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30.11.2000 Feature Article

The Countdown To The Elections: Millennium Memento Mori And Morning Glory

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Call it The Battle of Manifestos, and you may be close to the truth. Huh! First there was the only-in-Ghana-could-this-happen-blasphemous-sealed-with-Big-Brother's-blood manifesto. Then, in an attempt to be different or try to cast themselves as some agents of [some] God, came the Jesus-meets-Mohammed-Kwaku-Firi-not-invited-in-the-remix-of-Allelujah-Allahu-Akbar declared manifestos. In the end would we have a Best Manifesto Win (BMW)?

But I do not think this year's elections are necessarily about BMW. The reason is that that part of the electorate that cares to read party manifestos knows that political documents can consist largely of euphemism, question begging and sheer cloudy vagueness, as George Orwell observed about political language. Yet there is that part of the electorate - the vast majority, I suppose - that does not really care about political manifestos for reasons so obvious to see.

With the selection and confirmation of running mates now completed, all appears set for the start of the REAL CAMPAIGNS. But the more I think about political campaigns, the more I wonder why "politicians" should crisscross geographic and ethnic boundaries, in the face of difficult challenges, asking people to let them (politicians) serve them? Okay, never mind that politics, contrarily to what the politicians may say, is not necessarily about "serving the people", at least in our part of the world, but rather it is about getting a "part of the power pie" (PPP) For this reason, one has to do what one has to do get the PPP. Hence real political campaigns unfortunately tend to have doses of snickering smirks and fusillades of smears about them. There is something oxymoron about this though: while it can lead to unnecessary character assassinations and innuendoes, it makes the whole political process interesting for keen observers. Campaign time thus is the time for political leaders and party faithful to rally around their flags even when their flags are not flapping. So you read and listen to the news - print, electronic, audio and visual - and you realized that already some partisan attempts are being made by some party faithful of all stripes to turn their opponents into incredible klutz. For instance, some of us fortunate enough to have access to the internet or the worldwide web (www) have noticed that sustained-but-vain-attempts are being made to link the present leadership of a major, trying-to-win-it-all-for-the-third-time opposition party to "perceived" wrongdoings of an Administration whose political life span was only a little over two years in the early 1970s. But one has to wonder why those who live in glass houses would even dream about throwing the first stone. Well never mind that hypocrisy underlines such behavioral dispositions. After all much of politics and political games is, as I said before, bathed in a whirlpool of hypocrisy and rhetoric.

This year's elections, like the two previous ones of 1992 and 1996 are about CONTINUITY versus CHANGE. Somehow, however, this year's elections appear to be different from the 2 previous ones. That's we have same themes and slogans, but we are operating in different contexts and dynamics, politically and environmentally. In the two previous elections, while the ideological contravention of the two major parties, NDC and NPP, might not have been all that blunt, for most part their differences were enveloped largely because the campaigns never had the chance to move beyond rhetorical flourishes and personality beauty-contest, and even in some regrettably subtle way skin-color comparison. The populist disguise of President Rawlings took attention away from debates of the real issues Ghana faced.

Thus with the Commander-in-Chief of Rhetorical Flourishes out of the way, and with virtually very little to differentiate between the candidates of the two major parties in terms of personality, oration, educational attainment and even skin color, we have a golden opportunity of making this year's election about the substantial issues, namely, the economy, education, healthcare, employment creation, poverty reduction, etc. . We have two dyspeptic but intellectually able people contesting for the presidency who should be able to engage each other as well as the electorate on the issues. So let them tug it out on the debates. Let me say anecdotally that I have no intention of consigning the other presidential candidates and their parties to the periphery but reality tells me that they should be put there because they seem, as of now, to have only an outside chance to win it all on the basis of their individual strengths. There are fundamental questions to be addressed in all facets of our society, especially about our economy. Should we CONTINUE with the stop-go ad hoc economic policies that have bared their inherent weaknesses in their sustainability or should we CHANGE and try new ideas before the economy breaks beyond a point of repair? Do we CONTINUE to allow a small group of people to hold our country hostage through mismanagement, soft bigotry of low expectations (apologies to US presidential candidate Governor George W. Bush) and politics of exclusion and vengefulness or should we CHANGE to politics of inclusion and reconciliation and demand higher expectations and accountability from our so-called political leaders? In my judgement - and I hope the vast majority of Ghanaians shares my view - Ghana deserves better in terms of economic management and political leadership. We need a fresh breath of new ideas and bold strategies to move our country forward, and this requires CHANGE that is long delayed. I do not think any levelheaded person can underestimate the level of discontent in Ghana right now. But as a Chinese adage says, discontent is the first step in the progress of a person or a nation. Only fools and or beneficiaries of an existing system would vouch for the continuity of the status quo when it is embarrassingly clear that the old system is leading the people to the precipice of mayhem. However, presidential and parliamentary elections are not some aleatoric games whose victories are antecedent solely upon the sweeping sentimentality of the people, or on ones fate and destiny. One must give reasons for the electorate to put their trusts in ones abilities and thus elect them.

Fortunately for the opposition and those who are shouting for change, this millennium has been sending memento mori to incumbents that "no condition is permanent". Let us cast our minds around globally and see the truth in this millennium's memento mori. Some truly "Odupons" could not withstand the political wind of change. In Mexico, over 70 years of one-party rule by the PRI through various vicious and corrupt political mechanization came crushing down. The opposition won for the first time this year. Still in South America, but for the intimidation and suspicious tactics of the incumbent Fujimori, the-little-known-son-of-poor-farmers-opposition candidate Toledo would have caused an upset. Then in Taiwan, the only party that the country has known since its birth over forty years ago was sung its dirges by the people. Back home in Africa, the momentous victory by the opposition leader Wade in Senegal has given hope that with determination all things are possible. Add the opposition victory in Mauritius and there is a sense of hope that in Ghana too change can occur. However, there should also be genuine concern that the opposition can be a morning glory and or a wallflower in the elections. In horse racing there is something called a "morning glory". Here is how it works: the horse works great 3 0r 4 furlongs in the morning workout and looks sensationally ready to go. Then it is time for the real race and the horse starts sweating during the parade and when it gets to the gate and the race starts it stinks the place out. It spits the bit out. With the fragmentation of the opposition the description of morning glory seems appropriate for them. This is because it looks like they are going to beat themselves up by splitting up votes in key constituencies, weaken themselves to be finished off by the ruling NDC. That is my FEAR and I think it is a genuine for of most reasonable people too.

I think Ghana is ripe for CHANGE but it is highly unlikely that one opposition can win it all in the upcoming elections. This requires that the various opposition parties and their leaders put their egos and ideological differences aside like a stale peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and start salivating for the filet mignon of an Alliance for Change. Are they listening? For the sake of Ghana, let us hope that my skepticism is misplaced.

Maxwell Oteng
Maxwell Oteng, © 2000

The author has 28 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: MaxwellOteng

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