Letter from Africa: Economic affairs

 
French President Francois Hollande (R) with Ghana's President John Dramani Mahama on 28 May 2013 at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France

In our series of letters from African journalists, Ghanaian writer Elizabeth Ohene, a former government minister and member of the opposition, considers the ways politicians can get everyone's undivided attention.

I have been following the media coverage of two presidents over the past few weeks.

John Dramani Mahama, because he is president of Ghana and I have no choice but to try and follow how he is faring, and President Francois Hollande of France, because if the truth be told, there are some juicy stories circulating about him and I could not resist following how he was faring.

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Elizabeth Ohene

I doubt that any speech on the French economy has received as much attention as the recent Hollande one”

End Quote Elizabeth Ohene

Our President John Mahama was marking his first anniversary in office on 7 January.

Having earlier employed a driving metaphor to describe his performance during his first year of office by stating that he had been in "first gear", the expectation was that he was going to tell us how he would get the vehicle into fourth or fifth gear.

In other words he was going to show us just how fast he was going to move the country forward.

The French president had billed his traditional New Year press event as the occasion to announce big changes in economic management.

Mr Hollande had, by every estimation, had a difficult year.

Nothing new or dramatic happened to force President Mahama to change his well-laid out plans for the 7 January event.

Hot event

Ghana's president could address himself to the issues that were occupying his compatriots: Difficult living conditions; high utility prices; very loud noises over reports of corruption in high places and a brother who allegedly owed a lot of money to a state-owned bank.

At the press conference, Mr Mahama spoke smoothly, it sounded practised and there were no hitches.

Dare I say it, I am afraid it all left me underwhelmed.

National Democratic Congress supporters carry a picture of John Dramani Mahama after he won elections in December 2012 Mr Mahama became Ghana's interim head of state in July 2012 and won elections in five months later

President Hollande's well-laid out plans, however, were dramatically disrupted with the publication of the details of an alleged affair he was having with an actress.

Suddenly his press conference became the hottest event across the globe; every news outlet had to carry it live.

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For Ghanaians this measured fairly high on the 'guaranteed-to-grab-your-interest' scale”

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Of course everybody had to pretend that they had no interest in the matter of the affair and to do this successfully, they had to comment intelligently on the economic issues that President Hollande said he wanted to address.

I doubt that any speech on the French economy has received as much attention as the recent Hollande one.

I suspect that President Mahama himself felt that he had not made much of an impact with his press conference because a week later, there he was, telling a visitor to his office that members of his government and party have been trying to get him to sack his finance minister.

For Ghanaians, this measured fairly high on the "guaranteed-to-grab-your-interest" scale.

It could be that President Mahama thought that by telling us he was under pressure to sack his finance minister, it would concentrate our minds on what he had said about the economy.

Yet I am not so sure.

It is Monsieur Hollande who has shown us the way.

To really get the whole country to pay attention to a change of direction in economic management, you have to spice it up with a breaking story about a presidential affair.

I am keeping my ears wide open.

If you would like to comment on Elizabeth Ohene's column, please do so below.
 

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 6.

    Easy! If African leaders want to get the attention of its citizens, they should not just say or promise how they will solve many of African countries' infrastructure deficits - especially lack of steady and adequate supply of electricity, bad roads and a lack of supply of clean water and many other problems; they should actually start doing these things. After all, talk is cheap.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 5.

    If "To really get the whole country to pay attention to a change of direction in economic management, you have to spice it up with a breaking story about a presidential affair.", then the audience cannot be hearing anything that excites them - locally & economically, as in same-old, same-old...YAWN!
    African leaders need to talk from the heart to the hearts of people's economic needs.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 4.

    If you start with the assumption that most African leaders are embroiled in financial corruption, and that most Western politicians are economical with the truth (as Mr Camerons claims we are all better off show), then if they all just told the truth, it would certainly grab our attention.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 3.

    In some countries, you couldn't break a story about a presidential affair without landing in jail. In Africa, the way to get everyone's attention is to announce a pay rise for civil servants, for starters. This will then enable the 90% of the population who are not civil servants to jack up the prices of everything in anticipation of increased profits. A cap on petrol prices = standing ovation

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 2.

    Referred for moderation, so I'll try again.
    "To really get the whole country to pay attention to a change of direction in economic management, you have to spice it up with a breaking story about a presidential affair."
    Well, not really. In SA our president has 4 wives and 20 children, some from women to whom he is not married. And no-one gives a hoot about his direction in economic mis-management

 

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