Book Review: CHASING THE ELEPHANT INTO THE BUSH
Title: CHASING THE ELEPHANT INTO THE BUSH: THE POLITICS OF COMPLACENCY
Author: DR. ARTHUR KENNEDY
Publishers: AUTHORHOUSE, Bloomington, Indiana, United States
Price: $24.99 from Amazon.com
xvi, 173 pp, Introduction, Acknowledgements and Foreword.
“There are just not enough of us” -- Arthur Kennedy book review.
By COLIN ESSAMUAH
Dr. Arthur Kennedy, the director of communications in the presidential campaign of the NPP presidential candidate, Nana Addo-Dankwa Akufo-Addo, in the 2008 elections has done his party and this nation a world of good by providing us with his narrative of the most-expensive, media-heavy campaign in the history of electoral politics in Ghana. I say his party would benefit from sober reflection on the matters disclosed in this short book, although to a man, and woman, he has attracted universal condemnation from his party colleagues for his effort.
Members of the party that authored THE STOLEN VERDICT have displayed a degree of intolerance and disgust for Arthur Kennedy that is breathtaking in its viciousness. The only person who has welcomed the book publicly, did so in terms which were no less damning. Mr. Daniel Botwe who must know the author far better than the several others who have reacted to the book, praised him, but condemned the choice of title and the publication which he felt should have been kept within party ranks. Obviously, to the NPP, the rights of free expression and intellectual freedom, which they claim to have championed since 1992, are inapplicable in this instance, even to a fellow party stalwart.
Comprising twenty short chapters with a perceptive but sad foreword by Yaw Boadu Ayeboafo, General Manager of the Daily Graphic, this is a crisp, extremely reader-friendly work that will enlighten, educate, shock and entertain its readers. It is also likely to sadden a large number with its open yet careful assessment of the failings of individuals in the campaign, and the determined but enthusiastic wrongheadedness which drove many decisions. Dr. Kennedy joins a large and growing number of people and local and foreign scholars who have written on elections in Ghana since 1992. The unique perspective he offers from his participation in the NPP presidential primaries in December 2007, and his service as the communications guru of the NPP presidential campaign is his claim to fame, or notoriety, in the estimation of Ghanaians. For instance, the hagiographic work of Mr. Fred Asante, ex-Member of the Council of State, titled THE KUFUOR LEGACY, on the 1996, 2000 and 2004 elections did not attract a fraction of the interest that Dr. Kennedy has aroused in and outside his party with his far shorter narrative on the 2008 elections. The NPP must move away from demonizing party members who have different opinions from those held by the power centres in its ranks.
However, if one is not careful, one may be misled into accepting what Dr. Kennedy says as conclusive of the factors which caused the defeat of the NPP in the December 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections, even though these factors have been cited and accepted by others before him. This is another way of answering the oft-asked question about what caused the defeat of the NPP in the 2008 elections. The contribution of Dr. Kennedy to the several answers out there is that his work reflects the triumphalist mood which drove the campaign, and in so doing, enables us to deepen our understanding of the three whys in this campaign, the defeat itself, the narrowness of defeat, and the painful reception of defeat by party members.
The author lists nine reasons at the end of the book which led to defeat. They are all valid, just as the positive factors listed at the beginning of the book which should have guaranteed the so-called One-Touch victory for the NPP. What caused the defeat therefore cannot be a mere recitation of events, policies, behaviour patterns and propaganda as we all have tended to accept, but rather a massive misunderstanding of the Ghanaian electorate which, given the positive factors also engendered by the same delusions, may be forgiveable. This is the charitable position to take on the matter.
Dr. Kennedy makes clear, line after line in his book, that the NPP as a corporate body, then and now, suffered fatally from a delusional triumphalism that electoral defeat was impossible, and therefore, unthinkable. This illogical belief affected every political decision, and every propaganda step they took during the campaign. It is delusional triumphalism which produced 18 presidential aspirants, including ALL the senior ministers in the Kufuor cabinet, including his blood brother, Kwame Addo-Kufuor, plus three sojourners in Europe and America, Boakye Agyarko, Agyei-Barwuah and the author himself. It is the delusion of victory that produced the inherent belief in party ranks that the opposition NDC was no factor, even though as early as August, 2008, the NPP had been warned that the non-existent opposition NDC could force a second round, courtesy the advice of Professor Larry Gibson. I must add here rather quickly, that the figures Professor Gibson worked with were crude concoctions emanating from the same delusions of triumph that drove everything else in the NPP.
The most serious and in the end, most fatal delusion that seized and gripped the NPP was the belief that the electorate did not exist. ‘Agbenaa’ was the Ga version of that particular delusion. Hitching a tro-tro ride from Abossey Okai to Korle Bu was a farcical epiphany of the Palm Sunday procession. The campaign was not seen as a contest between the party and the unbowed NDC, but as a coronation, where the only requirement was for the crown prince to be present at the enthronement ceremony. Dr. Kennedy asserts the same when he calls into question who the target audiences were for the various campaign initiatives. Pollster Ben Ephson’s just-published work on the election reports the stunning fact that of the 500 young men and women who were polled after the Labadi Beach musical concert staged as part of the campaign, only 9 said they would vote for the NPP presidential candidate in the December 2008 polls. Ephson reports again that only 90 out of 1000 respondents said they would vote for Nana Akufo-Addo at the Believe in Ghana bash. For the lack of understanding, empathy and concern for the Ghanaian voter, Dr. Kennedy fell victim to the giddiness in the NPP campaign train when he employs the word complacency.
The truth of the matter, however, is that the NPP 2008 campaign was the most comprehensive, thorough, well-funded, staffed and motivated effort in the history of electioneering in Ghana. Let me give two pedestrian examples. How many of us can remember any NDC campaign song, but the sarcastic Lumba lyrics still gets airtime a year after the elections? I personally counted five huge Nana Akuffo Addo hoardings at the Liberation Circle alone in Accra, and wondered who were the intended audience for this advertising overkill. The NPP carpet-bombed the country with adverts, songs, rallies, concerts, and media endorsements. The problem of explaining defeat can be likened to the Rope-a-Dope strategy of Muhammad Ali in the October, 1974 Rumble in the Jungle fight in Kinshasa in which he defeated the overmighty and deadly George Foreman by systematically sapping the latter’s overwhelming strength.But the delusions of inevitable triumph still persist even as the author joins the chorus in the party that 2012 would see the NPP back in power. The general contempt for the ability of the NDC to recapture power after two harrowing terms in opposition marked by the reckless, careless and dangerous abuse of the judicial process to jail their leading members, damnation to perpetual opposition with the pointless national reconciliation project, and a vicious, unchristian and ungentlemanly attack on their candidate, Professor Mills, should have abated by now. In the higher circles of the NPP, the repeated forays of President Mills into the Central Region were seen as proof positive of his failing health, and not of his single-minded determination to persuade his kinsmen to vote for him.
Dr. Kennedy is simply being the uncharitable NPP politician who refuses to appreciate that the present constitution and the structure of our politics, are the products of the PNDC from which the NDC was begotten, and the very least one can do as a patriot of the land, is to respect if not love them, like the converted Saul, for finally coming round to accepting civilian, democratic and constitutional rule, and not to continually mock them. Fortunately, the people of this country know better.
Dr. Kennedy rightly questions the lack of active employment of President Kufuor in the campaign, but he declines to tell us really why since his answer would be self-incriminating. The leadership of President Kufuor was never respected in the ranks of the party, and in defiance of party esprit d’corps, leading members of the party delighted in ridiculing and defying the judgement and direction of a man they had freely chosen and campaigned for, and happily accepted positions from, to run this country. But President Kufuor himself did not help matters when for the position of national chairman for the party in 2005, he backed an obvious Johnny-come-lately Stephen Ntim. Ntim who was completely apolitical during our Legon days in 1980 was an attempted imposition whose audacity eclipses the so-called Swedru declaration of President Rawlings. But in refusing to endorse Vice-President Aliu Mahama to replace him as the NPP nominee, and backing his kinsman, Allan Kyeremateng, President Kufuor was following in the footsteps of his mentor Victor Owusu, who also chose Kufuor.
It is clear therefore, that both President Kufuor and his party were embarking on a disastrous journey where the former’s choices were indefensible, and the latters’ disrespect untenable. Seen in this light, the violent disagreements and opposition to a retiring president endorsing anybody in the 2007 NPP primaries marks the party as incapable of strategizing. The other way of looking at this is that the NPP is an ethnic cult. This is one aspect of the defeat that Dr.. Kennedy declines to address, only stating the patently foolish appeal of the late Hawa Yakubu to President Kufuor not to support anyone for the top prize in the party. I fail to see the wisdom in denying President Kufuor the privileges of leadership. That the privilege was exercised wrongly is another matter. When President Reagan was asked by pressmen what advice he would give to his Vice-President George Bush, Snr, as the latter sought the Republican nomination in 1988, he replied ‘Take no prisoners.’ No one questioned or doubted Reagan’s right to back someone to replace him. It is worth attempting an answer to how the NPP came to this sorry pass.
The NPP traces its direct roots not to the genteel, aristocratic UGCC of 1947, but to the rough and tumble band of discontents of the NLM of 1954, whose politics were marked first and foremost by ethnic supremacy and the sanctification of chiefly rule in the Forest Akan areas of Ghana. The relevance of this is that the position of vice-president is seen as a token sop to the other ethnic groups in Ghana, and not as a practical stepping-stone to the presidency, as it is designed to be everywhere except in Obasanjo’s PDP in Nigeria. Nowhere in the book, or elsewhere in the public debate at the time, is the concern expressed about the suitability of any of the running mate aspirants for the ultimate job, the presidency.
Dr. Kennedy misses the point therefore when he asserts that the NPP ticket has been more inclusive than that of the NDC since 1992. Does he believe that Mills, Amidu, Mumuni and Mahama are not fit to be presidents of this country? What about Kow Arkaah who performed the political hat trick of being the running mate of two opposing parties? If the NPP ticket is more inclusive, why did Dr. Kennedy not spend his energies to persuade President Kufuor and his party to do the natural and proper thing by endorsing Vice-President Aliu Mahama?
The delusion is further illustrated when NPP members and their backers in the chattering classes cite the narrowness of defeat as evidence of the inevitable return to power in 2012. Dr. Kennedy is a passionate believer in this numbers nonsense emanating from our collective acceptance of election polls and figures which make no statistical or political sense. We have had elections in this country since 1951, and we thus have a fair idea of the shape and contours of victory, permitting us to live with the figures produced. Incidentally, it is a study of these figures which have informed my position that the NDC has taken over the CPP pattern of electoral support in this country. But the election figures of 2008, and to a lesser extent, that of 2004, seem extremely suspicious. For the author to take psychic comfort in 205,000 spoilt ballots in NPP strongholds which robbed the party of deserved victory and the fallacious reversion to ethnocentric politics where the Volta vote is condemned is regrettable, and unworthy of his fine mind. I will counsel him to read carefully the meticulously researched article on the 2008 elections by Jockers, Kohnert and Nugent, which laid the blame squarely for malfeasance in this election at the doorsteps of the ruling NPP.
The internal NPP polls which gave an 8-10% margin of victory over the NDC were all concocted from whole cloth, and designed to give evidential support to self-generated positive propaganda. Is it not striking that Larry Gibson working with these fantastic numbers, still gave victory to the NDC, albeit by a whisker? It is this particular delusion that has made defeat extremely painful for the rank and file of the NPP to bear.
The title of this essay was chosen from page 91 of the book where Dr. Kennedy lays his finger, rather unintentionally, on the structural deformity in the support base of the NPP. The party has a base in the Forest Akan areas of Ghana, but that base is not homogenous in voting patterns, or even in ethnic purity. That is why people are still rightly puzzled by the immoral fight of the party to claim victory when it won only two regions in the run-off, a move which also sought to deny that coat tail voting is the norm in this country. The problem of the NPP in confecting a durable national spread can only be addressed by following the constitutional requirement for regional balance in political leadership in this country. To Ursula Owusu, an NPP stalwart who asserted in a radio programme recently that ‘we have the numbers’, Dr. Kennedy rightly replies that ‘there are just not enough of us’ in the base of the party.
There are other juicy plums in this book which have seized our attention. The book reminds us that the NPP candidate is yet to concede defeat in this election, even after the Electoral Commission had declared President Atta Mills the victor. Professor Gibson’s recommendation to the campaign to abandon attacking the genuinely popular President Rawlings was ignored. Dr. Kennedy asserts that Nana Addo had ‘more legitimate populist credentials’ than any Ghanaian politician since Nkrumah, when the two of us in a conversation three years ago, had likened the political credentials of Nana Addo to that of the populist Mexican politician Cuanhtemoc Cardenas, who was born in the presidential palace in Mexico City when his father was president! Cardenas never became Mexican president! The reference to the Akyem Mafia reflects the disgust in party ranks and in the country at large, with the large number of family members and Kumasi hangers-on in the Kufuor presidency, which Nana Akufo-Addo seemed willing to continue with his own cabal if he had won. Their presence and access to the candidate is the problem, not the gifts and talents of some of them which Dr. Kennedy rightly argues made them an asset. In a democracy, people are right to resent the ennoblement and empowerment of family which is the norm in a monarchy.
When Kweku Baako and Gabby Otchere Darko were condemning the work, they had obviously not read the book, because the references to them were kind and generous. Gabby, in particular, seems set on a campaign to prove that indeed, he has the capacity to ‘casually offend.’ What is wrong with ‘outing’ Professor Badoe, Edward Boateng and Ahomka-Lindsay as NPP stalwarts? Preservation of the fiction of their objectivity in partisan politics is not a national good. Again, if the book contains nothing unknown to the public, why spend so much energy in attacking Dr. Kennedy? Their efforts are unlikely to disturb the confident, even-tempered and calm doctor who fought the Rawlings regime when some of them were in their diapers. The critics betray a collective low self-esteem that may mask envy of the attention that this unsuccessful presidential aspirant is getting. They predict that he has no future in the NPP, a level of vindictiveness and viciousness that does not surprise me. I have been there before, when I roundly criticized the NPP for indulging in alliance politics in the 1996 elections. Dr. Kennedy needs neither his party nor friends to be relevant in this country’s politics. He has his God, his conscience and his countrymen as his surest compass to relevance.
The delusion continues when President Kufuor seeks to correct the record on the Tain fiasco. Dr. Kennedy’s version accords with the public record. Both the president and the author would want us to believe Tain was an inevitable part of the election when we know it was called into play by the humiliated NPP after the run-off when President Mills had won with 23,000 votes. The party then briefly embraced disintegration and oblivion when it chose to go to court to estop the EC. President Kufuor and B.J. da Rocha, in public rebuttals, saved the party to enable it fight another day. What Dr. Kennedy has done is to show the NPP the mistakes to avoid in that future fight, and for that, the party ought to be deeply grateful to him.