Why we need a politics of trust

Ghana Political Party Flags File photo

Thu, 23 Jul 2020 Source: Nana Gyan Appenteng

Let us tell a story. Once upon a time, a kingdom flourished in a land beyond geography. The king was powerful and demanded obedience and loyalty from all his subjects. They did whatever he asked them to do.

The main occupations were hunting, farming, making of tools, spinning of cotton and crafts-making.

It was the custom in the kingdom for everyone to give a portion of their produce to the king. Farmers gave vegetables and fruits to the king; cotton spinners made nice cotton dresses for the king and his family; blacksmiths made nice iron tools for the king.

Of course, hunters gave a portion of the meat from the hunt to be sent to the palace for the use of the king and his family. The hunters were the bravest people in the kingdom because apart from providing meat for the people they also protected the nation from wild animals and their neighbours who felt envious of the kingdom’s prosperity.

They also had to give a portion of the hunt to the king. So, after each hunt, the hunters would gather and give the best part of the game, as demanded by the custom, to the king.

However, the hunters had also developed their own custom to satisfy themselves by stealing from the king’s share. They agreed among themselves and hid some of the choicest meat meant for the king for their own tables.

This became the accepted way of doing things. Everybody was happy. The king got his meat. Hunters kept their loot and life went on.

One day, the king, having grown old died and the people needed to select a new person to become king. They chose the chief hunter to replace the king. All the hunters were happy because one of them had been elevated to such a high position.

There was a lot of merrymaking for weeks as they celebrated the coronation. It was time of great jubilation, especially as the hunters had time off to enjoy the meat they had hoarded, especially the stolen bit from the king’s share.

Eventually, the celebrations ended and the people had to return to their various occupations. The farmers went to their farms, the blacksmiths went to their foundry and the hunters went hunting.

After a few days in the forest the hunters returned with plenty of game. The animals had flourished and multiplied while the kingdom celebrated the coronation so the hunt had been especially plentiful.

The hunters gathered as usual and each produced the best part of the meat to be given to the king – as they had always done. The custom was for a small committee made up of the oldest and wisest men and led by the Chief Hunter. It was their duty to deliver the king’s share to him.

After the meat had been collected, the committee went off to see the king who had been one of their colleagues; indeed the Chief Hunter and the leader of the committee that delivers the king’s share.

The meat was always delivered to the king as he sat in state surrounded by his councillors because it was a state occasion.

After exchanging pleasantries and sharing memories of previous hunts, the committee delivered its parcel to the king. He opened the parcel and looked at the meat. He then asked the Chief Hunter: Are you sure you have given me all the meat meant for me?

The chief replied: Long may you live, Your Majesty. Before you ascended this mighty throne, you were the Chief Hunter. You have performed this duty many times when the old King was alive. I can assure Your Majesty that NOTHING HAS CHANGED. We are doing it the same way as we used to do it under your leadership.

The king nodded solemnly; the councillors who didn’t know any better applauded the chief hunter for his honesty and the committee departed to prepare for another hunt. The king was furious.

Since the inception of our Fourth Republic, we have been governed by two political parties, the NPP and NDC. Our multiparty democracy has turned into a duopoly as the two political parties have turned the wheel of governance into a revolving door.

It is likely to remain so for a long time until we change the electoral system or change the electorate!

Since neither of this is on the cards, the two parties will always find themselves in either government or opposition.

Since the two of them have tasted power and know the inner workings of our system, this duopoly could work to the country’s advantage because they are no strangers to each other in government and in opposition.

They both understand the system and know the architecture, spirit and form of the civil service and public services which support the running of the government machinery.

In most countries where such duopolies have developed, for example, Conservatives versus Labour in the United Kingdom and Republicans versus Democrats in the USA, there is agreement between the parties on how the machinery of state must run.

(Of course, the current administration in the US makes such a bipartisan approach almost impossible, but that is another story).

If we are to make progress in this country, the two main political parties need to develop TRUST in the system and between themselves instead of behaving like the king and his hunters in the ancient story.

Without trust we tend to spend time and resources on things that ought to be taken for granted in a democracy. Take the wrangling over the electoral register at a time when the country was encountering COVID-19.

Also consider this: Today, if the information we have is true, there is a party agent from NPP and NDC at every registration centre. This is only during the registration and we have thousands of mostly young men involved in this exercise. Just think about the wasted man hors this is taking.

Elsewhere, in a democracy, the registration of voters is an administrative matter and what political parties do is encourage their members and supporters to vote.

At the registration itself, parties know and trust that the agency charged with that duty must follow the regulations and the sanctions for not doing so are well known.

When the king and the chief hunter both have a reason not to trust each other, the kingdom will collapse. This is why our ancestors invented stories.

A word to the wise is enough.

Columnist: Nana Gyan Appenteng