KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY HIS MAJESTY OTUMFUO OSEI TUTU II, ASANTEHENE, AT THE ANNUAL AWARDS NIGHT OF THE GHANA JOURNALIST ASSOCIATION (GJA) AT THE BANQUET HALL, STATE HOUSE, ACCRA ON SATURDAY, 30TH AUGUST, 2014
It is a privilege to be your Guest Speaker for this year’s Annual Awards ceremony. You will appreciate that it is not easy for us to accept to travel from Kumasi for such an event, but we have had no qualms whatsoever about making the journey for tonight because of the importance we attach to your Association and the respect we have for the media fraternity.
You will also appreciate, I hope, the little difficulty a Guest Speaker for an occasion like tonight has. This is a celebratory event, a happy occasion when the cream of your profession gather to celebrate their achievements for the year, to let your hair down and forget the cares and tension of the past while you share and enjoy the plaudits of your peers.
You necessarily require a convivial atmosphere, with good wine and good food to compensate, if only momentarily, for the grinding toil of the years gone by. The last thing you need on such an occasion is a killjoy who will dampen the atmosphere with any unpleasant thoughts.
The trouble is that your invitation inferred that in addition to good food for the palate you craved for some food for thought from your Guest Speaker. And food for thought, as you perfectly know, does not always come coated in honey. So I hope you will understand if what we say also secretes some bitter taste in the mouth. I take comfort in the knowledge that I am in the midst of a hardy bunch of journalists who are steeled to grapple with reality.
So let me waste no time first in congratulating this year’s Award winners. The media landscape in Ghana continues to be vibrant and I guess competition for honours this year has been intense. To be adjudged worthy of honour by your own peers in such climate must be truly fulfilling. But you must not stop there. There is a global media network out there looking for talent to nurture and to grow. You have had the example of the late Komla Dumor, an award winning journalist of the GJA who went on to become a trail blazer with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) but whose life was tragically cut short during the year. Let the Komla example inspire you to continue searching for excellence in your craft. I address this not to the award winners alone, but to all of you, members of the Ghana Journalist Association (GJA) to continue to strive to improve and to aim for excellence. You may have missed out this year but there are oceans beyond for you to conquer.
Yours is a unique profession and you do not need the service of a public relations consultant to sell yourself to us. Every day and practically every hour, you are in the public gaze. We read your output. We listen to you. We see you. If what is offered is good quality, we see and feel it and we applaud. We also see through the uninformed and untutored, and observe the arrogance and pomposity of those who see their media opportunity as conferring on them unbridled power to abuse and vilify.
The pursuit of professionalism has its rewards but the shelf-life of the arrogant and untutored will be short. For, in this competitive environment, the public will be the judge and they will judge with their wallets. We will return to this theme later but let us take a step back, to consider the theme for this year’s award night.
The letter of your president Mr. Monney inviting us to be your Guest Speaker tonight conveyed some lofty sentiment. On the theme chosen for tonight’s ceremony, he explained: “it has been chosen in furtherance of the GJA’s efforts at contributing to building a strong and stable democracy in Ghana and to motivate the media to inspire national development through monitoring national projects and programmes and in holding public officers accountable.” He added: “It is the Association’s belief that the theme will inspire the nation to recommit itself to work to have the media as partners rather than adversaries in development.”
I hasten to add that the chosen theme for this ceremony is: “using development journalism to discern and defend the national interest.”
Mr. Chairman, I deduce from this that as an Association, you have formed the professional judgement that there is a need to define or redefine the national interest within the democratic framework and you have concluded that “development journalism” offers the short cut towards this “national interest” around which all of you, and all of us, can coalesce. At the risk of being over simplistic, the Ghana Journalist Association (GJA) want us and its members to place development at the heart of the national interest and to join together–media, politicians, civil societies–as partners in pursuit of the goal of development. I consider it of the utmost importance that you who are the torchbearers of freedom of expression should be spearheading the search for what I will see as a national consensus on issues of development.
From the dawn of civilization, humanity has been moulded by the pen and the sword. The sword has conquered territories and nations but it is the pen, the ideas flowing from the pen that have shaped our thoughts and enabled us develop the systems of governance marking the difference between us and other mammals. We have grown to believe that the pen is mightier than the sword, although I have had to wonder why then any moment Jerry John Rawlings fires even a verbal missile, all the ink in our pens dry up. Unless of course we want to believe that there is something in our Jerry which makes him even mightier than the sword and the pen.
Still, as the pen advanced civilization and helped shape great nations, the press came to be recognised as the fourth estate of the realm. To place it in today’s context, it means that the press joins the rulers or executive, the legislators who make laws and the judiciary who interpret and enforce the laws, in a quadrangle for sound governance. In essence, the role of the press has been marked out as every inch as important as the makers and enforcers of the laws and every inch as critical as those who exercise executive authority over us.
I am not sure that even you, hardy professionals that you are, fully comprehend the awesome power this gives the media. True, you may not desire any mandate from the votes of the people as executives and legislators, but that happens every four years as the case may be. In contrary, the press, are the permanent interface between the people and their rulers. Through you the people can speak and are spoken to by their rulers on a daily basis.
The rulers themselves can do nothing without you because without you, they cannot reach out and connect to their people to maintain their confidence and support. Your job is to inform, educate and entertain and as you go up the ladder, you analyse, counsel and admonish. It is a truly awesome responsibility that can only be discharged through sound education, intellectual rigour, a high sense of responsibility and total commitment, tinged with a dose of modesty.
You may not desire your mandate from the votes of the people as legislatures and executives do, but the foundation of your authority is no less profound. It desires and rests upon the solid rock of history, and the immediate moral foundation encapsulated in the sanctity of truth. The first thing you learn on entry into your profession is “facts are sacred. Comments are free.” It tells you that the sanctity of truth is the foundation of true journalism. If you sacrifice the truth, you not only destroy reputations but I suggest to you that you crucify the media profession itself and endanger the society to which you belong.
We will do well to remember this in the context of the pursuit of accountability in public life which is the lofty goal of every good journalist and which you seek to pursue under your agenda for development journalism. Accountability is not a pseudonym for vilification and wanton destruction of integrity. It is a desirable exercise to hold people to account for their actions, based upon facts, for their failings, based on facts, and for their judgements, based upon facts. Not every citizen is able to gather facts but the journalist, by his training, is supposed to be equipped to ferret out information, to know where and how to find it, distill it, verity it and present it in the form that we ordinary folk will understand.
When you depart from the path of truth and replace conjecture for facts, when you conjure figures and allow others to manipulate information for the purpose of destroying others, you not only destroy the reputation of your victims, you turn your profession into a gamblers playground, undeserving of the place of honour it occupies in the realm. I need not bore you, because I am sure you are fully aware of the gravity of the consequences attendant to such misuse of the media. Nations have gone to war on the basis of wrong information. Governments have fallen because of wrong information. Powerful companies have collapsed on the basis of wrong information. Individual reputations have been ruined beyond redemption, and many moved to commit suicide on the basis of wrong information. Is there anyone here who will want to belong, or want his or her child to belong to a profession that can bring such consequences upon society?
I am here tonight because I know that is not the kind of media you want to represent and I am persuaded that you are as concerned as anyone else about the lapses of a few elements that have had the potential to bring the whole media into disrepute and what you are doing represents another effort in the direction.
To be fair, I think, in spite of some lamentable lapses, the press in Ghana has overall done a good job in helping to shape the history of our country. The press was a spearhead in the struggle for Ghana’s independence and the press has been an active participant in the process of change from the first to the fourth Republican constitution. But while it has been a positive partner for change, the press has not established the same credit when it comes to sustaining the change and building an enduring foundation for the nation. It seems we have been so besotted with the notion of change that no sooner have we effected one than we began casting our eyes around for the next one. In effect, we have become change hunters rather than nation builders.
I believe this is what has dawned on you now which has informed your choice of the theme for this year. You want our journalists to shift their focus and identify something they can grasp as the national interest and you think that can be found in development journalism.
Mr. Chairman, there may be some cynical voices who may question your motives against the backdrop of the partisan divisions in our society. My response is, it is precisely because of the rancour, tension and confusion generated by the excessive partisanship of national issues that we now need to pause and define areas of national interest to which we shall all be committed as Ghanaians rather than as members of political parties. This should not be seen in any way as a step away from the national commitment to multi-party democracy.
History tells us that notwithstanding the inherent conflict of ideas, democracy has never been a barrier to any nation’s pursuit of its national interests. Indeed, the history of every great nation, most of all the nations whose democratic ideals we are trying to covert, has been a story of their unyielding endeavour to project, promote and defend their national interests.
As our diplomats and students of international relations know too well, the cornerstone of British and indeed Western foreign policy is the notion that there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests.
Those interests are the national interests derived from their common values and above all their vital economic interests. Who can deny that where those interests are at stake, there is no Conservative or Labour, no Republican or Democrat, no SDP or FDP. There is just the British, the American or the German interests and those interests prevail regardless
of who occupies 10 Downing Street or the White House.
By contrast, in Ghana, even the myth that the Black Stars unites us has been shattered by the shambles of Brazil and we are now more than ever consigned into our petty political pigeon holes of NDC and NPP with others moaning from the peripheries. I suggest to you that we are in danger of misapplying the multiparty system to the detriment of the nation. and your initiative provides an appropriate platform to begin the quest for change.
We should forever bury the supremacy of the party and install and entrench in our minds that the nation is supreme and the national interest overrides everything else. So back to the old question, what constitutes the national interest for us? We may tum to the Derivative Principles of the Constitution for guidance. But from that broad canvas, let us focus on the ultimate issue of national interest.
Mr. Chairman, I have alluded to what history tells us about the great nations of the world. It is pertinent for me to add that throughout human history, the only interest that has really mattered to them and to all nations alike is the economic interest of their people. Across the length and breadth of the planet, the quest for the development of individuals and of nations, is what has propelled mankind forward. It was the quest for development that drove the great discoverers and adventurers of ancient times to battle with treacherous uncharted seas. It was the driving force behind empire building. And it is the quest for development of China that has sent millions of Chinese citizens across the world, into the remotest villages of Africa, in the search for raw materials. President Bill Clinton captured it accurately in his famous campaign slogan: “it’s the economy, stupid”.
So for a country like ours, the ultimate national interest can only be the development and growth of the economy, how we manage and grow the economy to provide for the things our people need, food on the table, a roof over our heads, to provide for the education of our children, health care for the sick, and above all, jobs for the people. You are therefore right on the need to focus on development. But we need to be careful here. Development is not about a list of infrastructural projects that can be easily monitored. Development is a product of the policies pursued by our governments. We cannot have sustainable development without sound sustainable economic policies. So we cannot presume to focus attention on development only by monitoring the implementation of projects without coming to grips with the broad policies driving or hindering development. It stands to reason that while project monitoring may serve a useful purpose, on its own, it could also be an unintended diversion from the crux of our problem. Therefore, you can do no better than brace yourselves not only for the impartial monitoring of projects but also for the objective analysis and evaluation of public policies affecting the economy.
In seeking to define issues of national interest relative to national development, the national currency will have to be of high priority. We could not have forgotten so soon, the period in our history when a devaluation of the cedi was an instant signal for a military take-over of government. Thankfully, we have buried the past, and over the past decade or thereabouts, we have had the happy experience of a stable cedi underpinning the remarkable growth of our economy. Sadly, the wheels have turned once again, with the economy in decline and the cedi wobbling.
Because the cedi is so crucial to the stability of the national economy, it is imperative, in my view that we remove it from the realm of partisan politics and place it as an issue of high national interest. This should require us, to strife to insulate the cedi from political and other pressures likely to undermine confidence and reinforce the institutional framework for defending and protecting it in the market place.
We should have no inhibitions about following the practice of the major countries of the world in identifying foreign affairs and defense as areas of national interest requiring consensual policy formulation. But for me, there are two other areas that must be elevated to the national interest pedestrian. I speak of education and what I consider the most unpardonable shame not only to the nation, but to the African continent, namely the filthy environment and the consequential health hazards to which we are exposed.
As you are all aware, from the day of our ascension to the Golden Stool, we proclaimed education as the centre-piece of our reign. We launched the Otumfuo Education Fund and through that and other interventions, we have educated over 7000 Ghanaians, from the primary to the tertiary level. We have supported deprived schools with infrastructure, and have initiated schemes offering incentives to teachers to motivate them to work in the most deprived areas. We have done this because of my passionate belief that education holds the key to the development of the nation. Yes, I am the King of a Warrior Kingdom, but as I declared on our last Akwasidae Kese, the only battle we want to fight is the Battle of Brain Power and the only battleground for that is education. So our commitment to education is total and we have been encouraged by the fact that every government during our 15 years has similarly highlighted education as its number one priority. Indeed, all our statistics show that education consumes the largest chunk of the national budget.
And yet, results of our examinations such as the W.A.S.S.C.E. results just released leaves me wondering whether we are getting real value for the huge investment and effort in education. However one looks at it, a 50% failure rate is not and should not be acceptable to the nation. It tells me that we can no longer ignore the turmoil in the education landscape with teachers and government and employers daggers drawn almost as a matter of routine. Clearly, the turmoil is having an adverse effect. And clearly, the victims are our children.
Beyond the strife and turmoil in labour relations, there is an even more fundamental crisis. In the short time that I have been Asantehene, the education system has changed three times, from three years of senior high school to four years of senior high school and back to three years of senior high school. In fact, if you calculate the delays in their initial enrolment because of the clash of pupils from the four-year period, and the time lost to them through teachers strife, the present crop of pupils only had two and a half years to cover curriculum which had been covered over four years previously.
Our children are the victims today. But in the long run, it is the nation that will suffer. For if we fail to lay the right foundation for our children, we cannot hope to raise the skilled manpower, the men and women with the brain power to lift the national economy from the depths to which we are stuck.
This is a matter of the gravest national interest and some crucial decisions ought to be taken to put an end to the reckless changes which only demoralise and confuse the educational establishment.
Mr. Chairman, even as we enjoy this happy evening, we cannot fail to spare some thought for the plight of our sister countries battling against the new dreaded disease called Ebola. Our hearts go out to our brethren in the affected countries in the sub-region. But while we have been spared thus far, we should not forget we are already in the grips of another wasteful even if easily preventable disease, cholera. We all know the source of the disease. It is caused by our failure to respect the normal simple rules of hygiene.
After nearly 60 years of independence, Ghana is being swallowed in filth and murk. We have created a haven for breeding mosquitoes. Man and cattle breed together in the heart of our cities. We exude pride in ourselves not just as Ghanaians, but as the torch-bearers of African renaissance. How does that pride square with the mounds of refuge in the heart of our cities? And have we dared to count the cost of this shameful neglect. Even beyond the threat of ebola and the tragedy of cholera, the main cause of death in our nation remains malaria and malaria is caused simply by mosquitoes which we are breeding ourselves.
What makes this more tragic is that all available evidence points to the fact that our forefathers and mothers lived in a cleaner environment than we are. The local authorities before us maintained rigorous standards of sanitation control and our mothers, who had not had the benefit of the education we have enjoyed, knew why they had to keep their homes and environs well kept, well swept and devoid of stagnant pools of water. Are we saying that what all our education and social advancement have done is to condition us to abandon our sense of responsibility for our own health and well-being?
And what of our authorities? Our forefathers did not have the benefit of science arid technology as we do today. The fire is such ample technology today that nations have turned their refuse into wealth. While creative nations turn their refuse into wealth, we prefer to let our people die from the refuse.
Mr. Chairman, there is no tenable excuse for this negligence in Ghana or in any African country and my message today, as Africa confronts the twin threats of ebola and cholera, is for our leaders and policy makers to put on their thinking caps.
We need to place the issue of sanitation as a matter of national concern.
Indeed, I suggest we consider a National Emergency for a Clean Environment to bring together, the local authorities, health authorities, education authorities and our traditional rulers to find practical ways of saving our nation from the health hazards brought by our insanitary conditions.
It is not for me to comment on policy challenges that have given rise to the weakness of our economy, the fate of the cedi and the consequential tension we feel around us. But there is one thing on which I simply cannot stay silent. It is something more vicious and more corrosive that is gnawing through our system and which threatens to derail much of what Ghana has achieved. It is called corruption. You know what it is. I know it. The President of the Republic knows it. The chiefs of national security, the law enforcement agencies know it. You, the media, know it.
And yet, the more we have known, the worse it has become. Among my people, from businessmen to farmers to simple folk seeking places for their children, there is mounting despair. The community of international business and finance is expressing concerns that Ghana may be drifting to the tipping point of irredeemable corruption. Is there some salvation on the horizon? Not if you listen to the political class and the debates in the media. For them, corruption is not the issue. The issue is who is better at it, which party has been more corrupt. It tells us that we are in danger of coming to accept the inevitability of corruption as our way of life. And there is plenty of evidence that points in that direction.
As you will appreciate, I have had several encounters with various people with complaints about corruption. There was this one who felt he had become the victim of an obnoxious public officer and was going to teach him a lesson. How was he going to do it? Simple. He had prepared a hefty envelope which he was going to give to a senior police officer to induce him to arrest and “put the fear of God into him”.
When I reminded him that he would be committing a crime by trying to bribe a
police officer, his answer was Otumfuo, how am I going to have redress if I don’t do it? That’s the only way now.
Then there was the other who was certain that he had been cheated out of a contract through corruption. He was determined to expose the corrupt process and for that, he too had prepared another substantial envelope for a media man who had promised to help him. I asked him whether he was going to bribe the media man to expose the bribery of the public officer.
Oh no, he said, the envelope for the media man was just “solidarity”. Musical artistes who have approached me tell me that in order to have their music played on radio, they have to hand out, not bribes, but “payola”. So you see, we are all on what I call a corruption carousel, whirling around with the music.
And yet this is not something to trifle with. It is destroying business. It is undermining national governance. It is frustrating individuals. And it is eroding international confidence in our country.
We must accept that it is part of the problems afflicting the economy today and while we ponder over policy options, we must cry out for some act of courage to tackle the scourge of corruption, not on the peripheries but at the top.
Mr. Chairman, where does all that leave the great hope for “development journalism”? In the face of the elements of corruption, functional deficiencies and resource shortages, can we still put our faith in the media to pursue the national interest espoused here? I believe we can if all concerned are prepared to take some tough measures. First, the media sector will do well to embrace some major structural changes to improve their viability and lessen their vulnerability to extraneous pressures. I recognise that in a multi-party democracy, the media, particularly newspapers, will reflect the views of different political parties, but in a curious way, the interests of democracy are better served by the media loosening ties with political parties and attracting more independent minded expertise.
It is a matter of regret that the media scene has not attracted sound financial investment but I am sure that the success of the pioneering efforts of men like Osei K warne Despite will encourage serious investors to consider what can be done to build a strong and economically viable media. This is important to ensure the media can recruit and sustain the quality of professionals who will take the media to a new level.
The need to consider and embrace change goes beyond possible consolidation of diverse interests. Changes in format will appear imperative if you are to be able to make sense of development journalism. It certainly is offensive to present the entire nation with one set of panelists who will speak with the authority of experts on every subject under the sun, from how to grow tomatoes to nuclear energy, with sports thrown into the bargain. I despair when you assemble a panel of political party communicators with no background in finance or banking or business to discuss critical issues of finance and the national currency.
Surely, This country has an accumulated body of experts who have handled the economy from the first to the fourth Republic, participated in the toughest negotiations with the international financial community and seen us through the peaks and troughs of the economy and we also have men and women in business, banking and finance whose insight the country can benefit from. Make the most of the available expertise and the country will be the better for it.
Mr. Chairman, it is good and right that we maintain our perspective in the midst of all that is falling around us. I have already alluded to the fact that we are passing through difficult times. The fact that we may have been through a similar or even worse experience before can be no comfort.
What matters is to fix the problem. And while we contemplate the role you can play, we must look to the leadership of the state for the solutions. The tendency to tinker with problems by a process of shifting cultivation does not inspire confidence. I am sure the host of business entities that have sponsored you tonight must all be hoping that in the not too distant future, somebody will be providing solutions to the myriad of problems afflicting their business. I am confident too that the multitudes who read or listen to you every day are waiting for solutions too.
The solutions, I have to say, lie in the bosom of one man and only he can provide the answers. So I say unto the President of the Republic, in the seminal words of the Methodist hymn: Master speak. Thy servant heareth.
And let’s hope we will not have to wait too long for a response. In the meantime, Mr. Chairman, I will conclude by asking our dear journalists to ponder over what the Rotary International refer to as the four-way test of the things we think, say or do. The Rotary credo challenges us to ask ourselves four important questions:
Is it the TRUTH? Is it FAIR to all concerned? Will it build GOODWILL and better friendship? Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?
These• questions are not to unsettle you but are fundamental to the common good which are pivotal to any social project of creating a better society and changing the lives of people and country.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your attention and forgive me if I have not helped your appetite.