicious fault-finding and pointless carping at the heels of decision makers.
Self-seeking evidence of corruption

The reaction to Prof. Botchwey’s lecture has proven abundantly the kernel of what he said about the divisions in our society, the endless moaning by the opposition, the anecdotal self-seeking evidence of corruption and the refusal to believe anything that is said by government officials. Being gracious enough to admit that your opponent may be right after all cannot lead to mutual respect and acceptance of a common destiny leading to fruitful co-operation by all parties, but be the excuse to sharpen division and prevent the cultivation of consensus in nation building.

I have been intrigued by the citation by both speakers of the negative impact on our expenditure of interest payments on loans contracted by the government. It would be interesting and revealing if the bulk of these loans were contracted before or after 2009. We all recall that one of the stated reasons for the January 13, 1972 coup were hefty interest payments by the Busia government on loans “vitiated by corruption,’’ to use the phrase employed at the time. It turned out later that the bulk of all those loans were contracted in the time of President Nkrumah. The interest had to be paid to maintain the financial credibility of Ghana in the international community.

The thrust of my reaction to Prof. Botchwey’s speech is the open and honest recognition of political graciousness, and grabbing it with both hands by all patriotic and public-spirited citizens to turn the political goodwill that has been generated into what can take us all forward.

Political graciousness

For some of us, the act and art of political graciousness is akin to a poisoned chalice whose contents people find impossible to swallow. Fortunately for the overwhelming majority of Ghanaians who voted for the current system of democratic governance, we have in place all the legal tools and structures to do away with mindless and unfocused opposition to everything.

In July 1996, I had the chance to review in this very paper Professor Adu-Boahen’s book on the history of his alma mater, Mfantsipim School. After listening intently to Prof. Botchwey, I went back to the book and found the following which I am sure will cause an outrage in the breasts of the political bridge-bombers of today.

“However, it was during the civilian regime of the Second Republic that followed the short military interlude in September 1969 that the school made its greatest contribution to the political life of this country. At that time, not only the Prime Minister, K. A Busia, and his two deputies, J. Kwesi Lamptey and William Ofori-Atta, but also the Leader of the Opposition, Madjitey, and his deputy, G. K. Agama, were all Old Boys of Kwabotwe.

I am sure that this is an incomparable achievement. It was surely the apogee of the contribution of the school to the political development of the country. It is one of the greatest political calamities of this country that this second civilian administration was brought to a premature end in January, 1972, only 27 months later, as a result of the most unnecessary and unjustifiable coup that has ever occurred in our history.

Political consensus

The very fact that the economic and social policies pursued by the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) from 1983 to 1992, and are still being pursued by its successor, the National Democratic Congress government since then, are virtually identical with those that the Busia regime inaugurated in 1971 – namely, the open-market economy, privatisation of state-owned industries, devaluation, the junior secondary school (JSS) system, decentralisation of the administrative machinery etc.- show quite palpably that, had the Kwabotwe products been given time, our country would have been different from what it is today. (culled from pages 492-3 of ‘Mfantsipim and the Making of Ghana’, published by Sankofa Educational Publishers, Accra, 1996).

This acknowledgement by Ghana’s foremost historian and sometime presidential candidate of the New Patriotic Party falls in line with the author’s bold assertion in his famous JB Danquah Memorial Lectures in 1988 that the June 4, 1979 revolution was necessary and inevitable. As a historian, Professor Boahen knew the value of acknowledging the contribution of the past to the present. It permits one not only to move on but to move on in the knowledge that a better today can be constructed by all.

For converging with Dr Bawumia, Professor Botchwey has opened the door to purposeful, consensual politics. It is left to all of us who claim to love our country to walk through it to a better tomorrow.