Plata O Plomo

Nana Yaa Ofori-Atta

When Pablo Escobar held sway in Colombia as the eminence grise of the cocaine trade, he would apparently offer anyone who stood in his way.  ‘Silver or lead – take a bribe or take a bullet’.  A compelling business proposition, to anyone, then or now, presented with these hypnotic options. 


By 1993, when Escobar was dramatically gunned down on a rooftop, he was at the center of a network that allegedly supplied more than 90 percent of the global cocaine trade and made up to $60-$100 million, daily, in drug profits.  Kidnapping, extortion, arms trafficking, money laundering, political corruption and racketeering, were some of the charges he and his cronies faced.


Colombia, a country of some 50 million diverse people has moved on, significantly.  In 2016, President Juan Manuel Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize for the collective efforts required to negotiate the mine field that led in to the signing of a peace accord, effectively ending the civil war with Marxist guerillas.


Colombia is Latin America’s fourth largest economy, Middle America’s second largest economy.  Per open source data, it has the fastest growing information technology network in the world, the longest fibre optic network in Latin America  and outside of Asia, it is home to one of the largest shipbuilding industries.  With exports worth upwards of $60 billion in petroleum, coal, steel and chemicals, they also quietly do a roaring trade with other countries in agricultural products including coffee, banana and flowers.


We share intriguing relations with Colombia.  Some 11 percent of the population is of African descent.  There is apocryphal ‘evidence’ that suggests strongly, that lessons in gold mining from Obuasi and other sites in Africa, were shared and applied there by forcibly exported slaves.    In Colombia, tourism – Ghana continues to pay ineffective and disjointed lip service to this potentially lucrative sector – grows in practical terms, by more than 12 percent every year. 


President Santos, a former minister for foreign trade is a descendant of a previous president and cousin to a former vice president.  He graduated from the London School of Economics, where else?  Colombia’s Ambassador to Ghana, Claudia Turbay, is one of the most engaged operatives I have encountered in the cloistered world of the diplomatic community, here in Accra.


The Adwuma 2018 budget has been presented to Parliament by the Minister of Finance, Ken Ofori-Atta, duly laid.  Debate, such as it is, will begin in earnest by our 275 representatives.

It has been done, only once.  In the Third Republic, the submission in the Chamber by the Minority spokesperson on Finance, Oheneba Dr. Jones Ofori-Atta, was cogent enough to convince the House en masse to reject and return the budget to the Executive.

It is highly unlikely, that in the Fourth Republic, given the dyed in the wool partisan positions by both sides; if in spite of the the expected public histrionics by the Minority, or the equally gleeful otwea posture by the Majority, that a singular word or intent will be altered in the Adwuma budget.

The smell of the Minority’s recent spell in office still lingers; the inappropriate affect and even worse, the dismal effect of their spokespersons on Finance, will make no matter.  The 2018 budget, all 170 pages of it, can be downloaded online.  It will sail through Parliament, as is.

The proof of the pudding will be when Ministers and their teams come to the various committees for line budget approval.  Never mind the drama when the cameras are recording, in the quiet meeting rooms of Job 600, where will the Select Committees, the actual work horses of Parliament, challenge on the actual details?  


In 1954, the United Nations (UN) established the Universal Children’s Day to promote the welfare of children.  November 20th, is the day when the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, many decades later on the same day, the General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Ghana was the first country to sign the convention on January 29, 1990.  192 other members, every member of the UN except Somalia, even Southern Sudan, has signed up.

This year, the UN theme is, Its a #KidsTakeOver.  If we are truly serious about something other than rhetoric, then in budget 2018, in what we say and indeed do on that day and specifically going forward – 2 key things to look out for.  The interests of the child; right to life, survival and development and views of the child. 

The rate of live births per woman, healthcare, education – formal and vocational, social interventions for those who truly need it, protection from sexual abuse, child labour, forced marriage, recreation, the space to speak up and create.  The future of our children is Now.


Comrade Robert Gabriel Mugabe has finally presented himself and the landlocked southern African country of some 16 million people he has dominated forever with a simple proposition.  Plata O Plomo.  Translated in his Shona or my Akuapem languages, same difference.  Go now or Go now.

What it must feel like, at 93, to preside, yourself, over your own wake keeping.  Literally.  It has been a slow, inevitable, undignified death. From breadbasket to basket case to casket.  Hyperinflation guesstimated of more than 11.2 million in 2008, makes Zimbabwe an example of how not to conflate deep colonial and racist wrongs with disastrous socio politico and economic decisions.

Was it really the far from subtle angling by Gucci Grace, Mugabe’s caricature of a second wife, for political office to continue the iron fisted rule of the Mugabe family, that sparked this showdown?  Don’t get overly excited, what is happening in Zim is the outing of the old guard, by the old guard.

The non coup of a coup by the military is tele guided by politicians, all of whom have examined geopolitics.  In brief, the African Union can not, will not do a thing.  There are 15 members of the Southern African Development Community (SADEC).  Each of them, bar arguably, Mauritius, has deep issues, thus next to no appetite to bite on the desiccated Zim cherry.

South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, has taken pole position in negotiations to gently dispatch Mugabe, well after the obvious fact.  Zuma is himself deeply wounded and on his way out.  America previously set itself up as the world’s policeman thus opening space for it to become the whipping boy for the ‘blame the white imperialists’ charge.  President Donald Trump couldn’t find Zimbabwe on a map if he tried.  Why should he? America has its own internal fake news challenges and an external security triad of North Korea/Russia/Syria flash points to negotiate.  Biggly.  The United Kingdom’s hands are deeply soiled in their untidy exist from Rhodesia, it has matters Brexit on their front burner.


Dinosaurs are extinct.  For very good reason.  Sloping foreheads, snapping teeth, large claws, ravenous appetites and a mercenary kill mentality (I did watch the Jurassic Park franchise).  They completely missed the warning signals of the asteroid. They did not evolve.

Crocodiles are fascinating, there are 23 variants of these creatures that have evolved over 200 million years. In Ghana, masochists who can tolerate our indifferent domestic tourism services, trek up to Paga in the Upper East region to see them. I will get into trouble for this.  The hides of crocodiles make very fetching bespoke bags, belts, shoes, luggage …..  I may have one or two samples.

In principle and in deed, I do not support coups.  In Zimbabwe, it is significant that the independence war veteran of a vice president, a certain Emmerson Mnangagwa, ousted by the interchangeable Mugabe/Gucci Grace phenomena, may well end up playing a leading role over the next few months or years.  At 70 something, he is practically a youth.

Mnangagwa, the man known as the crocodile, has served in multiple positions since Zim’s independence including heading their dreaded security portfolio.  He has a sordid human rights record.

My anti coup maker instincts and principles, are intact.  However, when faced with dodgy constitutions perpetuated by malevolent politicians in Togo, Uganda, Zim and elsewhere on this continent, I must admit, that I am greatly stretched.

One way or another, Zimbabwe will be wearing crocodile skin.  Playa o Plomo?  The dinosaur or crocodile?  No thank you.  I would rather focus on sober interrogation of the Adwuma budget of Ghana.  Ssshhh…Approach.

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