By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
September 6, 2010
Some problematic aspects of the human element in our democracy were on full display at Cape Coast on Saturday when the NPP’s Akufo-Addo was marginalized (downgraded, belittled, or alienated?) at the durbar to climax this year’s celebration of the “Fetu Afahye” festival by the chiefs and people of Cape Coast. News reports have it that the organizers of the festivities did not acknowledge Akufo-Addo’s presence at the durbar grounds nor did President Mills exchange greetings with him. Disheartening!
This mistreatment of Akufo-Addo (and the NPP) is uncalled-for, to say the least. It is a clear demonstration of the shallowness of our national politics and the mean spirit with which our politicians do things.
We are being told that what happened was a near repetition of what Kufuor’s security detail had done to President Mills at a similar event and venue in 2008 when he was then the NDC’s flagbearer. His presence at the durbar was disregarded and he was left frustrated. As the NDC’s Presidential Candidate Mills then, he was humiliated; but now as President Mills, he has been accorded maximum respect in celebrating the festival this year.
In the same vein, as the NPP’s Presidential Candidate for the 2012 elections, Akufo-Addo has been pooh-poohed at the festival. Then, if Presidential Candidate Akufo-Addo becomes President Akufo-Addo one day (if ever), the organizers of future “Afahye” festivities will accord him due respect. At that time, any high-ranking official of the NDC who dares attend an event of the sort will be treated with contempt too. So, for now, it is a matter of tit-for-tat!! In this way, the vicious wheel of contempt is expected to turn.
This kind of senselessness must not be tolerated in any way. A tit-for-tat approach to handling matters is a recipe for disaster in our political experiment. Over the years, it has continued to be the driving force behind many acts against political opponents and doesn’t augur well for our national interests. I condemn the mistreatment of Akufo-Addo and suggest that measures be taken immediately to undo the harm that has just been done. What will we gain if we continue to politicize everything around us? Can we not see the harm that polarization along political party or ethnic lines is doing to us?
The circumstances surrounding Akufo-Addo’s woes at Cape Coast are puzzling. The organizers of the festivities have been reported as receiving gifts from Akufo-Addo and as being informed that he would be at the Victoria Park to join them celebrate the occasion. Thus, they knew in advance that the NPP would be represented. I don’t want to believe that these organizers are NDC functionaries; but in a political system in which everything seems to be politicized, we must learn to give the devil his due. Like the organizers, the NDC functionaries knew that they would certainly be at the durbar because of the obvious advantages of incumbency. After all, being members of the party in power, their visibility at such a function was a mere matter-of-course.
On his part, President Mills couldn’t have failed to notice Akufo-Addo’s presence on the occasion. So, what went wrong to create the impression that the organizers of the festivities and President Mills had purposefully sidelined Akufo-Addo? What could have triggered this mistreatment of the NPP’s Presidential Candidate? Or, should Akufo-Addo not have turned up at the function at all, knowing very well how the NDC would want to use the event to blow its own horn?
Here comes my beef. Allotey Jacobs, head of the Central Regional Communications Directorate of the NDC has sought to explain the situation but has ended up worsening matters. His explanation that Akufo-Addo was marginalized because “the festival was not a political rally” flies in the face of reality. We have been told that regional executives of the NDC, among other NDC functionaries that attended the durbar, were introduced to the gathering. Yet, Allotey Jacobs claims that the occasion was not for politicking, meaning that sidelining a high-ranking member of a rival political party was a good thing to do. This explanation won’t wash with me. What was good for the NDC on the occasion but bad for its rival?
The reality is that the durbar had a huge political element. Otherwise, why should the NDC executives be introduced in their capacity as such? Let’s not forget that some members of government not hailing from Cape Coast even travelled from their duty posts in several parts of the country to attend the durbar—and were acknowledged as such. Mark Woyongo, the Upper East Regional Minister, for instance, came all the way from Bolgatanga to do so in his capacity as a high-ranking NDC functionary. So, what is a-political about the durbar at Victoria Park, Cape Coast?
The poor treatment given Akufo-Addo defeats the purposes of such a socio-cultural event, especially the one touching on peace and cordiality among people. A cultural festival of this sort should be used to bring people together, not to turn them against each other. Those responsible for organizing events of this magnitude should not wear their power/authority on their sleeves to do what will further polarize our people along political party (or ethnic) lines.
The essence of all Ghanaian festivals is peace and love. Politicians participate in the festivities and use the occasion to court support from the people. Statements made by speakers carry heavy political undertones. There is always a strong political presence in all that people do on such occasions and no one (especially Allotey Jacobs) should attempt deceiving us that the Cape Coast one was meant to be devoid of partisan politicking. It wasn’t so. The presence of President Mills, operatives of the government, and the NDC’s well-known functionaries alone should have opened the eyes of the Allotey Jacobs to the ineradicable nature of partisan politics in human affairs, including annual festivals. Yet, Allotey Jacobs has the impudence to claim that the “Afahye” durbar wasn’t so.
There is a good reason to be alarmed. By displaying this sordid impolitic behaviour, the organizers of the festival, President Mills (and the NDC followers), and members of the NPP missed the glaring and alluring opportunity to demonstrate good-spiritedness. I am reluctant to include the NPP elements in this sense because one cannot expect Akufo-Addo and his followers to push themselves on President Mills for acknowledgement. That they took the mistreatment in its stride and didn’t create any nasty scene is commendable.
But comments from some of the NPP’s followers that Akufo-Addo was mistreated that way because the NDC feared that any open acknowledgement of his presence might dim its light on the occasion speak volumes. In other words, Akufo-Addo was seeking to do politics in an adroit manner, which the NDC foresaw and poured ice-cold water on. Thus, was Akufo-Addo’s decision to attend the durbar a miscalculation that backfired to deflate his ego? Being what it may, though, what happened to him at Cape Coast must not be endorsed because it is not a good way to do politics.
More intriguingly, President Mills lost the chance to demonstrate in public the kind of good neighbourliness that Ghanaians expect in the body politic to calm their nerves. For far too long, the enmity that has characterized our political arena seems to be detracting from efforts to ensure cordiality and peaceful co-existence. Using the opportunity provided by the Cape Coast festivities to foster good neighbourliness would have given a clear signal that our politicians are, indeed, practising what they’ve been preaching all along—that Ghanaians should not allow partisan politics to divide their ranks. Regrettably, President Mills and the NDC failed this test.
Having been appalled by the needless rivalry between the NDC and the NPP over the years—and having seen how intimidation, arrant physical assaults on political opponents, open character assassination, and wanton hurling of insults at each other at the slightest prompting—Ghanaians would have been given a better picture had these political opponents used the forum provided by the festival to draw closer to each other. A mere exchange of pleasantries at the function could have done a world of good; but as is the case of a system in which politics has been personalized and reduced to a tit-for-tat level, none of these political rivals did the right thing to evoke any sigh of relief. The predictable bad-blood relationship was openly displayed to dampen the hopes of people. Candidly put, then, our democracy is still beset with human elements that endanger it. We may be proud of the number of years that our democracy has lasted; but the truth is that it is not maturing—or our politicians are not maturing at all.
To many Ghanaians, who are easily confounded by this entrenched NDC/NPP mutual hatred, this kind of situation is appalling. After all, what is the raison d’être for any politician in the NDC to hate his/her counterpart in the NPP or vice versa (these two parties having dominated the political arena)? In truth, there is no justification for any politician in either camp to hate the other because they are basically the same in many ways. They have similar characteristics as kettles that have no right to paint the others as black pots. The NPP’s ideology of “property-owning democracy” isn’t any different from the NDC’s so-called “Social Democracy,” whatever it entails. All of them are mostly self-centered politicians!!!
Indeed, what is it about the NDC’s agenda for developing Ghana that conflicts with that of the NPP (or any of the other political parties)? Or, what difference will it make whether it is the NDC or the NPP that manages the affairs of state responsibly to lift Ghanaians out of the narrow circumstances in which they’ve been living all these years? To my mind, all that Ghanaians are looking for is good leadership and conscientious efforts to tap the human and natural resources of the country to enhance living standards. It doesn’t really matter whether it is the NDC or the NPP that does so. Unfortunately, however, our politicians have taken entrenched positions of bitter rivalry and will do all they can to paint their opponents black in a vain attempt to score political points. That attitude is unbecoming and must be shirked for the betterment of our democracy.
More importantly, the call to serve one’s country shouldn’t be tied inextricably to partisan political party colours. If, indeed, the main agenda of each political camp is to ensure the development of the country such that its citizens can live their lives in decency, then, there is no justification for what our politicians portray (in the private or public sphere). Does working for the development of Ghana demand this kind of negative attitude and undermining of each other? I don’t think so; but the problem with our politicians is that they cannot separate their personal interests from the national one(s); hence, the constant display of the coarse attitude of the kind that occurred at Cape Coast on Saturday. Akufo-Addo bit the bullet, then.
For now, Allotey Jacobs hasn’t been able to douse the fire, which raises two questions: Will any official explanation from the Osu Castle clear the air? Or should we record the Cape Coast event as another instance of our failure to grow our democracy? We are waiting for answers.