Mr. Politician, Listen to the Ghanaian Youth
The artistic sub-cultures or communities in any society can be used to test the pulse of the country. Art is simply a visual expression of facts, thoughts, and ideas in the form of a painting, sculpture or a music video. Today, I would like to discuss the lamentation and rants of a segment of the youth expressed through two music videos. Ghana’s current political regime is a paternalistic winner-takes-all strain of democracy, although internationally, it purports to practice a multiparty republican strain of democracy awash with free speech and citizen participation. The former is not big on free speech especially when it criticizes the government. This is because criticism is sometimes perceived as an insult, offense, or political jab. That notwithstanding there are certain things that are pivotal to the success of a democracy and these are stated in the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana:
Article 21 (1) All persons shall have the right to (a) freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media;(b) freedom of thought, conscience and belief, which shall include academic freedom; (c ) freedom to practice any religion and to manifest such practice.
It is not a coincidence that freedom of speech and expression is the first listed because it is a linchpin upon which hangs all the other freedoms as a nation.
These freedoms determine whether a nation’s people remain free or fall to a terrible tyranny. Understandably, freedom of speech may on occasion offend someone because of how it is presented, but the citizenry should never be controlled by the fear of offending someone to the point of almost completely shackling free expression. This is unhealthy for a democracy.
The videos that will be discussed are an exercise of the freedom of speech and expression of the artists.
LISTEN TO THE YOUTH
Does the youth have something to say to politicians? Why should politicians pay attention to them? To answer this, let us first define governance. According to the World Bank, Governance is, “the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources for development.” If the youth feel that the management of the country’s economic and social resources are not being administered in a way that promotes inclusive development, then as citizens and people affected by such governance, they have the right to voice out their concerns and the government MUST listen. Why? The Sovereignty of Ghana resides in the people of Ghana (not the government) in whose name and for whose welfare the powers of government are to be exercised per the 1992 Constitution. The purpose of government according to the supreme law of Ghana is to “secure for ourselves, and posterity the blessings of liberty (freedom), equality of opportunity and prosperity”. If the youth feel this is not being done, then as the Sovereign, they can demand Justice, Probity, and Accountability from elected officials.
For the purposes of our discussion, I will define youth as anyone below the age of 34. Why should anyone pay attention to the youth? First and foremost, they are citizens and that should suffice. Also, if economic resources were divided up per demographic, they would own a significant percentage. After all, they are 73 percent of the populace. Furthermore, they and their children are the ones who will inherit future debt and other consequences of any mismanagement today. They are also the ones bearing the brunt of cumulative bad policies that have led to a weak educational, labour and industrial system that has spurred youth under-employability, unemployment, and human insecurity.
Politicians should also listen because, at present, Africa is undergoing a youth bulge. More than 60% of its population is 24 years old or younger, according to the United Nations World Populations Prospects. Put differently, 6 out of every 10 Africans is 24 years of age or younger. To get a better perspective, Africa’s population is 1,308,064,000 or 1.3 billion (2019 Est). 60% of 1.3 billion is 784,838,400. The population of sub-Saharan Africa is projected to double by 2050 (99%). The average median age of a Ghanaian in 2015 was 20.7 and in 2020 it is estimated to be 21.5. This means that Ghana is a country with a young populace. Ghana’s population is currently 30,417,000 (30 million) and by 2020 estimates, 22,339,000 (22 million) of the 30 million people will be under the age of 34. Put differently, about 73.33% of the Ghanaian populace is under 34 years of age — that is 7 out of every 10 Ghanaians. It makes sense that their concerns should be heard.
Africa signed the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), and many within the sub-region are happy because the CFTA is estimated to bring together fifty-four African countries with a combined population of more than one billion people and a combined gross domestic product of more than US $3.4 trillion. However, this will not amount to much if a sizable portion of the populace, that is, the youth, are poor, disenfranchised, unemployed, uneducated, and unhealthy. Such a status quo could constitute a security risk for the continent and its nations. For the AfCFTA to mean anything, governments across the region must tackle Education, Employment, Hunger, Poverty, Health, Shelter etc.
Politicians will do well to listen to the average youth — not just those who belong to the youth arms of their political parties It is unwise to test the pulse of a nation by listening only to those who have allegiance towards your party.
WHAT IS THE YOUTH SAYING?
This section will discuss the summary contents of two music videos, namely:
- The Return Of 1979 by Cypher ft. Kwame Legacy, Equation, Otaado, Posy, Benny Blakk, Semi Heva, KobbySeven (Prod by Asawa condo)
- Freestyle on FireboyDML’s Jealous instrumental by Eldeezy
Both videos are speaking truth to power. The message I believe, goes to all political parties. The World Bank states that “Good governance is epitomized by predictable; open, and enlightened policymaking (that is, transparent processes); a bureaucracy imbued with a professional ethos; an executive arm of government accountable for its actions, and a strong civil society participating in public affairs; and all behaving under the rule of law”. It adds that there are three distinct aspects of governance, namely:
- the form of political regime
- the process by which authority is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources for development
- the capacity to design, formulate, and implement policies and discharge functions.
Both music videos have much to say about these three aspects of governance in Ghana . They did not necessarily use public policy language but they still communicated how these three are not functioning the way they should in a healthy democracy.
The artists have a right to speak up if they feel there is a problem with governance within Ghana, howbeit, it must be done in a way that does not flout the rule of law.
The Return Of 1979 by Cypher
Cypher’s video is a collaboration with multiple artists, Kwame Legacy, Equation, Otaado, Posy, Benny Blakk, Semi Heva, and KobbySeven. The video laments that, the government is not accountable. It states that the government is also unwilling to learn because it has a know-it-all posture (Mma mo ny3 menim menim). It lists the natural resources of Ghana and laments that these resources do not benefit the youth. Both videos talk about promises made and never fulfilled by the political class which has led to a state of mismanagement, frustration and desperation. The Cypher music video adds that, poor governance has resulted in some youth taking up armed robbery, kidnapping and vigilantism.
The other music video speaks to the absurdity of building a national cathedral and later, a parliamentary chamber for $200 million when University campuses lack lecture halls.
Cypher’s video starts with Kwame Legacy addressing the first gentleman of the nation by quoting a proverb to him that loosely translated means, “Nana, you should not step on an imbecile thrice, but you have done so four times, and now you have made me wiser for it. Nana you have betrayed your brethren and your nation by not fulfilling your promises or by taking their hopes and dashing it”. Understandably, members of the ruling political elite may politicize and criticize the music videos and the messages they convey but that would be unwise. There is more than one video out there with these sentiments and themes. Music is an outlet for the youth, their feelings, thoughts, and ideas. It is not prudent to ignore these songs. Listen to the youth who made them, determine if there is an iota of credence to any of their rants. If yes, address their concerns publicly and in a timely fashion because after all, you serve at their discretion. They put you in that seat to serve them. This is what it means to be a public servant unless of course, you would rather be known as a public master or worse a public bully. Public masters and bullies have no place in real democracies.
Cypher’s music video has a chorus that says in part, “Ya hw3 n’anim daadaa, saa na adanko daadaa adoe ne ba”. In this section, the artiste is saying:
We have looked to government time and again and been lied to and let down. Government, listen up, Good Governance is not a matter of having a degree or oratory skills. It is not about eloquent English. Do not try to hoodwink us with that. It is simply a matter of common sense speaking. If it was dependent on educational degrees, then Osei Kwame should be selling peanuts.
Osei Kwame is a business mogul in Ghana who has not earned academic degrees (although he has been awarded honorary degrees) nonetheless, he owns a bouquet of thriving companies. Cypher’s video ends with this quote, “it is amazing how some people could DIE for a political party but NOT for the country which the political party depends on”.
Listening is not the strong suite of political parties in Ghana. Governance, as we have said, is about being open, and enlightened policymaking (that is, transparent processes) and an executive arm of government that is accountable for its actions. But this is not always the case in Ghana. Not too long ago, there was a military deal concluded between the Ghana government and the USA. The processes were not transparent or open to public debate. The document was leaked into the public domain, and Ghanaians demanded accountability. The President went on air and lambasted citizens for having reservations. He treated the reservations as if all who raised objections and concerns belonged to the opposition party. This is poor governance. The New York Times carried an article titled ‘Deal With U.S. Military Sets Off Protests in Ghana’ that captured the protests that followed such conduct. The NDC was no different. Concerning the resettlement of GITMO detainees in Ghana, that government administration entered a deal with the USA government, and kept the information from the public until it was leaked. The ‘Dead Goat’ comment was also part of what cost the NDC the election. Keeping secrets from the public and refusing to be accountable are all signs of bad governance. It is the elected officials who serve and must be willing to be transparent and accountable to the sovereign. Opaque governance is recognized the world over as poor governance and both music videos speak to this.
THREATS OR FED UP RANTS
In addition to listing a litany of things gone wrong in the nation, Cypher’s video states that if the status quo continues, “Biribi ba o, 3b3y3 hye roff” loosely translated “something is coming and it is going to be extremely hot or unpleasant”. From this statement, it can be inferred that the artist is referring to an uprising or revolution because the title of the track is ‘The Return Of 1979’. In 1979, alleged government corruption by the then government, the Supreme Military Council, led to a coup d’état that saw the installation of another military regime, the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC). Eldeezy also states in his video, “My country has f***** up. If the youth don’t stand up, they will pay the price”. He compares living conditions in Ghana with other jurisdictions like Dubai and London. After some lyrics, he adds, “3baa na 3y)…we are going to enter your offices and …”
Are these threats or fed up rants of people whose hopes have been deferred or dashed time and again? No one can say for sure but I am hoping it is the latter. Ghana has seen many coup d’états and it is my prayer that Ghana does not go through any uprising of any sort involving its youth. This will only set Ghana back possibly for decades.
But lest people think these complaints are isolated to these musicians alone, other youths, have gone to parliament to protest specific decisions by the government. One of them was Ernesto Yeboah and another was Frank Abeku Adam of the Economic Fighters League. Adams’ clothes were torn when he was yanked out of the gallery at Parliament House while Yeboah was pinned to the ground and handcuffed. The response of authorities seem to suggest an unwillingness to hear the youth out. Cypher’s video states that, “Wo ka aa, ye dwa wo s3 bankye” loosely translated “when you speak truth to power they get angry or cut you down like cassava”.
True republican democratic government is as Abraham Lincoln put it, “a Government of the people, by the people, for the people.” These videos seem to suggest that governance is no longer for the people and by the people. Instead of representatives and elected officials representing the people, they seem to be representing themselves. In a well-functioning democracy, representatives of the people must hear out the people and covey their wills and sentiments. Those who do not want to do this may vacate their seats, so that other Ghanaians who can pay attention to the people’s desires may take their place.
The good thing is the youth are venting out their frustration through music videos and not violently on the streets. Leaders would do well to listen to them and address their concerns.
Could things have been said in a better way in these artistic expressions? Possibly! Has the current government and its predecessor been the best in our nation’s history? Definitely not! Could they learn anything from these videos? With a humble heart, I believe so. Do they stand to lose anything by listening and making amends if need be? Nope! They lose nothing but rather stand to gain the trust of their youth, some of whom seem disoriented while others are simply disappointed.
These videos were critical of the government. That said, some African governments must realize that criticism is not always a bad thing. There is much we can glean from criticism such as the perception of those doing the criticism. Perception does not always tally with reality, but in some cases, it can be even more powerful than reality.
In relation to the music videos, the stance of political parties should not be to condemn the voice of the youth as being tools of an opposition party — but to interrogate their concerns first to see if there is any validity to it. Listening only to political party youth or youth organizers may not be prudent. Welcome criticism from all walks of life. If it is not constructive, help make it constructive and then address legitimate concerns. The sentiment of a segment of the youth revealed in these music videos I believe applies to all political parties
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