Elizabeth Ohene writes: Constant threats debase us all

Elizabeth Ohene writes: Constant threats debase us all
Source: Elizabeth Ohene
Date: 19-04-2019 Time: 09:04:43:am
Elizabeth Ohene

There is a word that now features so frequently in the public discourse of our country that I have had to go and make sure the word means what I thought it did.

Every day in the newspaper and on the radio, someone or some group is giving the government an ultimatum.

It goes something like this: the government has been given three days/weeks/months ultimatum to do something or else.

So I went to the dictionary, and this is what it says: Ultimatum is a Latin word that means the last one.

An ultimatum is a demand whose fulfilment is requested in a specified period of time and which is backed up by a threat to be followed through in case of non-compliance.

An ultimatum is generally the final demand in a series of requests.

Therefore, the time allotted is usually short and the request is understood not to be open to further negotiation.

The threat which backs up the ultimatum can vary depending on the demand in question and on the other circumstances.

Ultimatum is used in diplomacy to signify the final terms submitted by one of the parties in negotiation for settlement of any subject of disagreement.

It is accompanied by an intimation as to how refusal will be regarded.

English diplomacy has devised the adroit reservation that refusal will be regarded as an "unfriendly act", a phrase which serves as a warning that the consequences of the rupture of negotiations will be considered from the point of view of forcing a settlement.

Now I know that a word can be stretched while in use to mean things it was never meant to convey but it seems to me now the use of the word ultimatum has gone way beyond proper usage in our country.

The last one

The biggest culprits would be our journalists who have transcended the roles they are traditionally expected to play and have become preacher men and women and issue threats and blackmail with abandon.

They purport to have powers many can only dream about and I listen in awe as they recite everything that is wrong and give ultimatum for some wrong to be corrected or else.

It would be a good idea for people to keep in mind that the original Latin word ultimatum means the last one; in other words, there have been negotiations and various other suggestions have been made and the last offer is being made.

An ultimatum also carries a threat that the person at which it is directed would realise it is in his interest to comply.

Let me give some examples.

Last Monday, the Legon chapter of the Tertiary Education Institutions Network (TEIN) gave a one-week ultimatum to the government and to the Students Loan Trust to pay students who had applied for loans.

I am holding my breath.

At the height of the recent uproar on vigilantism, I was attracted by a headline that said an actress called Juliet Yaa Asantewaa Asante was staging a walk in protest against vigilante groups in the country and had given the government an ultimatum of one month to ensure that all vigilante groups in the country were wiped out.

So what was going to happen if the government did not do as ordered?

The lady is quoted as saying: “If by one month’s time nothing happens, we will keep on walking.

I hope Ghanaians will join me and raise their voices against vigilantism.”

The other ultimatum that caught my eyes came from a group called The Vehicles and Assets Dealers Association of Ghana (VADAG).

The group gave an ultimatum to the government to withdraw the Luxurious Vehicle Levy within two weeks or they would hit the streets to protest.

I believe they did hit the streets as threatened; problem is, I don’t recall that it brought the world to an end.

Then came the Coalition of Aggrieved Customers of Menzgold Ghana Limited who gave the government a three-day ultimatum to furnish it with a detailed plan for the retrieval of monies of its members from the troubled investment company.

The group spelt out what it would do at the end of the ultimatum period: “After this press conference, if the government doesn’t come up with a concrete solution, it will not be well; we are going to embark on a series of protests, we are not going to sit on the fence for our hard-earned investments to go to waste.

That is why we are giving this “ultimatum.”

The deadline for this ultimatum was February 7, 2019.

A group in Tarkwa burnt tyres and blocked the roads in Tarkwa to show their displeasure at the state of the roads in their town and gave an ultimatum of a month to the government to fix the roads or face even more blockades of the roads.

The Roads and Highways Minister, Mr Kwesi Amoako Atta, came up with an answer that sounded just like what we should fear would come from the constant issuing of ultimatum.

“Demonstrations don’t build roads,” the minister said.

Issuing an ultimatum does not achieve results.

We are obviously diluting the arsenal that the people have in coercing the government to their will.

In much the same way we are endangering the tolerance of dissent if every disagreement is couched in the language of threats and ultimatum.

Having waxed lyrical earlier in the year about what looked to me like the restoration back to health of the Ankobra River, I must report that last Friday and Sunday when I crossed it on my way to and from Nawule, it did not look anything like what I had seen in January.

Back then, it looked clean and green in colour and the locals told me even fish had returned.

The state of the river was cited as an example of our beginning to win the fight against ‘galamsey’.

This weekend, the Ankobra looked brown and muddy like all the other rivers in the area and not at all like the healthy flowing river whose restoration to good health had been a cause for celebration.

I have to conclude that galamsey is back in the area, or maybe legal mining activity is taking place and the River Ankobra is bearing the brunt.

This was a sad and painful thing to accept, especially in consideration of what took me to that part of the country.

I had gone for the funeral of the late Lee Ocran, a former NDC Member of Parliament for Jomoro Constituency, former Minister of Education and former High Commissioner to South Africa among the many and varied public office positions he held in his life.

Ambassador Ocran had many passions, but none more than his passion for the environment, which verged on an obsession. Plants, lawns, open spaces and he was known to stop his car to challenge someone littering.

It would have been so very satisfying to have crossed the Ankobra River in a clean and healthy state with the body of Ambassador Ocran as he made his final journey home to his beloved Nawule and Jomoro.

It would have been a beautiful testament to the man who loved and cared so much for the environment.