General News of Friday, 23 November 2012

Source: Alfred Cudjoe

Book Review: Beyond the Ballot Box – Secrets behind Election Fevers

Book: Beyond the Ballot Box – Secrets behind Election Fevers
Pages: 118
Author: Alfred B Cudjoe
Publishers: Amazon on Kindle
Reviewer: Samuel S Bio

For some years now the wind of democracy has been blowing all over the African continent. The era of military coups d’état and military dictatorships is gradually becoming a thing of the past. All of a sudden African countries have accepted the Western type of democracy based on multiparty governance prescribed by the developed world and donor communities which they need badly in their path towards development.

The question, however, is whether Africans are really comfortable with that system of government and whether indeed they are practising it in earnest. In other words anyone who critically observes democracy in practice in Africa is tempted to ask whether it is serving the best interest of the people or it is just a smoke screen to satisfy the requirements of European masters in order to be counted among the civilized community of the world. More specifically some people wonder if elections in African countries are truly free and fair.
Alfred B Cudjoe’s novel, although a fiction, tries to address these issues about democracy in Africa. Beyond the Ballot Box–Secrets behind Election Fevers is a 40,000-word political fiction which brings to the fore the dilemma facing the electorate in an unnamed African country as election campaign gathers momentum. The author explains in a note that it is deliberate not to name any country in order to preserve the universality of this political discourse and the novel’s status as pure fiction.
The theme of the novel brings to mind A Man of the People, a political satire by Chinua Achebe, the celebrated African pioneer novelist. Certainly, Alfred Cudjoe, a translator, writer and modern foreign languages teacher, might have been inspired by the Nigerian author whose works feature prominently in his PhD thesis on the translation of postcolonial African literature. All actions in the novel are introduced by a prologue, The Sacrifice, in which two individuals discuss the general, spiritual and socio-political meanings of the word sacrifice. That discussion appears to serve as a yardstick for measuring the extent to which politicians are ready to sacrifice for their countries.
It is from Chapter One onwards that the novel proper begins. The main character, Mr Ernest Kofi Nukunu, at least for the greater part of the novel, since his son Kormoney can also play that main character role, is introduced as a humble elementary school head teacher who invites his colleagues and some elders for a drink. The opportunity offered by the occasion favours discussions of all kinds, including those on the failure of the weather and, particularly, politicians who talk nicely to the people only whenever they want their votes. Mr Nukunu was among those who wholeheartedly embraced a popular revolution launched to rid the country of corruption, maladministration and other social vices. It was a revolution that claimed many innocent lives, including that of teacher Nukunu’s daughter, Dzifa.
With time, however, the people realise to their disappointment that the revolution is in vain, since it fails to live up to its declared intentions. More disappointing is the fact that the revolutionary process merely got rid of traditional politicians and replaced them with new ones whose only credential is the ability to shout empty revolutionary slogans. The people also realise that the calibre of politicians who now emerge out of the revolution are vindictive, opportunistic and insensitive to the plight of the people, including those who had hailed the revolutionary process. In the particular case of teacher Nukunu, apart from his daughter being killed by a stray bullet, his son is ruthlessly victimised while serving in his country’s embassy abroad. Generally, the party in power, which emerges out of the revolution, rules with such culture of impunity that the people wonder if the human and material sacrifice made during the revolutionary process has been worth it.
Given the nationwide disappointment in the face of unemployment, low wages and unfulfilled election promises, many characters in the novel, including Torgbui Afedo, teacher Gbeve and Kormoney Nukunu, engage in discussions, arguments and analysis which take the political discourse to another level. Is it worth voting for the party in power in the upcoming elections or voting them out? Although he and his family have suffered the most in this failing political dispensation, teacher Nukunu continues his hard work and dedication. He cautions those who complain so much that the failure of the system can also be blamed on those of them who complain the most. His observation does not, however, deter others, including his son Kormoney, from calling for a new breed of politicians. It is a call which comes in the background of the realisation that the main opposition party, which is the most likely alternative, is also viewed by some as worse than the ruling party. The novel therefore concludes with the dilemma facing the electorate, which is in the form of choosing between the devil and the deep blue see.
The novel aptly ties in with the countless interruptions in government in various African countries since independence. The writer uses a good selection of standard, intelligent and eloquent words and these paint a picture of some of the real happenings on the political landscape spanning both the revolutionary and constitutional periods. What is intriguing about the novel is that though it captures two distinct periods the writer has managed to situate it such that it looks current and no part reflects its age. This is especially seen with the areas that deal with the upcoming general election, which makes it more appetising to read along and not a ‘put-down’ once you start reading. The novel is ever-current and could be applicable to all countries, especially in Africa, that are still under dictatorship or those that have gone through military dictatorships and are now under constitutional rule.
Reading the book sends you back emotionally to those childhood years when processions of students and soldiers were common on the streets with their weird songs either going to cart cocoa from the hinterlands to the ports, or to embark on social reconstruction such as the relaying of railway lines. Reading the story also sends you back to those years when young adults played and sang traditional love songs and danced to melodious love music under the moonlight.
Another thing that makes the book interesting to read is that it is not voluminous and its straight-forward and simple language allows one to finish reading it in a matter of hours.
This novel is also enjoyable to read because the writer uses the third-person narrative so that neither the narrator nor the reader are participants; even where subjective thoughts and feelings are known they are generally contextualised by the thoughts and feelings of other characters and that makes it a must-read for all: those who have witnessed military dictatorships, it would bring back some memories of those years, both the sweet and bitter ones; it would give some insight into those turbulent years to those who didn’t witness them. It is also recommended for political parties; the book would help them to appreciate the concerns of the electorate as we go to the polls every four years. It is also recommended to students of political science.
In general the book is good for children, adults, students, young professionals, politicians and policy makers. The book is available electronically at at just $1.57 while the hard copy is being printed for distribution all over the country.
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