By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
December 25, 2010
A cursory analysis of the situation will give us a catalogue of these people who do politics to serve their own interests even though pretending to be spearheading efforts at solving the country’s problems. And these are people who began as mere “nobodies” but often end up as money-bags who enjoy every bit of luxury associated with their status, including the “Beware of Dogs” tag that adorns their private residence!
Once they get access to the corridors of power, all heaven breaks loose for them and their family members, friends, and hangers-on (girlfriends and their family members, etc.). They manipulate the system and use cronies to front for them in making it big time. Both Rawlings and Kufuor (and the political functionaries who served under them) give me the jitters today when I assess their material worth. They may deny public accusations of enriching themselves through the corridors of power but will find it difficult to persuade some of us.
Take Rawlings, for example. As a junior officer in the Armed Forces, life wasn’t cozy for him. He hasn’t hidden the fact that he once ate “yo ke gari” on credit or that he cannibalized the seat in a helicopter into a set of furniture for use in his room. Then, when he shot his way into office, he had access to everything, including all that his family needed to live in comfort from 1979 to date. Consider the fact that for all these 31 years, he has been supported by the state just because he happened to be in power.
Then, turn to John Agyekum Kufuor, who is not known for accomplishing anything noteworthy in his private life, whether as a lawyer or a businessman. He couldn’t either earn anything from practice as a lawyer (having claimed to be trained in Oxford as a lawyer) or manage a small brick-and-tile factory for which he had acquired a bank loan. Kufuor qualifies as a “professional politician” only in the sense that without politics, he would have continued to live in narrow circumstances. Since age 31, he hasn’t done anything else but participating in national politics as a means to eke out his livelihood!
Just like these two examples, all others doing politics in Ghana want the state to provide comfort for them. How about the MPs’ car loans, accommodation, per diem allowances, kickbacks from contract awards, opportunities for business transactions, etc., and the immunity they enjoy, which emboldens them to indulge in shady deals such as visa racketeering, narcotics trafficking, gold smuggling, and other criminal activities from which they benefit just because they are well placed?
And once they taste the sweetness of office, they become reluctant to leave. They resort to all subterfuge to hang on. Do you remember Acheampong’s Union Government (UNIGOV) scam or Rawlings’ quip to his critics in the 1980s: “Hand over to whom? To you”? Indeed, as people often say, “Power sweet!”
A kernel of truth exists here; but it is a truth that must be qualified. By abandoning their chosen careers and going into politics (which they, then, consider as their new career), these professionals create more problems than solving them. As professionals, their careers help them serve society in direct practical and pragmatic ways. For instance, the doctors heal patients; but when they turn to do politics, they serve no useful practical purpose except the hot air and empty political rhetoric that they generate for personal gains. By draining the society of its resources (spent providing comfort for them), they are a liability. That’s a loss. They don’t generate any practical benefit for society. Let them not talk about establishing development projects because the resources for such projects come from the national coffers, not their sweat and toil.
This, then, leads us to the other side of the controversy: What have been the implications of such shifts—attitudinally and materially—for the national psyche and the electorate? Additionally, we need to ask what are the implications for our democracy?
Since independence, and especially since the establishment of the 4th republic, the controversy about the caliber and role of our national politics has taken new forms. Its shifting power base (between the NDC and the NPP) is less an issue; so is its peculiar Ghanaianness in a cultural sense. Our politics is not perceived as necessarily attracting only professionals but it is also dissuading well-intentioned ones from participating in it.
Our politics has thus acquired a new complexion and a new elitism that demoralizes the citizens. The domains of our politics have been restructured to serve the interests of the politicians, prompting many people to ask: Is participation in politics really the solution to our national predicament? In the case of Ghana, one wonders whether those emerging as its politicians are indeed the right caliber of people to motivate the citizens to tackle their problems of under-development.
The alchemy of our politics (present and future), then, does not only provide social status; it also gives access to attitudinally and materially desirable domains of power and privilege. It provides a powerful tool for manipulation and control; hence the rush into it by all manner of people. In addition, this alchemy of our politics has left a deep mark on the psyche and sentiments of Ghanaians. That is the most worrisome aspect. As it is currently practised, our national politics has caused much harm to the system, creating fault lines all over the body politic (in terms of tribalism, nepotism, vindictiveness, bribery and corruption, etc.) and setting the stage for catastrophe in future.
True, we need politicians to lead our country; but do we really think that those opting for the role are really fit for it? Or that by abandoning their chosen careers for politics, they are serving a better cause? I don’t think so.
Two recent developments put issues in perspective. Arthur Kobina Kennedy, a medical doctor who has lived and worked in the United States for many years and participated in the NPP’s political game over the years, now wants to be an MP for Abura-Asebu-Kwamankese. His justification is that if all those 17 or so aspirants for the NPP’s Presidential Candidacy had descended to the constituency level after their failed ambitions, they would have helped the party win the elections. What a travesty? The NPP lost the elections because it didn’t appeal to the electorate. Its politicians’ conduct in office was reprehensible.
Arthur Kennedy wants to enter Parliament to solve the problems that have bothered the people of Abura-Asebu-Kwamankese. What baffles me is that for all these years that Arthur Kennedy has been in medical practice, he hasn’t bothered to have anything to do with that constituency until now. What does he think the people of that area need now, which he will provide in his capacity as a politician and not a medical doctor? What didn’t the people need from him as a medical doctor that he couldn’t do but will now want to do as a politician?
After all losing the gamble to become the NPP’s Presidential Candidate for the 2008 elections—and having pushed himself out of contention in the high echelons of the party—he has nowhere to go but to descend to the constituency level.
For one thing, he hasn’t been in touch with the people all these years and risks being rejected. Even if he succeeds in expending all his resources branding himself as the best to solve their problems, the question on why he thinks it is only through politics that he can do so remains.
Another character who seems to be using politics as a crutch in life is John Akparibo Ndebugre. As he seeks to descend from the high echelons of national politics to the level of an Assemblyman for an area in Zebilla, he creates a ludicrous impression. We remember his wailing in 2009 that he and the other MPs of the 4th Parliament were starving because the Mills government had refused to pay them their ex-gratia awards.
Rather funnily, though, most of those MPs who are already professionals (lawyers, doctors, etc.) are allowed to continue practising their trade, meaning that they have other means to make money apart from the emoluments that they draw from Parliament. By this intricate means, these professionals-cum-politicians are allowed to eke out their livelihood from all angles. Yet, they still demand funds from the national coffers “to survive.” They often sacrifice Parliamentary business to create quorum problems and stall deliberations as they pursue their private interests to grab things left-and-right but are never satisfied.
I am not yet done with Ndebugre. Here is a lawyer-cum-politician who had represented Zebilla as an MP before losing the seat to the NDC’s Cletus Avoka in the 2008 elections. He had already lost grounds in the PNC and contested the elections as an Independent Candidate with a pro-Nkrumahist fervour. Electoral defeat sent him spinning to the NPP, where he is more than a pitiable zealot, fighting a supposed pro-Nkrumahist cause in the den of bitter haters of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.
This was one man who had ridden high on the tide of Rawlings’ PNDC as the Secretary for Agriculture before falling out and settling in the safety net of his legal profession. He already knows better days in Ghanaian politics and may now be tottering toward his political demise as he retrogresses to the District Assembly level. Ndebugre exhibits a common trait of the Ghanaian doing politics—he will not let go and is determined to remain in politics, no matter how capriciously he is tossed about by circumstances.
Just like the other professionals, what is it about his legal profession that prevents him from contributing his substance to Ghana’s development unless he does partisan politics?
To be continued…