By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
December 27, 2009
As a reminder of how vindictiveness prevails in our national life, we must recognize that the favourable conditions for vengeance exist in all sectors, especially in the public sphere. We are not yet done with the issue of appointing embittered people to public office under President Mills’ government. Take, for instance:
• At the Presidency, Victor Smith, Koku Anyidoho, and many more, who were tyrannized by the Kufuor administration;
• Lt. Col. Larry Gbevlo-Lartey (National Security Coordinator, who was dismissed by Kufuor from his headship of the 64 Infantry Regiment on a very serious allegation of plotting a coup d’état that nobody either investigated or prosecuted him for);
• Yaw Donkor (who was removed from the Directorship of the BNI by Kufuor) and many other operatives of the BNI who were forcibly evicted from their positions in that organization either by being asked to proceed on leave (a euphemism for dismissal), redeployed to the Civil Service, or simply silenced through official sanctions or by the actions of political party activists planted in the organization. Should we be surprised at what the BNI has done so far in this government?
• Many others in the NADMO, Security Services, etc. who were also sent packing off are now back to post, making no secret of their determination to show their “enemies” where naked power lies.
We can tell from the removal from office of those supposedly sympathetic to the NPP (at the National Service Directorate, NADMO, NHIS, NYEP, etc.) that the wheel of “do-me-I-do-you” is really whirling and doing damage. But that is not all. Those radical elements within the NDC, apparently led by Rawlings, are unhappy that the NDC administration hasn’t paid back the NPP elements yet. They are aggrieved because President Mills is not working hard for the prosecution of NPP functionaries, considering how the Kufuor government sternly dealt with NDC activists accused of causing financial loss to the state or simply making it difficult for the NPP-in-opposition then to function. To these radicals, the cycle must run.
It is within this context that President Mills’ mantra of “Father-for-all-Ghanaians” has been received with mixed feelings even within his own political circles. To the radicals, it is unbelievable (and unacceptable too) that the NPP functionaries are not being punished as one would have expected, especially when viewed against the background of the sentiments that dominated the electioneering campaigns. After all, Asiedu Nketiah, the NDC’s General Secretary, had already told Ghanaians long ago that the party had prepared a list of all those NPP elements to be punished. So, why shouldn’t they be dealt with now?
So far, the inability to jail any of the NPP functionaries may be pointing us to a different direction of governance. It may suggest that an end is in sight to the politics of vengeance (at least at the official level). Whether it is true or not, I don’t know. But what I do know is that this vicious cycle of vindictiveness still exists in our politics and must be weeded out. The matter will take on a different complexion if vindictiveness is effected under the cover of the law on “causing financial loss to the state.” Knowing very well how determined some people are to punish others, this law may become an albatross, after all. Personal animosity will certainly influence decisions on whom to punish, I bet you.
In developed democracies that we admire, personal animosity is not part of the mechanism for doing national politics. Recourse to the principles of democracy, based on an effective legal system, strong institutions of governance at all levels, and patriotism is the norm.
Unless our politicians want to tell us that their agenda for being in politics differ from those for national development, they will not continue to allow personal sentiments and the penchant for vindictiveness to influence what they do (or don’t do) in politics. If they are all determined to work for the development of the country, why should they misuse energy to wreak vengeance on each other? The use of political power to torment others is undemocratic and must be abandoned.
This atmosphere of vindictiveness is fed by the actions of others apart from the politicians. The press are also doing overtime, painting black those they don’t like and seeking to use the power of the 4th Estate of the Realm to seek vengeance on those defeated by the political fates. They have become unwitting tools too. To this extent, their recourse to vindictiveness also threatens our democracy.
The vindictiveness is not limited to the national level. It transcends all other sectors, beginning from the level of the political parties and spreading into areas that one might even not expect it to be. It is evident at two levels—within and between the political parties. Let’s take that which happens within the political parties, for instance. The ongoing constituency-level elections show clearly how vindictiveness operates within the political parties. Consider the hit-and-run tactics of some elements in their own parties as they wreak vengeance on those they consider as “enemies,” which has led to loss of limb and property in some cases. It is happening in the NDC and the NPP. These internal fights may be interpreted as inevitable dynamics that determine the ebb and flow of politicking; but they are not healthy, after all, given the fact that they are influenced by the irrepressible personal urge for retaliation. They arouse bitter feelings and promote needless tension.
Then, let’s consider the bitterness between the parties, taking the NDC and NPP, for instance. The inter-party wrangling at this level is fed by the desire for vindictiveness, mostly influenced by the wish by those now in power to punish the NPP elements for whatever they might have done while in power. Only God knows what the NPP elements are placing up their sleeves for their NDC counterparts if they win the 2012 elections. In truth, the cycle of vindictiveness seems to be churning at all times.
If the common agenda is to develop Ghana and make life worth living for Ghanaians, why should there be so much acrimony and vindictiveness in national politics, regardless of which political party is in power? Granted that each party is different from the other because of its peculiarities, unique manifesto, and that politics connotes competition, one may excuse the rivalry that occasions politicking in the country. The trading of allegations of incompetence is expected. After all, the goal of each party is to win goodwill from the electorate and earn the mandate to be in power. But when rivalry degenerates to vindictiveness, it gives much cause for serious concern. Unfortunately, no one seems to be bothered. To me, the similarities in the various manifestoes and strategies for reaching out to the electorate far outweigh the differences that separate the NDC from the NPP, which underscores the need for accommodation and not enmity or vindictiveness. One can tell that the only difference between the two parties is known only at election time when the electorate choose one above the other to enter the old wine bottle at the Osu Castle.
In terms of the agenda for national development, there is no marked difference. After all, both have development projects as their top priority to which all other issues are tied. None of them can effect any drastic societal change to make Ghana a federal entity or a confederate. It is likely to remain a unitary state consisting of over 100 ethnic groups. So, knowing very well that it is only the new wine that enters the old wine bottle after the general elections, what is the point in this penchant for vindictiveness?
This tendency for vindictiveness becomes alarming if it is overstretched to function at the level of tribalism. For all that it may entail, it is dangerous. We don’t have to deceive ourselves that the actions of some of our political leaders don’t paint the picture in the minds of certain ethnic groups that they are targets of vindictiveness. Allegations against Kufuor that his government had alienated and targeted Ewes for discrimination in terms of recruitment into the Security Services were rife. Others have also accused Rawlings of discriminating against other ethnic groups. When vindictiveness is framed within the scope of tribalism and nepotism, it turns an otherwise harmless suspicion into a dangerous powder keg ready to explode at the flick of a finger. Unfortunately, our leaders always represent this face of vindictiveness. Of course, in every political system, the leader of the political party who assumes high office is always upheld by his kinsmen as a source of pride and empowerment. For instance, in the United States, the emergence of Barack Obama filled African Americans with a never-known-before sense of empowerment, fulfillment, and humanness.
One could feel that sentiment exuding from every African American who saw his meteoric rise to power as a neutralization of the long-held stereotypical image of the African American as an underdog and nonperson in the US. This feeling is unavoidable but it ends right there as a “feeling.” It is not translated into the strategies for governance nor has Obama behaved in any way to suggest that he is more sympathetic to the African American cause than to any other constituting the ethnic fabric of the United States. There is no act of official or unofficial vindictiveness arising from that feeling of empowerment.
The contrast between that kind of “feeling” and ours is sharp. In our case, the danger is that we cannot separate ethnic interests from national aspirations, which underscores the prevalence of tribalism in our politics. The perception of the leader as representing the interests of his particular ethnic group is dangerous but we seem to encourage it in one way or the other. We can all tell what happens anytime the name of any of our leaders (past or present) is mentioned. The first impulse is to refer to his ethnic group and the images associated with that reference. This tribal factor has played a dangerous part in our politics, especially since 1992. The danger became prominent in the 2008 general elections but we managed to stick together as “one nation, one people, with one common destiny.” For how long this veneer of oneness can endure in the face of vindictiveness, no one knows.
As dependence on ethnic identities continues to dominate national politics, we face numerous risky challenges. Kufuor will go down in history as a failure in this aspect, considering his claim that he didn’t find anybody from the entire Upper West Region as qualified enough to include in his Cabinet in the first part of his 8-year tenure. He has also been accused of nepotism just as has been said of Rawlings and as many are saying about the Mills administration (the favoring of Ewes and Northerners).
As soon as people begin pointing accusing fingers in this sense, the risk surfaces and draws attention to itself as a danger to our democracy. That is why it is imperative for us to look far beyond our noses to create room for every qualified Ghanaian to have a part in national politics. We must admit that allowing tribal sentiments or personal grudge to dominate our political considerations and to provoke acts of vindictiveness gravely endangers our democracy. Human and fallible, though we are, it is unjustifiable for us to misuse the benefits of our democracy to inflict harm on others.
Although the challenges continue to make the going tough for us, we must press on, not do anything to destabilize the system. We must continue to use laid-down pillars of democracy and peaceful means to resolve crisis and not abuse the political power given us by the electorate to wreak vengeance on others. We must resolve to lift ourselves above this kind of negative politicking, which endangers our democracy.