How could it when the period itself was the stuff of which politics, legend and history were made? Revolution was transitioning into democracy, private media was blossoming and free speech was held aloft like a banner flaying in the winds of exciting fourth republican democracy. Ghana in 1992-1993 was a truly exciting place to be and I, less than 20, was quite fully enthralled by the mystique of it all. There was clearly a sense in which one felt that something important was happening politically in Ghana.
Everybody had a story and on Monday mornings, Prof P.AV Ansah, chose the platform of the Ghanaian Chronicle and the path of flowery language and vivacious panache to tell his. Thus was my avid reading of newspapers, namely the Mirror, Graphic and my discovery of the Chronicle, accentuated. Buying these papers consumed virtually all my meager pocket money. In the Graphic and Chronicle, I discovered certain high profile writers like Carl Mutt and Ansah who came with such complex constructions that my headache was often only half-salved by their sheer dexterity with the language and the passion driving their views.
The Chronicle in those days was more or less leader of the private pack with very juicy and colourful political stories quite distinct from the very formal style of the Graphic. They were telling similar stories from new angles. When the Graphic reported a Chairman Rawlings speech, it would be so polished you wondered what was not being reported. The Chronicle’s report would be far more colourful, and capture all the captivating off the cuff comments.
Through this relationship with the Chronicle, I got introduced to the “Monday morning terror,” –Prof Ansah, who wrote long articles. The paper presented his decision to write for them as a major scoop. Kofi Coomson, then editor in chief, talked endlessly about PAVA’s punishing demands for rigorous adherence to high journalistic standards. Typically, PAVA was alleged to be in the habit of subjecting each edition of the Chronicle to high-handed review with blood-drenched pages being his trademark. Following this, he would call Coomson and give him the best end of his harsh tongue.
Clearly, reading in those days was akin to an obsession fueled by ample opportunities for practice. Here, my friend, class mate in Achimota and neighbor Robert Nii Arday Clegg and I had each other. He a very stubborn debater, we would sometimes spend almost three hours between 1000pm and 100am debating various political happenings in Ghana. No topic was too sacred and PAVA’s latest article inter alia was recommended reading.
The absolute truth though was that it was not everything PAVA wrote that my young mind fully grasped. Take for example his article in which he mused about his agenda if he were President at the end of which he concluded that he was perhaps oversimplifying things from the “vantage point of a decrepit and dilapidated ivory tower abstract-minded professor…” Often, I got the general sense of the meaning, other times I looked up particular words but because Graphic and Coomson touted these men as great writers, I ploughed on regardless.
In that same article titled “My agenda as President,” Prof Ansah takes his victims to the cleaners in a characteristic no holds barred attack that was a sight to behold. He scathingly writes, “The discussion was about the budget, and Mr. Amissah-Arthur, the outgoing deputy Secretary for Finance and Economic Planning and one Mr. Victor Selormey ,… , had been made cheap sport of by the opposition panelists. When the continuation was started on the 31st, Mr. Amissah-Arthur started talking rather incoherently and all indications were that he was not going to acquit himself anymore creditably than he had done on the previous occasion. I felt so bored that I tuned off. General speculation is that some irate government official watched how Mr. Amissah-Arthur was disgracing himself and took his phone to order the blackout with such lack of sophistication, elegance and finesse.”
Today, Amissah-Arthur is acquitting himself as governor of the central bank in a manner that some industry experts claim is quite creditable which makes me wonder what PAVA’s take would have been!
PAVA had a rich sense of humor which shone through his writings. Promising to champion women’s rights as President, he swore to “recruit and mobilize the capable services of my beloved and splendid spouse” –incidentally the same woman who had in other pieces been described as a domestic tyrant! He would have loved President Mills’s pledge to significantly appoint women into his cabinet and be aghast at his failure to deliver on that promise! He described the prospect of a Ministry of Women and Children’s affairs as “patronizing and paternalistic even if it is motivated by good intentions” giving the impression its current existence would have provoked fierce resistance.
Promising to be both “… God-fearing and God-loving …” President PAVA would be ecstatic at the current expertise of Ghanaian politicians in perfecting the art of leveraging the country’s religious platform. With copious visits to Chief Imams, Bishops and high priests, awash with Presidential declarations on God’s presidency and opposition prayer sessions, PAVA would be delighted. I suspect however that the phrase ‘God fearing and God loving God” might most probably be a jibe against Chairman Rawlings who at the time said on a church platform to great controversy that he “did not fear” but rather “loved God!”
In probably another jibe, President PAVA pledged to show respect to Parliamentarians and eschew any attitude that suggested, even remotely, that their positions were owed to him. 19 years on, he might well conclude that the disrespect is more in the direction of the elite to the common man. I have heard an MP say on radio “Kwasea! You are a fool.” More recently, another … has been at the forefront of stoking ethnic fires and calling for Rwanda – style genocide!
PAVA’s presidency promised an aggressive decentralization policy as a means of ensuring “equitable distribution of national resources in the name of social justice” Today, he would be mighty impressed with talk of district level elections which as we have come to realize, peaks pre- election and dips, nay is quenched, post-election. Power, as they say is truly sweet! Which president prays for his opponent to be District Chief Executive? And so we wait for that day!
A staunch advocate of press freedom, he advocated a free pluralistic media as a means of holding government accountable. Considering his advocacy for the establishment of the National Media Commission, he would be impressed about the establishment and growth of the NMC and other governance institutions.
Of course I totally disagreed with him that the 1966 coup was the only “Justifiable coup d’etat in the history of this country which toppled the obscene and absurd dictatorship 0f Nkrumah …” How could anyone approve this CIA sponsored mission that significantly rolled back the development clock?
Apparently so enamored with PAVA’s writing, I recall a reader’s letter to the editor in which he propositioned PAVA for the hand of his only daughter. I9 years this week after his passing, I am yet to successfully extract a full true confession from Esi, herself a young academic, what she made of that amorous application!