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Opinions of Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Columnist: Appiah, Papa

All Die Be Die – Reinforcing the Cycle of Fear – 2

I am as much disappointed with President Mills’ response to all-die –be-die as I was with Nana Akuffo-Addo for uttering it in the first place. The response of our president should have been less of a promise of fire and brimstone, and more of humility and reconciliation, recognising that there is more that unites us than divides us, and that our common goal, after all, is for a more transparent electoral process, of which Ghana can be well proud. Sometimes, a threat of a security red-alert, in our experience, has the potential to cause even more panic and fear amongst the populace than an off-the-cuff all-die-be-die comment.
So, rather than promising rain of fire and brimstone, President Mills should have risen above all of us, mere mortals, and realized, that Nana Akuffo-Adoo may have been reckless in his utterance, but in reality, all he was crying for was an electoral process fair to all, and staining the presidency with the blood of Ghanaians may not, in truth, have been his remotest wish. He could have referred to the fact, that he had been friends with Nana for many years and knew what he stood for. He could have offered to do what he could, including, yes, meeting Nana, other political leaders and the electoral commissioner at the appropriate time to discuss pertinent electoral issues, to help make our system better. He could, on the other hand, have taken the opportunity to admonish Ghanaians to exhibit more civility in our national discourse to enable us continue to enjoy, the fruits of our hard-earned democracy.
Ghana would have listened. For in so doing, President Mills would have succeeded in casting himself in the mould of that great emperor in days of yore, in front of whom was dragged a man pleading for his life. The emperor had only to blink and this man would be beheaded by the single stroke of a soldier’s sword. But he looked into the man’s eye, and for no apparent reason, said, “I pardon you!” That was power! In pardoning a condemned man and giving him back his life; he had exuded more power than if he had done the expected. Who in Africa does not know of our security forces and the havoc they can reek when unleashed on unarmed civilians? Libya is a stark reminder. We do not need any more reminding of security forces and red alerts and “acting within the laws of the land”!! A reconciliatory speech would have been a much more powerful tool, in attempting to unite the country behind efforts at achieving our common goals.
Nowhere was this more in evidence, than in President Obama’s recent speech in Tucson, Arizona. When a crazed gunman went on the rampage in Tucson, shooting a democratic congresswoman in the head and killing a few of her associates and bystanders, America was deeply divided in its views as to the reasons or motivation behind this tragedy, with the majority of democrats alleging, that utterances by Sarah Palin of the Republican party, had in no small measure, helped to create the environment that may have facilitated this crime.
President Obama did not promise fire and brimstone. He cleverly tried to avoid pointing the finger in any one direction –“...none of us can know exactly what triggered the vicious attacks. None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped these shots from being fired or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man’s mind...” and then took the opportunity to plead for and encourage more civility in America’s national discourse – “ is not a simple lack of civility that caused this tragedy, but rather, only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that will make our children proud “ He added “what we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another...” In one speech, Obama had managed to diffuse all the tension surrounding the tragedy, while not neglecting the damage that could potentially be caused by extreme polarization of views in American society.
The fact of the matter is, that even America, the America of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, with hundreds of years of democratic experience to count on, is still struggling to control extreme polarization of views and lack of civility in national discourse. So while all-die-be-die was wrong and was roundly condemned by many of us, and rightly so, Ghana had expected a more measured response from our president, rather than further reinforcing the cycle of fear with threats of security red alerts!
Ghana is not doing that badly. And our democracy will grow. Our democracy will grow out of its youthful exuberance, and maturity will bring along the realization, that freedom of speech comes with responsibility, and humility and reconciliation is no sign of weakness.

But while our democracy toddles along, partially blinded by the sweet innocence of youth, we cannot afford not to learn from the history and experiences of others. For, as Steven Turner, the English biographer and poet once said – “history keeps repeating itself. It has to. For, at the end of the day, no-one really listens.”

Papa Appiah