Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng is my first guest blogger and he writes on the recent NPP ‘ecomini’ t-shirts, and subsequent controversy, which poke fun at the President’s difficulty in pronouncing ‘economy’. Rodney is one of my favourite writers and is the author of “Abrokyir Nkomo:Reflections of A Ghanaian Immigrant”, reviewed by Atto Kwanema Dadzie BOOK REVIEW: ‘Abrokyir Nkomo’, and a potted history of Ghana’s leaders “A Trip Down Memory Lane”. Rodney’s informative writing is characterised by its generosity and humour.

The recent outdooring of a number of T-shirts by the NPP’s Youth Wing seems to have generated quite a lot of political heat, with some in the NDC claiming that the ones emblazoned with the word ‘Ecomini’ were particularly offensive and insulting to the president. Some have demanded their withdrawal and an apology, or else.  The T-shirts have been dismissed by some as a childish, unnecessary distraction from the serious bread and butter issues that afflict the nation and which are too numerous to list here. Ironically, those who dismiss them have done so very vociferously and have thereby given this rather trivial issue a lot of probably ill-deserved mainstream oxygen. After all, there is no such thing as bad publicity, it is said, and those whose brainchild it was to produce these t-shirts must be rubbing their hands in glee.

Of course these t-shirts do not put food on the table or clothes on the back of Ghanaians. Making fun of our leaders’ verbal slips does not fuel our desire to be self-sufficient as a nation, nor does it pay the health bills or school fees. And to that extent those who criticise the t-shirts have a valid point that it is trivial. Many reasonable people, whatever their party affiliation, will allow probably themselves a wry smile and a dismissive shrug at the sight of these t-shirts as they sweat and struggle to bring life’s multi-faceted strands together.

But perhaps the t-shirts’ loud opponents are missing a wider point and are taking themselves and politics a little too seriously. First is the ludicrous notion that our national well-being is only determined by GDP, GNP, inflation/deflation and all the other economic indicators.  Our elders say, wisely, that even when we are weeping and gnashing our teeth in mourning, we find time to pause and blow our nose. And therein lies the point-we must as a nation find time for humour in our politics and in our march to a better nation-fractured as the process may be. It is a useful vent for letting out the steam and the pressure.

Second is the equally ludicrous notion that to make fun of a person’s slip of tongue is to insult and disrespect that person. It is not. President Mills’ unfortunate ‘ecomini’ moment has found its way into public discourse in so many ways-cartoon jokes, mobile ring tones, and rap song among them, provoking some winces, smiles and sympathy in perhaps equal measure. The t-shirt is simply an extension of this form of teasing. Why the raging and foaming at the mouth? Can the t-shirt opponents say, hand on heart, that they never allowed themselves any amusement at any of the many lovely, funny cartoons of ex-president Kufuor that peppered some newspapers during his rule? Seriously?

I am sure in retrospect the president probably allows himself a chuckle when he recalls his verbal malfunction, even if he was mortified in the immediate aftermath.  I would not be surprised if Auntie Naadu and his close friends privately tease him about it occasionally. The outpouring of rage on his behalf reminds one of the howls of synthetic rage by Islamist fundamentalists whenever an insult (however slight) is perceived of Islam and the Prophet Mohammed. The ardent defenders of the president’s honour are probably best advised to go easy on their vicarious anger.  Every school child knows that the best way to deal with being teased about something is to ignore it or to laugh along with it; else it just gives pleasure and ammunition to your tormentors to continue to annoy you.

The president must be aware of the rough and tumble of political life, including being made fun of for a faux pas, and I doubt he takes his ‘ecomini’ moment seriously and agonises over it- surely, his mind must be on higher things, non?

The notion that as president, one is and should be insulated from being teased about various mishaps is one that deserves no merit whatsoever. Of course the occupant of the office of the president deserves respect. But to tease or make light of a verbal slip is not to disrespect, nor is it insulting. Thank goodness there is no law in Ghana that makes it an offence to ‘insult’ the president, as pertains under some dour, sour-faced and jittery regimes. Former president Kufuor got endlessly mocked and pilloried and ridiculed for his famous presidential medal. He was nicknamed ’50 Cents’ and various caricatures appeared in various media about him sporting an obscenely huge rapper’s gold chain and cavorting around. It was all very amusing. He was also endlessly mocked for his halting speech delivery, which was sharply and gleefully contrasted to that of his predecessor, President Rawlings. Of course, those that mocked Kufuor on this score claim that Mills’ verbal slip should be excused because after all English is not his language. Rawlings had his moments too, as for example when he once wisely observed in Twi that a ‘bird that does not fly its nest remains in one place’ (talk of stating the blindingly obvious…). And of course, Gen I K Acheampong was another famous linguistic vandal…

Comedy (or concert, as some disparagingly refer to it) is a great safety valve. Our leaders are not tin gods, nor must we pretend they are.  Occasionally making light of their slip-ups and foibles brings them down a peg or two from their ivory castles and reminds us and them that they are human after all, to be respected but not to be revered to the ridiculous point of elevating them to demi-gods, else we risk becoming  a sycophantic, fawning nation. Our ability to laugh at ourselves, at each other and at our leaders every now and then is a sign of a relaxed society, confident of our purpose as a collective body politic. We should not be so serious that we can hardly spare a moment or two for the odd giggle or titter.

Of course the ‘economi’ t-shirt is an exercise in pursuit of the trivial, and thank goodness it does not constitute the NPP’s policy or campaign for 2012. That would have been pathetic and woeful.  But those who take these t-shirts too seriously risk casting themselves as jittery moaners.

I will be ordering my t-shirt soon (a Tema Station Special, of course) , but I want a customised one. I want a big, dazzling gold chain embossed on the front, with ’50 Cent’ inscribed beneath, and the word ‘Ecomini’ emblazoned diagonally across my chain. On each sleeve would be inscribed ‘Who Born Dog?’ Then I can breeze through the streets of Accra with a swagger and see which political faction I can annoy. Who knows, the supporters of all three gentlemen may come together to try to lynch me near the Jubilee/Flagstaff House. At least, then I can claim a place in history for having united them in support of one cause, close on the heels of MPs from both mainstream parties who join together in perfect harmony when it comes to pushing for or retaining their parliamentary privileges, perks and ex-gratia.

by Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng (