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05.09.2019 Feature Article

Ghana: Demagogues on the prowl

Ghana: Demagogues on the prowl

Every nation goes through phases of development. Some are more successful at producing developmentalist leaders who take them through time of crisis. Rwanda is one of such states in Africa today.

However, since the 1966 coup, Ghana has developed the notoriety of producing the good, the bad and the demagogues loved in the short term, by all. Demagogues are soon exposed and despised as they fail to live up to their promises of a humane, transformative leadership based on developmentalist ideals.

In the last 30 or so years, Ghana has produced a demagogue whose style of leadership has failed to bring us the much-needed structural reform. Yet, some see this as a cheap and easy ride to political power. We are suffering from the demagogues of the past, and unless we adopt clearer lenses for looking at these charlatans, we run the risk of another era of demagogic leadership.

Wikipedia defines as a demagogue, also known as a ‘rabble-rouser’ as “a leader who gains popularity in a democracy by exploiting prejudice and ignorance to arouse the common people against elites, whipping up the passions of the crowd and shutting down reasoned deliberation. Demagogues overturn established norms of political conduct, or promise or threaten to do so.” That is what is threatening our democracy today.

During the Ayawaso West Wuogon bye-election, I watched in horror and disbelief at the pictures of violent incidents at La Bawaleshie. It was like a film scene from a conflict zone film in which law and order had broken down completely. This was billed as a ‘democratic’ protest.

I am not against demonstrations. It is a democratic way for citizens to express their opinions. I am not against them. I spent my University days protesting against the General Kutu Acheampong regime, some of my compatriots have scars to show for it. We called ourselves “Aluta Graduates”.

We did not identify the protest with any political party. We were not beholden to any politician or foreign interests. We would have been horrified to find that someone had sold us to any politician, even though the dreaded “Military Intelligence” and “Special Branch” were always on the prowl looking for willing student leaders they could compromise.

We resisted military rule, campaigned against General Acheampong’s ‘Union Government’ idea, and against foreign domination of the Ghanaian economy. We built solidarity across West Africa with student and workers movements. It was all about patriotism and pan African solidarity.

When it was necessary, we built alliances with politicians like the late Johnny Hansen (later to become PNDC Secretary for Interior), the late Dr. Safo Adu, a respected member of the right wing in Ghanaian politics, and several others.

At some point, we met with the late General Akwasi Afrifah, a member of the National Liberation Council (In his Dark Days in Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah called then the Notorious Liars Council). At one meeting General Afrifah he was visibly disappointed and irritated that the Student magazine ‘ALUTA’ had described him unflatteringly as a “right wing traitor”, but he still supported us with some funds to print some copies of ‘ALUTA’.

This shows that at some critical moments in Ghanaian history, ideological lines were blurred in the cause of the common good. Where necessary, we worked together in the national interest.

We debated and argued amongst ourselves on national and global issues, but when necessary we marched together. We strategised together. Demonstrations were serious business and no cerebral antics, because when the Mounted (Horse) Police Division showed up, there could be no talk of human rights.

We saw the might of the Ghana Police Force (as it was then called) when they invaded Legon, to our surprise. Our Political Science lecturers had told us that University campuses were sacrosanct places of intellectual discourse, and therefore safe from Police intrusion. We learned different.

Demonstrations these days don’t even pass the laughing test. Sponsored by political parties, individuals with partisan interests and representatives of ‘foreign development’ partners, they do not last more than a few hours because the organisers are in a hurry to go for lunch. In some cases, the Ambassador or his representative from the United States Embassy calls the leaders of the protests to order, threaten some of them with visa bans and withdrawal of financial support, so they sneak back into the holes from which they emerged.

Recent protests against US military bases in Ghana suffered from this malaise, the anti-military base protests suffered still births as the US Embassy in Accra threatened a particular political group with visa bans and withdrawal of financial support.

The good old Ghanaian bubble is bursting. To paraphrase one writer recalling the good old days when Ghana known was the Black Star: “the belief in the inherent greatness of Ghana and its people has been replaced by ‘casual dishonesty’ of our leaders, intolerance, lack of political and ideological clarity and, complacency.”

Ghana is on the brink and to put it mildly. Since the Rawlings era, Ghana has been suffering from perennial neglect and the lack of attention of its leaders in the midst of greed, corruption, self-aggrandisement and selfishness without patriotism.

Our much-vaunted democracy is a sham manufactured by the middle class dominated by two large political cabals called parties with the smaller ones being developed for sale to the highest bidder. In the midst of this, some of our school children sit on bare floors, while some lie on their stomachs in schools. Our daughters are being kidnapped, yet the response is lacklustre and lackadaisical. How much lower can a country sink?

In the meantime, the two main political parties are engaged in a game of political brinkmanship. I am yet to hear of any serious political debate on matters of national values, the national interest, policy direction or any discussion with serious political underpinnings.

Screams interspersed with insulting vituperations and anger is what we are treated to on television and FM stations. While the nation is engulfed in corruption, self-aggrandisement, all we hear is 2020, and by the same people who have held the reigns of political power for the past 30 years. And please, don’t accuse me of ‘exaggerating’ the problems.

Yet, this is a country with too many Universities, serious minded academics, voluntary sector experts like Alhaji Ibrahim Tanko (STAR-Ghana), and world-renowned journalists like Professor Kwame Karikari and governance experts like Professor Gyimah Boadi and think tanks like the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD).

We also have serious socialist oriented left-wing leaders lie Dr. Kojo Opoku Aidoo of the Institute of African Studies in Legon, and Kojo Ababio Nubour, of the Centre for Studies on Marxism/Nkrumaism, and pro Nkrumah parties like the People’s Democratic Movement (PDM). So, we are not lacking on the intellectual front.

Yet, our political parties are run like colonial one-party formations. Our political parties are excellent at papering over political cracks. Their leadership crave and demand loyalty and ‘slavish adulations’ from those to whom they dole out favours. In the words of one British journalist, some have become “insufferably pompous” in their demands for loyalty to the extent that being independent minded in Ghana today could earn you accolades of ‘disloyalty’ to the party or the leader.

To what ends are these bye-election protest demonstrations, policy discussions and seminars being fronted by some parties? Will the protests help deepen our democracy or are simply part of a gigantic effort to deceive the population at large and for electoral gain? Will they outlast the harmattan and 2020?

Certainly, the issues will remain with us. Protests organised by political parties with a single issue, short-term agenda will have no long-term impact as they are organised for electoral gain only. In the same way, the eerie silence of progressive intellectual elite is also worrying.

The problem however, is more than that. As various progressive elite remain silent, some emerging political demagogues have seen the opportunity and are on the prowl. Musicians, artists, pastors, personnel of the Police Service and even soldiers are beginning to sense a huge vacuum and are getting ready to fill it.

These elements are aided by the rise of social media. Hence anybody with a functioning mobile phone can record and disseminate vitriolic messages loaded with insults and calls to action that instantly become popular as long as these messages are against the ruling political party they detest.

History teaches us to watch these demagogues and not rush to recruit and offer them support them simply because they have expressed some angst against the Nana Akuffo Addo or John Mahama governments. What do these social media preachers stand for? How far are they willing to go in the development debate? Have they expressed any ideological or political preference? Some of them are simply demagogues in search of prey.

In offering them support, the middle-class ruling elite is refusing to learn the lessons of our past history. By so doing the middle classes have chosen the road to irredeemable political, economic and social disaster. In West Africa, we have examples from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria to teach us a few lessons. This reminds me of the saying that ‘those who refuse to learn from history are bound to repeat it’, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

We are often reminded that the Fourth Republican Constitution offers us a safe, peaceful route to political transition. Yet, a section of the middle class, having tasted power they did not fight for, and whose birth they did not help to bring about, are determined to regain it. The other winning side is cleverly gerrymandering electoral units to gain electoral advantage and perpetuate its rule.

Ghana’s former President, His Excellency John Dramani Mahama made the cryptic remark that “the Courts cannot give you what the people have not given you”. So, apt. Should I rephrase as, ‘partisan screaming demonstrations cannot give you what the voters will not give you’?

I support popular protest, but these should have one aim: protecting the national interests. These should also be guided by genuine patriotic demands aimed at preserving national unity, promoting development, enhancing our quest for democracy and defending the territorial integrity of this entity called Ghana. The opposite can only lead to irredeemable and irreparable chaos and confusion.

Sadly, these are what we are getting. When people can attack the Police and seize weapons, kill Policemen, when our children are being abducted, and the ruling elite in both the NDC and NPP behave as if we have no national values, and some of our leaders conduct themselves as if wrong doing is the only way to power and wealth, then it is time to worry.

We should not as a people take our freedom, peace and stability for granted. Political violence (called vigilantism in Ghana), and lack of confidence in and respect for the security forces, especially the Police, to protect the nation and all those who live in it can only lead us through the path of unnecessary mayhem with gruesome consequences.

Is there a way out? It is the duty of all progressive peace-loving Ghanaians to refrain from seeing partisanship in every issue in Ghana. How can free education, industrialisation, housing for workers, and support for the poor and needy become a partisan issue?

The need for like-minded Ghanaians to reject violence and sabre rattling in Ghana is as urgent as the need for water. Those predicting violence in 2020 are dangerous agent provocateurs who should be ignored.

The youth of Ghana who will inherit the future, must reject rigid partisanship. Stories of “bloodbath” in 2020 is only spread by people who have acquired first class tickets and visas to foreign countries. The rest of us should take it as warning. They almost certainly would not be around to be consumed by the violent conflagration that they are talking about.

It is the poor, unemployed youth who will. We need to build a united nation for the people and for future generations. Let us reject violence of any sort, rejuvenate and reclaim the patriotism we had in the days of the CPP and the early years of the General Kutu Acheampong regime.

That is only when the economy and national values are revived, employment generated to absorb the youth, reduction in child mortality, and only then can we build a ‘Ghana Beyond Aid’. Political confusion deliberately generated by people with a partisan interest can only benefit a few people.

Ghana is edging slowly towards the abyss as we fail to learn the lessons of the past. One of these is the rise of demagogues with sweet tongues, but full of bile seeking to exploit our disappointment and anger. Let us remember that the danger which demagogues possess is their ability “to falsify and distort logic and truth, and stir up the masses and sow deep divisions in society.” They ought to be stopped in their tracks.

That includes rejecting the latter-day demagogues with smart phones, microphones and access to FM radio stations. They are waiting on the side-lines to take advantage of our current national situation.

The good news is that we always pull back from the brink.

Zaya Yeebo is a writer, Journalist and essayist. He is the author of several books and articles on Politics in Ghana.

Zaya Yeebo
Zaya Yeebo, © 2019

This author has authored 14 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: ZayaYeebo

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