On the 7th of January 2021, supporters of Donald J Trump attempted what would be classified as a coup d’état if it were in Africa or the developing world.
They invaded Capitol Hill with the singular purpose of disrupting the certification of President-elect Joe Biden and his Vice, Kamala Harris of the Democratic Party of the United States, and in the process keep Trump in power.
The exact number of people involved in the invasion is yet to be determined but it was a motley marauding mob of tens of thousands made up of individuals such as Jake Angelli, a well-known supporter of the Qanon movement – people who believe President Trump is waging a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping paedophiles in government, business, and the media.
It also included Social Media personality Tim Gionet AKA Baked Alaska and the Proud Boys founded in 2016. The Proud Boys is an all-male political movement with very extreme right-wing views who believe in using violence to achieve their objectives. According to Wikipedia, Baked Alaska is an American Neo-Nazi group which gained notoriety for advocating white supremacy and exhibiting strong anti-Semitic views.
It was a section of this crowd that broke into Capitol Hill, ransacked offices, and forced legislators to flee. Unlike protests involving the Black Lives Matter Movement, law enforcement agencies barely present could not contain the situation and the crowd had a field’s day.
Meanwhile, in Ghana’s Parliament, another drama unfolded on the 7th of January although no lives were lost on that day. The occasion was the end of the 7th Parliament and the ushering in of the 8th Parliament which preceded the swearing-in of the President.
There was high drama involving the NDC and the NPP politicians as they got into a brawl in Ghana's Parliament on Wednesday night. The cause of the confusion was the voting process to determine the Speaker which led to the snatching of a ballot box and a total breakdown of law and order in Parliament.
These were two separate incidents – one in an advanced democracy dating back to over two and a half centuries (the United States) and the other – Ghana – whose period of sustained electoral democracy started only in 1992 with the 4th Republican constitution.
In both cases, it has been a contestation for power. President Donald Trump, of the Republican Party, has refused to concede defeat to the President elect-Joe Biden and gone as far as inciting his followers to invade Capitol Hill.
In the case of Ghana, NDC brought its supporters onto the streets in protest against the results. And the struggle for the capture of state power between the NDC and NPP is ongoing since there is still a contestation over the Presidency (the losing NDC candidate Mahama has filed a petition) and some parliamentary seats are in court. The January 7th disgraceful brawl by “honourable members” was a manifestation of the struggle to control parliament, an important source of power.
There are also similarities and differences between recent developments in Ghana and the United States. It is clear that both are two-party dominated and have produced deeply polarised countries with evenly split support base among the electorate. In both cases, the party in power has used orthodox and unorthodox means to maintain its stranglehold on power. In the United States just as in Ghana, executive power has been used to infiltrate and control the institutions of state.
There have been ceaseless efforts to weaken separation of powers with checks & balances (one of the formal systemic pillars in the quest for democracy) within the governance system.
Donald Trump appointed people sympathetic to him to control the agencies and institutions of state such as the postal services, the security agencies, the judiciary and several more. In the case of Ghana, President Nana Akuffo Addo changed the chair of the EC and bypassed laid down procedures to recruit people into the security services. Several recruitments into the army, the police and other security agencies by-passed the normal open recruitment process and brought in people largely because of their links or sympathies with the NPP.
With the United States, there is an important difference, desperate and undemocratic forces under the egomaniacal leadership of unstable Donald J Trump attempted to subvert the will of the American people by force. Donald Trump has emerged as a cult figure who has constantly used abusive language, given legitimacy to lies and conspiracy theories all designed to whip up his cult base.
They are a significant part of the over 70 million Americans who voted for him and are ready to act when he calls on them. He has personally influenced and guided his mob of cult followers and used them in his quest for power. Donald Trump’s mob is openly racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic and hate several other segments of American society. Many of those who invaded the American seat of power exhibited Nazi-symbols and insignia associated with the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).
The KKK first came to light in 1865 as an American white supremacist hate group whose primary targets were American Indians (native Americans) and African Americans. They have however evolved to hate nearly every other group – Asians, Muslims, Catholics, Jews, Communists – deemed to be a threat to their brand of white supremacy. In Ghana, however, it has not been a cult following of Nana Addo Danquah Akuffo Addo. Rather, it has been a clique of people operating under the aegis of the ruling NPP that has orchestrated very similar efforts to control state power.
In both cases, however, the effort has been similar – the use of state institutions for partisan political purposes with the Federal Police, in the case of the US, slow to stop the Trump mob and the FBI curiously absent during the invasion of Capitol Hill. Whilst a police officer was seen helping a member of the mob cope with the impact of tear gas, the treatment of protestors of the Black Lives Matter Movement was remarkably brutal with the rate of arrest of BLM protests 4 times higher than the riot by Trump supporters.
In Ghana’s case, the handling of opposition party activities has been remarkably different as was the case in the Techiman South killing and the march by NDC parliamentarians to the EC. The NPP government has ignored the killings that occurred during the voting primarily because it was their agents that carried it out.
A number of lessons have emerged from recent experiences in electoral democracy in Ghana and the United States. Ghana, perceived as the beacon of democracy in Africa and reputed for a calm and civil transfer of power from one party to another, has been exposed as operating a rather fragile “democracy” barely different from other countries in Africa.
Electoral democracy and the dominance of two parties – NPP and NDC – has shown that it is all about winning state power to gain access to contracts, jobs and privileges for members, supporters, and sympathisers of the winning party. Similarly, Trump operating under the aegis of the Republic Party has shown that politics has been about tax cuts, satisfying special interest groups and lobbyists to the neglect of ordinary Americans. The Republican Party has pushed for the ultra-rich Americans to pay just 1% of their income in taxes whilst the average American pays 35% of their income as taxes.
Hitherto perceived as the beacon of democracy and notorious for preaching to other countries, recent events in the US have shown that it is possible for a megalomaniac like Trump to rise to high office and take over the Republican Party and a significant portion of American society. And he did this by giving the rich the tax cuts they wanted and for the working class KKK Republican base, the racism they relished. And it is all because liberal democracy is the cloak that greedy capitalism has used to give respect and decency to the main goal of the capitalism– exploit the poor and make billions for the owners of capital. To the embarrassment of Americans, Donald Trump has exposed, for the greedy capitalists, what liberal democracy in the US is about.
The fundamental human right of all American citizens to freely chose who should be their president is easily abandoned by Trump who resorted to thugs to impose his will. But he took a leaf from US foreign policy when on the 11th of September 1973 the American CIA engineered a coup and imposed the military dictator Augusto Pinochet on Chileans because they did not like Salvador Allende of the Socialist Party - who came to power through free, fair, and democratic elections on the 4th of September 1970.
In America, just as in Ghana it has been shown that when the people wake up after waiting patiently for four years’ they can remove a dictator from power through the ballot box. The Republican Party has managed to control the country through voter suppression and gerrymandering although they lost the popular vote in 7 of the last 8 elections. This practice previously frustrated the efforts of African Americans to exercise their democratic right to vote. In November 2020 however, Trump’s efforts came to nought as African Americans (and Native Americans) as well as young people from varied backgrounds supported the Democratic Party to take control of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Fewer voting machines were allocated to areas dominated by African Americans and they had to queue for 11 hours in some cases to vote.
But they waited and waited patiently convinced that their vote would make a difference.
In Ghana, the NPP have been given a rude awakening by the electorate. Never in their wildest imagination did they think they would lose so many seats in parliament and very serious questions have been raised about the adding up of the presidential votes. It is now clear that no amount of intimidation, vote-buying and manipulation using the Electoral Commission can stop the wheel of change when the people are determined to change their leaders peacefully. Ghana now has a hung parliament with one party controlling the Executive and the other the Legislature.
A key lesson in both countries is that two-party dominance has undermined consensus building and polarised the country. This has served as a breeding ground for undemocratic forces with a potential to destroy the respective countries. The two-party system makes it easier for greedy capitalists to “invest” and control both parties who have been instrumental in giving them contracts to recover their money.
Nevertheless, with strong institutions, it is possible to pull back from the brink and save the country. What has happened in the US is an indication that if the Biden/Harris ticket does not meet the needs and aspirations of the American people, the Trump forces will return to power with a vengeance. In the case of Ghana, although the NPP and the NDC are two sides of the same coin and have engaged in similar practices to keep themselves in power, the people of Ghana have sent a clear message that they cannot be taken for granted.
The Social Justice Movement of Ghana (SJMG) condemns in no uncertain terms the attempt by Donald Trump to use fascist mobs to keep himself in power. The scenes that unfolded in Capitol Hill are an affront to democracy globally and a threat to fundamental human rights, especially the right of citizens to freely choose their leaders.
It is important for citizens to use the existing and legal processes to express their dissatisfaction and challenge any issues with the electoral process as they have done to Trump although he packed the judiciary with his sympathizers. It is also the responsibility of leaders to refrain from inciting their followers to break the law. We call on democratic forces in the US, who have already demonstrated their capacity to rise up to the threat posed by the Trump phenomenon not to rest their oars and go back to sleep.
Never again must racists and fascists be given space to subvert the democratic process. The forces that so effectively neutralised Trump must realise that it is going to be a marathon and never-ending strategy. As the African American activist – Flo Kennedy used to say: “Freedom is like taking a bath, we’ve got to keep taking it every day!”
The Social Justice Movement of Ghana equally condemns the disgraceful scenes that erupted in Ghana’s parliament. The root causes lie in the dominance of the political space by two parties – NPP and NDC – and their attempts to win power at all cost. We call on both parties to abandon the use of thuggery and underhand methods to keep themselves in power. The credibility of our electoral system has been severely wounded and could serve as a breeding ground for undemocratic forces.
We call on members and sympathisers of the SJMG to Organise and Not Agonize. We must go to the people, conscientize and organise with them. And to be effective, we must prioritise our own self education and conscientisation. As Steve Biko said: “The most powerful weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”
The effort to break the NPP/NDC dominance of our politics and governance is an urgent national challenge with major security implications. We call on all progressive forces to answer the call to national duty and join forces with the Progressive Alliance for Ghana to break the stranglehold of these two parties. The time for change has come.
Long Live Ghana, Long live the ideals of Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah