By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
The NDC Propaganda Secretary, Richard Quashigah, sank into the gutter a month ago when he downgraded the NPP’s flagbearer, Akufo-Addo, as too old to be Ghana’s President.
“Nana Addo would have been a better candidate four years ago when he was between 63 and 64, but today he has passed 65 years and he is not suit for the presidency,” he was quoted as saying (Ghanaweb, 8/26/12).
According to Quashigah, age would play a pivotal role in Ghana choosing a new president in December. He stressed that Ghanaians, especially the youth, now need a relatively young leader for the high office of the land. His statement was in response to Akufo-Addo’s utterances concerning an earlier pronouncement by President Mahama that put age at the forefront of political considerations. As reported, Akufo-Addo had told journalists in Accra that claims in a section of the media that President Mahama’s age puts him in a suitable position for the presidency are untrue and a political gimmick. That claim was later re-echoed by former President Kufuor, indicating that the NPP members have been hard hit by President Mahama’s pronouncement.
All of a sudden, then, age has become a major political issue just as it did in 1979 when political opponents of the late William Ofori-Atta (Paa Willie) of the United National Convention taunted him over his advanced age and consigned him to the Osu cemetery even before the elections could be held. As Fate would have it, he lived on to see the outcome of the elections, though.
For Akufo-Addo, the insinuations concerning age seem to sting; hence, his sharp rebuttal. After suffering from negative publicity regarding ALLEGATIONS of immorality, drug abuse, and his unmeritorious performance under the Kufuor government, anything framed around the age factor might be too disconcerting for him to gloss over. He is resilient, I know, but how much more can he endure? Some detractors have even drawn attention to his somehow “Lilliputian” stature, labeling him as “Kapwepwe” (in direct reference to the late diminutive Zambian politician, Simon Kapwepwe) and suggested that he is not personable enough to be the eye of the country.
Others see his baldness (what they ridicule as “Television Head”) as a problem. Many more scorn his wearing of dentures and conclude that he is not physically appealing enough to be regarded as a Presidential material.
Such ridiculous claims are not only childish but they also reflect the depth of pettiness to which our national politics has sunk. That is why I strongly condemn Quashigah’s stoking of the fire on age. His is the second reference to the age factor in our national politics over the past one month.
The NPP has already joined others to criticize President Mahama’s seemingly innocuous statement that he is the first Ghanaian born after the country’s independence to become head of state. From that vitriolic reaction, I can tell that the President’s claim didn’t go down well with those critics, not because it came from him (a political rival), but because it was considered as disparaging to Ghanaians born before March 6, 1957, some of whom played pioneering roles in the struggle for independence. Those still alive continue to contribute their quota toward national development.
But truth be told, President Mahama had no ulterior devilish motive behind the claim he made. He only sought to sensitize the youth and to identify with them, hoping that they would recognize their role. Indeed, he was only rallying them for national service, using himself as an example. Nothing basically wrong with his reference to the age factor in this case. But the matter has assumed a different dimension, being hyped by his political opponents to cause disaffection for him.
The same cannot, however, be said of Quashigah’s categorical statement that Akufo-Addo is too old to be Ghana’s President. This is a downright puerile statement to make. It is a misguided declaration of ill will and demonstrable nonsense. It is unbecoming of someone who should have known better not to resort to this kind of juvenile politics. His is in a bad taste and demonstrates the shallowness that continues to alienate segments of the population from the NDC. It is often said that the age of Methusellah has nothing to do with the wisdom of Solomon. Of course, we are told that Methusellah died at the age of 969; but I can’t remember anything noteworthy being credited to him despite all that longevity. Solomon didn’t live that long but is reputed with immaculate wisdom and “servicing” of over 500 concubines in addition to his wives!
Akufo-Addo is no Solomon nor is he too old to crave for the Presidency. How many of our heads of state, apart from Rawlings, ascended to the throne at less than 50 years? And what did Rawlings do about national life that the other leaders haven’t done? Are out of the4 woods yet?
All over the world, most of the leaders have been of ripe ages. Here is the statistics on the average ages of leaders wielding executive powers (presidents, monarchs, prime ministers) provided by Ruth Alexander in a BBC article, entitled “Why do so many African leaders die in office?” (8/27/12): Africa and Asia: 61 years; Europe: 55 years; North and Central America: 59 years; Central America: 60 years; and Australasia: 58 years (Reference: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-19356410).
On the whole, factors that affect the health or performance of any head of state go beyond age. Let’s take Senegal’s Abdoulaye Wade, for instance, who was elected President at almost 72 or 73 years, having previously contested and lost the elections on several occasions. His almost 15 years rule has its own implications for Senegal, but he was removed from office when the need arose despite his senility and attempts to manipulate the electoral process. At almost 86 years, if he dies today, his country will honour him for his part in national development efforts. He is just one of the politicians whose advanced age didn’t adversely affect their role in national politics. Old age is not a necessary inhibition for the Presidency and must be respected, not damned. Indeed, age is a major factor in human affairs; but on its own, it doesn’t mean anything except segmenting human existence into phases, each evoking its own implications and interpretations. It can’t necessarily be regarded as a constant determinant of success in one’s handling of national affairs. That is why it is nonsensical for Quashigah and those thinking like him to make reprehensible statements against political opponents on the basis of advanced ages.
Deflating Akufo-Addo should take another direction. There are many issues-based ways to do so, and the NDC must look that way instead of dwelling on his age for that hatchet work.
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