Ghana’s Main Problem
Dr. Michael J.K.
The Majority Leader in Parliament (Alban Bagbin)
must have touched raw nerves with his claim that
President Mills has surrounded himself with
sycophants who have placed a wedge between the
Presidency and the very people in the NDC whose
efforts won political power for the party. At last,
the dreaded word (“sycophancy”) has surfaced and
added a different complexion to the hydra-headed
problems facing our 4th Republic. Irrespective of
the impact of this acrimony on the fortunes of the
NDC itself, the fingering of sycophancy as the cause
presents us with much food-for-thought. It has much
meat in it and must not be glossed over. Sycophancy
is the root cause of doom in the game of politics!
Doubtless, President Mills is in trouble already. He
may be a helpless bull’s eye for sycophants
operating from two extremities—those surrounding him
and those operating by remote control (from outside
the corridors of power). This turf war between these
two groups of sycophants is threatening his
political fortunes, and unless he handles matters
tactfully, he may end up being a victim of this
bootlicking syndrome. Will he act now or wait to be
acted upon to his own detriment?
Interesting enough, this problem is being exposed
now in a rather bewildering twist of events
involving those who perceive themselves as the
President’s henchmen (accused as sycophants) and
those who do the perception (who themselves aren’t
free of sycophancy but are bold enough to cast the
first stone). Either way, we have sycophants on the
scene. In most cases, these are always the two
groups of sycophants: those appointees of the leader
who have access to him and those outside the inner
circle and operate by remote control. President
Mills and all others in positions of trust will do
themselves a world of good if they shield themselves
against these bootlickers. They are dangerous.
At his overthrow, Dr. Nkrumah was rumoured to have
said that if he had known that it was milk that
Ghanaians wanted, he would have made the streets of
Accra flow with it. But, alas, it was too late for
him to return to the seat of government to do so.
Being a “Verandah Boy” himself, why did Nkrumah not
know beforehand the sentiments of the people?
Obviously, the sycophants who had cordoned him off
from reality caused it. They erected an impenetrable
iron curtain of concentrated lies, misinformation,
disinformation, and outright murderous agenda of
self-interest that harmed his political interests.
Again, when Kutu Acheampong was kicked out of office
by his own military junta colleagues, divested of
all his military honours, and spurned by the
gullible Ghanaian citizenry who blamed him for their
woes, he declared Ghanaians as “difficult people.”
Why did it take him so long to know the truth?
Because while in office, he chose to swim on the
crest of the big waves of lies and deception built
for him by the sycophants to whom he had opened the
floodgates of his office. They cut him off from
reality and he paid a huge price for it.
We must be bold to admit that SYCOPHANCY (translated
from its Latin or Greek conception into English as
“servile flattery”) is a major problem that has
plagued the Ghanaian body politic. Also known as
bootlicking, it is a major problem because in its
manifestation, it has turned the corridors of power
into a madhouse of unconscionable deeds, mischief,
favour-seeking, discrimination, viciousness, and
wanton dissipation of public funds. It has upset
morality and plunged the country into a deep
quagmire of corruption at all levels. We can’t
successfully fight corruption without dealing
drastically with this canker of sycophancy.
Sycophancy will continue to harm us until we do
something drastic to make it unattractive. It
persists because our leaders themselves know how to
create room for it to thrive—using tribalism,
nepotism, and many other means to lure
praise-singers. Such leaders are pitiable because
they end up digging their own graves.
Under Nkrumah, those chiefs who aligned themselves
with his political opponents heard and feared his
loud and clear message: “…they will run away and
leave their sandals behind.” Nkrumah took steps to
destool some, to create new traditional areas on
which he imposed his own choices as chiefs! Call if
official coercion toward sycophancy. But he suffered
for it too.
The boomerang effect of sycophancy is catastrophic.
The question is: Why should those leaders want their
egos massaged by flatterers, knowing very well that
it will insulate them from their own people and fill
them with non-sense, which will eventually cause
their doom? Or is it one of the paradoxes of human
nature? I don’t know.
There are many clever ways by which this idiotic
fawning is carried out. Those who are polished in
their adulation use subtle means to enter and stick
to the corridors of power for gains while the
novices use overt and sometimes crude means,
including threats of not voting for the government
if their demands are not met.
Sadly, the institutions of state that should have
helped our leaders tackle sycophancy have failed to
do so. In advanced countries, the President is
insulated against such worries, although lobbyists
work hard to have things done in their favour. In
such countries, the parameters on the do’s and
don’ts are clearly defined and strictly enforced.
Take, for instance, the fate of Jack Abramoff (one
of the high-powered lobbyists in the United States)
who stepped out of line in his lobbying activities
under the Bush administration and was prosecuted and
imprisoned. When there is the moral commitment to
fight a vice, the authorities ensure that the laws
are known and enforced. In Ghana, lobbying has no
known form nor is it done in any regularised manner.
It is collapsed into sycophancy.
Our problem is that we can’t dissociate support for
the leader from sycophancy. We lack the moral
courage to oppose the leader if what he does (or
fails to do) is not in the interest of the country.
No one is saying that people shouldn’t support the
leader; but when that support (just like the
handshake) goes beyond the elbow, it creates
problems. Institutions most guilty of sycophancy are
not difficult to identify.
1. The Press:
Our mass media top the list. When the press goes to
bed with the government of the day and persistently
sings its song (with impunity and arrant mischief),
the leader gets carried away by that adulation and
breaks ties with the people. The consequences are
often grave. At the time Gen. Akuffo led the palace
coup that ousted Acheampong, the press were quick to
label him “a soldier’s soldier.” But as he presided
over the rot that the SMC I had created, he couldn’t
escape the venom of the AFRC that swept his SMC II
away from office.
The media have done worse things ever since, taking
sides in politics and openly calumniating political
opponents on behalf of the government. For instance,
under Kufuor, the media took sides against the NDC
for whatever reason; but obviously, those in the
private media needed material support (in the form
of newsprint supplies and funds) while those in the
public media did so to secure their positions or for
petty favors. The award of medals to Kwaku Baako and
some of the well-established bootlickers in other
sectors by Kufuor is a testimony of that unholy
Our pressmen know the value of public opinion polls
only at election time, forgetting that the leader’s
popularity or otherwise in office is also worth
assessing through such polls. In the final analysis,
they join the band-wagon to publish self-opinionated
reports that deceive the leader that he is still in
the good reckoning of the citizens. If those who are
to keep the government on its toes turn out to be
the leaders of the praise-singing band, should we
expect to see any end to the vice of sycophancy?
2. Religious Leaders
Our religious organizations and their leaders have
also failed. The church leaders also do their own
brand of praise-singing and bootlick through the
medium of religion. They are among the first group
of sycophants to snuggle to the corridors of power
for attention. They heap all manner of praises on
the President to get his head swollen that he has
God’s blessing to do things because “It is God who
appoints Kings.” In most cases, however, when their
sycophancy doesn’t yield the expected results, they
turn coat and become the bitterest opponents of the
President. We have too many of such instances to
The truth is that sycophancy is a double-edged sword
that cuts our society both ways. If used to swell
the President’s ego, it serves the purposes of the
bootlickers and their supporters; however, if it
backfires, it creates enmity and sours
relationships, which eventually leads to tension. Do
you remember a so-called Prophetess who came from
overseas to dine and wine (and possibly wench) with
Acheampong and to stamp the authority of the
“Supreme Deity” on his “Unigov” idea? Satiated with
the perquisites on her visit, she used her religious
garb to prophesy that Acheampong was the best gift
for Ghana and that his “Union Government” model
would end Ghana’s political and economic worries. An
elusive panacea from a self-seeking Woman-of-God,
which exploded in tears!
Under all our governments, including this Mills-led
one, the evidence of bootlicking by the religious
leaders is obvious. Those disguised sycophants
functioning as religious zealots (including TB
Joshua) and pushing President Mills’ agenda “to
place Ghana under God” should be carefully watched
because they are not doing so for its own sake. They
are wily sycophants of the highest order whose cries
of “Halleluia… Halleluia” may not be music to
everybody’s ears, after all.
3. Traditional Rulers
Our chiefs and queenmothers are also known for
singing themselves hoarse in a vain attempt to catch
the eyes of the powers-that-be for personal gains.
Those chiefs who identify prominent politicians or
other personalities to enstool them as “Nkosuohene”
don’t just do so for its own sake. They know that
one good turn deserves another and must act quickly
to be the early birds that would catch the worm.
Under Acheampong, numerous chiefs led delegations to
the Osu Castle to say “I concur,” declaring their
unflinching support for his discredited and
self-serving “Union Government” model, and returning
home with wads of cash from the Consolidated Fund
tucked under their arms. Women who were smart enough
to know how beneficial bootlicking was under the
perverted Acheampong regime also carried their
“buttocks” to the Castle, which earned them free
gifts in the form of “Golf” and cash. This “Fa wo to
be gye Golf” syndrome remains a stain on the
How to Tackle Sycophancy
We must differentiate support for our leaders from
sycophancy, which creates a state of rapacious
infatuation and intensifies selfishness by
condensing life (with its motives and enjoyments)
into a moment that the bootlickers exploit. All over
the years, the various leaders have allowed
obsequious characters parading the corridors of
power to adulate them, telling them only what would
be pleasing to their ears, and blinding them to the
reality of the people’s living conditions and
simmering anger. Thus disconnected from reality,
they lose control over the ship of state and rush us
further into the deep waters of underdevelopment.
Again, we must cultivate the moral commitment and
institutional capacity to fight sycophancy in any
way possible. Sadly, the President or any public
office holder whose boot is being licked will be
more wont to revel in the act than discourage it.
They may find it difficult to spurn the fawning.
This attitude is likely to thwart efforts to fight
the vice. If only such leaders will be firm enough
to get rid of the sycophants, the situation may
change for the better. The sad truth is that they
rather lay themselves open to sycophancy and bless
the perpetrators with gifts and other acts or
utterances that confirm their support for whatever
the sycophancy entails and brings to them. They like
their heads being swollen with hot air until they
burst into smithereens of disaster!!
An apathetic civil society cannot fight sycophancy.
The people must be prepared to confront the
bootlickers and their objects of attention. Civil
society must rise up against anything that threatens
sanity. When Nkrumah was taking liberties with
everything and everybody, he enjoyed maximum support
from bootlickers, which emboldened him to pronounce
himself President-for-life and to turn Ghana into a
one-party state, having made his CPP the sole
political authority. Thus, what was good for the CPP
was automatically translated into a good thing for
Ghana. Civil society cowered.
But when disaster struck that government and threw
governance of the country out of gear, the people
glorified the new administration, which itself did
not escape the negative effects of sycophancy. The
military has established its presence in our
national politics because of sycophancy. We appear
not to have leant the lesson which that particular
aspect of our history has taught us.
Yet, another example of the negative impact of
fawning. When hordes of university students took to
the streets at the birth of the AFRC on June 4,
1979, and urged Jerry Rawlings to “let the blood
flow,” he acceded. Civil society looked on. After
the blood had flowed and the dust settled, wailing
and the gnashing of teeth took over from adulation.
Our country is still reeling from such excesses.
The time to reverse the trend has come and we must
snatch the opportunity to do so, especially now that
we are convinced that constitutional democratic
governance (not misguided military adventurism) is
our choice of political path. We must see sycophancy
as a harmful outgrowth on this path and weed it out.
We must fight sycophancy because it is malignant; it
is a morally toxic material that endangers the
viability of our country. It promotes corruption and
negates upright conduct in public office. We stand
to lose if we don’t do anything to stem it now.
We need the legal framework within which to do so.
It is at this point that Parliament must act. The
MPs themselves are not insulated against sycophancy
but they can do the country a world of good if they
revisit the legal code to enact laws that will make
Then, we must ensure that we expose known sycophants
and close all doors to them. When concrete steps are
taken to discourage bootlicking through punishment
for it, the menace will lessen and eventually become
By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
December 6, 2009