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Feature Article of Thursday, 18 October 2012

Columnist: Saa, Maame Yaa

Is Ghana Preparing for Another Rwanda?

*IS GHANA PREPARING FOR ANOTHER RWANDA?*

Elections-related violence continues to be one of the major challenges to the overall development efforts of Africa, and in particular the continent’s quest to democratise. The devastating ramifications of the post-elections crisis in Kenya in 2007/08 and that of Cote d’Ivoire in 2010/11 are among the many cases where the competition for leadership has spelt doom for citizens.

To prevent such unfortunate fallouts from elections, many emerging democratic countries in Africa have put in place systems and institutions meant to ensure peaceful, free and fair elections. Such national efforts are often complimented by the activities of corporate entities, non-governmental organisations, civil society groups and well-meaning individuals.

In the case of Ghana, 7th December 2012, will mark the sixth time the country will be going to the polls after a successful transition of power from the military regime of the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) to a democratically elected government in 1992. Even though Ghana is still a nurturing democracy, the country is seen by many as a model of democracy and a beacon of peace in Africa. Ghanaians have enjoyed relative peace over the past two decades under this democratic dispensation and would not want the current situation to be marred by events of the upcoming elections.

Multi-party politics, free media and freedom of expression remain the crucial ingredients of all true democracies. Multi-party democracy provides the citizenry with the opportunity to choose from among many, the political entity that they believe can best champion their development, productivity and general well-being.

For their part, the media are expected to help promote accountable governance through their watchdog role; set the agenda for development by highlighting pertinent issues that are of concern to the general public; and facilitate communication between government and the governed.

The media are also expected to give existing political parties and candidates the opportunity to share their governance ideologies and development agenda so the public can make informed decisions as to who becomes their leader.

The abuse of the media platform by any individual or group, be it political, religious or ethnic grouping, can result in dire consequences as it happened in Rwanda in 1994 – a situation in which the media was used as a tool to ignite a genocide . Not long ago, I saw a sign board close to the offices of the Gaming Commission and the Western Automobile Limited at East Legon in Accra that caught my attention. The inscriptions on the board read: ‘*OH LORD, SAVE GHANA 2012,’* ‘*Politician: don’t start it,’ Journalist: don’t fuel war.’* The more I reflected on the inscriptions, the more I realised how politicians/political entities and the media are currently preparing the nation for either war or peace before, during and after the December polls.

Lately, the agenda setting role of the media seems to be focusing more on political debates rather than the apparent developmental deficiencies confronting Ghanaians such as poor sanitation, inadequate energy supply, poor health and education facilities, among many others.

Almost all issues (be it social, health, environmental, religious, etc.) are discussed along partisan lines by the same political activists who are hosted as panellists on specific radio programmes almost every week. And because these politicians and the so-called social commentators who are invited into the various in-studio discussions have an agenda to pursue, they often skew all issues and discussions to score cheap political points.

Some political party representatives also resort to personality attacks using all forms of unprintable words instead of engaging in issues-based discussions. The question is: who set or give such people the platform to pollute the masses with such one-sided arguments? The answer is obvious - The media!

The unfortunate thing about the current media situation is the apathy with which some moderators handle their radio programmes which makes it possible for some unpleasant statements to go unchecked. Sometimes one wonders whether we want to experience what happened in Rwanda.

It was, therefore, some form of a relief when the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) decided to address this precarious phenomenon of indecency in the media which, in fact, is becoming a recipe for violence in the upcoming elections.

Through daily monitoring and weekly reporting, the Foundation tries to name and shame individuals, political parties and the media outlets that allow such unhealthy practices on their networks with the hope of reversing the trend. When the exercise began, there were some skepticisms as to what will become of the project and if it will indeed achieve results.

But if my memory serves me right, I think it has been almost six months now since the exercise began and for almost every week, the Foundation reports on their findings. This is a step in the right direction and the MFWA needs to be commended for the effort.

The concern, however, is about how the reports are received and publicised and the kind of interest the public expresses in the weekly findings. The media dedicate limited space to the findings and the public ask little or no questions about why radio discussion programmes which are supposed to chart a path for our development agenda are condescended to the level of trading of insults and other intemperate expressions.

A radio panellist/ political activist (Ernest Owusu Bempah) is reported as making as many as 16 indecent remarks over a three-month period and some radio stations, especially *Oman FM, *continue to use him as a resource person on their programmes. Political party representatives who are supposed to present the development agenda of their parties for the nation, should they be voted into power, continue to attack personalities and devote their allotted times to winding arguments that do not assure the ordinary citizen of the much needed bread or butter. Yet, these same people are continually invited as discussants of the various talk shows.

In fact, much more worrying is the fact that political party officials, including General Secretaries, who are expected to know better and lead in the discussion of issues are also occasionally found to be culprits in the use of indecorous expressions. And the worse of it is government officials, who are sometimes referred to as *honourable* and are paid with tax payers’ money engaging in this practice. This is unacceptable, particularly in an election year and should be condemned by all well-meaning Ghanaians.

As Eleanor Roosevelt (a social activist, a United States representative to the UN from 1945-1953; 1961, and wife of the former U.S. President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt) once said, it is not enough to talk about peace; we must believe in it and work at it.

As the countdown to the December polls draws near, campaigning activities are intensifying and so are the records of indecent expressions. However, there have been calls/advocacy interventions by individuals, political groupings, religious bodies and civil society organisations on the need for all to be civil in their conduct to ensure peaceful elections. Prominent among these was the call by the President, H.E. John Dramani Mahama.

In August this year, the President, H.E. John Dramani Mahama, was reported as counselling government communicators to be civil in their language- by focusing on issues-based discussions and to avoid responding to personality attacks in kind. He is also said to have reiterated his call for a new politics of tolerance, decorum and respect for the dignity of opponents in his address to the nation.

In spite of the president's calls, political communicators are increasingly resorting to the use of intemperate language on radio per the MFWA’s recent reports. Unfortunately, members’ of the President’s own party – National Democratic Congress (NDC) – are culprits in this practice and when asked about what will be done about this, the National Propaganda Secretary of the party, Mr. Richard Quashigah, tells the nation that the party cannot reasonably be expected to sanction its communicators who cross the line of decency when their remarks are often in reaction to similar comments by the opposition New Patriotic Party members (NPP). And where does that leave the President’s statement? Your guess is as good as mine.

We sometimes forget that, as Mahatma Gandhi said, an eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world [nation] blind. As the President said, we don’t need to respond to indecent remarks and personality attacks in kind!

[image: Text Box: 1 Prez Mahama charges government communicators to use civil language [http://politics.myjoyonline.com/pages/news/201208/91408.php] 2 We can’t punish people who respond to NPP insults – Richard Quashigah [http://news1.ghananation.com/politics/270604-we-can%E2%80%99t-punish-people-who-respond-to-npp-insults-%E2%80%93-richard-quashigah.html]]No two words are exactly the same; they could be similar in meaning but something distinct (if not for anything, their spellings) makes them different. Similarly, no two individuals are the same and so our views on issues will not always converge at a point. Specifically, because we belong to different political orientations, it is only natural that our ideologies will be different but that does not make us enemies.

We can always discuss issues dispassionately focusing on the nation’s interest. Let’s advance our points devoid of innuendoes, unsubstantiated allegations, offensive remarks, divisive and prejudicial statements. Personality attacks, harsh tones and shouting at others often result in provoking others to retort in kind. This does not communicate a political party’s position on an issue, but rather builds a bad image for the party.

The media and media personnel need to rise above their political inclinations and learn to be more professional and responsible in the moderation of their programmes. I have heard a presenter on a particular radio station stating that he will not host a particular lady on his programme no matter what; because of the way she had conducted herself during previous programmes.

So what stops station managers, producers and presenters from shunning the use of people who are named as using indecent remarks on their respective networks. This will push others to be more circumspect in their utterances on air.

Even though a producer or presenter might not know what a panellist or a caller is likely to say when given the platform, continuous sensitisation will help. Also, when people make indecent remarks, they should be made to retract and apologise where necessary so that we can collectively put an end to this canker that is being nurtured in this country. Radio presenters should also know that it is not enough for a presenter to disassociate him/herself or his/her radio station from an intemperate remark made on their network, but should try and insist on the withdrawal of the statement and apologies rendered where possible. Moderators should take charge of their shows and direct discussants and callers to issues-based discussions to ensure decency.

The 2012 elections is not a *do-or-die* affair! It is an expression of opinion in a very civil way – the use of the thumb. *DECENCY* in our political discourses is the watchword.

Let us, therefore, rally behind the MFWA to pursue this agenda so that we can all contribute to peaceful, free and fair elections. As it stands now, Cote d’Ivoire is not a place of refuge for any Ghanaian should there be post-elections’ violence. With the masses of Ghanaians not being able to speak French, Togo or Burkina Faso may not be a suitable haven either. We will only have the Gulf of Guinea which is uninhabitable. Let us, therefore, put an end to hate speech and intemperate language now before it becomes too late.

To end, let me reiterate an inscription on a campaign sticker by the Great Commission Foundation that I saw some few days ago: *Inflammatory Language Ruins a Nation. Remember the grave when incited for violence.*

God bless our homeland Ghana … and help us to resist any practice that is likely to cause mayhem in the 2012 elections!

Maame Yaa Saa

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