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13.11.2008 Feature Article

Will crowds and paraphernalia translate into votes?

The days are fast ticking away. The tempo of the political rallies is quickening. Excitement and panic are gripping some political activists. In just 25 days the die will be cast and a new President will be elected.

Some new faces will emerge in Parliament as 'homos' ready to learn the rules, while the good old ones enter once again to welcome the 'homos' and show them their seats for the next four years.

We will be looking forward to seeing who the new housemaster, or maybe for the first time housemistress, will be. We will also watch out for the new house prefect, too. Exciting times are ahead of us so we need the peace to be able to enjoy it all.

I had personally been using the countdown to the American presidential elections as my time gauge and a signal that our own election time was drawing close. With that out of the way, it has dawned on me that the countdown to our polls began in earnest where America's left off. We are only 25 days away.

As the days unfold, one thing I have noticed is that for now, the usual November pre-Christmas preparations and commercial activities have all been put on hold. I have heard rumours that some families have purchased their airline tickets ready to fly out after casting their votes to go and wait for the 'calm' to settle. There are also whispers that some business men and women have suspended their Christmas trips and orders for fear that there will be disturbances after the polls.

Whatever it is, for those of us who have faith and, better still, do not have winter clothes to fly into the cold, also have started building up hopes of abundant peace. We have already adopted the refrain of the American President-elect, Barack Obama - "Yes, we can". It has since last week become part of our daily devotion. Yes, indeed, we will make it to peaceful polls. We will make it for the world to feel proud about our country and its people.

Of all the things that continue to fascinate me this election period, is the sheer number of people who are turning up at practically every political rally, irrespective of which party is hosting it. Based on the crowds that have been showing up at the various rallies, I have tried a few times to guess the outcome of the presidential polls. It has been extremely difficult to reach a conclusion because all the parties are pulling crowds.

Watching television footage of political rallies, walk about, visits and other public engagements of the presidential candidates, their running mates, their wives or other party agents, there seems to be a fair to impressive sizeable number of people following, listening or dancing along. Sometimes the sheer size of the crowd drowns out the messages that such rallies or meetings are supposed to carry across.

With the increasing crowd at all the rallies, therefore, one is tempted to ask, Who has been following which candidate and for what reason are they attending such rallies?

If, like me, you have been using the size of crowds to determine who is likely to be the winner, then you need to start re-writing your notes.

A taxi driver who was driving me home the other evening, in trying to cut comers, ran into a heavy traffic in one of Accra's suburbs. He drove straight into a thunderous crowd that had gathered to listen to one of the presidential candidates who had visited the constituency to introduce the parliamentary candidate.

As we crawled in the traffic that had built-up, he remarked that most of the people in the crowd were there merely for the T-shirts and other party paraphernalia and that they were not necessarily sympathisers of the party hosting the rally. How did he know? I wondered.

The taxi driver told me the story of some young adults who lived in the same compound house as he. He said the young men and their father went from one political rally to another merely to collect T-shirts and other freebies.

According to the taxi driver, those men did not belong to any party; indeed, they did not bother to register to vote, yet they had made it their business to go to every constituency rally, simply for what they could get. He referred to them as 'rally contractors'. They went to each rally appropriately attired because they had made a collection of all the T-shirts and caps. They went and did the kangaroo or 'yeresesamu' dances and shouted the loudest but they belonged nowhere.

The taxi driver's story really gave me some food for thought. I am beginning to get some understanding as to the crowd that we see gathered at these rallies. There are some individuals in those crowds who are deceiving all of us into thinking that the political parties have followers. It is a season for the smart 'crowd contractors' to make hay while the sun is shining. Once the sun goes down on December 7, their harvest will be over.

This season really reminds me very much of what happened exactly a year ago when the whole nation was gripped by the Ghana 2008 soccer fiesta fever. It became a season for entrepreneurs to reap a bountiful harvest.

The brisk business in football paraphernalia was all over the place. Everywhere and anywhere that one turned, those entrepreneurs had capitalised on the occasion and were manufacturing and selling all types of souvenirs on Ghana and some of the favourite countries tipped to win the Cup. Some made good money from their sales, especially on days that Ghana played its matches.

Another season of making money is here once again. As one waits in traffic, one sees various types of souvenirs in the colours and logos of the different parties on sale. Do the copyright laws of Ghana allow for individuals to use a party's logo and name for commercial gains?

Even if it is not allowed, I wonder which political party will take any politically incorrect action by going to court for the plagiarisation of its logo and colours? Indeed, while America is described as a land of possibilities, Ghana is fast becoming a land of 'catch me if you can'. Law and order get suspended as and when it suits someone.

It is the season of reaping - the crowds are reaping big for as long as the T-shirts and other freebies abound at political rallies. Smart entrepreneurs are cashing in as they continue to innovate with several types of political party accoutrement for sale to sympathisers. Unfortunately for them all, December 7, when it comes, will end the 'bumper' season to give way to Christmas 2008.

I am optimistic that the line of manufacturing will be assorted tracks of the winner, great Christmas outfits, endless parties and creative dances. The crowds will certainly crowd some out, while only one gets the crown. We are watching the 'crowd contractors' and the real party crowds.

December 7 will tell us who is who.

Credit Vicky Wereko
Source: Daily Graphic

Vicky Wireko
Vicky Wireko, © 2008

This author has authored 6 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: VickyWireko

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