African viewpoint: A host of hurdles

From left: New Zealand's Andrea Miller, Australia's Sally Pearson, and Jamaica's Andrea Bliss compete in the Women's 100m hurdles final during the Commonwealth Games at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi, India, Monday 11 October 2010

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Ghanaian writer and former government minister Elizabeth Ohene, compares notes about hosting big events.

I have been watching the Commonwealth Games with a lot of interest.

I should know better but I can't seem to help it - I have been getting myself agitated over the coverage.

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I was not unhappy that this president couldn't have a bath until midday”

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Every time any of these big events is being staged by a nation other than the G8, we hear the same things.

Some people might recall the frenzy that preceded the Fifa World Cup in South Africa.

"The venues will not be ready, the hotels and accommodation will not meet the acceptable standards and security will be a nightmare: Visitors will be robbed, raped and murdered," they said.

Then when it looked like the venues would be ready and indeed quite spectacular, the comments turned to how can so much money be spent on an event in a country that has so much poverty.

The cameras would move from a squatter camp to a beautiful stadium to demonstrate the venal nature of Third World governments that would spend money building a stadium when their citizens are hungry and homeless.


I know exactly what the Indians and more particularly the Delhi organisers are going through.

Preparations for the 50th anniversary of Ghanaian independence on 6th March 2007 Big events - like Ghana's golden jubilee - are a nightmare to organise

And I know what the South Africans went through. As we say here in Ghana, I have been there.

These big events are a nightmare. And I have the scars to show for it.

Wind back to the year 2007 and you will remember that was Ghana's golden jubilee year and the world was coming to celebrate with us.

If you think it is difficult finding suitable accommodation for athletes and for millionaire footballers, try finding suitable accommodation for 50 or so heads of state, or to be accurate, in our case, African heads of state.

Since Accra does not have anything near enough hotel rooms, we had to build new structures.

Of course we fell behind schedule. On my way to the airport to meet the visiting president I had been assigned to escort, there were workmen twiddling with the air-conditioners in the newly-built house he was going to occupy.

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Ghanaian football fans in 2008

I am yet to think of any other three-week period in Ghana that provided all of us with so much joy”

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Then there was the president whose security chief arrived the day before the big man was due to get in and announced that his president could not and would not stay in a house that would let in a single ray of light.

We had to go and buy sheets of thick black paper and cover all the windows and openings that allowed in any light.

The morning after his first night in the darkened house, I was awakened at dawn with the news that this president's bathroom had flooded and the water had seeped into his bedroom.

They would not agree that he be moved next door to another bedroom.

They would not let a plumber into the house and into his bathroom through the front door because he had not been cleared by security and the plumber had to be squeezed in through the roof and a tiny window.

I was not unhappy that this president couldn't have a bath until midday.

The poverty question

And am I likely to forget Can 2008 - the African Cup of Nations - which Ghana staged from late January to early February 2008?

I lost count of the number of programme-makers the BBC sent around Ghana, it seemed with only one aim: To ask poor Ghanaians whether they would not rather have their government spend the money being used to build stadiums on them.

And so I have been watching and listening to the coverage of the Delhi games with a sense of deja vu.

Some of the matches in the early rounds of Can 2008 were not well patronised and oh yes, it was chaotic trying to get more than 500 Ghanaian journalists accredited so they could watch the matches for free.

But I am yet to think of any other three-week period in Ghana that provided all of us with so much joy.

Oh yes, we also had a fantastic opening ceremony, but I can say quite firmly that the Delhi opening ceremony tops anything I have ever seen.

They have had plumbing difficulties and the official who suggested there are varying standards of hygiene is not likely to win many awards.

But I think the question needs to be asked.

Is there any place in our world for any of these big events whilst there is still poverty in the world or should these events be staged only in rich countries?

If you would like to comment on Elizabeth Ohene's latest column, please use the form below. A selection of your views will be published.

I think every country has to decide for itself after public votes on whether to ask to hold for such grand events. If granted then it should be done with clock work precision and total accountability. Speaking for India I think we can hold but am sad as there is still huge disparity between the haves and have nots. And the money being spent is far too much and exceeds any reasonable amount than originally saught.

SG, India

I agree everything that Elizabeth has written. I have lived in UK for 43 years and in this time, I have noticed how much the British media enjoy in showing the poverty in India. Today UK is struggling with its economy. The pension fund has been squandered by the successive governments. Young students are now required to pay for university education. National Health Service is inadequately funded. And yet we have money to host 2012 FIFA World Cup! plus fight wars abroad!!

Hash Patel, Witney, UK

Its just like yesterday, remember the FIFA 2010 World Cup. First it was imaginary problems concerning accommodation, crime, pitches etc. When the games started, it changed to vuvuzelas, jubulani etc. Never mind the western media's critics and complaining. India has just pulled off grand display in all areas.

Chainga, Lundazi, Zambia

Journalists will continue to be journalists,they will always look for something to write. When however at every event hosted by a developing country, these journalist - most of whom work for media houses of developed countries - keep on harping on problems that are LIKELY to be encountered, they sound more than a bit patronising. Such journalist must know that is exactly the reason such developing nations are indeed called developing nations - they are not yet out of the woods. This does not however mean that events that are held in rich countries are exactly free of problems. What we should concentrate on in such events, especially in developing countries, is the ability of such countries to stage an entertaining event, as without doubt, South Africa was able to do.

Aminu Aliyu, Birnin Kudu, Nigeria

Yes it's true indeed that India was not ready before the games started! But I think they have failled their opportunity. As a country whether you are poor or rich if you are given the chance of organising such big events let's try to do our personal best and meet the needs of the people and finally the BRITISH MEDIA should stop showing the poverty of other people countries and make only valid comments.

James Ahorukomeye, Otjiwarongo, Namibia

It is unfortunate that after slavery, two "world wars" and colonialism, these countries are still being buffeted by the huge wave of Western campaign of calumny. These haters should be ashamed of themselves.

Prudent, Hertfordshire, England

But who or how is it going to be decided that a country is rich enough to host a game or poor enough not to host a game?

Ebenezer A Obeng, Virginia Beach, USA

They said South Africa couldn't host the world cup. Even on the day of the opening game, there were all kinds reports. But they did host it in a grand style, and now South Africa, in terms of development, is being compared to some developed nations in the west. The same has been or was said about India and so far they're doing just fine. The richer nations cannot stand to see developing nations taking center stage in hosting some key events that they (developed nations) used to revere in (a.k.a only rich nations can organize). It's just a shame! I think once FIFA or any other international sports organisation committee has accepted a bid from any developing nation to host an event, it should just be enough to assume that, that nation could host or organize that event, and also for some media critics to shut up. We're not saying they shouldn't criticize. Objective and fair criticism are always welcome and will be well taken by those developing nations.

Bismark Okyere, Munich

It is true that India was not ready in time for the games but at the last minute they have pulled through and put on a grand event. As to the matter of poverty, India is 63 years old and given its many challenges, has done well for herself by becoming a world economic power. UK has its own economic problems at the moment. Does that mean they should not host the 2012 Olympics?

Cheryl, Nottingham, UK

History will bear witness that the so called developed world also had their fair share of bad governance,violence and absolute anarchy and they all used that road to where they are now;at one point the developing world will also be developed,perhaps sooner than later!

Cheche Joan, Kampala,Uganda

National pride and happiness can't be monetarily quantified. Foreign media's critical headlines do hurt, but we Indians wanted to make every guest feel comfortable and after talking personally to the athletes, the media jingoisms don't count much.Although corruption and nepotism exist without a doubt,the sports infrastructure that was built wouldn't have been made if the Games didn't take place.The athletes are much better off now. Mrs Ohene, your article is thoroughly appreciated.

Vishesh, India

India and China apart, the problem with countries with shaky economies hosting any major international games has historically proven to create an after shock. Greece may have its troubles rooted from the Olympics it hosted recently. South Africa may have sustained the damage but it may be yet to be seen. It is all about the burdens they carry afterwards by spending the money they don't have with the risk of it being squandered to no return. In some cases it can create instability prompting regime change. That is why I think, unless its profitability is structurally and economically geared to enhance the country's developmental goals, these games can disrupt the state of a healthy developing economy not to mention the political dimension.

Tadesse, USA

Our main problem is not the money involve but organization. we tend to do things in the last minute and that is really bad Oh how i wish we have our own grown media houses that will potray and put these 3rd world countries where they really belongs!!! There are very good things about these so call poor nations, but they are not news worthy so they (western media) don't care!!! we have to do it for ourselves. Thanks mama Lizzy for the write-up!

Kwadwo Poku, Novosibirsk, Russia

If the British gave back the cash and kind they looted from their former colonies most "Common Wealth" countries would not be so poor after all. Then the question of a "poor" country organizing the games would not be so relevant.

Shailendra Bist, Nanital, India

I have pondering about the negative coverage. It really goes beyond India hosting Commonwealth Games. China was host for Olympics, Brazil will soon be hosting it. South Africa was host for World Cup football, Brazil will soon do the same. India was host for Commonwealth and wants to bid for Olympics. Never in the history have developing nations been host for major sporting events for such continuous period. Its a bit of a paranoia in the West that the developing world with move forward. Is that not the PM and Presidents of so called developed nations pledge for in their "speeches"? Foreign correspondents have dances to these wonder BBC earned "Bickering and Bad Coverage" and CNN for Criticize Non North Americans. Media should be beyond such bias.

Sudhir, Geneva, Swtizerland

Indians do have a habbit of leaving things till the last moment.They can sure pull through if need be, but they just cannt stick to a regime. This is more true for govt organisation than private organisations. I agree with author how aggressive western media has been in focusing the shortcomings.This was the talk of the town for a few days.Now that every thing is going smoothly there is not a single line of appreciation.

Setty, UK

Thanks Elizabeth for such a nice article. Rich nations first criticize poor nations for not participating in sports and poor facilities provided to sportsmen. But when countries from Africa or India bags gold medals, this isn't digested. I'm proud to be an Indian to see CWG hosted in India. It's not perfectly organized but everything was done to make visiting nations happy. Still foreign media like BBC channels more focused on finding faults on daily basis. I agree there's poverty in India but that doesn't mean we should just fold hands and do nothing. These games have given upcoming Indian youngster hopes. It was very proud and emotional moment for every Indian to see 4 womens running race of their life to win gold in 4x400 relay. India has come long way after independence and will progress lot in years. Hopefully there will be no one poor one day not only in India but on this planet.

Pramod, Mumbai

I travel to various European countries on business trips and found out that many of these countries have very bad economic conditions at present,if you look a little deeper beneath the surface. Example - UK at present grappling with recession with high rate of unemployment. As on today emerging economies like India,China,South Korea,South Africa,Brazil etc. are in a far better position to hold mega events compared with many such European countries with fast declining economies.

Chirantan Chakrabarti, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

I wonder, is it a bad thing that these major events happen in developing nations? Yes there is a great deal of money spent and yes perhaps that money could be spent other wise but do they not highlight the plight of the poorer areas of those developing nations. Do they not remind us that humanity has a long way to go? That despite the cushy lifestyle in the developed nations, there are others who live on less and need our help? What these sorts of events also show is that despite the problems being faced by these "third world nations" they also show the ability, hope and pride of countries often written of by the 1st world. They open eyes of the world to some of the best aspects of a nations that otherwise would never have the chance to show off their culture, beauty and unique contribution to the world? There are always going to be at least 2 sides to this argument, but in my view the pride of India shown in the passion of her crowds and the colour of her opening and closing ceremonies says a lot. But now it is up to India to use this experience to develop and grow. Well done India. Fabulous Commonwealth Games!

Penn Jarvis, London, UK

I quiet agree that big events should not be organised by poor countries or third world countries because we just cannot meet the standards. The money should rather be used to provide basic facilities such as drinking water, light and improve living conditions.

abdul al faser, Leeds - England

It would seem to me that the bringing in of these large events would provide jobs that bring people out of poverty. I dare say the biggest problem is that the events to come back more often so these giant structures are in use and people have consistent work year in and year out.

R. Campbell, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

I don't think it is wise nor prudent to seclude "so called" poor countries from hosting big global events. The definition of a poor country can subjective and prejudiced against some countries and continients. The processes of selection is already subjective enough for most global events like "The World Cup", Olympics etc therefore introducing such a concept of seclusion would not do the world any good, instead it will encourage dangerous cartels and set a dangerous precedence for the world as a whole!

Arthur Ngoka, Watford, UK

Not to always play the cynic, but let's not forget that a lot of people are still liable, not just for the delays but also for the money spent. And yes, today's media does thrive on the spin. You've just got to sift through the rubble.

Eric, Manchester, UK

I completely agree with Elizabeth Ohene that BBC always look for faults and they have mentality of colonial era. BBC is biased too. But by giving space to this article on their website they have justified that why i still read BBC website.

Karan, Mountain View,CA, US

Good balanced articled by Ms Elizabeth which exhibits pain of citizens from the so called 3rd world. Am sure Ghana is proud of theis show of "Africa Cup of Nations" & so are we Indians by hosting of the wonderful CWG. Would suggest some of BBC reporters ask the participants about their stay & warmth received from us. though ordinary citizens are suffering by tight security & discomfort but are not COMPLAINING. Reporting from Western media needs to grow up, thats my humble submission.

anubhav saxena, Mumbai, India

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