Opinions Fri, 31 Aug 2012

President trumpets nation’s stability but fault-lines remain

Moses K. Yahaya

While some of our West African neighbors---Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Ivory Coast---have self destructed, Ghana has managed in the face of odds---military coups, ethnic conflicts and political grandstanding--- to avoid civil upheaval. Acutely averse to large scale violence and the mayhem and hardships it unleashes, Ghanaians have exercised great restraint and controlled their violent impulses. But sadly, we trumpet “this feat” almost gloatingly and with an implicit message to the world beyond our borders, “Look at us, we are not like our neighbors.”

Here was the President, John D. Mahama, shamelessly touting Ghanaians’ capacity for tolerance in his maiden address to the nation following the death of President John A. Mills.

“When other nations descended into ethnic rivalries and warfare, we Ghanaians worked and laughed and lived together without regard to ethnic background. When other nations allowed religious intolerance to turn to violence, we embraced our brothers and sisters of differing faiths wishing them Good Friday and Happy Easter or Ramadan Mubarak.” The President’s gloating aside the address was adequate and effectively tackled some glaring problems. Mr. Mahama hit all the right chords. He was thoughtful and reassuring. Pandering was minimal. He reached out to his political opponents and prodded them to join him in promoting peace and national unity.

Ghanaians like tranquility a fact borne out by the nearly two and half decades of stability in the country. Indeed, our nation is the darling of the international community. Prominent world figures speak glowingly of our stable democratic institutions and our adherence to the rule of law.

And not unexpected, the windfall from our prolonged period of stability has been enormous; foreign investments have grown steadily over the years and Ghana has become the investment destination for a splattering of nations--- Asian, African, South and North American and European.

But before we get euphoric, some self-scrutiny is necessary; are we really models of peace in a region rife with conflict, is our current atmosphere of stability sustainable over the long haul, how committed are we to the ideal that our nation’s interests supersede any tribal and ethnic considerations and finally, can we continue to keep our parochial feelings from bubbling to the surface and ultimately engulfing us in a firestorm of violence? The answers to these questions are not easy because beneath the veneer of stability lie simmering political, economic and social tensions that if left unchecked could undo all that we have achieved. What is the source of these divisions? Point an accusing finger at our political culture and you will not be way off the mark; our political discourse has become increasingly coarse and puerile. The political system is awash in rancor. It is no longer a tightly held secret that our politicians have jettisoned civility and replaced it with unbridled meanness.

Ghanaian politicians will readily admit…off the record, of course….that their first impulse is to belittle their opponent to gain political advantage. Examples abound; the late President Mills was vilified endlessly, so too, was Kufuor and already, Mahama has begun to suffer the same fate.

There is no end in sight. Each passing day our politicians give us a lot to worry about with their utter contempt and disdain for each other. Frankly, the fissures within the body politic will only worsen as the elections draw near and the parties vie for electoral victory.

Talking about unruly politicians brings to mind the bombastic utterances of Ablakwa Okudzeto (NDC) and Kennedy Agyapong (NPP)? These two symbolize all that is wrong with Ghanaian politics. They are combative, rude and unapologetic. Of course, there are other politicians who are just as inflammatory, but the insufferable Okudzeto and the pugnacious Agyepong are provocateurs par excellence. I am hoping that the President had these two fellows in mind when he urged Ghanaians to erase negativity and the petty name calling The fact that these two boisterous politicians continue to poison the political well and torment their opponents is due to some unexplained paralysis that has gripped their political parties. Why the NDC and NPP continue to cling to these two obvious albatrosses befuddles me.

Other threats to our social cohesiveness, and by extension our democracy, are the teeming hordes of the unemployed in our cities and the frequency of communal violence in some parts of the country.

There is a widening financial gap between the newly minted Ghanaian middle class and millions of their compatriots in the ghettoes and the rural areas. Our politicians keenly aware of this divide are yet to propose concrete solutions. Instead, they waltz around the issue and make grandiose promises.

Intermittent tribal conflicts and youth disturbances in some Zongos around the country are a source of worry. Like scabs, they continue to fester. Fulani herdsmen and their Ghanaian hosts periodically hack and shoot each other to death. Security agencies are doing their best to contain these flare-ups, but ancient and modern animosities can’t be wished away; they need practical solutions but again our politicians come up short.

National unity is a laudable objective; it is achievable but the shoguns of the powerful political parties will have to do more to rein in their most vociferous members, the ethnic provocateurs and create jobs to bridge the economic divide. Our nation has come perilously close to erupting on many occasions, but cooler heads prevailed. Cooler heads should continue to dominate the national conversation.

Columnist: Yahaya, Moses Kofi