Feature Article of Saturday, 3 November 2012
Columnist: Gyan-Apenteng, Kwasi
Khushwant Singh is a prominent novelist and journalist who writes a widely read column in India called “With Malice towards One and All”. Among his most often quoted sayings is the observation that “a bad government is a government elected by good people who do not vote”. Among the “good people” who may stay away from the polls in droves in December are the country’s youth who are evincing apathy or even dislike of the political process.
The future belongs to the youth. This is such a hurting cliché that it does not bear repeating, and yet is so obviously true that it cannot be avoided. Indeed, it is true that the future belongs to the youth and if election 2012 is to mean anything, the youth must feel its future impact. Unfortunately, our political system is not set up for the long-term, not even for the medium-term. It is about tomorrow.
So how do the young people of Ghana see Election 2012 and its prospects? Traveling in parts of the country to report initiatives funded by STAR-Ghana’s Election Call, I try to gauge the response by engaging with young people on their participation or lack of it in the current election season. I have not conducted a scientific poll so my conclusions are subjective and maddeningly speculative but the overwhelming sense is one of apathy and disorientation. It appears that to most young people (between 18 and 25), politics is something of a spectator sport – you watch other people do it, cheer from the stands but do not get involved. That is the charitable view. The view commonly expressed can be summed up in the shrug of the shoulder or the upturn of the wrist that says, please leave me alone.
I met Kweku a few weeks ago at a petrol station at Elmina. A speeding vehicle decked in PPP colours was the trigger for the conversation which brought me to my question whether the young filling station attendant would vote. He seemed to take forever to answer the question, and I could see his brain working out which answer would please this sudden inquisitor. Finally, he answered with a weak maybe. Pressed further, he explained that “They are all the same”. That is something you hear over and over again. I asked him what he wanted to do, say, in the next ten years. He wanted to “further his education”. I asked him if he thought the coming election could make it easier or more difficult for him to achieve this ambition. He shrugged and said it depended “on God”.
The town of Prestea is blighted by gold mining. It is the worst example of the colonial and neo-colonial economy’s appetite for extracting raw minerals for export. Most of the town and its immediate environs have been mined, are being mined, and the rest of it is covered in a black sooty soil that is deposited everywhere. It is from this black soil that galamsay gold is extracted.
From the old hospital site high on the hill, you can see the galamsay diggers at work down a winding road… The main thoroughfare in Prestea looks like moon face and one wonders what it looked like before its recent re-graveling, as alleged! You would expect a permanent protest camp mounted by the youth of this blighted town... A young man sat listening to a radio on full-blast talking politics. I asked him if he expected the outcome of the election to change things for the better at Prestea. He looked at me as if I had taken leave of my senses. Then he stood up, took his radio and walked away.
A desire to stay away from it all therefore appears to be a widespread ambition of the youth. Agnes works in a big supermarket in Accra, she is keenly aware of the contest for her vote which she exercised to the full last year. She took a day out to register for the election but now says she does “not think” she will vote. “We have voted and voted and voted but nothing happens…” She registered for the card which for those who do not have driving licenses or passport, has become the main object of personal identification.
Of course it is not every young person who is alienated from the political process. Every party has its youth and student wings. These are made up of articulate, even loud supporters who are being groomed for the future. On a salary of GHc7200 a month, it is not surprising that more than a few young people will want to become Members of Parliament as soon as possible, especially as no specific experience is required for the position. In some countries the youth and student wings of political parties are often more progressive than the main sections and often challenge their parties to come out with radical alternative policies. I have heard several comments by youth and students wings of parties in Ghana and it appears that obedience to the script is a requirement to succeed.
Some young persons are really switched on, but these are not often found in the parties’ youth wings. They work within their communities, and they may become Assemblymen and women; they are not thinking of going into Parliament because they lack the money and connection to make it that far.
Take the group of enthusiastic young men and women known as the Abura Masqueraders Group who use street art to create awareness about the need for peaceful elections and other important issues. I met some of them at a community forum organised by the redoubtable Abdul Wahab, the Assemblyman for the Area at which the Regional Electoral Officer explained the coming election in detail. The Masqueraders need sponsorship to buy costume to do their street thing in order to achieve their objective which among others, is to “create a platform where the youth can interact with stakeholders (Electoral, Police Commission, Politicians, etc.) towards a peaceful election. Potential sponsors can reach the Abura Fancy Dress Masqueraders Group on 0242125764.
One of the main reasons why the youth are getting bored or disaffected with politics is that politics really only means the fever pitch tussle between the NDC and the NPP. There is so very little mention of anything else in the media except with the occasional sop to the “lesser known species” such as the CPP, the PNC, PPP, and others. Even so, the politics is framed only in post-1992 terms. Ironically, in order for the youth to want to affect the future, they ought to know the past. As the famous saying goes, you can only know how to get to your destination if you know your starting point. Even among those ardent supporters of the different political parties many have only a fleeting sense of Ghana’s political history. I asked a well-educated young man what he knew about Danquah and Busia. He said they were “part of the Big Six”!
Obviously, the political parties have a duty to educate their young followers and the apathetic majority to vote so that they do not swell the ranks of good people who elect bad governments by not voting. The American academic John M. Richardson Jr. has observed that when it comes to the future, “There are three kinds of people: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened.”
These are the choices open to the youth in Election 2012.