By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
December 6, 2009
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’t’s 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 alliance.
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-waggon 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?
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 recount.
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.
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 Ghanaian psyche.
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 sycophancy punishable. 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 unattractive. Ahoy!!!