By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
July 8, 2010
Despite their personal and political differences, Ghanaian politicians seem to have one thing in common: they come across as wise only after the event. When in office, they are blind but when out of office, they regain their sight, see things clearly, and become philosophically alert and prophetic in their observations. In this state, they come across as pitiful sages who know the causes of Ghana’s problems. What is it in their political offices that blinds them to what they can see clearly now as the solution to those problems?
Former President John Agyekum Kufuor is reported to have said in far away South Africa that he feels bad about the growing political intolerance between the incumbent government and opposition parties in Ghana. Ex-President Kufuor made the comments during an exclusive interview with Citi News Correspondent Abdul Karim Naatogmah at the country side Pumba Lodge in Grahams Town, South Africa. He was quoted as saying that the rate at which politicians are attacking each other, using foul language particularly in the media, is totally unacceptable. He, therefore, called for a ceasefire to build a united Ghana.
Kufuor’s observations are correct, even if slanted for political currency; and he deserves some credit for identifying one of the major problems that militate against our quest for peace and stability. There has been too much tension in our ranks as citizens long before the incumbent government and opposition parties emerged. Kufuor should have known that fact and made his observation broader. Our experiences in this 4th Republic, however, confirm Kufuor’s apprehensions and accentuate the danger that we pose to ourselves and our democracy. Political intolerance causes national disaster. We must work hard to solve this problem.
Multi-party politics in Ghana is not meant to be such an idiotic game as some of our politicians have portrayed it and made us believe. It is meant to enhance efforts at identifying and using our abundant human and natural resources for improving living standards of the people. Thus, those who do politics are expected to know the rules of the game and to play their part according to those rules. If they do so, they will motivate the citizens to work together in building the country. Anything else is wayward and contemptible.
Unfortunately for us, we have those who choose to use multi-party politics as a tool for pursuing personal ambitions to the detriment of the country. They use politics as a tool for eliminating symptoms instead of curing diseases. They fail to realize that the kind of politics that leads to national development must be based on simple decency and common sense. They create tension wherever they go. When they are in political office, they behave as if they own the world, and when booted out of office, they don’t give those in government the breathing space they need to function. Such politicians are motivated by only one instinct, which is nothing but political intolerance, based on either arrogance or pure mischief. By their fruit, we know them. These are the politicians who have evoked worry in Kufuor, as we are being told. His worry is not without merit.
Let’s lay the problem where it is. We in Ghana don’t seem to know how to do multi-party politics. We have debased multi-party politics and personalized it to the extent that we often allow our wrong-headed sentiments to control our thoughts and actions. We don’t allow our party’s ideals or the principle of give-and-take to call the tune. Everything that we do is seen only through our own terministic political screens. Thus, a misguided feeling of “We are right and they are wrong” pervades our politicking. We see only those in our political camps as friends to dine with and those in other political camps as opponents (or enemies?) to be either avoided or destroyed. Political intolerance originates from this penchant. It appears that the corridors of the various political parties are always walked by those seeking to use the political clout to advantage.
The root cause of this problem seems to reside in the erroneous belief that one particular political party has the magic to solve the country’s problems. The temptation to rely on such a misconception portends real danger. From what I have seen so far, there is no deep-rooted fundamental difference between the strategies that the NPP and NDC (and the other minority parties) are touting as their solution to Ghana’s problems. Both have been implementing policies and measures that are different only in the kind of political rhetoric that surrounds them. They have no fundamentally different agenda for national development and must not deceive anybody. It is just the team players and the method of implementation that differ. But the leaders of these two parties are quick to mislead Ghanaians and set them up as irreconcilable political opponents. If they were politically tolerant, they would be circumspect in their interactions.
To me, developing Ghana cannot be left on the shoulders of one political party. It is a shared responsibility, although we use the outcome of the general elections to shift it around. Thus, if one political party’s leaders deceive themselves (and their followers) that they alone have the panacea for the country’s problems and that without them nothing will work well for the country, they will be setting the tone for political intolerance.
Again, we need to disabuse our minds of the wrong notion that one particular leader is the only person to lead Ghana out of the woods. We have a collective national duty to work concertedly for our country’s development. Of course, we need a leader to guide us do so; but we have to understand that as a human being to whom perfection is not a quality, such a leader has his limitations. We need to make our talents available to be used. That is how people elsewhere build their countries. What we have had so far appears to be built around the “strongman” mentality that in itself encourages political intolerance because there is no room for dissenting opinions in the scheme of that strongman’s agenda for politicking.
Our leading politicians (including Kufuor himself) are the worst offenders; they are guilty of what Kufuor is complaining about. Ask anybody around you and you will be told the numerous instances at which our politicians have demonstrated intolerance toward those not in their camps. So far, our politicians appear to have narrowed down their strategies for hustings to whipping up sentiments against their opponents, which often worsens relationships. Uninformed followers latch on to such cheap talk and do or say what creates tension. Indeed, if only our politicians will learn to be guarded in their utterances and realize that doing politics at the local and national levels should depend on only one thing—the individual’s personal qualities that should be touted as the trump-card to win the hearts of the electorate—the situation should improve.
Ethical conduct in political matters has no room for bad-mouthing or belligerence, which leads to political intolerance. Unfortunately, the situation has not been good over the years. We are witnesses to spates of bad-mouthing on political platforms. Our politics has been downgraded by such idle talk, which unfortunately, is the spice of stage-craft at political rallies. Just listen to the howls of assent any time a politician casts his opponent in a bad light and you will understand what I am saying here. If such an open display of contempt and political intolerance is what will win the day for the politician, why not use it, one may ask?
Now, here comes my beef. Rawlings and Kufuor haven’t set good examples. While in power in this 4th Republic, these two former Presidents gave us clear indications that they were politically intolerant. Both cannot escape blame for either doing things or making utterances that hurt the feelings and reputation of their political opponents. This high degree of political intolerance undergirds the bitter relationship between them. Of course, it is clear that their strained relationship is the result of entrenched positions that they have taken as far as their political and personal interests are concerned.
Having already set the bad example, it is difficult for these two former Presidents to persuade anybody that any comments they make now about political intolerance will be dispassionately received. They failed to set good examples even though they had every opportunity to do so. We don’t need mere words on the issue; we need practical and conscientious action to prove that they are committed to helping the society do away with political intolerance. They must work both within their own political parties and across the other divides to change the situation for the better. When their actions speak louder than their words, society will take them seriously.
The rippling effect on the citizens of this negative attitude of political intolerance in high places is difficult to miss. Almost every day, we hear of conflicts between political activists here and there. How are we expected to live in peace if our politicians make inflammatory statements to set people’s hearts ablaze? With the current high level of political intolerance, we are all at risk.
We should, however, not limit this problem to only the political parties. Political intolerance doesn’t manifest only in the relationship between activists of opposing political parties or even among those sharing the same political persuasions. It is pervasive and must be worked on. It is good that Kufuor has raised this issue for us to tackle. Indeed, we may not succeed in achieving our goals as a united nation if we fail to be at peace with each other.
Efforts toward achieving peaceful coexistence must also involve areas other than the political sphere. Although as human beings we can’t do without conflicts, it is imperative that we work hard to amicably resolve disputes before they explode in our faces. From chieftaincy and land disputes to confrontations in churches and mosques, unhealthy social relationships in families, workplaces, and the public sphere, generally, we have perennial storm-centres to contend with.
The situation worsens when such contentious issues are politicized and those in positions of trust use their political clout to intensify animosities. There is a constant reminder that somebody in government uses his position to influence matters to favour those in his political camp. Then, when the tide turns, those who felt they had been unfairly treated also use their influences in government to pay back. The cycle of “Do-me-I-do-you” runs and endangers life in the society. This tendency to politicize issues is a major source of political intolerance and must be addressed.
Inability to tolerate opposing views is another cause of this problem. Political office holders seem to cherish their “Holier-than-thou” posture and hate to be criticized. Just yesterday when Kofi Wayo dared criticize MPs, he instantly became their “Public Enemy Number One.” Although we are told that Parliament has decided not to invite him to face its Privileges Committee, sharp-tongued utterances from some MPs don’t suggest that they are politically tolerant.
We need to know that multi-party democracy depends on conscientious and conscionable people to thrive. In this sense, our politicians should set good examples for us to emulate. If they mount political platforms to use foul language and to hurl insults at those they don’t like, they will provoke what Kufuor is criticizing.
It is for this reason that our institutions of state must be supported with resources and logistics to stand on their feet. They are the only avenues for strengthening our resolve to perform our roles as citizens. If we build our political parties into strong institutions, they should help us outgrow pettiness and this monster of political intolerance. After all, once the NPP knows that it will need the NDC to measure its performance in office and survive at election time, there should be no morbid desire to wish the NDC dead or to waste resources on destroying it. The same applies to the NDC in power. That’s the beauty of multi-party democracy, which we must appreciate and work hard to uphold.
This aspect may ring a bell with Kufuor’s wish for a national government: “Though I subscribe to multiparty opposition in our country, I equally think all-inclusive governance is the best practice for governing Ghana today,” he emphasized.
Implementing this formula cannot succeed in the current political environment in which the various political forces have taken entrenched positions and don’t want to tolerate divergent views. Maybe, when we become more enlightened about the workings of multi-party politics, we may turn to this approach. For now, let me say that it lies in the womb of time.
Kufuor’s worry concerning political intolerance must be ours too. Our primary concern now must be how to eliminate this albatross of political intolerance to be able to live-and-let-live while we work in concert to solve problems that hinder our country’s development. This is our charge.