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23.11.2008 Feature Article

Ghana at the Crossroads: Towards Peaceful Elections

In just a little over one week, Ghanaians would once again go to the polls to elect both parliamentarians and a new president, to steer affairs of the state for the next four years. The two main contending parties are the incumbent New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the New Democratic Congress (NDC). The fight for the presidency is primarily between Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo Addo of the NPP and Prof. John Evans Atta Mills of the NDC. Of course there are other parties and presidential candidates such as Dr. Paa Kwesi Nduom of the CPP and Dr Edward Mahama of the PNC. As Black Africa's first son, Ghana is often the barometer that the world uses to gauge the rate and the level of political maturity, democracy, and economic development, in sub-Saharan Africa. It is an awesome responsibility which often brings us heart aches and pride.

Elections are social contracts, basically an exercise to hire the people who would determine who gets what, where, and how, in the distribution of the national cake. It is a battle of ideas; statism versus individualism; liberalism versus conservatism; community ownership society versus private ownership; what political blends or shades we are willing to tolerate. All things being equal, this is what it is supposed to be: Who has the best ideas, vision, and program, to responsibly take us to the next level in our strides towards middle income country and beyond? The record in Africa has been one of missed opportunities, gross incompetence, irresponsibility, and paucity of effective leadership and ideas, under the weight of suspicion, bribery, and corruption. Politicians have often toyed with the emotions of the electorate. They would often raise their expectations high with hard to achieve promises, tug on not so discreet tribal harps to get elected, only to turn around to serve them with abysmal failures whilst they themselves line their pockets and their cronies, with so much wealth, properties, and plump jobs, over a very short time.

Now the above scenario, against the backdrop of extreme poverty and other inadequacies - islands of shimmering multimillion dollar mansions in a sea of filth, blight and joblessness, broken and crumpling infrastructures - are the things that give pregnancy and birth to post election violence in Africa, and we deceive ourselves to think Ghana is immune from such foreboding outcomes. The people are spoiling for a fight and can't wait to exact their pound of flesh at the very first sign of election fraud and cheating. What we do, before, during, and after the elections is what would determine whether we dodge the shameful violence that has befallen other African countries. Already one minister, Albert Kan-Dapaah is on the record for saying he and his family have their airline tickets ready to fly to the safety of a foreign country, should violence break loose after the elections. Such blunt and candid statement from a person entrusted with the responsibility of defending the country should jolt any of us to take extreme precaution. In any other place, Kan-Dapaah, Minister of Defence, would have been fired immediately, for making such an atrocious statement. But this is Ghana, he would get away with wry rebuke and that is it. The partisan amongst us might even applaud him for his frankness. We have ministers and MPs, some rumoured to have dual citizenship in other countries, in the same state of mind. You can bet that many of them have mansions overseas and have their immediate family members already tugged away to safety in Europe and North America. Why anybody would fight and risk his life for such MPs is beyond comprehension. Why some down trodden would pick up sticks, clubs, stones, knives, guns, bows, and arrows, and go and harm or kill his neighbour and perhaps burn down his farms and properties over the election of some far removed callous people who do not care a pesewa for them, is the thing that confounds me the most. Why? I demand to know. Given what we know of African politicians, and Ghanaians in particular, it is not even right for a goat to lose its life over an election outcome.

If Kenya and Zimbabwe elections are anything, we now know nobody can be spared of election violence. We shall all pay dearly, directly or indirectly, for it. In Kenya alone over 1500 people lost their lives plus millions of dollars in property damages. Not only that, the inter-tribal relationships and harmony that has been carefully nurtured and groomed by our elders, from Kwame Nkrumah to date, would be irreparably ruined for generations to come if any wild scale violence breaks loose after the election. Perception is everything and very important. People go to elections to get relief from bad governance, incompetence, bribery, and corruption. There is often a very high sense of hope that a change of government would bring them relief depending upon how they gauge the performance of the incumbent versus the alternative. Now if they felt they have been cheated out by some government, through electoral fraud, that sets the stage for post election violence. Too often the incumbent, like the case in Zimbabwe, would cling on to power, even when they have been soundly beaten. That demands that the Electoral Commission and the security agencies maintain strict neutrality, impartiality, and independence, and put down effectively and promptly, any electoral fraud and violence.

In Africa, multiparty democracy has not have the same even keel and room to grow deep roots like Christianity. When you compare the history of Christianity to democracy on the continent, you would realize that the colonial masters; may be out of the need to mellow us in order to exploit us, pounded and grinded Christianity into our values, norms and consciousness, whilst shutting us out of governance. It is all too common to see people belonging to different political parties and ideologies, sharing the same communion. For instance, Jerry Rawlings and John Agyekum Kufour, are both devout Catholics, but wouldn't see eye-to-eye in the political arena. Most African countries, starting with Ghana were rushed through multi-party democracy soon after the WWII by the colonial masters. Whilst they rushed to usher us into independence and party politics, what in reality obtained beneath the surface was that our ancient old tribal chiefdoms and rivalries were left intact; they were actually entrenched through indirect rule, and waited to be exploited by unscrupulous politicians. In a pre-industrialised environment where the government is the main source of salaried wages and biggest employer and the agent of change, politics takes on the onerous tragedy of becoming the fodder for nepotism and favouritism. Too often the factional parties, which have their roots in tribal strongholds; when they have gotten into power, begin to take care of their own, comparatively more than the folks from the other tribal areas where the government in power did not do well in the polls. Presidents would surround themselves with yes-men drawn mainly from their tribes. These terrible conditions are what set the stage for post election violence in Africa and elsewhere. The Akans have a saying “Adidi gya wo ho yi, ene amuna na enam” (Neglecting someone from the dinning table courts disgruntle-ness in the heart of the one left out), Ghanaian politicians must know they can't have it both ways. They dig their own demise if they think they can practice nepotism and still hang on to power via election riggings. They would be changed and if they try to meddle with the votes, they would meet stiff resistance, failure of which would end in a coup d'etat.

We have it in our folklore and sayings that it is the fool who dismisses warning signs as something meant for his neighbour and when your neighbour's beard catches fire, you have got to get water near yours; if post election violence could happen in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Togo, and the Ivory Coast, it can surely happen in Ghana too. Post election violence is real, and the consequences are real. Post election violence would lead to internally displaced people, destruction of life and property, pose a threat to national security and cohesion, exact a heavy toll on the treasury and national development and scare away both internal and foreign investors. You don't need to hear it from me. The evidence is all around us, and we hear and see them on television. We have refugees from neighbouring countries who are victims of violence in their own countries of origin.

What every Ghanaian, the Electoral Commission (EC), and security agencies need to do is to be vigilant. The EC must ensure the voter register is pruned of ghost names and multiple registrations. They should ensure no minors are registered or allowed to vote and that there are enough ballots to cater for every one who is legally qualified to vote. Let no political party announce any results ahead of the EC. The press can call out the exit polls but it is the EC that must confirm and certify all polls. The press must be impartial and show responsible communication. Back in Rwanda the genocide of 1994 was urged on by irresponsible tribal and regional based radio stations that excited one tribe against the other. The churches, the chiefs, musicians, and community leaders must all add their voices to call for tolerance and vigilance. We should never fail to use every forum and media to promote peace and love, and remind each other of our collective and shared civic responsibility and destiny. Ghana is beautiful, let's keep it as such, and strive to bequeath it to our children and those yet to be born. Let no one, I don't care who, go on a campaign of sabre rattling and boom speeches and name callings whilst forgetting their own unhealthy obese forms. Of such we should pay no attention and reject at the polls, especially when they have their children overseas or have their tickets ready to run away at the first sign of trouble.

In the future we should amend the constitution to snuff the fire out of post election violence. This is what I mean. We should reach within ourselves to come out with an electoral system that would strike a balance between winner-takes-all electoral outcomes versus consensus governance. Our African traditional system operated on consensus governance. The chief, whilst the first amongst equals, ruled by consensus. The practice of active political opposition and the winner-takes-all is very foreign to us. Whilst it has its advantages, the winner takes all electoral map leaves many people out of governance. How can we come out of an election where one candidate and his party gets, say 51% of the popular votes and the other with 49%, and say only the guy who got 51% have to represent the people? No matter how you look at it, 49% of the electorate at the constituency would feel left out, and that is a significant number. That is not what obtains in business and shouldn't be allowed in governance without some amendments. We could have a blend of the two. We could reserve say 50% of the seats in parliament for the winner takes all formula, whereas we share the remaining 50% per proportional representation of the parties at the polls. In this case whilst we would be ensuring the principle of the winner of the popular votes form the government, the minority would also be fully represented according to their numerical strength on the electoral map in parliament. If that were the case it wouldn't happen, say, for argument sake, the NPP would be shut out completely out of the Volta Region, neither the NDC in the Ashanti Region. Cheers!!

Ps/

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By Eric Kwasi Bottah, alias Oyokoba. [email protected]

Eric Kwasi Bottah
Eric Kwasi Bottah, © 2008

This author has authored 34 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: EricKwasiBottah

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