By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
Friday, August 19, 2011
Despite its rich political history, the NPP too has serious liabilities and isn’t as appealing as its activists would have the whole world believe. But it knows how to fight its political rivals, using all manner of strategies, some of which have made its opponents accuse it of infiltrating the Judiciary, Ghana Bar Association, civil service, the mass media, security services, and many other areas, including the private business sector, where its lackeys position themselves to serve its interests. Suspicion that they manipulate the situation to the NPP’s advantage seems to be why the NDC activists are apprehensive. But should that suspicion justify any blanket accusation of impropriety against those institutions and people to the extent as to create antagonism between them and the NDC? Certainly, the NDC’s survival depends more on how the party’s functionaries do their politics to mobilize support for the party’s cause. It depends on how to brand or rebrand the party within the context of its new-found ideology of Social Democracy. Unfortunately, however, they seem to be paralyzed by pettiness and plain mischief. The ongoing infighting among them is evidence that they are not making the party attractive.
In the attempt to make amends, these activists must not forget the very history behind the party, which is one major repellent. Unlike the NPP that has a clear ideology of “property-owning democracy,” the NDC prides itself only on an empty slogan of “probity and accountability” that is nothing but a painful reminder of the excesses of the AFRC and PNDC military regimes under Rawlings. The NPP’s “property-owning” approach to politics has its flaws but for the sake of political expediency, it has its advantages too. It has a pragmatic appeal and resonates with a people who see material wealth as the mark of personal success on earth. Self-acquisitiveness is an inherent human attribute; and the NPP’s slogan feeds into that need to draw goodwill. Unfortunately, the NDC’s catch-phrase invokes an “anti-rich” sentiment, wrought by what happened during the June 4 and the PNDC periods.
We must acknowledge the fact that the events of those periods are still fresh in the minds of the people, many of whom unarguably are attracted to the NPP because they were direct victims or indirectly suffered the negative backlash—or had been brainwashed by others into despising the Rawlings factor in Ghanaian politics. Whether the NPP satisfies their ambitions or not is their own cup of tea; but that is where their political hearts reside. The more they gravitate toward the NPP, the more the NDC “shakes.”
A party whose founder’s personal image is tied to that of the party he founded and led since the beginning of the 4th Republic to be collectively tarnished cannot be easily redeemed unless its activists adopt better strategies for political mobilization. Otherwise, it will remain the butt of the NPP’s vilification. It is not as if all hope is lost for the NDC. These problems notwithstanding, it has grown into a formidable force to make nonsense of the NPP’s rich political history as is confirmed by its electoral successes in this 4th Republic. It can continue to threaten the NPP’s quest for power if its activists do the right thing. Fearing further electoral defeats, then, the NPP will definitely adopt strategies to undercut the NDC in the eyes of the electorate. What its vile propaganda can’t do, other techniques may.
One such strategy is to play the ethnic card (spreading wild claims that the NDC is for Ewes), knowing very well that it will jibe with the age-old perception of Ewes as inward-looking and tribalistic. Added to this is the “appeal to the Akan sentiment” (or “Yen Akanfuo” as framed by Akufo-Addo recently) to suggest that if the NDC is for Ewes, then, the Akans must also root for the NPP. The hidden agenda are two-fold: first, to destroy the NDC in its fertile electoral zone while jealously guarding the NPP’s own against any encroachment; and second, to lure Akan voters away from the NDC. If this strategy gains grounds, it will tilt the balance of forces in favour of the NPP, the Akans being in the majority. The voting pattern in the 2008 Presidential run-off showed clearly what this “appeal to Akan sentiment” can do. Akufo-Addo won clearly in only two (Ashanti and Eastern) out of the 10 regions but the quantum of votes was enough to catapult him close to realizing his ambition. Had the voters in Tain (Brong-Ahafo-Region) bought into that “appeal to Akan sentiment,” the story would have been different. That strategy is still alive and being reinforced with an “All-die-be-die” war cry to be used for the 2012 polls. Unfortunately, the NDC seems to be playing itself into the NPP’s hands and moving close to the trap. Another strategy is the persistent demonization of Rawlings, hammering on the excesses of his military governments and whipping up sentiments to sustain the vilification. A second prong of that strategy is to take President Mills too to the cleaners. From their personal attacks on him, we can tell that the goal is to destroy his public image and render him uninviting to the electorate. Tackling this problem of demonization with a tooth-for-a-tooth-and-a-nail-for-a-nail approach will not work for the NDC because of the possibility of using the security services to deal with the detractors. Certainly, the rationale behind the demonization campaign is to force the government into doing so, which the victims will then jump on as instances of human rights abuses to present themselves as victims. This concept of victimology is a strong political ploy. Another strategy of the NPP is the use of its “plants” in every sector to do its bidding, which arouses suspicion in the NDC circles. Dr. Kwabena Adjei’s problem with the Judiciary comes to notice here. Others such as the press (especially the private media), the clergy, chiefs, etc. also stand accused.
Yet another strategy is to twist facts in a psychological warfare, relying very much on the classical Greek rhetorical ploy of sophistry (making the bad case the best in the eyes of the public). The NPP used that approach for the 2000 elections (Ask Kwamena Bartels and Odoi Sykes!), and will continue to use it. That is why no one should be surprised at the extent to which the Baba Jamal tape or innocuous joke to civil servants (the sheep being portrayed as a cow metaphor) is being given publicity by the NPP.
If all these strategies can’t help them achieve their objectives within the shortest possible time, they will resort to manipulation of the market forces (as the Ghana Union Traders Association, GUTA did before the 2000 elections by indiscriminately increasing the prices of “essential commodities” to turn the public against the NDC government). In the extreme case, they will manipulate their lackeys in the industrial sector to embark on strike actions, blaming the government for their unsatisfactory service conditions. The possibility of selective sabotage being used to undermine the government cannot be ruled out.
While vigorously vilifying the NDC bigshots, they leave no room for anything untoward to be said about their own. We can tell from their rigorous defence of Akufo-Addo in the drug-use scandal how their propaganda machinery works. As they robustly ward off attempts to put their candidate on the spot, they demonstrate how ruthless they can be, their stock-in-trade being threats, insults, or physical confrontations.
Such is the force that the NDC is up against. And it must be clear to its activists that the NPP has a history of violence behind it (bomb-throwing and the nefarious activities of its Action Troopers under the guidance of the late Baafuor Osei Yaw Akoto, Chief Linguist of the Asantehene) and will be more than prepared to match the NDC on that score. The NDC itself is a product of a violent military intervention in politics and cannot be absolved. But it can’t successfully fight the NPP’s violence with its own brand of violence and hope to attract those its activists are accusing of impropriety. To prevail, the NDC activists must use better methods to sell their party to the electorate. Such methods should involve dialogue with the people and the use of incontrovertible evidence (whether concrete achievements of the government or its programmes and policies under the banner of its Social Democracy). Constant interaction with the people at all levels, especially in their communities, will also help the party’s activists to build communication bridges. Attitudinal changes also count.
When they use such methods, the most important thing for them to remember is that the party has nothing at all to gain if they fool themselves that they can win votes through intimidation. Or if they go off on a side-track that really gets the party nowhere close to redeeming itself.
The fact that the NDC’s internal politics is being twisted by its opponents until it fits a bad situation won’t impress the voters at all. That is why the leadership of the party (at all levels) must create opportunities for peace-making. As of now, the party is still reeling from the factionalism that continues to mar well-being and to hinder concerted efforts to present itself as a united front.
The electorate will not put their trust in a party that is divided. What they want is a good party that they can trust to solve their existential problems, not one that indulges in empty sloganeering or promise-making. The NDC can save itself a lot of trouble if its activists recognize where they’ve travelled so far to be able to put their house in order for the 2012 elections. If they want a strong positive effect, they should end all negative activities and redeem the party’s image. It is only then that the party can stand any chance of attracting the people and institutions that they’ve identified as allies of the NPP, if believable at all.
Not until they smooth the rough edges of the party—and stop their own politics of alienation and intimidation—the party will continue to miss the opportunity to attract those whose support it needs to retain public goodwill. Then, it will lose its attraction as paranoia and finger-pointing become permanent features of its activists’ politicking. Such a party can’t be viable at that point. Instead of persistently pointing accusing fingers and crying foul, the NDC activists must take the first step to put their house in order for it to outshine its rivals. Clearly, finger-pointing won’t solve the party’s credibility problems. Why not stop it now?