Ghana is gearing up for another make or break election in 2020. In 2016, the stakes were high, so high that some parties saw opponents under every bed, and only the foolish expressed their views in the open. In 2020, the stakes could be higher even though predictable.
Electoral movements in Ghana are usually more personal than ideological. Since independence, the only ideological government in Ghana has been the Convention Peoples Party (CPP) under the huge unstoppable wings of Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. In 1982, following the December 31st coup detat, some efforts were put into creating an ideological movement for change under radical left groups such as the June Four Movement and the Peoples Revolutionary League of Ghana.
For some, the coup shut the chapter on decades of the domination of Ghanaian politics by the Busia-Danquah ideology conservative right with its anti-progressive government politics, privatisation, the amassing of vast fortunes by the elite, the widening of social and economic vast inequalities.
A new era of radical reform was going to sweep aside the rubble accumulated by the roadside of Ghanaian politics by the anti-radical coup of February 24, 1966, and finally begin to put the building blocks for moving Ghana forward. It was not to be. It seldom does.
The Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) which started off with the promises of building a people’s movement for radical change soon became was more personal than ideological. It was the first birth of a government of ‘family and friends’. Rawlings appeared to be a visionary but in actual fact, this was nothing more than a tactical shift in response to events in Ghana.
The freshness which the Peoples and Workers Defence Committees and the growing movement of ordinary Ghanaians brought to politics was forsaken, replacing it with a dance of death and dependence on the IMF.
The PNDC and later its reformed version, the NDC, soon run out of ideas, its energy turned wholly destructive, like a vehicle with no brakes, “hollowing out like a rotten tree.” However, Rawlings continued to instill fear and loathing in equal measure, thereby maintaining the semblance of success and hope. Like the wind on a cold night, this was soon dissipated as Ghanaians woke up to false dawn.
By the end of his reign, something had gone inexorably wrong the economy and our democracy. The IMF structural adjustment programme (SAP) had failed miserably, the educational and welfare systems had collapsed while his dictatorial methods were no longer effective. It was so destructive that no government has been able to fix.
The failure of the PDNC’s economic programmes is symbolised by piles of uncollected rubbish in the streets of Accra, the huge numbers of u employed and unemployable youth and the lack of social amenities for children and the youth. If there was ever a sign of the collapse of a nation, this is it. The sure signs of degeneracy of the Rawlings era. The harvest of bitter fruits had begun.
Eric Hoffer, the author of The True Believer, wrote: “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket,”. By the time of the late Prof. Atta Mills reign, the various coalitions had retreated to their mother parties, others had become defunct, while others were simply money-making machines with no direction and no interest in politics except.
The first major coalition in Ghanaian history started with the formations that led to the birth of the Busia-Danquah political formation. This was followed by the coalition against Union Government proposed by the Acheampong regime. This coalition was broad and brought together the intellectual elite, workers, progressive forces led by the National Union of Ghana Students and members of the Busia-Danquah elites.
Events of this era led to the collapse of the General Kutu Acheampong regime. The second was the broad anti-dictatorship front formed by exile-based groups and democratic forces led by Johnny Hansen and a host of Busia-Danquah adherents both in Ghana and abroad. The anti-Union Government Coalition was a single purpose coalition formed for short term political gains with no promise of a long-term political engagement.
This could also be an attempt at political realignment against the domination of Ghanaian politics by the military hierarchy at the time. So, Ghana h quite a number of political realignments.
As John Parker points out in his essay, Is America ready for a political realignment, the two realignments had several things in common. Political realignments happen when a long-term social transformation, a crisis, and the right leader converge to change the landscape. In hindsight, they have an aura of historical inevitability, but they’re impossible to predict.” The Fourth Republic was an affirmation of the dislike of Ghanaians for a dictatorship. President J. A. Kufuor’s victory was less an affirmation of his policies than a repudiation of Rawlings disastrous era.
However, there was no New Deal as in other countries. The same rotten system remained in place, while various political formations struggled to regain their relevance in Ghanaian politics. The Kufuor era gave Ghanaian political forces a new hope in democratic politics. The loser in this alignment or realignment was the Convention Peoples Party and Nkrumah adherents who filed to seize the moment of new dispensation. The feeling and hopes that the CPP will emerge as a Third Force became forlorn hope in spite of President Agyekum Kufuor’s look the other way attitude towards progressive elements and the left in particular.
If Kufuor and his New Patriotic Party (NPP) won the elections and endeared themselves to Ghanaians it was not for their policies, proposals and ideas. President Kufuor’s victory reflected a collapse of the progressive elements in Ghanaian politics. President J. A Kufuor, a certified neo liberal ideologue, won by a combination of hatred for the divisive politics of Rawlings and reassuring vision of the Ghanaian spirit of private ownership of property.
Like his predecessors in the Busia-Danquah political formation, Kufuor proceeded to entrench the realignment by governing as a right-wing ideological President following the NPP’s slogan – “Development on Freedom”. That signaled the end of the anti-Rawlings coalition as many of them joined the Kufuor bandwagon.
While coalitions and political realignments come from shifts in political tectonic plates, they are not inevitable and are not meant to last. As John Parker points out, “They’re subject to a combination of elements, including chance—more like a hurricane than the coming of spring.”
In Ghana, it will be difficult to predict the new realignment of political forces that some people on the left, especially pro-Nkrumah forces, expect. In the years since the 4th Republic was ushered, many things have changed, first is the continued dominance of the two main parties with increased opportunities for personal aggrandisement; the second is the continuing monetisation of Ghanaian elections giving rise to corruption as the only source of filling the election buckets; the third is the youth bulge.
An effective coalition of like minds depends on political leadership. This is not just a matter political ideology or policy. “Campaigns tell stories, and in politics as in literature, style matters as much as plot.” This is where various coalitions fail in Ghana.
Political leaders must speak in a way that gives hope, give Ghanaians sense of dignity and unity. Haranguing political opponents is not a positive trait. I believe that Political leaders (used broadly) cannot win elections by implying that anyone who disagrees with them is either venal or thoughtless. Elections cannot be won by the use of poor foot-soldiers looking for lunch after punching other poor people in the street in the name of the party or through vile Facebook posts.
It is possible to confront your opponents but that can be achieved with a smile and with ideas, not allegiance to the party leader. As we approach 2020 let us resolve to abandon cheap orthodox methods or turn politics into a joyless exercise. As someone put it, ‘hammer your opponents, but with a smile’.
For Ghana 2020, we need a new realignment of political forces based on clear ideological choices.
The choice between radical solution with a unifying appeal is not a false choice. Parties which seek the politics of abuse and to hectoring, with a disdainful approach to national issues cannot speak for Ghana because such people have no vision.
Ghana cannot afford the darkness of the post February 1966 era. Ghana needs a leader whose heart speaks for the poor, the disadvantaged, and whose humanness and generosity speaks for the whole country. We can only achieve this with real political alignments based on ideas and programmes. It can be done.
- Zaya Yeebo is a writer, Journalist and essayist. He is the author of several books and articles on Politics in Ghana. His books include The Struggle for Popular Power in Ghana: Rawlings- Savior or Demagogue; the Butchers of Ogyakrom and other Stories, The State of Fear in Paradise: Yahya Jammeh bd the Struggle for Democracy in The Gambia.