Ghanaians like to think of themselves as a special breed of people. They like to think of themselves as the most peace-loving, God-fearing, hardworking, decent and honest people, and they like to think that they are in some fundamental way different from any other people as far as human decency is concerned. Anytime Ghanaians do/get something right (which most of the time is by default rather than by intelligent design) they work it into their heads that they are the best at doing this and that they could never have gotten it wrong and can never get it wrong. With that thinking, they begin to get cocky, complacent and sloppy until the bubble bursts, disaster strikes and the myth is dispelled and then they come to the painful realization that there is nothing special about the Ghanaian. When Ghana's Black Stars were winning the African Cup of Nations back-to-back in the early days of African football we thought we were invincible, and instead of taking steps to consolidate our superiority, we became cocky and complacent and quite naturally lost our position. No wonder for 28 years we have not been able to pull it off again. During the days of Azumah Nelson in the boxing ring we never stopped to ask ourselves how we got it right and what we could do to keep our competitive edge. All we knew was bask in our glory. No wonder we lost out and have not been able to repeat that feat ever since.
These days Ghanaians like to think of their motherland as a beacon of democracy. But quite frankly it does not take much to be seen as a model of democracy when the main players in your continent are Kenya, Cote D'Ivoire, Guinea and Zimbabwe, and a president does not have to do a lot to be seen as an epitome of democracy if he is competing with the likes of Muamar al-Qaddafi, Robert Mugabe and Yoweri Museveni. But that is another matter. So it came to pass that American president Barack Obama breezed into town on the third leg of an international duty tour that also took him to Russia and Italy, and told the rest of Africa and the world that he had elected to come to Accra because of the beauty of Ghana's democracy. Ghanaians could not contain their pride. We wanted the rest of the world to know that even the leader of the free world has acknowledged our democratic credentials; we wanted the rest of the world to know that as far as democracy is concerned we have arrived.
I wonder whether if Obama knew what the rest of us in Ghana know about election 2008 he would have been so enthusiastic in praising our democratic maturity. I wonder if he knew the kind of tension that engulfed the nation in the run-up to the elections, the allegations and counter-allegations of electoral fraud, the widespread brutalization of political opponents, the skirmishes in Tamale and Accra, the serious voting irregularities in the Ashanti and Volta Regions and the fact that some parts of the country were no-go areas for some political parties, he would have thought so highly of our democratic culture? Obama did not know all these and so he thought we were doing quite fine. What about the rest of us who know all about the dramatic events of election 2008 and who still think that Ghana is a beacon of democracy, are we not being hypocrites? Is it the case that once we scrape through year after year, election by election, all is well with our system? Are we not behaving like ostriches and waiting for the bubble to burst before we realize that we were living in a fool's paradise? It is an open secret that this nation has never come so close to a civil conflict as it did in December 2008. We all know that people were being mobilized across the country, armed with machetes, clubs and cudgels and made ready for 'deployment' if the need arises. If by a stroke of good luck we scraped through by the skin of our teeth, should we all of a sudden forget what we went through as a nation? The simple but bitter fact is this: unless and until we figure out what it was that brought us so close to a civil conflict in 2008 and work together to eliminate that threat before 2012, there is no guarantee that this nation will not be plunged into a civil conflict in 2012 or the years after, and unless and until we face up to the demons in our political system, there is no guarantee that what happened in Kenya will not happen in Ghana.
The demons of our political system are well known: the innate desire of a political elite to win power at all cost and by all means, the gullibility of an 'uneducated' electorate willing to take up arms and fight the 'enemy' at the instructions of the political leaders, a highly politicized security agency that can no longer command the trust of the citizenry, a very political media that is prepared to distort facts, fabricate stories and make unfounded allegations to satisfy the political paymaster, and the complacency of an otherwise effective electoral commission. Since 1992, some of our politicians have relied on intimidation and violence to achieve their political ends while others have relied on unfounded allegations to bastardize their opponents. Yet others have taken to impugning the integrity of the electoral commission in a 'give-a-dog-a-bad-name' fashion at the least opportunity all in an attempt to create the avenue for chaos in case they lose. Why would people who claim to love this nation so dearly make it their hobby to say things like 'Ghana will burn if…'? Can anyone imagine John McCain or John Kerry saying the United States will burn? What then is the difference between McCain and Kerry and the politicians we have here? The answer is simple: the former place the national interest far above their parochial interests; they know that the first obligation of an American citizen is the making a 'more perfect union'. In our case the politician does not care what happens to the nation as long as individual interests are catered for. Unless and until we are able to look our politicians in the face and tell them that they will be held accountable for every irresponsible statement they make, the possibility of a major civil conflict will remain with us. Unless and until we are able to raise a crop of politicians who know that politics is just a contest of ideas as to the best way to meet the aspirations of our people and not a life-and-death situation, we shall never be able to eliminate the possibility of a major civil conflict in our politics. Unless and until our politicians rise above the fray and come to the understanding that politics is more than just groups of greedy people jostling for political power to better their lot in life, we shall never be able to eliminate the possibility of a major civil conflict.
The politics of allegations and counter-allegations, rumor-mongering and bastardization have become fashionable in Ghana. In the run-up to the 2008 elections, there were all sorts of tapes, CDs and documents flying all over the place about who is planning to do what to disrupt the elections or defraud the system. Unless and until we get to a point where we begin to hold people responsible to substantiate whatever allegations they make, we run the danger of a major civil conflict. As long as people know that they can make all sorts of unfounded allegations and hide behind the cliché of 'I stand by my story', the danger of a civil conflict will remain with us. As long as outright lying, fabrication of stories and deliberate twisting of facts to score cheap political points remain acceptable journalistic practices in Ghana, and as long as people like Baby Ansabah continue to run the 'fourth estate of the realm', the danger of a major civil conflict will remain with us. As long as we have people like Nana Darkwa-Baafi who can go on air and make such very irresponsible and ludicrous statements like “the ex-president burnt his own house” without any shred of evidence to back their claims and yet get hailed as heroes by members of their parties rather than being rebuked, we live in danger of a major civil conflict. In a country where politicians have a penchant for mobilizing party supporters to 'storm' radio stations, courtrooms, the electoral commission and other institutions to register their displeasure at one event or another, the danger of a major civil conflict looms large. As long as politicians are prepared to use the hot-button issues of ethnicity, tribalism and chieftaincy to score cheap political points, the danger of a major civil conflict will remain with us.
It is in the light of the above that I fail to understand why Ghanaians think Ghana is such a beacon of democracy and the rule of law. We may have the best democracy in this part of the world but our democracy is far from good and it is beginning to develop some serious cracks already. We have a choice either to face up to the reality of the situation and fix the cracks as early as possible or hide our heads in the sand and pretend that all is fine. If we do the former we shall be acting to consolidate our democracy and justifying our tag as a stable democracy. If we do the latter, we might wake up in 2012, 2016 or 2020 to see our nation in flames, as happened in Kenya, Liberia and Guinea. We went through a lot of stress in 2000 and 2008; we cannot afford to go through that stress again in 2012. We were first time lucky in 2000; we were second time lucky in 2008; we might not be so lucky in 2012. We cannot push our luck too far. We must not push our nation to the brink. After everything that went wrong in 2008 one would have thought that everything will be done to fix the problems before 2012. What we are rather doing is gloat over the 'successes' of 2008 and congratulating ourselves for not going the way of Kenya, forgetting that our not going the way of Kenya was merely a matter of sheer luck which might elude us in the subsequent years. The elections of 2012 are just two years away and if we do not act now to fix the problems the elections of 2008 brought up, we cannot escape the possibility of conflict.
In the run-up to the May 9 disaster at the Accra Sports Stadium in 2001, it was clear to most people that that stadium was a major disaster waiting to unfold. The actions and inactions of the football administrators, the stadium security and football fans left much to be desired and pointed to the fact that we might be in for a major disaster in that stadium. Even after similar behavior led to stadium disasters in Cote D'Ivoire and some east African countries in early 2001, we still believed that nothing wrong could happen in our stadium. We thought that once we were scraping through match after match, event after event, there was nothing to worry about. When in December 2000 the Vice-President had to take cover due to confusion created by crowd violence and police misbehavior during a Hearts-Esperance match at that stadium, we needed no further warning that something needed to be done to prevent a future major disaster. After we had been sufficiently forewarned and we failed to act, disaster struck and we had no response. That is how Ghana came to acquire that unenviable tag of having recorded the worst stadium disaster in Africa. And that is the danger our democracy faces if we fail to act now to exorcise the demons out of our political system. Any nation that does not learn from its past mistakes is doomed forever.
Credit: Richard Tia
Department of Chemistry
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