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10.03.2009 Feature Article

When Opposition meant 'Opposition' to the African Politician

My beef is not with the presence of opposition in the political cycle but the actions of members of this group vis-à-vis the name 'opposition'.

I am one person who is not impressed with the practice of 'Democracy' in the world today, especially in Africa, and Ghana for that matter. However, this write-up is not about Democracy and its practice, but about one of its important tenets which has to do with the presence of a group of politicians bearing the general name 'Opposition'. My beef is not with the presence of this group in the political cycle but the actions of members of this group vis-à-vis the name 'opposition'.

The dictionary definition of the word 'opposition' is 'The action of opposing something that you disapprove or disagree with'. It is derived from the verb 'oppose' which means going against, fight against, be against or resist strongly. Unfortunately, 'democracy', as a political ideology, has not given us what it means by the word 'opposition' and so politicians in that bracket work according to exactly what the word means in the dictionary.

Political scientists tells us that the 'opposition' is an alternative government to the government in power and so with this at back of their minds, the opposition in Africa and for that matter Ghana resist strongly any thing or policy that the ruling government introduces. They do not mind whether, the policy introduced is for the betterment of the people or not. What they know is that they are in the opposition and so must 'oppose' any policy.

The believe is that when they support a policy of government, they go against the meaning of what they represent, and more importantly they will lose the chance of ruling the state because their action will mean sanctioning the government in power. Examples abound in this country. In 1995, the NDC-led government introduced the Value Added Tax (VAT). The NPP, who were in the opposition then, opposed the policy vehemently knowing very well that it was a good tax policy. The NPP came to power in 2000 and naturally were supposed to scrap it since they opposed the policy when in opposition, but No, they rather strengthened it by increasing the value.

The NDC party, in their eight years in 'opposition' did not see any policy introduced by the then government as right. They opposed every single budget since 2000. The schools feeding programme, the capitation grant, the free care for pregnant women policy, the youth employment programme, the NHIS policy among other important policies have all been questioned by the opposition. The opposition group oppose these policies because they don't want to give their supporters the impression that the government of the day is doing good, which may eventually lead to their not getting the chance to govern the state in future. Politics of this kind is not good for a state aiming for a middle income position in a community of nations.

God being wonderful has turned the table and the NDC is the government in power now. Typical of opposition parties in Africa, the NPP has assumed their role excellently, three months as the largest 'opposition' party in the country. First was the 'State of the Nation' address delivered by the President on February 19, 2009. The opposition NPP party members saw nothing good and strange in the speech of the president.

Then came the all important budgetary statement delivered by the Finance Minister on Thursday march 5, 2009. To show their 'opposition' to the budget and express their dissatisfaction with the content of the budget, the 'opposition' exposed in the floor of parliament a printed paper with the inscription 'sakawa budget'. In other words the budget is a '419' budget and contains nothing sensible that will lead to the betterment of Ghanaians.

With this baptism of fire, the message sent to all Ghanaians and the party in power by the opposition parties is that the NDC party will not have it easy at all. Nothing good will be seen in any policy the government introduces by the opposition party(ies) since their role as the 'opposition parties' will be to be opposed to all government policies. At least that is what the African opposition parties see as their role in a multi-party democracy.

One feature that characterized the fourth parliament of the fourth republic was the all-negative 'Walkouts' when it came to taking decisions on important national issues. This was the action they resorted to as a way of registering their dislike or dissatisfaction with issues brought to the house by government. Are we going to experience these 'Walkouts' in the fifth parliament? Your guess is as good as mine.

The effect of this kind of opposition exhibited by the African politician is the numerous conflicts that accompany elections and after elections. Supporters of the party (ies) in opposition have their minds tuned to the knowledge that only their party leaders have the antidote to their plight and so will not agree on any other verdict except that the verdict favours their leaders.

Another effect is the polarization of the state. It is a fact that African countries are polarized on political and tribal fronts. The action of the opposition parties in African states takes much of the blame for this situation. Opposing everything from the government of the day means that supporters also see things that way especially when it is a fact that illiteracy is endemic in Africa.

In addition to the above is the issue of telling lies to the tooth. African politicians in their quest to win over floating supporters and also consolidating their support base result to lying or smearing the truth with lies. This is exhibited by both the government in power and the opposition party, all with the intention of winning the confidence of their support base and undecided voters. In the end the country becomes a country ruled by lies. Typical example is when the issue of economy came up immediately the NDC took over the reigns of government. The government said the country was broke (aiming to paint the former government black in their dealing with the economy). Then the opposition reacted by saying the government was rather lying. What was left to well meaning Ghanaians was to research on which side was really telling the truth and which one was lying.

Africa has come too far to still be engulfed in this kind of politics. To ensure that Africa achieved the always illusive middle income status that they yearn, there should be a re-examination of the actions of opposition parties. The opposition should be seen playing the role of keeping governments on their toes and not oppose every single policy of governments in power. Oppose where they should and give recognition where it should be given. That is what I believe the architects of 'Multi-party Democracy' will want the work of the 'opposition' in democratic state to be.

I end this piece by suggesting that political scientists in Africa and other countries meet to find a new name for the 'alternative government' of a state and discard the name 'opposition' because its application is doing more harm to states than good. I am still thinking of an appropriate name. When I get it I will make it public.

Sagito Musah Issakah ([email protected])
The writer is newly employed Ghanaian

Sagito Musah Issakah
Sagito Musah Issakah, © 2009

This author has authored 21 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: SagitoMusahIssakah

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