Ghana Needs Star-Ghana Peace Ambassadors Now

Mon, 29 Jul 2013 Source: Gyan-Apenteng, Kwasi

STAR-Ghana, the multi-donor agency for funding civil society – including Parliament and the media, had a bright idea. In the run up to the 2012 elections it provided funding for nearly 50 NGOs across Ghana to engage in election-related activities. Some of them focused on voter registration education, others on election procedures, many organised debates among parliamentary candidates at the constituency and local levels but one thread run through all the proposals they were implementing: peace. For very obvious reasons, I believe that those peacemakers should think that they still have work to do.

Now, here is the most important perspective: grants to about 50 organisations had the capacity to trigger activities and initiatives that involved hundreds of thousands of individuals and communities. Apart from the members of such organisations, events undertaken drew in participants and crowds that shared the message and hopefully were more than mere passive absorbers. In some cases, the grant recipients also provided grants to smaller community-based organisations in their networks while in other cases the grantees were membership based organisations numbering in the hundreds.

I was privileged to travel through one-half of this country to report some of these activities and I met some of the most committed and resourceful men and women I have had the honour to interact with in recent years. Working for peace is not a one-size-fit-all activity or event. It comes in different packages and the panoply of innovative ideas pressed into service is a tribute to our people’s ingenuity. There were youth groups harnessing the optimism and energy of its members to spread the message of peace; women groups using local networking strategies centred on Queenmothers, markets and churches; there were interparty committees serving as weathervane to stop the storm of violence before it breaks.

I spent the last night of my reporting assignment at Kumawu in the Ashanti Region where the previous general election had generated mistrust among different communities in its wake. The STAR-Ghana partner Gateway, working with the local NCCE branches and other partners had worked relentlessly during the campaigns to spread goodwill around the message “Ghana is for all of us”, and had decided to round it up with a massive all-night musical show two days before the election. Young people from all communities gathered to dance the night away; there was general agreement that the event and similar activities preceding it had contributed to the election passing without any serious incident.

One of the most memorable events during the assignment was a peace march at Agona Nkwanta in the Western Region. It was a joyous brass band parade but with a twist. Party supporters swapped T-shirt so the person wearing an NDC shirt could be an NPP supporter, and even more confusingly, the person adorned in say, a shirt wearing a CPP shirt also had an NPP scarf around the neck. Another one that has stayed with me comes from Busa in the Upper East Region where the Centre for the Promotion of Democratic Governance (CENPRODEG) organised a community forum at short notice. It was a singular privilege to meet Honourable Issaka Hamidu, a feisty ex-serviceman who has retired to his village and serves as the Assembly representative for the community. His undoubted organising ability was infectious and he had managed, working with CENPRODEG to preach the gospel of peaceful elections throughout the community.

There is so much to remember but so little space to fit it all in, but the abiding memory is of several civil society groups pulling together in the same direction towards peace. It worked because the effect of funding xxx organisations was to spark a network of hundreds of initiatives across the country. The point is that any fund manager would expect organisations given grants to use them for the intended purposes but the real payload comes in the form of those spontaneous networks that spring up around those grants. And there were plenty of such networks in the country but the question one asked then and needs to ask now is how robust those institutions and networks are, and whether they can stand the test of time.

It is a fact that we need an active civil society to develop democracy and translate it into development, and this is where sustaining civil society initiatives becomes a critical intervention. Some people have argued that the goal of sustaining such initiatives and activities must lead to financial self-sufficiency such that NGOs and other civil society groups may no longer require external funding. While financial independence is not a bad ambition in itself, it does not necessarily translate into the ultimate challenge of sustainability for funded organisations and initiatives. As a recent review of STAR-Ghana funded health and education NGOs concluded, relevance comes top of the conditions that sustain such initiatives.

The truth is that there are some activities that will always require grants and other forms of funding support to undertake. It is a mistake to profile such activities and organisations that undertake them as unsustainable because they continue to rely on funding. Thus, in terms of the NGOs and networks that spread the peace message during the election period their relevance comes in the result of their activities, which in this case was the peaceful nature of the elections. It is true that the peace that prevailed can be credited to many factors but the cumulative effect of perhaps thousands of individuals and organisations pushing in the same direction cannot be discounted.

This is why one must hope that these vital networks and initiatives have not gone to sleep after the elections because their work is still needed across the country. This time their work is simpler too. Where previously these NGOs worked on everything from biometric registration to vote counting, now all these NGOs and their networks must focus solely on ensuring that different communities and interests get the message, which is that everyone has to accept the outcome of the election petition result.

The great and the good of this country – chiefs, religious leaders, community shakers and all other kinds of political and opinion leaders have added their lustrous voices to the call to the protagonists to respect the judgment when it comes. The National Media Commission is leading a crusade which includes the entire media establishment – public and private – to ensure that media platforms, especially radio, are not used to incite violence in the country.

All these “Accra noises” are noble and worthy but as we know from history, trouble rarely starts from the capital. It is the odd incendiary situation happening on the blind side on the authorities that if unchecked can spiral out of control. This is why the peace message must once again ring out across the country; and who better to play such peace ambassadorial role than the STAR-Ghana Election Call grantees that have done it before and can do it again. To their credit, most of the NGOs and their affiliates and networks do not need prompting because their contribution goes on around the clock and around the year. The grants were the catalyst that gave them greater impetus and focus, but the work is not finished so the call to all those peacemakers from north to south and east to west must be to get back on their metaphorical bikes and lead the ride to peace at this critical time.

This is the time for civil society, whether STAR-Ghana funded or not, to prove themselves relevant in a really “sustainable” manner to the country. During the First World War, Britain recruited its youth into military service with a simple slogan: Your Country Needs You. This call applies to all of us today, except this call is to peace and not to arms.



Columnist: Gyan-Apenteng, Kwasi