By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
April 29, 2011
A cursory glance at the Ghanaian political landscape reveals that there is too much political intolerance, which suggests that we are not doing enough to grow our democracy. Political intolerance is a good recipe for disaster but we seem not to care. That’s a major threat to our democracy and must be reckoned as such. More importantly, we must do all we can to stop this negative trend so as to avert any political upheaval.
At several levels, acrimony resulting from political intolerance is evident. This acrimony has led to the murder of political opponents, destruction of property, eviction of tenants from houses, discrimination at the work place, denial of job opportunities, and many other atrocious acts. Political intolerance manifests in many other ways.
It is the root cause for governments abandoning projects initiated by their predecessors. They fear that completing such projects might win credit for such political opponents and enhance their image. The new government always perceives the outgone one as an anathema that must be discredited. Thus, to eliminate any influence of that government, the new one adopts a politically intransigent stance against continuing with those projects even though much of our scarce resources would already have been sunk into such efforts.
In turn, the new government rushes into initiating other development projects of its own only for them to be abandoned when the tide turns against it for its rival to be in power. The numerous abandoned projects dotted across the length and breadth of the country would have been completed long ago had successive governments not allowed their petulant political intolerance to take the better side of them.
The numerous complaints that Ghanaians have made over the years concerning such a problem attest to this fact that political intolerance is our bane. It creates the tension that characterizes the relationship between rival political camps. Both within each political party and across rival political party lines—or even in segments outside mainstream hardcore partisan politics—there is tension because some people have chosen not to tolerate divergent views or different approaches to implementing policies.
Considering how our national and local politics is tinged with acrimony, hate speech, and outright personal insults, can we say that we are using politics to do the right thing? Or using it for purposes other than what the people need as they continue to support the system with their sweat, toil, and blood? If our politicians are not influenced by other considerations, why can’t they do politics in a decent manner, making their politicking issues-based instead of all these personal attacks that pervade their hustings? Why are they so much politically intolerant? What do they hope to achieve?
I’m afraid that as we near the electioneering campaign period, some politicians may want to exploit the situation, which will only heighten tension. We don’t need to trample each other to death or incapacitation to be able to achieve our political objectives. Tolerating each other’s political manouevres and using political campaign messages as the basis for productive public discourse can help us better than shunning everything concerning political opponents and seeing only one’s own political party (and its manifesto) as the best and only one to tolerate.
For those who want to go into the by-ways and backwoods of the problem, there are extensive incidents and evidence of the destruction that political intolerance has wreaked on societies all over the world. Whether it is the cause of genocide (Rwanda, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in Africa, or the Serbia-Croatia one in eastern Europe) or what we see happening currently in the Arab world, political intolerance has dire consequences for societies and people who fail to rein in their sentiments as far as the quest for power and the appropriation or distribution of resources are concerned.
We in Ghana have numerous examples of our own and must be forewarned about the dangerous path that we have unwittingly chosen to tread as a result of our political intolerance. That path is full of landmines that we can’t skip. It’s a path that can generate an astounding amount of fire to consume us. Being politically intolerant, we seem to be engaged in a dialogue of the deaf and can’t (or don’t want to) hear each other’s language. Where will we go with all this intransigence? We must do all we can to curb such wayward enthusiasms because they will not help us solve our national problems.
Political intolerance has two vital functions: first, it consumes the individual and leads to a senseless dissipation of energies and resources; second, it causes social and political cataclysms that destabilize the society. Conflicts resulting from political intolerance are difficult to resolve.
Unfortunately, though some politicians can‘t do without political intolerance. They thrive on how much tension they create as a result of their political intolerance. Such people are all over the place, wearing their ethnic sentiments, political ambitions, and hunger for power on their sleeves. Others manipulate unsuspecting overzealous party activists to cause trouble just because they are politically intolerant. It is from such unsuspecting and ready-to-cause-mayhem fanatics that the political atmosphere is getting constantly recharged with the voltage of political intolerance.
Much of the tension is not caused by ideological differences (apparently because our political parties hardly privilege ideology in their affairs). The main causes are sentiments aroused by petty ethnic differences, personal interests, and plain mischief. Another factor—mostly emanating from the ranks of those at the lower levels—is the mad rat-race to catch the attention of the powers-that-be so as to win petty favours.
Some even seek to use their political connections to fleece the economy as they turn themselves overnight into contractors, importers/exporters, and suppliers of all manner of items to government institutions for personal gains. With all these wild ambitions, they are almost always on a collision course with each other. They seem to have carved out territories which they jealously guard against encroachment as agama lizards do.
Take the NDC and the NPP, for instance. The persistent mutual hostility between them is mostly fed by factors other than differences in strategies for national development. Both parties are poles apart in many ways and can’t sink their differences to find bi-partisan solutions to serious national problems. They are separated by deep-seated factors that aren’t difficult to notice (from the utterances of their main functionaries, especially). Of course, that’s why they belong to different political cultures to compete for the voters’ goodwill to be in power. But must they allow their political differences to fester into the kind of unproductive political intolerance that threatens national well-being? Certainly, in a democracy, every citizen has peculiar reasons for supporting the political party of his or her choice. Some root for political parties that they think will provide the social amenities they need to improve their living standards. Others feel more secure under one party’s rule than they would under any other. Some may be attached to a party for other reasons—ethnic affiliations, convincing manifesto, or distaste for a long incumbency.
Generally, though, personal security and the freedom to do as one chooses go a long way to determine where the individual’s political persuasion resides. Therefore, an NDC member will go where he feels secure under the protection of the party’s umbrella just as an NPP activist will be led by peculiar interests to feel safe only under the shade of the elephant. But does belonging to different political parties call for acrimony? I don’t think so. But that is the order of the day in our country, which endangers our democracy.
Do we really know how to grow our democracy? Or are we even prepared to do so? The danger that political intolerance poses is clear: it encourages enmity and serves as the launching pad for nasty political upheavals. Many incidents and utterances by intolerant Ghanaian politicians are frightening to the extent that they threaten social well-being and political stability. In a democracy, nothing is scarier than this problem of political intolerance. At least, we can infer from what is happening in the NDC that political intolerance does more than erode public confidence in political parties.
I am worried at this negative tendency to personalize politics and turn it into a “do-and-die” affair. That’s not how others elsewhere do politics. We must create room for give-and-take instead of being closed-minded and working with only what we gather from our tunnel-vision perspectives.
To be continued in the next installment