By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
March 4, 2011
The fumbling and bungling in the handling of serious national affairs by President Mills and his government seems to be the main factor that will spell the NDC’s fate at the 2012 elections. If the current trend persists, the NPP will not have to waste funds campaigning for votes to be able to return to power. It’s not as if the NPP will be a better option, though. The NPP is just the other side of the political coin that depicts the nonsense in Ghana politics that the NDC government is currently exemplifying.
Day-in-day-out, the government’s failure to take advantage of obviously beneficial situations to regain public goodwill suggests that it is gradually losing grounds. I want to remind President Mills that what will win the 2012 election for him (granted that he survives the on-going head-butting sessions in his own party) is not mere “character”—how humble or God-fearing he is. Character might have done so for him in 2008 but having felt the impact of his rule, the people know very well that character alone doesn’t put food in anybody’s plate. That’s where the disillusionment sets in.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I uphold the maxim that “A good name is better than riches.” There is nothing bad about humility but when it turns out to be a problem for productive governance, it can’t be appreciated as an asset. It loses its value; and a government led by someone with that trait is not retained in power once the electorate dismiss him as a liability. President Mills seems to be setting himself up as such, which will make it difficult for the NDC’s electioneering campaigners. Certainly, what has happened so far doesn’t confirm to Ghanaians that 2011 is a “Year-of-Action” for their betterment.
Let’s face facts: our politics is still crude. It is hardly issues-based, which is why the electorate are easily cajoled by politicians with sugar-coated tongues who make sweeping promises to win their votes. So bamboozled, the electorate go for such charlatans only to regret long after the fact. Our politics is largely based on such superficial factors as ethnicity, personality, and hindsight (from issues related to candidates connected to personalities or issues that the electorate refuse to let go). That is why a government that seeks to be retained in power must be careful it doesn’t annoy the electorate. The picture is clear.
Ethnicity in our politics
Undoubtedly, our politics is heavily shaped by ethnic allegiance(s). We can tell from the so-called bastions of support for both the NDC (Volta Region) and NPP (Ashanti/Eastern Regions) to confirm that this voting pattern will not easily change. Once the people take a stand (for or against), it seems to be set in stone. Such has been our attitude to politics over the years.
Although the Fante vote for Kufuor rather than Professor Mills in the 2004 elections might prove otherwise, it can be said to be incidental. It’s few and far between, apparently because that tilting toward the NPP changed unexpectedly in the 2008 elections. Thus, the Fante example can’t be sustained as a permanent feature of Ghana politics—by-passing one’s kith and kin to go for a candidate from a different ethnic extraction. Both Kufuor (an Asante) and Mills (a Fante) are Akans, anyway, even though they belong to different sub-groups within that broad ethnic umbrella.
Members of the other ethnic groups have their own preferences but we can tell from the records that voters in the Upper East/West Regions and some constituencies in the Northern Region would opt for the NDC. They have their own rationale behind their choice but some overt comments related to their dispositions concerning “Kabonga” say it all.
The resurgence of virulent ethnic sentiments to influence the 2012 elections is predictable. We’d better brace up for its impact.
Politics of hindsight
The narrative surrounding our politics is full of anecdotal accounts of politicians being punished by the electorate for their unguarded utterances or insulting posture. For instance, the persistent refusal of Ewes to forgive and forget Victor Owusu’s 1969 utterance that “Ewes are inward-looking” is one major reason why any political party or candidate traced to his “Mate Me Ho” root is not given the nod at the polls in the Volta Region. Not even the bull and bottles of Schnapps that Victor Owusu offered in retracting his words and apologizing for the faux pas could settle the problem.
The electoral records show that since the August 29, 1969, elections when Gbedemah’s National Alliance of Liberals (NAL) swept all the 19 seats in the Volta Region (and for which the Region had no Minister in Busia’s Progress Party government), all the pro-United Party candidates and political parties (PFP, NPP) haven’t fared well in the Volta Region. That is the price politicians pay for stepping out of bounds with their utterances and public posture.
Until the circumstances changed at the 2008 polls, the citizens of Cape Coast didn’t want to prefer the NDC to the NPP because they were quick to recall what they regarded as a scathing insult from JJ Rawlings when he told them in 1996 that “even when cats poop, they cover their faeces with sand,” in an apparent condemnation of the wanton defecation on the beaches in the area by the Cape Coasters. In November 1996, S.V Akyianu fervently apologized to them to forgive and forget, but they didn’t.
It is in this same light that the NPP’s Akufo-Addo’s “All-die-be-die” madcap rabble-rousing will be assessed and responded to by the electorate. Those who may feel threatened by such a veiled threat to cause mayhem will make their decisions based on their own dispositions, not the haughty manner in which the NPP’s main players are defending it.
Segments of the electorate who know that political violence is not beneficial to organized politics because partisan conflicts negatively polarize the populace will see things differently and act on, accordingly. Their decision will have an impact on Akufo-Addo’s electoral fate, especially if such a threat is reinforced during the electioneering campaign period. Those who may be influenced not to go along with him will reject him at the polls. Such is the outcome of unguarded political utterances.
On personality, we all know that Ghanaians consider the personal stature and looks of the candidates or their rhetorical performances in making their electoral decisions. We’ve heard comments like “He is a handsome man and fit to represent the face of Ghana” or “I won’t vote for him because he is too short to be Ghana’s President,” which suggests that pettiness still pervades political thinking in our case.
For example, Some people who rooted for President Mills in the 2008 elections justified their choice with the claim that he was a humble, God-fearing intellectual who would not be in office for personal gains or to do things “by-heart” as his predecessors had done. Whether their decision is still justified or not can be determined against the background of President Mills’ performance for two years now.
The reality of the situation
The obvious lapses in President Mills’ handling of affairs have become key factors in public discourse and from the persistent criticisms levelled against him by his own party followers and political opponents alike, it is clear that he has lost some ground. Nothing that he is doing (or not doing) seems to be working in his favour. Let’s take one practical example to suggest that he hasn’t so far made that break from the past. Just like his predecessors, he is focusing on establishing development projects all over the country, which is laudable but falls short of what will glue him to the hearts of the electorate.
There is an obvious disconnect between him (his government) and the electorate because the “human face” that is expected to be on his policies and approaches toward implementing them is missing. We are all witnesses to the haphazard manner in which the prices of utility services and petroleum products, taxes, and others have been raised and other obligations imposed on the already over-burdened people. By not adopting measures to ameliorate the plight of the people, he has definitely turned himself into the bull’s eye for the political archers to aim at.
Again, President Mills and his Vice seem not to be interacting properly and frequently with Ghanaians as one would expect. What has happened so far suggests that they are disconnected from the mass of the people. This situation won’t augur well for future hustings. The current manner of reaching out to the people is sterile and should be abandoned.
Then again, not enough is being done to explain government’s policies to the people and they are left at the mercy of detractors. I have already condemned the retention of the Ministry of Information and will say that the counter-productive and conflicting utterances from the political appointees in that sector only go to confirm my stance. The government seems to be disconnected from its own functionaries at different levels. Probably, its failure to create jobs and to appease the NDC’s foot-soldiers could be one main reason for this state of affairs.
At a broader level, it seems the NDC lacks ideas to regenerate itself and is tottering gradually toward an implosion, especially if current behind-the-scene manouevres to pit Nana Konadu Agyemang-Rawlings against the incumbent materialize. At that point, there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth, especially if the NPP regains public goodwill to return to power.
Those entrusted with the mandate to rule Ghana need to know that the electorate need more than mere handouts to make their electoral decisions. They will not give their mandate to a political party that is in disarray. They will not empower a Presidential Candidate who is impulsive or diffident or who exhibits traits that they abhor. In this sense, then, the problems that have crept into the NDC’s ranks and virtually cut the base of the party off from the seat of government are a harbinger of the NDC’s fate unless decisive measures are taken to claw back lost faith and confidence.
President Mills needs to know that there will be strong public support for his government (and its policies) if it does what benefits the people. Only when the government initiates policies that are framed in ways to affirm rather than attack the means of livelihood of the people will they toe its political line.
In a society whose population constantly replenishes itself with self-help in diverse fields, the implementation of policies with a “human face” is a must. The ethos of this self-help spirit is national and inclusive; it produces individuals who are Ghanaians by virtue of their commitment to doing what will uplift themselves and position them to contribute their quota toward sustaining our democracy. They can do so only in an atmosphere of peace, stability, and good governance. That is why the government must complement their efforts by enunciating favourable policies and standing firm to fight vices and practices that threaten our democratic national creed—“one nation, one people, one common destiny.”
Having called the tune by grabbing the people’s mandate to rule the country, the government should recognize its responsibility and pay the piper. Anything short of that will give the electorate only one option on December 2, 2012, which is to see the back of President Mills. Then, roles will be reversed for the electorate to become those who pay the piper and will call the tune. It is as clear as a cloudless day.