In service to whom & what?
From an incoming president’s inaugural address in Ghana to an outgoing president’s farewell address in America, service was on the minds of leaders.
And it was a call to action for citizens.
In Ghana, our new president issued a call to remind his government and our nation that service is the work of government and citizens. He rejected the use of public sector as a money making machine and cautioned his government against such action. He importantly invited us to reimagine what it meant to be a citizen.
What does being a citizen mean to you?
Citizen. To be part of, belong to, contribute to a nation or nations, a place in which you are born, work, and live, create, and love. I am a global citizen. For me that means specific things. Yes, I have travelled, lived and worked in different parts of the world as a journalist, here in Ghana, in Nigeria and South Africa; in Kenya and Lesotho. I have lived in New York and London and worked in Washington DC and Philadelphia. But, I have learned that being a global citizen is less about the geographical miles you cover and more about your willingness to re-imagine your world.
The dictionary also defines citizen as being entitled to a government’s protection. A government cannot protect the citizens it disregards, and too often that has meant the vulnerable. That lack of protection doesn’t just manifest in government’s disregard of the vulnerable, but in the failure to effectively call to account and sanction those who abuse the vulnerable.
The vulnerable are no less citizens because of their vulnerability. Citizen is not a matter of status, when it is treated that way, it invites the kind of inequity that lessens a nation’s service to its vulnerable.
I was inspired by the vision articulated in his speech, and moved to ponder again what being a citizen meant for me.
The Death of Oga-nomics.
From President Akufo-Addo, I heard a call to reject our Oga-nomics. This is the world of the Oga who sits at the top and bequeaths crumbs to those who sit beneath him. His will is to be obeyed, unchallenged at all times. President Akufo-Addo’s call to decentralize, to put power and the necessary resources in the hands of the regions, of communities to effectively handle our business is a call to end this kind of Oga-nomics. It is a call to reimagine service as a citizen.
Our president invites us to reconsider our contribution – by first recognizing that we have one to make. And making a contribution extends beyond casting a vote. Irrespective of whether we voted for him or not, this vision is one that serves Ghana.
Protect the public purse.
For these words to matter, citizens must hold our president to the fullest account of this public purse protection. It means when we the media call for an accounting for transactions in the months and years to come, we are not met by the dismissal of government officials who question our right to ask - much less expect an answer – but instead we remind them of the words of Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo. That means we too, in our job of asking questions and challenging government on the issues, are also on a mission to protect the public’s purse.
From Ghana to America. In Chicago, President Barack Hussein Obama delivered his farewell address. From the city where he made history, he bid farewell. President Obama called on Americans to recognize ‘citizens’ was a word that included a myriad of people: immigrants, Black, Brown, not simply those who shared political views or mirrored a particular level of wealth. He warned of threats to US democracy as President Akufo-Addo spoke of enhancing Ghana’s democracy.
President Obama’s history making moment is being replaced by another history making moment. A child prone to tantrums that manifest in 140 character Twitter explosions will now occupy this seat of ultimate power.
Donald Trump. His inaugural address is expected to be followed by huge protests, as millions – not just in America – but across the world – take to the streets and issues calls to resist, to react and to refuse to accept what a Trump presidency stands for – bigotry, a rampant politics of fear and the rolling back of rights for women,
America – the world’s superpower - is on the brink of a different reality. Not excitement, but trepidation. Not opportunity, but fear. In America, a president has ascended whose idea of service represents the mining of everyone’s pockets except those who look like him, and carry his billionaire wealth.
The year has just begun. Here in Ghana and across the water in America, we are nations witness to change, alternatively excited by and fearful for its possibility and opportunity.
I am inspired. I was profoundly moved by President Akufo-Addo’s inaugural address and President Obama’s farewell address. Both men remind me to challenge myself to reimagine what it means to be a citizen, and to be of service. Both men invite me to re-examine this word ‘service’, and its relationship to governance and citizenship.
Ghana is open for business, said our new president. Let the business be in service to building the best within our nation, not filling the pockets of the few by further emptying those of the many.
Ghana - can we do that? In the words of an outgoing history making African American president:
‘Yes, we can’.