Christmas with a new government
Last year’s Christmas was marked with gloom. Several factors accounted for the absence of joy during last year’s Christmas festivities. First, is the government’s policy to resuscitate the economy by pursuing prudent fiscal and monetary policies. The Minister of Finance, Mr. Yaw Osafo Maafo shortly after his government assumed office announced plans to reduce inflation from 45 per cent to the lowest digit by the end of the year. He said to achieve that the government needed to reduce borrowing from the private sector, cut government expenditure and introduce measures to mop up excess liquidity in the system, and above all stabilise the value of the cedi, which has been on a free fall since 1987 when the exchange market was liberalised.
From all indications, the government is on track, as it has reduced inflation to 23 percent from 45 percent in January. According to the Finance Minister, the government plans to bring inflation to a single digit by 2004.
Equally important is the enabled manner in which the government has tackled the depreciation of the cedi. The cedi has performed dismally against the foreign major currencies to the extent that as at last year its value was dropping by the hour. However, since January 2001 the cedi has gained relative stability against the US dollar in particular. This has brought price stability and less money in the system.
While markets were brimming over with all manner of imported and locally manufactured yuletide goodies, many people, speaking on radio-phone in programmes complained of lack of money. A 12 year old girl, Nana Adjoa who phoned in to one of the programmes said her father could not afford to buy her a dress and a pair of shoes like in the previous years.
One parent, Mr. Kwaku Dua put it succinctly when he explained that it was not so much of lack of money, but that many people are having to be more careful about where to put their cash, knowing well with the tight monetary policies the days government was dishing out money are gone.
Despite talks of scarcity of money, many entertainment-crazy people still squeezed water out of stone to attend some entertainment programmes lined up for the yuletide. According to Ghana’s quarterly Consumer Price Index (CPI), food and entertainment top the list of household expenditure. It was therefore not surprising when hundreds of merry-making men and women, young and old trooped to the beaches on boxing day and danced to the popular traditional highlife music with a blend of western lyrics.
Top on the list was the Kojo Antwi show. Kojo Antwi is arguably the most romantic Ghanaian musician. That explains why his shows usually attract married couple and men and women in their prime. This year’s show cost a ¢100,000.00( $49.00). The highlight of last year’s Kojo Antwi Show was the Attendance of President John Agyekum Kufuor. When the MC announced that the President was in the house the crowd responded with deafening applause.
The destitute, orphans and prisoners were not left out of the celebration. As has been the practise every year, from December 20 many churches, NGOs, Media Organisations, companies and some public-spirited individuals organised a number of functions for them. Items worth millions of cedis were presented to these groups to signal the true meaning of Christmas and to usher in the celebrations. In the run up to the celebrations, religious leaders called for the sustenance of peace as a major requisite for national development. Some of the religious leaders told journalists here that the essence of Christmas is to promote peace, love and unity among all sections of the Ghanaian society for prosperity and improved standards of living in 2002.
The President of the Catholic Bishops Conference and Archbishop of Cape Coast, Reverend Peter Turkson explained that peace is a gift form God and expressed the hope that the celebration of Christmas in the first year of the new millennium would bring hope and prosperity to mankind. He urged people all over the world to help fight tribalism, racism and other unproductive conflicts that retard world progress. Archbishop Turkson identified the enemies of mankind as ignorance, poverty, disease and intolerance and emphasised that: “we have to fight these negative traits with trust and fearlessness”.
The Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, Rev. Sam Prempeh perhaps, hit the nail on the head when he wondered why Christmas celebrations often cause fatal accidents and other tragedies. Ghanaian drivers have gained notoriety for causing preventable accidents during Christmas and Easter celebrations. A recent study on roads accidents conducted by a US-based institution mentioned Ghana as having the highest road accident rate in Sub-Saharan Africa. The report blamed lack of training and testing, drunkenness, over speeding as some of the causes. Last year alone road accidents claimed about 1800 lives, more than HIV/AIDS.
Sensitised by the alarming rate of road accidents, the National Road Safety Committee and the Vehicle Licensing Division of the Ministry of Roads and Transport mounted an intensive road safety campaign several weeks ahead of the yuletide.
Results have been quite impressive. Preliminary reports indicate that for the first time in several years, the country has recorded fewer accidents during Christmas celebrations.