The Epochal Madness of Politicians and their Supporters

Wed, 5 Sep 2012 Source: Badu, K.

: Lessons from Kenya and Zimbabwe

In as much as the purpose of propaganda may be as benign as the encouragement of party supporters by leaders’ to resist any form of violence, or show patriotic pride, propaganda can also have a darker side.

For example, wars, crimes and genocides against humanity are arguably expedited through the use of propaganda aimed at securing popular support for illegal and violent actions. This can be witnessed continued in the past and in the modern era. We can attest to the Nazi propaganda which preceded the Holocaust, the Radio and Television propaganda, which preceded the Rwandan Genocide and al-Qaeda propaganda which preceded the attacks on ‘World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001. And in recent times, the electoral tensions which resulted in confusions in Ivory Coast, Kenya and Zimbabwe. Thus, we can aver that propagandistic measures could spell doom for a nation.

The fact that the politicians and their teeming supporters are desperately seeking power, or are aiming to cling onto power, does not give anyone audacity to engage in electoral violence, before, during and after the general elections. There is nothing wrong to be patriotic, yet still, patriotism is not by indulging in Machiavellianism. Put succinctly, you cannot just vandalise something you claim to cherish so much. If our politicians and their supporters really love Ghana as they claim, then, they should desist from turbulent acts before, during and after the elections, which may culminate in epochal catastrophe.

The widespread violence following relatively orderly balloting in elections in Kenya on December 27, 2007 and in Zimbabwe on March 29, 2008, accentuate the significance of understanding the electoral tension before, during and after elections. In actual fact, the confusions in those countries did not happen overnight; the perpetrators started the process gradually. That is, they wanted to change the outcome of the elections, hence, resorting to violence, before and during the elections. Undeniably, electoral violence before and during elections threatens the individual's right to vote, which is valued both as an opportunity to affect the outcome of specific elections. Yet still, many electorates are unperturbed by threats because of the enhanced sense of personal well being derived from the "feeling of being involved and having political influence" and "inclusion, identity, and self-determination (“All die be die”?). Interestingly, public opinion research suggests that the experience of attempted intimidation during elections deters some potential voters both in the near and long term(Hickman 2011). I strongly believe that no one should be denied of his/her right to exercise his/her vote. We are Ghanaians, we consist of syncretic tribes, and that is, we are always prepared to supple, and amalgamate. So why should we indulge in tumultuous acts which can jeopardise our lives?

By and large, ethnic tensions before, during and after elections often culminate in electoral violence; typical examples are Kenya 2007 and Zimbabwe 2008 respectively. For instance, in his 2001 meta-analytic studies, Hickman recounts that, the primordial political cleavage in Kenya maps membership in three ethnic blocs—“Kikuyu/Embu/Mem, Kalenjin/Maasai/Turkana/ Samburu, and Luo”; “none of which comprises a majority of the national population”. On the other hand, political divisions in Zimbabwe were once inter-ethnic, mapping membership in the two major ethnic groups: “the majority Shona and the minority Ndebele”. However the most prominent contemporary political division in Zimbabwe is clearly “intra-ethnic rather than inter-ethnic: among the Shona”. More specifically, where the post-election violence that is the focus of this was largely inter-ethnic in Kenya, it was intra-ethnic in Zimbabwe. In Kenya the violence was concentrated in two regions: the Rift Valley and Nairobi. In Zimbabwe the violence was concentrated in the “provinces of Mashonaland, in the centre and east of the country, rather than in Matabeleland, in the west of the country”.

Hickman explicates that in Zimbabwe, “the security forces were generally complicit in the post-election violence, with police and military personnel perpetrating acts together with ruling party militants”. “In Kenya, some police personnel were complicit in the post-election violence while others performed their proper duties”. Finally, inter-ethnic fighting over land in the Rift Valley and opportunistic criminality by gangs in Nairobi were evident in the violence in Kenya. In contrast, these were largely absent in Zimbabwe, where the violence was characterized by intra-ethnic partisanship.

Hickman asseverates further that Kenya’s 2007 general election reflected decades of inter-ethnic competition. “From 1966 to 1978, Kenya was ruled by President Jomo Kenyatta and Vice President Daniel Arap Moi's Kenya African National Union (KANU)”. “Kenyatta, a Kikuyu, and Moi, a Kalenjin, represented KANU's ethnic alliance between the Kikuyu/Embu/Meru and the Kalenjin/Maasai/ Turkana/Samburu”. “Following the death of Kenyatta in 1978, President Moi favoured the Kalenjin/Maasai/Turkana/Samburu”." Land competition between native Kalenjin/Maasai/Turkana/Samburu and Kikuyu settlers in the Rift Valley thereafter emerged as a flashpoint for inter-ethnic violence”. “KANU's dominance ended in the 2002 general election, when its Kikuyu presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta defeated by a fellow Kikuyu, National Rainbow Coalition (NaRC) presidential candidate Mwai Kibaki, supported by Luo leader Raila Odinga. The subsequent bitter falling out between Kibaki and Odinga, caused by Kibaki's failure to fulfil his promise to support Odinga as candidate for the presidency after serving one term, meant that the two would face one another as presidential candidates in the 2007 general election”. Public opinion survey findings reveal that an overwhelming majority of Kenyans do not conceive of themselves as narrow minded, ethnic loyalists. Unfortunately, the civic idealism expressed in such self-conceptions largely succumbed to ethnic identity and interest in their actual voting decisions. “Party of National Unity (PNU) presidential candidate Kibaki drew most of the votes of the Kikuyu/Embu/Meru ethnic bloc and Orange Democratic Movement (DM) presidential candidate Odinga drew most of the votes of the Luo and the Kalenjin/Maasai/Turkana/Samburu ethnic bloc. "The Kisii and the Luyha largely supported Odinga, but less exclusively."" The deep ethnic division in Kenya is reflected in public opinion survey findings, which reveal marked differences among ethnic groups in perceptions of the fairness of the 2007 election”. “The violence that followed announcement of the elections results—left 1,133 dead, many others wounded and hundreds of thousands internally displaced”. Kalenjin and Massai targeted Kikuyu in the Rift Valley. “Ethnic gangs in the informal settlements around Nairobi targeted members of other ethnic groups”. “For example, the sect/organized crime group of Kikuyu called the Mungiki targeted the Luo.

On the other hand, the eruption of violence after the 2008 general election in Zimbabwe reflected the erosion of one-party rule by President Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Popular Front (ZANU-PF) that began with separate elections in 2000 in which it lost a constitutional referendum and lost parliamentary constituencies to candidates ofMorganTsvangerai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Since then the MDC has gained popular support because of deteriorating economic conditions and perceptions of official corruption and lawlessness. As is true of the period before 2000, opposition to the ZANU-PF came from the minority ethnic Ndebele but also and more importantly from among the majority ethnic Shona, which meant that the ruling party found itself with a declining popular base. The ZANU-PF and MDC continued their struggle in the 2002 and 2005 parliamentary elections, with the former having to "deploy the full repertoire of oppression and persecution" to legislative majorities." The ZANU-PF tolerated the existence of opposition parties that contested elections but deny them the possibility of ever winning elections.

As was true in the previous presidential election in 2002, incumbent president Robert Mugabe's major opponent in the March 29,2008 presidential election was Morgan Tsvangirai. The MDC leader developed a national following by serving first as leader of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) leader and later as president of the National Constitutional Assembly. Intimidation and violence were widespread in the 2002 contest, with 40 MDC candidates and supporters being killed. “Electoral intimidation and violence were largely absent before and during the polling in the 2008 general election”. Instead, intimidation and violence by ZANU-PF supporters and security forces against MDC supporters erupted after polling. “In the end, these succeeded in forcing MDC candidate Morgan Tsvangirai to withdraw from the June 2008 second round runoff election five days before it was conducted”. “However his name remained on the ballot and the election was held. Mugabe was declared the victor in that contest, which featured impressively and improbably high voter turnout in the official election returns.”

In ending, I would like to challenge all politicians and their supporters to refrain from Machiavellianism, before, during and after the general elections, because Ghanaians do not wish to experience epochal dissonance. . May God bless Ghana!

K. Badu, UK.

Further reading:

Hickman, J 2011, EXPLAINING POST-ELECTION VIOLENCE IN KENYA AND ZIMBABWE, Journal Of Third World Studies, 28, 1, pp. 29-46.

JOTIA, A 2011, Educating for Democratic Engagement in Botswana's Democracy: Challenges of Promoting Democratic Education, Journal Of Social Development In Africa, 26, 1, pp. 135-160.

Seirlis, J 2011, Laughing all the way to freedom?: Contemporary stand-up comedy and democracy in South Africa, Humor: International Journal Of Humor Research, 24, 4, pp. 513-530.

Columnist: Badu, K.