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We Ask Just To Be Polite... Elizabeth Ohene Writes
 
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29-Oct-2014  
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Technology has certainly changed our lives and made the work of many people so very different and much easier. I think back with incredulity on how we reporters of old used to operate. No fax machines, (I bet some young reporters don’t even know them), no mobile phones, no Internet services and bulky tape recorders to lug around as you try to gather your story.

But I suppose it had some advantages. Back then when a newspaper wrote a story it was deemed to be the truth.

The reporter went to the site of the event and reported from there; today the people in the midst of the event can and often do their own reporting and they send photos taken at the site before any reporter can arrive. Now everybody has a voice recorder, a video recorder and the ability to transmit data from anywhere to the public directly. Maybe the work of the reporter is more difficult these days.

Then I started thinking about diplomats. Once upon a time, they were the most reliable and often, the only source of information about the countries they were posted to. Much of their knowledge about the countries they were posted to came from the local newspapers, radio and television stations. Then CNN and 24-hour news came into being.
Work of the diplomat

Today the officials back at home and everybody else are reading those local newspapers and listening and watching those local radio and television stations online and on cable. Today the work of the diplomat is probably more analytical than the gathering and reporting of information since everybody can see and hear what is going on in the country they have been posted to.

I have been following the reporting of President John Mahama on his recent travels and I feel even more strongly that we should all acknowledge the changes that technology has made to all aspects of our lives.

The President went to Worcester in Massachusetts to meet with Ghanaians who live in the United States.

That ceremony would start, like all visits in Ghana, be they formal or informal, with the visitor being asked for the amanee, that is, the visitor is asked why he has come. As the saying goes in my language, wonya, gake, woabia, which literally means even though we know, we still must ask.

The saying is normally used when there is a death and you go to offer your condolences; you will be asked why you have come even though it is obvious to all what has brought you. Once upon a time I lived outside Ghana and I knew exactly how these events were prized for the opportunity to hear from the horses own mouth exactly what was going on in the dear country. Those were the days when you had to book a call through an operator to make a phone call to Ghana; but I stray.

According to the news reports, the President told his audience Ghana was doing well and he enumerated all the big plans he had to make our nation great and the economy strong.

It seems to me that these days a function such as the ones the President attended in the USA is best treated like a case of “even though we know, we are asking”.

As the President spoke, members of the audience have one eye on the President and the other on their smartphones and are furiously WhatsApping and skyping their friends and relations back in Ghana. As the President is telling them about how hard he is working and the infrastructure developments that are taking place in the country, a member of his audience is receiving pictures from a bus trying to negotiate the manholes on the Accra- Kumasi road at Teacher Mante. As the President is telling them about what his economic team is doing to stabilise the currency, someone in the audience is browsing the Bloomberg pages and some smart aleck is analysing the fate of the cedi.

Being polite

Even as the President starts waxing lyrical about the great things he is doing, people in the audience in Worcester, Massachusetts are being told by their relations back in Ghana that the lights are out, prices are going up and the roads are in a dreadful state.

That they sat through the talk and clapped at the end of it does not mean they learnt anything new; it does not even mean that they believed a word the President said. They were simply being polite.

When the President got back home from the US trip, he was welcomed back as a conquering hero; judging by the crowds that met him at the airport. Again as custom demands we had to go through the amanee rigmarole.

This time around, the new arrival, ie, the President did not wait for us who are here to tell him what has been going on during his absence. He told us good things had been happening to the cedi while he was away.

The President really should have stuck to the dictates of tradition and told us what he had seen, heard and done on his travels and allowed us who are here to tell him our amanee. He wasn’t supposed to come back and tell us what is happening here.

But he did so and got away with it and obviously thinks that is normal practice.

On his current trip to the United Kingdom and some Scandinavian countries, the President has been outdoing himself with claims of how well his government is performing. This time around when he met Ghanaians in the United Kingdom, he told them we who live here in Ghana were badmouthing our nation and exaggerating the difficulties just so we could justify asking for money from our friends and relations living in the diaspora.

The President needs to be gently reminded that wonya, gake wobia, in other words, when he is asked how things are in Ghana; it is not because those who ask, do not know.

They have all read about Standard and Poor downgrading us, they have read about the IMF questioning our figures, they have web cameras trained on their mothers’ kitchens and can see what people have for dinner, they know how many times the lights go off when they are talking to their relations.

When the President gets back, I have no doubt he will be welcomed with even greater pomp because of his visit to Buckingham Palace to see the Queen. Someone please tell him there will be no need to tell us his amanee; we have all seen him in his “elegant casual” outfit to greet the formal Queen and we are grateful Lordina saved the day with her formal and beautiful kente.

But more important, he should not purport to tell us what has been happening here while he was away. Even if we ask him how things are, it is not because we do not know.
 
 
 
 
 

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