Opinions Wed, 18 Apr 2012

Will Kennedy Agyapong’s Incitement to Ethnic Hatred Cost ...

....Nana Akufo-Addo the Presidency?

Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK

Ghana is acclaimed to be an example of best practice in Africa for her ability to hold free and fair elections and peaceful transfer of power from one political party to another due to the five successful elections since the country returned to multi-party politics under the Fourth Republican Constitution. However, the narrow defeat of the then ruling party’s Presidential candidate in the 2008 elections and the new oil have raised the stakes very high for the December 2012 general elections, particularly between the two major parties, the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the main opposition party, National Patriotic Party (NPP). The tension and violence that have characterised the ongoing biometric registration exercise coupled with allegations against the police for failing to deal with the violence effectively and even headedly have alarmed the main opposition party. Both parties have accused each other of perpetrating violence against its members and supporters, registration of minors and foreign nationals, preventing opponents from registering in their strongholds as well as organising transfer of potential voters across constituencies to gain political advantage in the parliamentary elections.

The most worrying aspect of the accusations and counter accusations is the inherent ethnic tones that people with certain names are being prevented from registering at some registration centres because their names indicate that they are not indigenise of the area. Last week there were reports of a clash between the two parties at a registration centre in Accra with two leading members of the opposition party being beaten by supporters of the ruling party. In an apparent response to incidents in Accra, a well known MP and leading member of the NPP went on radio last Friday to declare war and called for two ethnic groups to be attacked in the stronghold of the party. The call has the potential to trigger ethnic hatred and conflict in Ghana if carried out. It can also have negative impact on the NPP Presidential candidate’s chances in the December Presidential.

The global community witnessed two conflicts in the 1990s that involved serious crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and genocide in Africa and Europe. These were the Rwandan and Kosovo conflicts in 1994 and 1998/9 respectively. Since then, the international community has put in place warning systems and modalities to prevent future conflicts that have the potential to lead to ethnic cleansing of such magnitude. Despite the devastating impact of the Rwandan crisis that was shown on television screens in Africa and across the globe, Africa still remains one of the most conflict and tension ridden continents at the risk of future ethnic cleansing. This is due mainly to but not exclusively, the fight for party political power and control over resources. Election violence is one source of conflicts that are likely to result in ethnic cleansing as was witnessed in Kenya in 2008. This is due to the fact that political parties on the continent often have their support base along ethnic and regional lines.

Though the two main political in Ghana are truly represented across the country, it is also a truism that both have overwhelming support from certain regions. This has been reflected in electoral votes with two regions being referred to as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the ruling party and the opposition respectively. With such perception, it is explosively dangerous and utterly irresponsible for the MP to make such a call and should be condemned in no uncertain terms by all peace loving and democratic people across Ghana because it is an incitement to ethnic hatred. The violence against leading NPP members and the prevention of people with Akan names from registering in parts of Accra should equally be condemned because that is (racial) discrimination on the basis of ethnicity which also has the potential to cause ethnic tensions and conflict.

How could this incitement to ethnic hatred affect the NPP as a party and Nana Akufo-Addo’s electoral fortunes in December? It is obvious that if Nana Addo is to win the December Presidential elections, he must win not only in the party’s two strongholds of Asante and Eastern regions but at least, one of the floating regions, especially Greater Accra. Greater Accra because there are more independent voters in the region and includes the capital where most political activities are held, more ethnically mixed and any of the two main parties could carry the region. Again, the National Chairman of NPP is a son of the region, which could be an added advantage. It is therefore unwise if not political suicide for a leading member and an MP to call for people from the region to be attacked in the stronghold region of the party as the call can alienate indigenes of the region from the party. Again, the call could cost the party’s Presidential votes throughout the country as Gas live and work across country.

It is well known that NPP has very little chance of winning the presidential votes in Volta Region (the supposedly World Bank of NDC). Nonetheless, Nana Addo has been making efforts to woo voters in the region to increase his share of the votes in the region in December. Unfortunately, call for Ewes to be beaten in Asante region (the IMF of NPP) could certainly undo whatever goodwill Nana Addo has been building with voters in the region and from the region. This definitely will cost him votes in December.

The way the NPP has responded to the MP’s call could also impact (negatively or positively) on their electoral fortunes and I am afraid to say that, they have not done themselves any good so far. The party should have first and foremost come out to distance themselves from the comments and reassure the nation that that is not the position of the party. However, the party machinery and supporters are more interested in defending the rights of the MP more than repairing the potential electoral damage to the party. They could still defend the rights of the MP and still condemn what he said. That is, ensuring that the MP is not detained longer than the law allows and his rights are not violated by the security agencies. Their failure to condemn the call and dissociate the party from the call is a mistake of monumental proportions and a reflection of the inability of the two parties to condemn their members and supporters for wrong doing.

The NPP have not learnt any political lessons from their past. The party suffers from political diadvantage not from any direct action or omission of the NPP but from historical association. The one-time Presidential candidate of the Popular Front Party (PFP), the late Victor Owusu was on record to have referred to Ewes as inward looking and it is this derogatory remark on a whole ethnic group from Volta Region that has resulted in part’s inability to gain the trust and confidence of the Ewes, since both the PFP and NPP have their roots from the UP tradition and until the UP tradition acts decisively through their actions to persuade the people of Volta region that the UP tradition is also for the people of Volta region, they will continue to be a marginal force in the region.

In any true democratic society, the MP would have been suspended from the party until his case has been properly investigated by both the party and the national security agencies. For example, this week a Labour Life Peer was suspended from the party for allegedly putting a bounty on Obama whilst in Pakistan. Even though the story has been confirmed as false he remains suspended until the party has completed its own investigations. It’s time NDC and NPP put an end to defending the indefensible because the culture of silence glorifies wrong doing and a danger Ghana’s democracy.

Though the pronouncement by the MP is incitement to ethnic hatred, in my opinion and from my knowledge of the definition of crime of genocide, it does not amount to genocide. Above all the crime of genocide or crime against humanity should be pre-planned and unless there is evidence that he had plans to organise attacks against Gas and Ewes, he cannot be charged for genocide.

A lot of people have made references to the violent activities of NDC and even the alleged threat by then candidate Mills that if the peoples’ verdict was stolen in 2008, Ghana will be like Kenya to justify the MP’s call. Such comparisons should be surprising in Ghana considering the NDC/NPP rivalry. They also claim that because those who perpetrated acts of violence and made those comments were not arrested, the arrest of the MP is unfair. Others have even concluded that he has been arrested because he exposed the Woyomegate. Whatever your take is on this, to call for attacks on two ethnic groups in Ghana is a very serious matter that should not allowed to die a natural death. However, I implore the authorities to follow due process in dealing with the matter. The authorities must henceforth act to deal with any violence and utterances that could plunge the country into electoral conflict and ethnic tension, irrespective of whether it came from NDC or NPP. That is the only way the nation can avoid a national disaster.

Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK
Columnist: Ata, Kofi