IS THE POLITICS OF INSULTS THE NEW FACE OF GHANA’S DEMOCRACY?
Fellow citizens, almost twelve years ago, I broke the news of Dr Mahamadu Bawumia’s nomination as Running-Mate to Nana Addo from the Alisa Hotel in Accra. Bawumia was relatively unknown. He was also relatively young. However, the former Deputy Chief of Ghana’s Central Bank at that time, who had rich experiences as an academic and an economist with a global reputation, came ahead of clear New Patriotic Party (NPP) stalwarts and emerging kingpins. They included Alhassan Malik Yakubu, Abubakar Boniface Siddique, MND Jawula, Hajia Alima Mahama and the rest.
That August 2008 night, I saw the raw anger and disappointment displayed by many party loyalists claiming they did not know the “young man, Bawumia” and demanded that Nana Addo should immediately “change his mind”. I know because I interviewed them live on Citi FM that long night. “Baaaa WHO?” one exclaimed, among other things in an unrestrained display of anger and disappointment. A handful of others, especially those I saw around Anthony Karbo that night, were happy but did not show so much of it. The atmosphere was not right to show so much joy; it seemed. My dependable colleague and friend, Richard Mensah, was with me that night as we combed through the long night in search for hidden information on why Nana Addo had, seemingly, snubbed the party heavyweights by settling on Bawumia.
Earlier, Nana Addo had, as we learned from very reliable sources that night, explained the reason for his decision to party chiefs attending the closed-door National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting at the Alisa Hotel. The decision to go with Bawumia was aimed at helping unite the NPP, which had been torn apart by a divisive internal race of 17 aspirants some nine months earlier for the party’s 2008 Presidential ticket. Also, the decision to choose Bawumia over Malik Alhassan Yakubu was, to some extent, because it was feared that Yakubu, a calm and respected MP for Yendi, who doubled as the Second Deputy Speaker at that time, could negatively affect the chances of the NPP in the Northern Region. The NPP was already under constant fire over the Kufuor government’s questionable handling of the Dagbon chieftaincy crisis over which Yakubu had resigned as Minister for Interior in 2002. In short, the Dagbon issue was still a live matter that election year –– 2008. This was mainly because not only was there no justice, or so it seemed, but also because Ghanaian giants like JJ Rawlings and Alhassan Bashir Fuseini had kept it alive through sustained public commentary. That was the year John Kufour was leaving office after serving two straight terms as a democratically elected President of Ghana. The NPP was in no mood to lose power.
THE COMING OF AGE OF A DOUBTED POLITICIAN
Even at the NPP’s mammoth rally the following weekend in Takoradi to introduce Bawumia to the party’s rank and file, many party members and sympathisers were still not happy about the choice Nana Addo had made. “Look at what he is doing on the stage. Very embarrassing. Is this the best a whole Nana Addo can give us?” said one prominent MP who stood by me as I did live commentary on the packed rally for Citi FM listeners. The MP’s comments, off-air, came as Bawumia was called to mount the political stage for the first time since his nomination, as Daddy Lumba’s timeless ‘Nana Oye Winner’ tune powered the mammoth crowd into indescribable excitement and euphoria.
“Look!! Look, he can’t even do the Kangaroo dance,” another MP added. That election year, the NPP had adopted the famous Kangaroo dance invented by the Black Stars during the CAN 2008 held in Ghana. “But, no problem at all. We will teach him [Bawumia] the ropes and make him the kind of solid politician, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) will fear,” the MP stated quietly. Of course, many came to rally around the ticket in the end. However, the NPP lost narrowly to the NDC, led at that time by John Mills, a man of remarkable calmness. Any keen follower of our elections since 2008 would concede that Bawumia subsequently developed over time into an authoritative, respected, persuasive and deadly politician as he accumulated years away from the relatively peaceful world of corporate life.
In the hours and days that followed his very first nomination as Running-Mate, I remember clearly some of the critical reactions Ghana saw and heard from the opposition NDC at that time. Of course, we did not have a mass explosion in radio and tv stations as well as social media back then as we do today. Nonetheless, the NDC’s reaction, if my memory serves me correctly, was not one to describe or label as direct personal attacks, name-calling and barefaced insults against Bawumia. In saying this, I do not pretend to have listened to all of Ghana’s radio and television stations during the period. Also, I am not suggesting that I read every NDC party supporter’s reaction to Bawumia’s nomination that year. Far from that. Even if there were personal insults against him, they might have been isolated, and – I must add – unacceptable acts of gross irresponsibility.
A NEW ERA OF INSULTS
We are now in 2020, not the kind of the year 2008 was. Today, we have a lot more radio and tv stations, newspapers, blogs, countless social media platforms and Covid_19, which is bringing the worse out of some – hitherto – good people. And, three days ago, John Mahama of the NDC named one of Ghana’s most exceptional female academics ever, Prof Naana Opoku-Agyemang, as his Running-Mate in the upcoming presidential elections in December. Unlike August 2008, I was not in Ghana to cover the event. I am still not in Ghana because threats from Covid_19 and also school work have made sure of that. But I can see, read and hear from my tiny cottage here in England that the furious furnace of hellfire has been smashed open in Ghana. But, from the elephant-sized heaps of outright insults, scorn and personal attacks that have been poured on Naana’s person thus far ––– from some party officials to some ordinary sympathisers ––– I am yet to see a tiny shred of clear, cogent and persuasive argument as to why such a woman of formidable pedigree is not fit for Vice-Presidential or Presidential purpose. I have, of course, seen some issue-based anti-Naana leaflets making the rounds. However, they, in my view, appear to be unfortunately peripheral to what seems a grand agenda to insult or attack the calm Professor into total submission openly. Even if Naana, by her own nature and character, is not the out-and-out politician many would have wanted to see beside John Mahama today for whatever reason, today’s Bawumia ––– not the one we saw in 2008 ––– is a perfect example that she too has hope. Time will tell.
In truth, the suggestion that Naana, an accomplished woman ––– who successfully governed a whole University, and later became a Minister of Education, which (in terms of size and importance) sits comfortably as one of the most significant sectors of Ghana’s economy ––– is unfit for the Running-Mate job is not only crude and unkind but also distinguished by its hopelessness. In saying this, I am not in any way, suggesting that she is the magic card to help Mahama win back the presidency. I am also not suggesting that her record as either a Vice-Chancellor or Minister for Education is unblemished or unquestionable. Of course, decisions she may have taken (or may have neglected to take) in public office have impacted the lives of citizens of Ghana positively or negatively. Those should be what all in the NPP must make the issues for discussion to help the people of Ghana decide whether voters should replace their Bawumia with Naana come December 2020.
Unfortunately, in the needless haste to neutralise any potent threat she may or may not pose to the NPP’s second-term agenda, some people in the governing party (not all of them) appear to have done much damage to the party in the eyes of many level-headed observers. They are coming across as making or attempting to make the politics of insults the central strategy for the party’s reelection campaign. This is coming from some members of the party of Prof Albert Adu Boahen, B.J. Da Rocha, Peter Ala Adjetey (all of the blessed memory) and the rest. These were Ghanain giants who had worked tirelessly in their years on earth to make the arena of partisan politics in Ghana a battleground of progressive and nation-building issues (not insults). Indeed, the unfortunate developments over the last few days roll back the remarkable and distinguished examples that many forebears of those in the NPP today had set in their years on the political frontline. Surely, Ghana’s politics does not deserve this shameful decline.
As a citizen desperate to see the best Ghana’s politicians can offer the teeming masses of our people, I respectfully urge those deviant mouths who are denigrating the image of the NPP with their dishonourable behaviour to reassess themselves quickly. They must change their ways. They must realise the damage they are doing to the fortunes of not only the party but also the fabric of Ghana’s democracy and social cohesion. It is not too late to change. Six months is a very long time in politics. Depending on how tactically they use it, they might end up turning what, to some people, might seem an inevitable electoral defeat into a resounding electoral victory. That feat, of course, has to be based on how persuasively the NPP can account and convince Ghanaians that the last four years of Nana Addo’s leadership is/was value for money.
It is also essential to state that it is not as if some people in the NDC are not known for engaging in the pathetic politics of insults. Indeed, if for nothing at all, we saw how Lydia Alhassan was openly insulted, attacked and made an object of ridicule just because she had won an election unfortunately characterised by thuggery and senseless bloodshed. She, on the facts, did not hurt anyone. I say this because the Short Commission, which investigated the Ayawaso embarrassment, virtually pointed most, if not all, of its accusing fingers in the direction of unprofessional recruits within our National Security establishment. Lydia does not command national security. The Commission has named those who should take the blame. However, NDC MPs have still not found it befitting to unreservedly apologise for how they viciously treated the grieving woman who had been duly elected to serve as their colleague in our Parliament. What a shame. These are some the reasons many women of formidable stature fear to come close to public life. It is shameful. It is horrifying. Of course, I can cite many more examples of the sheer display of irresponsible conduct from leading members of both parties. However, the few I have mentioned make the point that Ghanaians do not deserve this mistreatment.
THE KIND OF POLITICS GHANAIANS CRAVE FOR
Indeed, Ghanaians deserve to listen to productive political and intellectual debates about which of our many political parties will make Ghana a more economically powerful replica of Dubai in Africa. We desire to see a homeland where hard-working yet destitute youth are not chasing perilously after moving vehicles in our streets with just anything that can be sold ––– from sachet water to dog chains. We desire to hear about competing plans on how to reduce violent crime and put our desperate youth into gainful employment. We desire to see and hear our politicians debate how to build an economy that creates Ghana’s (Africa’s) answers to the Microsofts, the Facebooks, the Alibabas and the Amazons of this world. We desire to know the plan politicians have to reduce endemic corruption in a country with widespread poverty, disease, illiteracy and teenage pregnancy. We desire to live in a country where a matured woman getting pregnant is a thing of joy, not a massive gamble with her life in a health system that often kills many expectant mothers annually. We desire to see a homeland that produces enough electricity to keep the lights on every time ––– for both households and industries. We need to live in a functional Republic where all are equal before the law; a nation where all citizens, even the weakest, live in true dignity. Above all, this is the age where we are talking about African Free Continental Trade Area (AfCFTA). We need to see a Ghana that lives up to its true pan-African potential, by leading or supporting sister nations on our continent achieve the dream of a truly liberated Africa. I am talking about a mostly self-sufficient continent that is not told to dance to the exploitative tunes of Western, and now Eastern, masters.
Of course, I can go on and on. But, the crux of my submission is simple: Ghanaians want to see and hear practical plans about how to make the big dreams of our forebears come to pass. By this, I mean, Ghana must “show the world that the black man is capable of (competently and productively) managing his affairs” through tangible, measurable and transformational national achievements of global significance. Indeed, we can achieve such feats in record time if we recoil immediately from the politics of insults and make our democracy one that is based solely on a contest of transformational ideas and work hard and honestly to become a global economic juggernaut. That, I believe, is what Ghanaians need for their economic survival, progress and pride. Mr. and Mrs. politician, please give us that and nothing more this election year and beyond. There are many things that build great nations; the politics of insults is NOT one of them. Thank you.
By Richard D. Sky