Democracy is not exactly the best system of government in the world. But it is better than almost any other form of government that has been tried by man. That is why we must make it work for us in Ghana, for like an egg, if we allow it to fall from our hands, it will break and leave a total mess.
In the absence of democracy, people can be arrested, jailed or exiled, and their properties seized, on the say-so of other citizens, who should be their co-equals. Ghana's history is replete with instances of people terrorizing other citizens without any authority, except that they possessed a gun, or un-elected authority donated by someone who was in possession of a gun.
Even in a proper democracy, things can get awkward: for democracy is sometimes difficult to operate because it can – and often does – allow power to get into the hands of crooks and liars. Liars can lie their way into making a lot of money, and they then unscrupulously employ this money to tell even greater lies, which confuse the electorate; especially the poor people, who also, quite often, happen to be the least educated members of the society.
Thus, the electorate, disbelieving that the liars are really lying in such a blatant fashion, can vote the liars into power! For instance, there are still people who believe that whatever is said on the radio or written in a newspaper, is the absolute truth!
When you hear of the easy manner in which millions of Ghanaian taxpayers' money has been allowed to get into the hands of the cronies of people in power, are you not surprised that it was even possible for such a thing to be done? Eh?
Yet it was done! And some of that money can be used to get the liars back into power.
You see, lying is done with money. The liars use money to start a so-called 'newspaper' or radio station. Then every day, they say something untrue about those against whom they are contesting for power. Hitler's propagandists in fascist Germany, under the leadership of his Minister of Propaganda, Paul Josef Goebbels, were among the first to embrace the idea that 'The bigger the lie, the greater the chance of its being believed.' They operated on the precept that human psychology is so frail that people usually tell themselves, “No – they couldn't have invented such a big lie!? There cannot be smoke without fire.”! A bit silly, isn't it? Yet it often works.
But, fortunately, not all the time. A classic example occurred during the recent American election. An operative working for the Republican Party, known as Karl Rove, was known to have made such a fine art of the lying technique that it was he who was credited with putting George W Bush in the White House – twice. In fact, he became known as ”The Brain of G W Bush”. Buoyed by his past success, Karl Rove tried to use the same technique to make President Barack Obama a one-term President. And he got the money to do this.
For rich Republican donors thought Karl Rove's technique was so invincible that they contributed an estimated $400m to him to use in crafting “negative adverts” on TV against Obama. The adverts lied by claiming that Obama was'not born' in America. They said Obama was a 'secret Muslim.' That he wanted to take money from rich Americans and hand it to 'those who did not want to work.' And so on – blatant lies repeated over and over and over again, on TV.
According to one report, Rove was looked at by many Republicans as “even more pivotal” in the election campaign than the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney” himself! The report added: “With outside conservative groups raising $1 billion—more than the Romney campaign—Rove was expected to engineer another Republican triumph, both in the White House and in the Senate.
He himself controlled hundreds of millions of dollars through his two political groups, 'American Crossroads' and 'Crossroads GPS.' Yet not only did his presidential candidate lose, but so did every Senate candidate he backed…..
“On election night, Karl Rove underwent a bizarre meltdown on Fox News TV” [when he disputed the result of the election in Florida, and was slapped down by his own pundit colleagues.] Karl Rove then suffered “the even greater humiliation of Donald Trump's tweeting sarcastically: “Congrats to @KarlRove on blowing $400 million this cycle. Every race @CrossroadsGPS ran ads in, the Republicans lost. What a waste of money.”
Karl Rove's debacle proves that lies do not always work – no matter how much money is thrown at propagating them. Nevertheless, people should be on their guard against lies. In Ghana's current election campaign, I can finger some of the chief promoters of falsehood as The Al-Hajj newspaper, The Informer and The Herald.
These 'papers' are hard to find on the streets of Accra, yet they are quoted very often by radio stations, and on the Internet, especially, on Ghanaweb. In other democratic countries, it is reputable or authoritative newspapers whose opinions get quoted on the radio! In Ghana, on the other hand, it is the sensational rumour-monger newspapers that get quoted most often! Why?
Because (1) the frontmen of these newspapers have largese to displense to producers of radio discussion programmes and (2) some of the radio stations are sensationally-inclined themselves. But they lack the courage to circulate rumours that they generate themslves. However, when newspapers report falsehood, the radio stations have no compunction in recycling the false rumours. When challenged, they throw up their arms and say, “Hey, it wasn't us who did it oh! It appeared in such-and-such a newspaper!”
Now, I have watched election campaigns in Ghana since the first one occurred in February 1951, when I was a tiny schoolboy. I swear, never have I seen such lies told about parties and candidates as in this election. Some members of the current crop of politicians and the 'journalists' who back them ('rented' journalists, as Mr Martin Amidu, the former Attorney-General, described them) are so unscrupulous that if we don't take care, they will lead this country straight into civil strife.
It is almost as if they are deliberately courting disaster for the country.
That is why I think civil society groups should monitor the lies being told and compile the names of the so-called 'journalists' who are publishing them. This is because in the Rwanda massacre of 1994, 'journalists' were found to have played a prominent role, by deliberately spreading rumours, that pitted one ethnic group against another.
They claimed that 'massacres' had occurred, which had in fact not taken place. The journalists of a radio station called 'Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines Collines', for instance, inflamed people to 'avenge' themselves of acts of violence that the audience believed had occurred, but which had not, in fact, happened, in many cases. What could be more wicked than that?
There are many ways of telling a lie, but the worst is to twist something innocent into a diabolical declaration; something like, “Candidate So-and-So said that he would not allow the election to be rigged. Therefore it means that he is secretly importing mercenaries into Ghana to come and fight for him.” Or "he has begun distributing cutlasses to his supporters!"
Is this the sort of fabrication one publishes when one's country is engaged in a tense election campaign? Yet it has been done. Suppose people who do not think deeply, take one's word literally and begin to prepare themselves “to fight against the mercenaries”? Or the expected “insurrection”?
Where do these propagandists want to lead Ghana to? I have already mentioned Rwanda. They should also think of what happened to three countries that were, previously, oceans of peace in West Africa before they slowly sleep-walked into political aituations that made them go up in smoke – Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Ivory Coast. If because they have never visited these countries, the propagandists currently engaged in createing a tense atmosphere in Ghana do not have the imagination to understand that when civil strife breaks out in such a country, it can swallow everyone – including the propagandists themselves — they should cast their minds back to the many innocent people who have lost their lives in coups and coup attempts in this very country — in 1966, 1967, 1972, 1979 and 1981. In all those upheavals, people died for nothing, although they had nothing whatsoever to do with the inane power struggles of the time.
Yes, bitter election campaigns have been fought in Ghana before. The worst ones I witnessed were in 1954 and 1956. But even then, the politicians involved were patriotic enough to obey the electoral laws and accept the election results with grace. Not only that — they campaigned tirelessly in their constituencies and did not sit in offices in Accra, inventing lies and publishing them.
I talked to Mr K Amoah-Awuah, the last Nkrumah Cabinet Minister alive, the other day, and he recalled the energy and conviction which he had to put into his campaign, in the Suhum constituency, to succeed in getting the CPP to defeat the UGCC's high-profile candidate, the 'big businessman', Ashie Nikoi, in 1951.
The campaigns of those days were so enthusiastic and clean that those who lost accepted the results. If they were not happy, they compiled evidence of illegal acts by their opponents, and took their case to the courts, where the evidence was examined scrupulously and impartially, and judgments given on them in accordance with the law.
Everyone accepted the rules, which stipulated that if illegal acts were proven in court to have been committed during the election, the seat would be taken away from the “winner” and given to the “loser”.
This was such a nasty punishment to suffer that candidates were extremely careful to instruct their supporters to obey the electoral laws scrupulously.
It is that sort of spirit that I recommend to all our politicians. Win or lose, we shall all continue to live in this country. To the owners of websites that offer discussions on Ghana, and the radio stations which provide a platform to all manner of 'journalists', I have this to say: you know there are certain views that are so inflammatory that you should not allow them to be expressed through your media.You also know the people who are inclined to propagate such views. If you go to a theatre, you are not allowed to shout “FIRE!” whilst there. There are similar rules about incitement to violence that apply especially to the radio, but also to newspapers.
Please pay particular attention to views that are likely to incite insurrection or unrest. You are under no obligation to allow people to destroy the democracy that you –and everyone else – are enjoying. Please exercise the discretion not to allow such views to be propagated through you. As the saying goes, “Don't cut your nose to spite your face!” For if Ghana breaks into disorder, you do not know what fate will befall you! You can't jump off! Disorder does not discriminate against particular political points of view. It just destroys everyone and – everything.