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16.03.2007 Feature Article

POLITICAL PETTINESS – WHAT DO WE GAIN FROM IT?

Judging by their actions, sometimes Ghanaian politicians don't behave much different from children in the sense that the next moment after accusing the other of not playing fair, the complainant goes ahead and do exactly what he was complaining about. Naturally while we would have been happier to be spared such complaints because no one was attempting to cheat, we may also decide to see it as part of the rules of the game and therefore be indifferent about it. After all, it is normal for politicians to criticise and oppose themselves. Therefore straying a little bit off course is no such big deal.
What is rather worrying is the speed at which pettiness is gradually becoming more of the norm rather than the exception, in political discussions and statements lately. It began with the election of the President as Chairman of the African Union and it's still on-going. Isn't it sad to hear how people who would make sure to indicate on their CVs that they were once school prefects make every attempt to prove that the chairmanship of the AU doesn't mean anything? Just wait till the end of this Parliament and find out if the leaders of the various select committees will not include on their CVs that they were the chairpersons of this or that committee in Parliament. Again I would want any of the Journalists to tell me whether they think it doesn't mean a thing to be elected Chairman of Ghana Journalists Association. So what do they mean by screaming that the Chairmanship of the AU is of no significance? It's pettiness!
The Aftermath of the Golden Jubilee Parade
We all recall the excitement that preceded the parade since even though the celebration is said to be year-long it is the parade, more than any other single event, that was the main highlight. Since beauty is said to be in the eye of the beholder it's quite normal to hear different people describing the same event with different adjectives. What surprises me, however, is how far the President's attire for the occasion came to take the centre stage in discussions of the event to the extent that an outsider may even be excused for believing that it was a fashion show.
But while you might conveniently ignore any comments on the issue made by young men playing 'oware' or draught at 'nkwankwaanuase' or women on their way to the market or their farms or at hairdressing saloons it becomes a different matter when they come from respectable politicians and journalists who, in their desire to score political points, make comments which at the very best can only be described as so petty. It is for this reason that I find some comments made by an Honourable Member of Parliament on a popular morning programme on an Accra FM station as particularly appalling.
Reacting to the various theories and speculations coming from all quarters (except the official source, of course) about why the President wore what he did for the parade the MP questioned what sense it would make for the President to wear a bullet-proof vest (i.e. if that was the reason he didn't wear kente) when after all whatever protection it offered didn't cover the head. In an even more serious attempt to score political points at the expense of decency the MP went further to question why, if the President was not scared because of his unpopularity, he would need a bullet-proof vest. And to prove his point he even quoted an Akan saying that “wo we wo kwakutire a no woso ho adae” (meaning: it's when you eat the head of a monkey that you get haunted by it in your dreams). So one may ask: apart from being the elected President of Ghana who, like all other Heads of State the world over, requires special security, what 'kwakutire' could this MP, if not being politically petty, accuse President Kufuor of having eaten and which none of our former Heads of State ever ate?
To the best of my knowledge – and I'm very sure the MP would agree with me on this – a bullet-proof vest is not the invention of Ghana's security services. Secondly, this MP knows very well that if indeed President Kufuor wore one at the parade, in all probability, that would not make him the first Ghanaian Head of State to have done so. Thirdly, I do not believe that this MP, no matter how many 'kwakutires' he thinks the President has eaten, expected him to have worn a steel helmet which is the only protective gear for the head. Meanwhile, I'm sure the Honourable and learned MP knows that Heads of State the world over, and even in their retired life, use armoured vehicles and body guards. After all, even Pope John Paul II was shot at, and thereafter he and later his successor, Pope Benedict XVI has also been using the specially designed (and of course bullet-proof) 'popemobile'. And I'm quite sure that had it not been for his pettiness it would have occurred to the MP that it is even our past military Heads of State – i.e those who would normally be expected to know how to 'take cover' in the event of an attack on them – who moved with more armed bodyguards than we see now. All over the world not only Heads of State and Government, but also members of their family are given 24-hour security and he very well knows it.
Pettiness Without Borders
To one journalist participating on the same programme with the MP already referred to, all that the President went to London to do was to drink tea at our expense! And this was after the MP had roundly condemned the call by the President appealing to the youth of Africa to endeavour to stay home instead of risking their lives by attempting to cross the desert and the sea by unconventional and dangerous means. You needed to hear a sitting Member of Parliament questioning why the President would be travelling all over the world if he thought travelling abroad was bad. My God, how simplistic can one be? And for this to have come from an MP and not some unidentifiable serial caller should tell all well meaning Ghanaians that if we do not change this type of attitude we will end up causing serious harm to our democracy and our development. For example, after making such public comments, how can this MP who is not a Ga but lives in Accra, have the courage to advise young people of his constituency to think twice about moving to Accra or Kumasi in search of opportunities which may not be there the way they think they are?
In fact we are gradually moving into a situation where we spend just too much effort finding means to discredit any achievement, however admirable, of our political opponents. And in doing so, unknown to us, we end up projecting ourselves not only as hypocrites but also sometimes silly or even ignorant. For example, a discussion panellist had to invent a knighthood for President Kufuor so as to enable him ridicule the President in advance for accepting it and in the event discredit the whole ceremony. As it turned out, at least as at the time of writing this, the President has not been knighted. But let's face it, if knighthood had come up for discussion in reference to some of our past leaders would these people have made the same disparaging remarks they are making today about it?
What in fact, is Knighthood?
To make it appear as if it is some dirty ritual meant as punishment for never-do-wells one of the panellists said the meaning of OBE (which some of us learnt in our primary school days as the Order of the British Empire) is 'Obedient Servant of the Queen' or a 'Soldier of the Queen's Army. And not even a dictionary definition could satisfy him. And mind you, as I've already stated this comment was not made in a discussion of some women on their way to farm but rather by a knowledgeable Senior Journalist.
Meanwhile, among important world political personalities who have been knighted are former U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, former German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, former French President, Francois Mitterand, and doubtlessly one of Africa's most respected sons of all time and former South African President, Nelson Mandela. So what's so dirty about knighthood that someone should warn in advance that woe be to the President if he should come back with the title?
And of course, since to these people the only thing the President travelled to the Buckingham Palace to do was to drink tea they needed to devote a whole lot of air time to the eventuality of he wearing a tail-coat. Unfortunately, I've not had the opportunity to see the length of the tail of the president's coat. But just how petty can people can be for the sake of politics? It is as if to say that in our own Ghana there never been a gathering to which guests may only attend in a prescribed recommended attire. My God, how I wish I had seen the type of dressing they wore when they got married!
We have every reason to be thankful to God that in the 50-year old Ghana we are free to openly speak our mind; it has not always been so. At the same time, however, we should also remember that freedom of speech is good for us only when it can be utilised as a tool for nursing the divergent views of each and every one of us for our national development. It would be nothing if all we do with it is to find non-existing faults with the sole purpose of discrediting each other. And I gladly offer this advice to members of both sides of the political divide for the benefit of all of us.

Source:
KWAME TWUMASI
Kwame Twumasi-Fofie
Kwame Twumasi-Fofie, © 2007

This author has authored 41 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: KwameTwumasiFofie

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