Demagoguism: An Analysis of Politics of Insults in Ghana

Feature Article Political cartoon appearing the day after Nkrumah's overthrow
DEC 29, 2011 LISTEN
Political cartoon appearing the day after Nkrumah's overthrow

Since our political democracy, Ghana's political activities and debates have been characterised with insults and abusive languages. A critical examination of some the insults are so demeaning, violently provocative, and some laced with ethnocentrism. Oxford Dictionary defines, insult as 'to speak to or treat with disrespect or scornful abuse'. Insult is from the Latin word insultare literally meaning to “jump or trample on”.

Over the years, political parties in their attempt to win political power have not been able to present any concrete national vision, definable and measurable plans that will lead to socio-economic transformation of the people of Ghana. Political campaign messages have rather focussed on arousing the emotions, passions, and prejudices of Ghanaians to gain power and popularity. Of recent times, statements such as yen akan fo, and all die be die connotes nothing else but emotionalism premised on ethnocentrism and violence.

In order to sustain this emotional campaign, political commentators, party activists, and some media persons and houses fabricate stories against opponents just to win cheap political points instead of debating vital issues of national concern. As a consequence, our political speeches and debates have been plagued with avalanche of falsehood, indecent words, character assassination, and demeaning of ethnic groups by and of political opponents.

What at all is Politics?
Politics is the practice or study of the art and science of 'forming, directing, and administrating States and other political units'. Or it is the art and science of government. In principle therefore, politics concerns governance of organized groups whether as a nation, community or corporate entity. Most often, we settle for governance as an exercise of authority and control. This simple definition has led administrators of governments into conflict with the governed. In my opinion, governance seeks to organize people into manageable groups (e.g. regions, districts, professions etc.) to harness resources for proper and equitable application for the common good of all.

If politics is supposed to seek the welfare of the citizens of Ghana, how come our politics have deteriorated to the level of insults? And how come, that instead of appreciating government leaders we rather turn to denigrate them.

Some Antecedents
Some may argue that insults are recent developments in our body politic. I disagree with this assertion. Pre-independence political activities have been characterised with insults and abusive language. Though some of the insults were highly informed by parochialism and ethnocentrism, they were couched under the guise of fighting for federalism.

For example, when the CPP won a decisive victory (72 out of 104 seats) in the 1954 general election, the Opposition led by Dr Abrefa Busia went into the offensive by agitating for a federal form of government. This led to the formation of National Liberation Movement, NLM (a political party formed with the sole intention of promoting and protecting Ashanti interest). The campaign of this movement was characterised with violence and ethnocentric acts. The Convention Peoples Party, CPP members therefore, described them as stooges, imperialist agent, arch-reactionaries, and 'cocoa season politicians'.

In order to justify their campaign the NLM referred to the CPP supporters in Ashanti and Asantes who support the CPP, as those who belong to no family or clan, those who are strangers, not properly trained to appreciate the value of the true and noble Akans' (Liberator, December 20, 1955). Furthermore, on April 5, 1955, the Opposition led by Dr. Abrefa Busia and Modesto Apaloo staged a walk-out of the Assembly, after a Motion on a Select Committee to examine the subject of the federal system of government had been seconded. Their reason for the walk out was that, the Select Committee, comprising some CPP parliamentarians or the 'some homeless tramp and jackals' was incompetent to deal with national matters. (Liberator, March 1956),

However, on the other side of the insults, the nation experienced a leader in the person of Kwame Nkrumah, who was so much consumed with national and continental agenda and development. 'We are going to see that we create our own African personality and identity. We again rededicate ourselves in the struggle to emancipate other countries in Africa; for our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent.' midnight on March 5, 1957. This vision gave Kwame Nkrumah and his government such a focus that relegated emotionalism and pettiness to the chasm.

However, in 1958 some argued that the excessive insults and assassination attempts under the pretext of political criticism forced Kwame Nkrumah's government to pass the Detention Bill under a certificate of urgency in Parliament to stamp out insults and criticisms. Kwame Nkrumah's overthrow by the National Liberation Council (NLC) on the 24th February, 1966 saw a vicious, calculated and sustained campaign of insults and denigration led by the military junta (Afrifa, Kotoka, and Harley) in order to justify the coup. This campaign of denigration was fully supported by the CIA, and imperialist media. This vicious campaign did not only dismember the (CPP), but also destroyed the political fibre and the “moral clarity” of Ghana's politics.

The art and act of denigration have been perfected and used by almost all governments to either justify subsequent military interventions and/or justify the incompetence of our political administrators. Overtime, “politics of insults” has unconsciously become the nation's “partisan-political ethos” in the game of winning political power. Readers should access YouTube and watch Operation Cold Chop - Kwame Nkrumah Overthrown - February 1966.

Political cartoon appearing the day after Nkrumah's overthrowPolitical cartoon appearing the day after Nkrumah's overthrow

Current Developments
Since 1992, our political democratic landscape has been inundated with insults. This got to its lowest ebb when two Presidents (now former Presidents) openly engaged in verbal insult in the media in 2005-2008. Agyekum Kufuor referred to Jerry John Rawlings in the Akan language as a “Sasabonsam” – a devil, and as “That Thing” which should Not Have Been There as Ghana's president. Jerry John Rawlings also replied by comparing Agyekum Kufuor to Atta Ayi, a notorious armed robber now in prison for his criminal activities. Between 1992 and 1996, the late Professor Adu Boahen openly stated that he named his dog after Rawlings because he claimed that his dog was very stubborn just like Rawlings.

Very recently, the political landscape has been besieged with words such as "Kookoo ase Kuraseni", thieves, fruit cake, cocaine barons, Shit- Eating-Human-Animal, womanizer, Junkie Parasite, chimpanzee, war monger, wee smoker, stupid fool, Arsonist, homosexual, ill-health ridden president, Professor do Little, and a “confused and blind folded President who is walking in the forest without direction”. These insults were mostly traded by the NDC and the NPP, and in one of such cases, the NPP minority in parliament boycotted Parliament and parliamentary sessions for a week in solidarity with Nana Darkwah who made audacious but probably unintelligent and baseless statement that the Rawlingses set fire to a State property (Their Residence), claiming that his arrest was an affront to free speech. At the level of intra-party power struggle, the story is not different.

Since 1992, in my opinion, President Atta Mills has been the most insulted, ridiculed, and vilified leader by the major opposition party, NPP and some elements of his party the NDC. However, he remained focussed in pursuit of national development. The downside of his administration however, is his political appointees; especially his communication and information group maybe due to immaturity, lack of focus or over exuberance have failed to effectively communicate the clarity of the President's better Ghana vision and achievements for the past three years to the nation. They have rather focussed on pettiness, emotionalism and insults in an attempt to parry off insults directed at the President. This singular act of deviation by the government communication machinery has not only robbed the nation of the relevance of the President's vision, but has also deprived the people of Ghana the opportunities therein.

The Moral Dichotomy
Since independence some few politicians have held the view that, they are pre-ordained rulers, who must occupy the top positions in government to direct the affairs of the society at all cost. Such few politicians have used demagoguism over the years to create and sowed deep seated political division and discord in our governance system.

Coupled with the Ghanaian culture that deify and 'godify' leaders, inherently does not create room for individual assertion, dialogue, and argumentation that characterise an engaging democracy. In accepting the imposition of western democracy, the nation has not taken into consideration, the moral conflict between the “absolute control mentality” of the new democratic leaders, and the concomitant freedom of “argumentative expression” in democracy. Our political system has not developed the specific and proper norms of belief, assertion, dialogue and argumentation that characterise western democracy.

As a result, the nation wrestles with democratically elected leaders who still have a chieftain mentality and 'control and authority' approach to governance, and 'free citizens' who strongly feel excluded from governance. This disengagement or exclusion coupled with perceived and real corruption and ineptitude of government officials forebode uncertain secured future for the citizens.

This uncertainty has created tendency to question the relevance of democratic governments in meeting their basic economic needs and ensuring their social security. In adequate response to these questions most often results in rebellion among the citizenry. The early signs of this rebellion is politics of insults, scandal, name-calling, fear-mongering, mistrust, charges of hypocrisy, etc. The extreme is what was experienced in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Rwanda.

The Symptoms
'Politics of insults' is a symptom of deep rooted frustrations and disappointments in our governance systems. These frustrations and disappointments have also been deepened by opposition parties at any given time, by exploiting the situation for political advantage. Political activists who fall foul of the law as a result of insulting behaviours are protected and supported by their political parties. As a result, some political activists and social commentators consider insulting of political opponents as a vehicle to political fame and recognition. Indeed some of these people have been rewarded by their parties with political appointments at various levels.

The Ghanaian media having also lost focus as a critical agent for national cohesion and development, have resorted to hyping these insults in the name of free speech thereby, creating deeper emotional sentiments and sensation which may soon explode if not managed.

The ecclesia and other religious bodies have been dormant and hypocritical in tackling this very dangerous phenomenon for fear of being attacked and/or tagged by political activist. They lamely condemn this action in the media but have never put any measures in place to shame and discipline those 'deviants' in their congregations. They rather accord them the respect they do not deserve.

Democracy is faltering as it is perceived to be losing the moral clarity necessary to address the complex and complicated challenges that confronts nations. 2012 is a critical political year for Ghana. The nation expects a clearer leadership from our political leaders especially from the President. We must demand from our political leaders, decorum in their campaign, and discussing issues that will address the various complex challenges that confronts us.

Accordingly, as a people we need to develop a proper commitment to the truth of politics. It requires that we open ourselves up to engagement across the deep differences. For a secure development, politics of omission is backward. It is not by omitting or bracketing off our deep disagreements that we respect the fact of good governance but rather it is by recognising those with whom we disagree and draw them into politics of engagement.

It is also necessary to enact media content law that will determine acceptable languages to be broadcast and punitive measures for insults. The media should be compelled to screen every information or opinion that is to be released for public consumption. It is also very critical to re-examine the nation's education in order to inculcate ethical values that have been lost. This will overtime build new generation with political ethics and decorum.

I wish every Ghanaian especially the youth a fulfilling 2012.

Author: Kofi B. Kukubor
The author is a Lecturer at the Pentecost University College, and a Socio-political and Development Analyst

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