Feature Article of Sunday, 26 August 2012
Columnist: Owusu-Ampomah, Kwame
It is elections year in Ghana. The country goes to the polls on 7th December 2012 to elect a new president, with a run-off, if necessary, scheduled for 28th December 2012; the same day that Parliamentary Elections will also be held. The post-2012 parliament will hold 45 extra law makers, following the creation of 45 more constituencies that brought the number of parliamentary seats from 230 to 275. Unmistakably, the stakes are high, especially for the presidential race, and the concern of many observers is whether Ghana’s sixth consecutive Presidential and Parliamentary Elections will be pulled off peacefully.
The incumbent President John Mahama, having succeeded the late President Prof John Evans Atta Mills, is seeking election to the highest political office in the land in his own right. He and his party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) face a formidable opposition in Nana Akuffo Addo Dankwa, a lawyer and flag bearer of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), the main opposition party. Throwing a spanner in the spokes of the incumbent President, the breakaway party of the NDC, the national Democratic Party (NDP) hopes to effectively make the presidential election a three-way context, not underrating of course, other credible presidential aspirants such as Paa Kwesi Nduom, the economist and PPP flag bearer.
It may be recalled that in 2008 after the victory of the late Prof. John Atta Mills by the narrowest of margins, 0.46% (40, 000 votes) in a run-off, ominous clouds began to gather in the hitherto peaceful country. Thank goodness, it took statesmanship and a deep resolve of key protagonists, and perhaps external pressure, to let the dark eiderdown pass, much to the relief of all Ghanaians and their well-wishers. Nana Akuffo Addo Dankwa conceded defeat, and the rest is history. Whereas the country was spared a repeat of the calamitous reactions that claimed the lives of more than a thousand Kenyans, following the presidential election in that country earlier that year, observers are apt to ask, four years down the line, whether Ghana is heading for a déjà vu.
The rollout of the biometric registration of voters has ended but not until it sparked a furore, which landed the enigmatic Opposition MP, Hon. Kennedy Ohene Agyepong of the NPP in the dock. The MP is reported to have expressed his displeasure at the manner in which the biometric registration exercise was being conducted in some areas and accused the government of deliberately frustrating the electorate in the opposition party’s stronghold. Whereas it was true that the exercise was not proceeding smoothly in some constituencies the Honourable MP is believed to have taken his frustration a bit too far by his pronouncements, interpreted as inciting ethnic tension and genocide. There was a national opprobrium, and correctly so; calling on one ethnic group to raise arms against other ethnic groups in time of elections, or at any other time, is not only irresponsible but also very dangerous, even if one did not mean it. The danger here pertains particularly to the fragility of liberal democracy in this part of the world. Liberal democracy, premised on majority rule, constitutional rule, the rule of law etc., does not appeal to many Africans, especially the illiterate. Whilst periodic elections and multi-party system are recognised as pillars of this political system, the principle of “winner-takes-all” tend to confound the electorate on the losing side. In this circumstance, a pretext to violence is always never too far off, and people in responsible positions should not be seen stoking the fire. Besides, violence has never been the best option to settle issues; national security should therefore not be undermined by throwing the bath water and the baby out of the window.
The good omen is that the MP’s call for mayhem has, thus far, not been heeded but whether the salvoes are awaiting a catalyst is a moot point. To be fair, the MP’s pronouncement, albeit inappropriate, is a kind at the extreme end of a continuum of what may be described as “politics of insults syndrome” that has become pervasive, and has the potential to raise the country’s political temperature to a boiling point.
Two of the campaign-language monitoring studies of the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) illuminate the potential danger that this syndrome portends. The results of the first study, titled MFWA releases report on media monitoring; Oman Fm Worse offender (GNA-a) categorically concluded that the media and political parties were guilty in the dangerous game of trading political insults, at the expense of political stability and national security. The results indicated that Oman FM and the ruling party (NDC) led the pack in the use of indecent or inflammatory expressions in political discussion programmes aired at different times of the day and night. Whilst, according to MFWA, the main opposition party (NPP) was not far behind the NDC, the fact that a pack of radio stations (three out of four of a sample of 31 monitored) were fingered as culprits in this deadly game, though unevenly, is extremely alarming.
The result of the second study, specifically lays the blame at the doorsteps of the General Secretaries of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and New Patriotic Party (NPP), Mr. Johnson Asiedu Nketia and Mr. Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie, respectively for the “use of indecent expressions on radio” (GNA-b). The unsavoury part of the result of the study is the subject matter of the indecent expressions: “the health of the late President John Evans Atta Mills”. This is very unfortunate and makes one wonder whether for the sake of politics all sensibilities should be lost to a mockery of no less a person than the president of the country.
I heard someone say that Presidents and Heads of State of this country have always been insulted and therefore there was nothing wrong for insulting the late President John Evans Atta Mills or his successors. I beg to differ. It is uncouth to insult anyone let alone the president of the country publicly, and I mean through the media, especially the Radio. The radio is perhaps the most powerful medium of communication and mobilisation, besides the internet and the cellular phone; and a lack of discretion in dispensing the services it provides could be disastrous. The power of the media, specifically the social media, has been demonstrated in the so-called “Arab Spring” although it was not the cause of the uprisings but a catalyst, which still does not take away the media’s destructive potential. (The real cause of the Arab Spring lies in the destabilisation policies of the US and its NATO allies, as part of a knee-jerk reaction to contain China’s meteoric economic upsurge in a bid to save their uncompetitive economies and increasingly moribund societies). But this does not mean to say that the media is not functional, far from it; and the Deputy Executive Director of MFWA correctly placed it in perspective when he said, “While the media continue to perform their legitimate role of holding people accountable, it is important for them to appreciate that they are, and must also be accountable to the masses through their conduct” (GNA-a).
The two studies by MFWA could not have come at a better time than it did. The country has enjoyed a relatively peaceful period, stretching over four decades, and it would be extremely unfortunate if the gains of this period were allowed to dissipate into oblivion as a result of political amnesia, indiscretion and ineptitude. Disasters often start with tell-tale signs and what makes them happen, in most cases, is living with them with careless abandon. It is not far-fetched to enjoin all political parties and the media, in particular, to listen to the call to prize issue-based campaign as the language of politics and nation building. The question is: Does Ghana have a critical mass of patriotic and courageous leaders to uphold this ideal, rise above personal gain and steer the nation on course for successful elections, and live up to its image as a model for the rest of Africa? Hopefully, yes, but time will tell!
GNA-a (Ghana News Agency) 1st June 2012. “MFWA releases report on media monitoring; Oman Fm Worse offender” Retrieved on 5th June 2012, from URL http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=248551
GNA-b (Ghana News Agency) 24th August, 2012. “NDC, NPP General Secretaries Cited for use of indecent expressions”. Retrieved on 24th August 2012, from URL http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=240714
Independent Researcher and Freelance Writer