Opinions Sat, 25 Aug 2018

Bagbin and political pragmatism in Ghana

I have tried hard to restrain myself from joining the fray to condemn Hon. Alban Bagbin, precisely because I think we need to be realist in our conversation. This is also because sometimes we have many things clogging our sense of judgment that eventually result in very skewed and parochial analysis.

When I was at the University of Cape Coast (UCC), my 'twin' brother Kofi Semanu Atsu Adzei and I were very active in student politics. We were both committed to defending the interest of our fellow students, who were at the rough precipice of injustice.

Thus, for the four years Atsu and I spent at the UCC (spanning from 2004-2008), we dedicated ourselves to challenging unnecessary intellectual paternalism and abuse of students. In one instance, we had to put our educational prospects on the line in challenging an African-American professor who had predilection for insulting us.

Challenging this professor was a huge challenge; because most of our colleagues were so timid and in search of favour that they would hardly critique this very professor, even though most of them were struggling.

We also had Ghanaian lecturers who were accused of trading grades for ... And some of us were earmarked for victimisation because we were seen as challenging neo-traditional gerontocracy that forbid the nurturing of the intellectual minds of young men and women.

In all of our struggles, I took up leadership position as the first elected vice president of my department's association, African Studies Students' Association. When my term ended, Atsu and I felt we still had more to do.

So, we formed a de facto student union, Concerned African Studies Students' Association. Our primary aim was to push our colleagues who were at the ebb of academic ladder.

Eventually, we pushed most of our colleagues from third class to second class lower, and second class lower to second class upper. At the end of the day, we felt accomplished. We were guided by our motto: 'Radicalism with rationalism.'

But throughout our political activism, I noticed that Atsu allowed me to do most of the talking. We would write together, because he was a prolific writer, but anytime we had to articulate our writing in speech, Atsu would leave the platform for me to do so.

Throughout our days at the UCC, I was unconscious about why my 'twin' brother made me his spokesperson. As a 'talkafruit' I enjoyed talking, anyway.

When we proceeded to the Institute of African Studies (IAS), University of Ghana, in 2009 for our Master of Philosophy degree, we had become relaxed in our political activism. We became calm, but not without our usual post-lecture analysis.

We had special names for some of our professors who had no respect for students because they had individually acquired a terminal degree. But at the IAS, we did not meet any institutional antagonism against our progress. In the end, we kept our politics to ourselves and graduated peacefully in 2011.

Even so, anytime we had to speak to an authority at the IAS, Atsu would unconsciously push me to speak. As teaching assistants at the University of Ghana, we would teach together.

Atsu would prefer to do the writing, while I would do the talking. When he felt strongly to comment, he would cheerfully do so. And later when we had gone out to look for job, Atsu would still push me to talk.

Through Atsu, I developed my oratorical skill. But the question is: why would Atsu always push me to speak? The answer is very simple: he is a partial stammerer. He never felt intimidated by it, because he writes so well (I learnt how to write partly from him).

He capitalised on his writing capacity to articulate his views. One time, he wrote a very controversial, but insightful article: "Divine madness or sheer hypocrisy", which incurred the irk of Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal Christians. The article was widely read, as it brazenly critiqued 'born-again' Christians who made 'noise' in the name of praying to disturb the night.

The backlash against the article was anticipated. One fine Christian brother wrote a very good rebuttal. And since I was closer to the Atlantic Hall of the University of Cape Coast, where the rebuttal had been displayed on a notice board, I felt compelled to act apologetically on behalf of my 'twin' brother. But, of course, he knew his writing agility. But in the end, lecturers and other students felt Atsu had done what Napoleon could not do.

Coming to Bagbin and Dr. Omane Boamah, my considered though is that Bagbin was being pragmatic. Politics is not so much about the content of a message as it is about the force and the oratorical skill that accompanies the message.

In America and other so-called developed countries, the ancient Greek tradition of oratorical training, has been resuscitated. Students, particularly those with ambition to go into politics, take course on rhetoric. The idea is for them to communicate well and persuasively.

There are many western leaders whose ideas I did not really support, but who I could hardly afford not to listen. During the regime of erstwhile British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, I made sure I never missed his speech.

Sometimes, I hardly understood his policies, but the sheer force behind his speech glued me to my father's radio. I relished how he spoke. In the same way, I admired Obama, not necessarily for his policies, but his ability to captivate people by the force of his speech.

Dr. Omane Boamah is undoubtedly an intelligent person, as Bagbin admitted. He had the ability to explicate complex issues. The few times I listened to him, I realised he is such an intelligent person.

But I was usually not moved by his speech. He stammering took the wind out his attempt to communicate. He could not readily appeal to non-NDC (National Democratic Congress) audience, because they were not patient (as Bagbin pointed out) to listen to him. Most audience unfortunately felt he was dull and uninspiring.

This was a bad case for him. But obviously, we should not illegally discriminate against any person on the basis of speech ability, gender, culture, religion, politics, social status and so on. But in politics, it is about pragmatism. Pragmatism in politics even overrides 'truth'.

Politicians win elections not so much because they said the 'truth,' but because they 'lied' convincingly. In my young life, I have observed that confusing the electorate rather than convincing them is the trademark of most politicians.

Omane Boamah had the capacity to convince people, but he could not 'confuse' them with speech. Unfortunately, that is said to have contributed to the defeat the NDC suffered in 2016 general elections.

We may valorise this issue the way we want, but I personally think that ex-president John Mahama could have assigned Dr. Omane Boamah to a ministry where he could best function. This reminds of me my former university mate who was always attracted to unwillingly join Christ Embassy Church for worship.

In 2009, Christ Embassy, UCC branch, had a practice of parading 'beautiful' ladies at the roadside to draw people to church. And since my friend loved women in his on terms, he was always caught in the web of the church. He was always forced to worship God, and later come to complain to me. His ordeal was always a comic relief for me.

The practice of Christ Embassy is practised by businessmen and women. I have realised that most commercial companies have 'beautiful' females as receptionists and PROs. Some of these females may not be super intelligent, but they had the magnetic force to attract customers.

Knowing that the 'Sons of Adam' look from the outside, companies would objectify women to the chagrin of feminists in their advertisement. They do this to promote sale. It is, however, sad that women would be reduced to objects of attraction.

If what I am saying is anything to go by, then we should reconsider what Bagbin said. Perhaps, we have to tilt our pragmatism to involve everyone by placing people in offices where they can best perform.


Columnist: Charles Prempeh