By Abdul-Rahman Harruna Attah
Rumour has it that a number of Western media houses sent crews to Ghana in anticipation of a post-election bloodbath which they could feed to their Africa-meltdown-hungry audiences. Similar rumours were circulating about how some Western foreign missions in Ghana had sent out “advisories” to their citizens on how to stay safe in anticipation of the AK47s and machetes that would take over…
Since the beginning of Election Year ’16, one thing dominated the discourse: not the economy, not infrastructure, not education or any of such issues, but VIOLENCE! The country was gripped by the apprehension that we would be going on a killing spree before, during or after the elections. We went into overdrive, preparing for such a tragic outcome. For me it was most disturbing, because I knew it could happen.
If we bring up the history of our sub-region, going as far back as the Biafra Civil War, to the recent post-election violence in Cote d’Ivoire, there was real and present cause for apprehension. Conjuring up images of the genocide in Rwanda, I could not help but get carried along with the great apprehension.
Not many Ghanaians have had the kind of morbid privilege that I have had to visit the Genocide Museum in Kigali, and so talk of fighting or even killing for votes, to some people, is a real option, but for me a terrifying prospect...
So why was there such “Fear and Loathing” in Ghana? This is soul-searching time and so let’s point fingers. The insults, accusations, and hurl-burly of the campaign period have come and gone and hopefully we can in the clear light of post-election peace, think aloud. Why did Ghanaians feel so convinced that they would or should be killing themselves? What are the origins of that kind of blood-curdling narrative?
Yes, there was much cynicism, pessimism and chicanery in the language of the election campaign but above all fear! The major parties were dazed by the blinding lights of an election defeat and so were not immobilized as the proverbial faun would, but were energized into the most do-or-die strategies and tactics and in the process instilled the nightmares and fears of what a loss would mean. Their supporters went to battle stations, in the true sense of the phrase…
To start with, the Electoral Commission became the focus of attacks and suspicion. The Chairperson of the Commission, Madam Charlotte Osei was the punching bag for vicious jabs and blows even as she was trying against many odds to provide the level playing field for the elections to take place. At certain times, the attacks got so personal as to be actionable.
She maintained steady nerves and took us through very successful polls that saw an incumbent lose office and a ruling party lose its parliamentary majority. The point being made here is that were we crying wolf when there was none? Was the electoral register really bloated? Were there Togolese voters in the system? These all fed into the fear mongering machine and as some stood by the system’s integrity, others readied to do battle to right the perceived wrong. The battle lines were drawn and for a while the streets of Accra seemed like preparing for the Ghanaian killing fields.
Then there were the politicians and the media. The soap box language was one of threats, insults, ethnic slurs, unsubstantiated allegations, and every now and then, a call to arms. In fact it often sounded like the rhetoric preceding the outbreak of war between nations.
The media lapped it all up and depending on which side, gave slants that only deepened the hatreds, intensified the angst and divided the country more. Ghana has a free media, surely, but one that has many that are not professionally neutral or even objective. And so, as the politicians sabre-rattled, the media goaded them on, leaving a totally misinformed public in the middle…
When in the lead up to the elections, I added my voice to a topic already in the public domain the reaction was swift and merciless. It played out in the media ad nauseam. For me, the heartbreaking point was not the attacks on me from aggrieved politicians but a newspaper actually sent me an email ordering me not to send any articles to it again! I replied that I would but would also respect the editor’s discretion not to publish.
Of course I shall forward this to the newspaper, but this illustrates the kind of nugatory polarity in the polity arising out of media biases and political intolerance. A newspaper taking an a priori act of censorship all because of partisan political considerations, is one of the most dangerous and unacceptable developments in Ghana’s politics. Let us not forget that one of the culprits of the Rwandan genocide was the media.
Still on the same theme, a media practitioner, Mr. Ben Ephson was nearly the first victim of a post-election political lynching as his house was besieged by suspected assailants who were not pleased with his pre-election forecasts. He was lucky to escape with his life. Ominously, other similar cases have been reported and some luckless individuals are in dire circumstances.
The elections have come and gone and we didn’t kill ourselves. The question now is: Is it All Quiet on the Ghanaian Front? Monitoring the rhetoric on the airwaves gives me much cause for concern, but these are early days yet…
It was a mixture of joy and sadness as I stood beside President Mahama when he read his concession speech. With such good men, Ghana will not burn and we will live to go through another election in 2020. Joy, because we had proved yet again that as a people we can make democracy work, but sadness because as a result of the same democracy, we had discarded such good material.
It is still work-in-progress, Ghana’s democracy, and the next four years would be yet another testing period when the bogey of election related violence may or may not real its frightening head again and hopefully we can leave All Quiet on the Ghanaian Front as a true legacy for the coming generations.
Long live my homeland Ghana.
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