Yes, There Is Free Lunch!

The New Patriotic Party (NPP) has become the first serious political party to have chosen its presidential candidate for the December 2016 elections, more than two years hence. As was expected, Nana Akufo-Addo swept the polls to enable him to have a fourth opportunity to become an elected President of Ghana. I say fourth, because his personal journey began in 1998 in Sunyani when he first sought the party’s nod to contest but lost to Mr John Agyekum Kufuor. Before the vote, some citizens and solid party members had sought to have the primaries aborted on the basis that the winner would be the one who won, and so there was no need for a formal process as it happened last Saturday. For a party that prides itself on a surfeit of legal brains, it is well and good that this illegality was ignored, because unless there is a process of voting, either by acclamation or balloting, the NPP could not have held up anyone as its flag bearer, no matter how popular the person is. Even in the case of a single candidate, the need for a vote is a constitutional duty imposed on parties and the nation, hence the subsequent ballots which take place when the 50 per cent plus one rule is not met. But this is not what I am interested in sharing with my readers today. We have had drummed into our ears since time immemorial that there is no free lunch anywhere in the world. In other words, all men and women must believe in and do an honest day’s work in order for them to live a respectable life. The opposite assertion implies a life of lassitude, superstitiously wishing for manna from heaven, and relying on the fruits of the hard and honest labour of others to get by in life. I have just stated, in bald terms, a significant statement usually attributed to the conservative scolds in our midst and their Western European and American allies whenever the subject of the tales of our unending calls for help and assistance in the midst of our squalor, corruption and our so-called incompetent systems come to the fore. The question to be asked is, “is this statement true?” I differ in the general acceptance of this statement. Strong men, strong institutions I am one of those who disagree with the oft-quoted Obama admonition which he gave during his July 2009 visit to Ghana that we in Africa do not need strong men but strong institutions. Are the institutions to be manned by men who are weak, flaccid and incapable of decisive and conscientious action when the occasion demands, or the institutions by some magic, will run themselves, and procure decisions which we shall find agreeable? Or he was referring to a soulless, inhuman institutional framework in which human discretion was absent, and men have become automatons, mere victims of a process understood by nobody, yet which fulfils our needs? I am aware Obama was referring to dictators, but even here, many observers and philosophical observers of the scene in Western countries can clearly discern the dictatorship of the worldview that gives credence to the assertion that there is no free lunch anywhere. It is a sermon to solidify and make permanent the advantages of those who have had free lunches all this while. What I am saying in so many words today is that we are unnecessarily too hard on ourselves, believing the very worst that people who will never see anything good in us say about us. That is the crux of the matter, and not some innate Godless inability to be like those who have had free lunches all this while. Free lunch is when you build your complex societies on the back of the free, unrewarded work of African labour. Complex because the fruits of that labour created the complicated intertwined systems of capital and related institutions wielding an umbrella of control over everything that we in this part of the world seem not to have control over. All of this overhung by a thick cultural umbra of our innate inadequacies because we have had no free lunches anywhere to match the resources husbanded over centuries of accumulation and unfettered greed. Every once in a while, we read with admiration about a chief executive of a multinational who earns sometimes up to 300 times the salary of the lowest worker in his establishment. This is a supremely meaningless assertion. Who can work 300 times more than anyone else? This is plain stealing from the shareholders, and must be seen for what it has always been — corporate corruption gone mad. But it is these examples of clear immorality we seem to admire whenever the subject of the fruits of pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps rears its head in our political discourse. There are free lunches in the world, and some people in the world have been enjoying them for centuries, procured on the backs of African free labour, while keeping others down with sophisticated ‘anansesem’ about our inadequacies and yes, inequalities as human beings. What I am saying today is straightforward. Be proud of who you are and what you have achieved without the crutch of free labour or discrimination or subjugation of others. Ingenuity is all well and good, but it is possible to use your ingenuity to achieve ends that are not necessarily praiseworthy or worthy of emulation in spite of the comfortable lifestyle it provides.