Rhetoric Without Responsibility
“The political orator is concerned with the future: it is about things to be done hereafter that he advises, for or against.” — Aristotle“My life is my message and not the political rhetoric they are dishing out.” — Mahatma 'Great soul' GhandiThe ugliest issue in Ghanaian politics has been rekindled. Intense political campaign is about to begin, and leaders of political parties will soon be criss-crossing the country to promise the moon to voters.
They would be braying vague promises through the media and on campaign platforms from now until election day in December.
Various ideas and techniques will be employed to communicate to and persuade voters to give them their votes. Candidates, party leaders, representatives and the party faithful will do everything possible to achieve a favourable image for themselves.
Consequently, the 2008 election campaigners are poised to follow the global trend widely known as 'Americanisation of campaigning'.
It will become analogous to products development process in which politicians and policies are packaged for media marketing.
To quote a British Conservative Cabinet Minister in 1988, “Policies will be like cornflakes; if they are not marketed they will not sell”.
Rhetoric and campaign adverts of candidates promising the moon to Ghanaian voters are very likely to follow previous examples in which numerous vague and unfulfilled promises were made to the citizenry by power seekers.
The National Liberation Council headed by Lt Gen. J. A. Ankrah toppled Dr Kwame Nkrumah's CPP government, arguably with a promise to end its dictatorial and oppressive policies and put the country back on a sound footing.
But evidence available indicates that the administration was later disgraced by its own internal squabbles. Dr Kofi Abrefa Busia on October 1,1969 noted: "Our goal is to enable every man and woman in our country to live a life of dignity in freedom."
But nearly 40 years after this statement, the opposite is the case in the country. The majority of Ghanaians are living in poverty and despair.
Perhaps Dr Busia could be pardoned for his quick overthrow by the National Redemption Council/Supreme Military Council I led by Gen. I. K. Acheampong.
Gen. Acheampong's major reasons for his coup against Dr Busia were the worsening economic conditions and devaluation of the cedi. Gen. Acheampong had an arguable reputation as the most inefficient leader in the country.
Despite blaming his predecessor for the country's poor performance, he later epitomised corruption to an almost sickening degree.
The governments of Gen. F. W. K. Akuffo and of Dr Hilla Limann had their tenures cut short by the coups of Flt. Lt. J. J. Rawlings.
It may well be true that both Gen. Akuffo and Dr Limann appeared to relish a battle to fulfil their promises, but time apparently did not permit them to do so.
The country's longest serving leader, former President J. J. Rawlings, promised not only to end corruption, but to remove it from the fabric of Ghanaian society and restore democracy and the rule of law.
In fact, he was very conscious of the damaging effects of corruption on our society before assuming power: Its impact of destruction domestically and its repercussions on the country's image internationally.
About 26 years ago, J. J. Rawlings, for instance, vowed to end corruption, close the gap between the rich and the poor, promote moral reforms and, more important, turn Ghana into a Cuba. But his actions were rather worse than expected.
His government paid scant attention to corruption, and never bothered about what the poor could do to improve their standard of living, let alone catch up with the rich.
His government justified its actions by providing in the current 1992 Constitution, immunity from liability to members of the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) for past criminal acts.
It also issued a White Paper to exonerate four high-ranking government officials investigated by the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) on allegations of corruption. His saving grace is the democracy he has helped the country to nurture.
President J. A. Kufuor, in his inaugural speech on January 7, 2001, promised Ghanaians 'zero tolerance for corruption, repeal the Criminal Libel Law and set up a National Reconciliation Commission.' So far he has fulfilled two, but the other one (corruption) is still a dream. The steps taken by his government to tackle corruption in the country so far include the following:
• 2001: Two former ministers were tried and convicted for public corruption in the courts.
• 2003: Three former ministers were convicted.
• Office of accountability was established to reduce corruption by government appointees and public servants.
• 2006: The Whistleblower's Law was passed in August.
• 2007: The Proceeds of Crime Bill to empower security agencies to investigate and compel people to declare their sources of income and how properties were acquired is still before Parliament.
Although great strides have been made by the current government in search of a cure for corruption, much is yet to be achieved in terms of its eradication.
The convictions and promulgation of laws by the government have not been able to end it. It is still pervasive in the country.
Despite the efforts being made by the government to tackle corruption, it still continues to receive criticisms from the masses for its ineffective actions.
And with barely a year to end the President's tenure, it is highly debatable whether he can honour his anti-corruption pledge made to Ghanaians at the start of his administration.
Apart from putting square pegs in round holes, as well as his dictatorial rule, pervasive corruption, it has been argued, eroded Dr Kwame Nkrumah's popular support and provided the opportunity for his overthrow.
It is unfortunate that 50 years after independence, corruption continues to be the country's biggest problem, amid pledges by every government to uproot this canker.
I think our leaders could have done better, since we have the legal framework in place. They should have been able to keep their promises rather than betray Ghanaians by their ineffective policies instituted to curb the menace.
Rhetoric without responsibility has, in fact, been the hallmark of many of our leaders. But making vague and unfulfilled promises does not only take for granted the vibrancy of our democracy, but our value as well. A campaign promise, like human rights protection, is a moral duty and therefore a responsibility.
Leaders and, indeed, society in general, have a duty to be morally responsible and encourage others to make good their promises. They should choose their words carefully and make promises they can fulfil.
As Aristotle explains, "Since all good things that are highly honoured are objects of emulation, moral goodness in its various forms must be such an object, and also all good things that are useful and serviceable to others: for men honour those who are morally good and those who do them service."
Our leaders have evaded their promises for long. Their rhetoric could be described as statements or promises made for which they are not called to account.
Their actions demonstrate the ease with which they are able to betray society.
What has apparently aggravated the problem is that there are no mechanisms in place to make them accountable to society regarding whatever promises they make.
The 2008 political campaigning, therefore, offers us a chance to reflect on the messages of candidates, promises that will be made, how realistic they are and whether they are achievable or not.
The competition over which a party can propose and implement the right policies for projecting the country to a middle-income status would be very encouraging.
It will show that the country is gradually maturing in its democracy and governance. But it may also be misleading because they may take advantage of the system, like their predecessors.
It is time to start seeking answers from our past leaders as to why they could not honour their promises and, if necessary, find ways of holding them accountable for their failures.
Aspiring leaders should also remember that simple statements and vague promises have caused some prominent leaders trouble.
Like Mahatma Ghandi, our leaders should let the life they lead convey their messages and not the political rhetoric they dish out. Promises are debts and must be honoured. If they are betrayed, history and, indeed, their negligence will come back to haunt them.
By Kwabena Agyei-Boahene
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