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Opinions of Friday, 13 May 2011

Columnist: Sarpong, Gideon Amoako

A ‘Ghanaian’ President for Ghana


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The French want no one to be their superior. The English want inferiors. The Frenchman constantly raises his eyes above him with anxiety. The Englishman lowers his beneath him with satisfaction. On either side it is pride, but understood in a different way. - Alexis de Tocqueville (1805 - 1859)

A cursory enquiry into the regrettable woes of war-tattered nations hitherto celebrated as economic and democratic models would uncover societies that narrow-mindedly majored on ethnicity at the expense of national pride and an all-encompassing identity. In most instances, untrammelled rivalries led to national escalation of skirmishes between disgruntled ethnic groups. Sides (on ethnic lines) were taken, peculiar positions vehemently defended, and perceived peccadilloes and ‘repugnant’ idiosyncrasies of others seriously ridiculed. This inevitably gave rise to the beating of war drums and the surreptitious masterminding of heinous atrocities. And the chilling and heart-rending effect is too commonplace a catastrophe to comment thereon.

Objectivity has always counselled its students to avoid the prevalent error of disparagingly gainsaying the said just to score a point. It maintains that others’ views should be respectfully regarded, even in the positing of a challenging alternative. And in that regard, I acknowledge individuals who have in diverse and creative ways, made meaningful contributions to the national conversation on governance. The multiplicity of creative submissions speaks well of a people abreast of the enviable successes and the unsolicited shortcomings of our democratic experiment. This perhaps, indicates a progressive decline in general apathy towards the participatory democracy crucial to national peace and prosperity.

The aforementioned national conversation, coordinated by the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) took on an interesting turn last year during the case of a sincere proposal for a kind of ethnic-based rotational presidency. Among other things, it was concernedly lamented that the present system favours an incongruous hegemony by certain ethnic groups. A disproportionate “rising to certain levels” by some tribes, according to the proposer, stems from that ‘favourable’ condition of having a tribesman as president. The apparent inconsistency of such submission with the letter and spirit of the Constitution accordingly justified its rejection by the learned chairman of the Commission. One cannot escape a certain feeling for the petitioner’s grievance; his well-meaning and fair calculation of a governance structure that creates equal opportunities for all. On the other hand, ethnicity and its dispassionate disengagement from the presidency and politics in general, is a patent recommendation of political scientists.

Certainly, Schlesinger’s diagnosis of ethnicity as “the explosive problem of our times” is a conclusive verity. In signalling the irremediable danger in the shift from “creating one people to the promoting, celebrating and perpetuating separate ethnic origins and identities,” Schlesinger remains a sapient seer whose warnings must be heeded to by a somewhat supine citizenry. The pressing onus then is on us to endeavour towards the intentional subjection of ethnicity to national identity.

In the natural order of things, ethnicity is an inescapable fact of existence and a delightsome wonder that unfortunately, has eluded not a few eyes and minds. Man’s ethnic association has invariably been a potent force in the shaping of his values, convictions and worldview. It is undeniable that identification with people of the selfsame language, culture and belief creates a feeling of worthiness and mutual allegiance to a cause. In diversifying the human race, ethnicity has averted that boring situation of having all people and systems alike. Man, with a penchant for novelty, should for the umpteenth time be grateful to that phenomenon called ethnicity. When pursued with charity and in the right perspective, it remains a national asset with inestimable and strategic contribution to a nation’s fortunes. The fact of unique ethnic heritages and something to show an inquisitive world is in itself a tourism-booster. The far-reaching consequences of its abuse challenge society to much carefulness. Such sense of pragmatic prudence further compels any progressive nation to avoid the exploitation of ethnic sensibilities – the scratching of ethnic sores – in view of its grave ramifications.

Contrary to concocted opinion, a tribesman needs not be president before his voiceless tribe is empowered or becomes noticeable in national politics. This is because the vehicles for the promulgation of causes and redressing of grievances are available; and thus can be effectively utilized by tribes made voiceless by one thing or the other. We ought to take delight in the fact that a presidential candidate contests an election in vain who appeals to just one or two ethnic groups. In other words, any successful bid for presidential power needs all ethnic groups on board the campaign vehicle. For this reason, the President has a moral and constitutional obligation (a kind of fatherly responsibility) to safeguard the common interest of Ghanaians and not just the parochial interests of “certain people,” be they tribespeople, family or a distinguished coterie of associates. I believe that President Mills’ refrain of “a father to all” speaks volumes of an equitable principle in governance and thus, should not be dismissed as a mere political gimmick. This principle, if sincerely adhered to, would mean the erasure of mistrustful ethnic lines as the President “follows peace with all men” (Hebrews 12:14) in relating to a Ga as he would relate to a Fante. The same would be true in his relations with an Asante, a Kwahu, a Frafra, etc. This approach, as fundamental and simple as it may seem, remains the panacea for any society diseased with chronic ethnic hate.

And without controversy, Ghana’s fulfilment as a nation lies not in a president from the north or south; east or west. Our experiences confirm that a competent ‘Ghanaian’ President who exudes the collective and commending prowess, combined talents and strengths of the various tribes that constitute the national demography, would be the darling of sundry Ghanaians. The darling hereby being qualified as the candidate voted for by a majority of the people and hence no intimation herein of a lack of opposition. This qualification is imperative, since constructive political opposition is unfortunately, synonymous with antagonism, even in the minds of some patriotic citizens and government officials.

Ethnic superiority, as a farcical but cunning concept, is at best a fantasy that has stubbornly resisted the benign attempts at rectification by political realism. The time is conducive for our active involvement in the fight against the “it’s our time” attitude of a hectoring but undiscerning few. For these naively mistake the presidency as a ground for the elevation of a sitting president’s tribe. This unseemly attitude ostensibly accounts for the undesirable and sometimes belligerent agitation for a tribesman president on the part of many a peace-loving Ghanaian. Let us consistently reiterate the comforting truth that a person may become president, and that irrespective of his belonging to a dominant or minority ethnic group.

It is fervently hoped that competence would evermore displace consanguinity in the suitability of a president for a better-informed Ghana in a dynamic world. We sigh with unspeakable relief at the reality that ethnic affiliation is a non-existing step on the presidential ladder. Thank God that the presidency is not a turf opened to some golfers and for some undisclosed reasons, closed to other equally good golfers. “Whosoever will” may join the competitive race for that seat of power in the castle; but let the energetic young take heed – for that coveted seat is notorious for fast-tracking the greying of hair.

Gideon Amoako Sarpong

2010/2011 NSP/ Gomoa Brofoyedur Meth. JHS /aca_education at yahoo dot com / 0243354091

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