By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
April 29, 2011
Political intolerance creeps slowly from the underworld of damaging gossips and backbiting through scheming to undercut political opponents to open verbal exchanges, physical confrontations, hiring of thugs to molest (and kill political rivals), and selective sabotage. It is everywhere, pervasive and threatening social cohesion.
Political intolerance in Ghana is nourished by ethnic sentiments, pure personal hatred, or mischief arising from frustrations. Such frustrations could stem from many sources: lack of self-fulfillment in politics; inability to win political office; the fact that one’s preferred political party or politician is not in power; and pure hatred for those in power.
In any sense, political intolerance in Ghana is the outcome of many complicated factors, much of which we can trace to the diabolical manner in which politics itself is done in the country. Whether for weal or woe, some people have constructed politics as a do-and-die affair and will invest all their resources in clipping the wings of those they don’t like. This low-level attitude to politics seems to be the norm these days, especially now that it has become clear that being in politics means becoming economically self-sufficient at the expense of the system.
And there are many willing collaborators in every corner to use. The media are deeply involved in whipping up needless dust storms as they open their doors to all manner of people whose virulent pronouncements don’t solve problems but heighten tension. Those who air their views through the media mostly make allegations that they don’t have evidence to substantiate or simply don’t want to substantiate because all they aim at is to gore their political opponents and render them worthless in the estimation of the electorate.
The spate of unguarded utterances on the airwaves and the print or electronic media seems to be unending. By indulging in such low-level reportage, the media have become the main driving force behind much of the negative political attitudes that undergird political intolerance. The media fan animosity in one way or the other to support their favourites or undermine their opponents. Their daily publications create hostility for political opponents and portray their own shameless adulation for those they regard as being in their good books. The private media (print and electronic) are the worst offenders. A mere glance at their contents is enough to confirm such claims.
By continuously looking for only negative happenings involving the politicians that they dislike, the media create conditions for acrimony that eventually feeds the stream of political intolerance.
The unhealthy competition going on either within the political parties or between the various rival political parties has created so much tension that one wonders when we will ever come to realize that politics goes beyond being at a political opponent’s throat as we seem to be doing in Ghana.
These happenings can easily escalate to deepen crisis, especially in volatile situations that easily get out of hand when politically motivated. We can infer from the circumstances surrounding the Yendi Massacre that the mixture of chieftaincy disputes and partisan political rivalry is a major cause of the tension that is endangering well-being in areas harbouring the Abudus and Andanis. Because of the heavy political dose, both the NDC and NPP are embroiled in this conflict, which doesn’t serve anybody’s interest except those who hope to cash in on the situation at the 2012 polls.
There are many other pockets of politically motivated embers throughout the country; and as we prepare to begin the main hustings toward the 2012 polls, we have to be very careful not to stoke any of them to set the political landscape ablaze.
Contrary to how we perceive and practice it in Ghana, partisan politics is not designed to be a tug-of-war to cause fatalities. Although it is designed to be competitive, it is expected to serve useful ends for public good. As a game of chance, politics is expected to produce winners who will be trusted to use the people’s mandate to solve their existential problems, not jump on the vanquished to exact any pound of flesh.
That’s why those who enter it must understand the ramifications and be prepared to carry out their responsibilities in a professional manner. Being professional means abiding by the rules of the profession and cultivating the habits of mind and character based on public spiritedness, good morality, and the will to leave the scene if one outlives one’s welcome.
In our case, those who do politics seem not to know the rudiments of the game let alone prove that they have the requisite element of public spiritedness to serve country and citizens. They seek power to do what will enhance their own lifestyles. This penchant for self-acquisition is not only a stumbling block but it is also the main building block for the intolerance that pervades the political landscape.
Just like bribery and corruption, political intolerance is also a canker that is eating away the fabric of our morality. The alarming part, however, is that unlike bribery and corruption, political intolerance is a recipe for national disaster. It is a powder-keg that can explode with devastating consequences. Ghanaians have a bounden duty to ensure that no one’s political intolerance creates problems to destabilize the society. The various institutions of state (especially those claiming to be non-partisan, such as the National Commission on Civic Education), civil organizations, non-profit organizations, and public-spirited and respected public figures must use their influence to curb political intolerance.
The fight must begin from the top leaders of the various political parties. If they rein in their sentiments and act with decency, they will set good examples to be emulated. But if they are the first to rush out to make rash and unguarded utterances that instigate their followers, the problem cannot be solved. I implore all the big guns in the various political parties to respect themselves and be respected as people who know how to use politics to build a strong and healthy nation, not those who (for the sake of—and in the pursuit of—their inordinate personal whims and caprices) use politics to cause mayhem.
Political intolerance is wily and must be guarded against. It doesn’t allow for unity of purpose. We in Ghana need to know that we have very serious national problems to solve through politics, granted that we are determined to sustain our constitutional democracy for it to grow as others elsewhere have done for centuries and become objects of constant admiration.
That being the case—and knowing very well that we can achieve our national development objectives only if we don’t allow our petty political ambitions and ethnic differences to divide us against those we consider as undesirables—we must eschew political intolerance. We have more to gain from such efforts and should use the merits of our unity-in-diversity motto to shape our national politics properly.
We stand to move our country forward only if we don’t allow partisan politics to tear us apart just for its own sake. We must use our human and material resources for better purposes than fighting each other. That’s our charge.