Four months into the general elections in Ghana serious issues that are needed to drive the development process and entrench democracy do not inform campaigns and actions of politicians heavily. From rumours of mercenaries attacks to coup plots to when and where Jerry Rawlings traveled to Rawlings near-seditious “boom” speeches about the alleged wrongs of the ruling National Patriotic Party (NPP), the whole 2004 campaign have been proceeding in an atmosphere of weightlessness or weak issues. Images dominate strong issues instead of strong national issues dominating images, fault from the electronic age. Airplane candidates, or helicopter candidates as Sierra Leoneans say, of diasporan Ghanaians float in now and then, adding to the shiny local politicians or “hopefuls” who are not fully plunging themselves into deeper problems or issues facing the country.
In country where poverty is worsening, despite the hype, and the rural areas cleaner than the urban areas, and people cannot comprehend the directions politicians are taking them, the citizenry unconsciously make ritual calculations: they do not judge the politicians on strong issues so much as on ethnicity, good looks, university degrees, images and money. Writes Jordys A. Komfour, a columnist with ghanaweb.com, “It is rather unfortunate, in fact very pathetic, that people could be blinded by political veils to pick for a bite every dirty bone that pops up from the gutter and in so doing brandish so high what is certainly so low.” And so politicians are not judged by issues or weight or size, the something to become a Member of Parliament or President. That's politicians are not judged by gravitas, as the Americans will say, in relation to the problems Ghana is facing.
In America as in deep Ghanaian/African culture, gravitas is an ambiguity, an amorphous, intellectually unmanageable, a mystery, just as Ghanaian (and African) politicians, wrongly educated or more mired in Eurocentric values than African values in their education training, cannot come to terms with the core problems facing their people and almost always talk more nonsense than sense in their campaigns outings. In this sense, Prince Junior Aidoo, a columnist with ghanaweb.com, says, “Ghana is now visionless.” “Gravitas is a secret of character and grasp and experience, a force in the eyes, the voice, the bearing,” writes the thinker-journalist Lance Morrow of Time magazine and currently a professor of American studies at Boston University. Sometimes as with Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first president and one of the founding fathers of Ghana and Jerry Rawlings, an impresario of Ghana coup detats, a two-time coup-maker and a two-time civilian president, and who ruled Ghana for almost 20 years, gravitas “announces itself as eloquence, and sometimes it proclaims itself as a silence, a suspension full of either menace or Zen. The Japanese believe a man's gravitas emanates from the densities of the unspoken,” says Morrow.
Almost all African ethnic groups speak of a man of respect, a phrase suggesting a man of weight, of density, of authority, as the Liberians, Sierra Leoneans and Guineans would say. As we have seen, most African Big Men attitudes from Nigeria to Ghana to Cote d'Ivoire to Guinea Bissau “at its darkest reach, gravitas can intimidate or kill in order to enforce respect.” As we are witnessing among Ghanaian (and West African) politicians, Morrow says, “Gravitas is a phenomenon of power, but the forms and styles of power are various.” From Emmanuel Kotoka to F.W.K Akuffo to Akwasi Afrifa to Kutu Acheampong to Jerry Rawlings, all military dictators, they impersonate gravitas, demonstrating brute power in its cruddiest forms. But there are other forms of gravitas such as the moral gravitas of President John Kuffour or President Hilla Liman or Nelson Mandela or Bishop Kwesi Sarpong or Dr. Kofi Busia or Dr. Desmond Tutu or Dr. Kwame Nkrumah or President Akuffo Addo. All these men brought gravitas against issues that that they thought made the African development landscape vacant. Morrow says while “gravitas may be aggression, it may express itself otherwise, as something withheld, as a dignity and forbearance.”
As Ghana (and West Africa) demonstrates, gravitas may emanate out of long-running suffering and pain such as tribalism or threat of ritual murder in Nigeria's Okija Shrine or the trans-Atlantic slave trade or coup detats or civil wars or economic hardship. In this sense, gravitas draw its power from the long-running West African tragedy for redemption, for regeneration, for renewal. In the early days of Rawlings military juntas Ghanaians saw him as a moral and spiritual gravitas, a saviour, a redeemer, a “Jesus Christ,” as local musician Kwame Ampadu sang of him. Morrow says “whole cultures may be judged weighty or weightless by the calibration of suffering.” Ghanaian history sometimes seems an entire world of gravitas: always there is the threat of coup detat, and the encroaching dark and metaphysical rain from the surrounding states of West Africa, where states have collapsed, moral virtues weak, civil wars real, crime booming, small armed proliferation on the prowl. The Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu 11's attempts to mediate the Ivorien civil crisis is to use his immense reservoir of traditional moral gravitas to bring peace to Cote d'Ivoire: “opening the windows, airing out the old system,” as Morrow says.
Rawlings and Samuel Doe riding on the tail of gravitas moved to reverse the moral rot in their societies: “opening the windows, airing out the old system,” but one was consumed by the dark aspects of gravitas as became Doe mired in heavy juju-marabou, threw reason away and blew his country into pieces. The second generation of Ghanaian (and West African) leaders (Kutu Acheampong, for example) sat on their people like dark clouds. “Weight is not enough. Gravitas is weight with complexities of life and intelligence,” reflects Morrow. In Ghanaian and West African context, weight is not enough, it has to be informed by strong issues confronting the nation, by inhibitions within the culture that have being stifling the development process as we are seeing at Nigeria's Okija shrine where over 100 ritual murders have taken place most initiated by people with gravitas—politicians, professionals, and other Big Men—a sign of mindless lot made stupid by the dark aspects of their culture.
One can make game of gravitas in Ghana's tortuous political journey leading to the impending general elections: who has it, who does not. Nkrumah surely. Busia yes. J.B. Danquah. Obetsebi-Lamptey. Morro Igala. President Akuffo Addo. Hilla Liman did not. Nor did Kutu Acheampong. John Kuffour display a bizarre and complex gravitas that sometimes clashes with that of Rawlings in hidden trivialities. Does Prof. John Atta Mills have gravitas? The long shadow of Rawlings over him makes it difficult to categorize him. Does Rawlings have gravitas? In many ways, backed by force and fear that he is a rabid juju-marabou dabbler, a value that emanates from the Ghanaian culture. But the same Rawlings ascendancy into the Ghanaian political scene was an expression of anti-gravitas of the '70s, a place that was weightless, rotten, and transitory, as forgetful as the quicksand of the Ghanaian political terrain.
The constantly improving international mass communication network has undermined the “deep moral seriousness” of gravitas, as are other Ghanaian moral virtues. And yet Kwame Nkrumah, J.B. Danquah and other founding fathers possess gravitas of authenticity. Sometimes, a politician may have gravitas but the party he belongs to may reduce his/her gravitas such as Dr. Edward Mahama of People's National Convention (PNP)—people don't take them seriously though they talk clearly about strong issues as the general elections close in.
As many Ghanaian traditional chiefs, commentators and other watchers have been saying, in the years leading to the 2004 campaign issues are so low that it border on depression, a campaign in search of heroes and meanings in the Ghanaian political and development game. Such depression may be the reason why traditional rulers such Otumfuo Osei Tutu 11 are increasingly venturing into the development process and people like Samuel Odoi-Sykes, the Ghana High Commissioner to Canada, a Ga-Dangbe, advising his ethnic chiefs, who have not initiated any development programme since the Asantehene's, to copy other traditional rulers in the development process. Such depressed atmosphere may mean that Ghana itself is depressed with the elites short of ideas or cold in the face mounting problems or cannot see the real problems wheeling around them. Ghanaians now alive remember Kwame Nkrumah, J.B. Danquah, Kofi Busia, Jerry Rawlings—not all colossal in any remarkable consensus but men of “weight and consequence” in tackling issues.
In 2000 President-elect John Kuffour made his way to the Osu Castle from Kumasi. Much of Ghanaians regarded him as coarse and faintly businessman with law degree from Oxford, UK who has danced a bit in the bumpy Ghanaian political scene. Over the past three-and-half years Kuffour has proved to be a complex historical surprise, surviving in the hot Ghanaian politician climate where President Kwame Nkrumah and Prime Minister Kofi Busia and President Hilla Liman could not. Kuffour appears to have mastered the security game, putting potentials forces of instability on the defensive. As he increasingly works to “secure the state,” as he phrases it, Kuffour is drawing from the history of instabilities of Ghana and increasingly opening up the democratic and development processes. Ghanaians say they have more freedom and choices than the last 20 years. This is increasingly deepening his historical size and force.
Kwame Nkrumah invented the form of Ghanaian presidential gravitas in an atmosphere of one-partyism. Jerry Rawlings, in both his no-party and multi-party regimes, enhanced it with a mixture brute force and fear. The presidential gravitas is determined by temper. Both Nkrumah and Rawlings were impatient and emotional lot, and will not hesitate to use force to enforce gravitas. Kuffour, much more patient like Akuffo Addo, Busia and Liman, is reorienting the presidential gravitas with more democratic liberalism but with security at the forefront of his mind. Now greatness in the presidential chair, like greatness of politicians, is told by the development process and rule of law, and not force and fear. Ghanaians remember some years of Rawlings' almost 20 years of rule with nightmares.
As the general elections near Ghanaians have to talk to themselves every four years about issues dear to them; this is refracted in the candidates. This means they have raised the candidates to the level of worthiness, of gravitas, though this may be inadequate. Said Morrow, “People feel an underlying anxiety, not because the candidates are not good, but because at a moment of such change, an entire society is suspended, awaiting the next act.” In a campaign where strong issues are low everything turns to faith or hope or downhearted guessing. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.