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Opinions of Saturday, 19 January 2008

Columnist: Boafo, Eric

Atta Mills' Dishonesty: When Politics Eats Up Our Intellect

Listening to Professor John Evans Atta Mills on his press conference on the Kenyan electoral violence left me pondering over the extent politicians will go just to win power. As much as winning power is the goal of every politician, is it worth it when it comes at the cost of reducing everything you have so much worked hard for and believe in to nothing? It is not only sad for the learned professor to put away his intellectual gown and draw erroneous comparisons between Kenya and Ghana, but if there is any such thing as ethics in politics, then his attempt to score political points off the plight of the over 300 dead and the hundreds of thousands of displaced people would be considered unethical. But since it is said that politics is a dirty game, I can’t hold him up to inexistent political ethics, but can surely hold him up to his title as a professor, and a decorated one of course.

His analogy that Ghana could slip into the same pit as Kenya reinforces the stereotype the West holds of Africa: that Kenya’s elections could result in violence means Ghana will also slip into violence in 2008. They have portrayed Africa as a continent where violence and war is a matter of when and not if it happens. As much as Ghana has proven it has a solidified peaceful electoral process, Atta Mills by his argument tried to add Ghana to the cluster created by the West. They refuse to appreciate the heterogeneity of Africa and the fact that political and tribal dynamics vary from country to country. No one is arguing that violence can never result from elections in Ghana, but the point is, we have conducted four general elections plus uncountable bye-elections since 1992 and we haven’t experienced violence of Kenya’s proportions yet. So events like those in Kenya should serve as lessons to our politicians and not examples for them to follow.

Evidently, Atta Mills missed the lessons. A simplistic view that the 2007 elections in Kenya led to the violence begs the question which requires one to look at Kenya’s recent past in order to make a fair assessment of the situation. By doing so, we will be able to appreciate and guard what we have achieved as a country since 1992. Just as we did in 1992, Kenya introduced multi-party politics for the first time after years of single party rule. Unlike his compatriot Jerry John Rawlings, the then ruler of Kenya, Daniel Arap Moi ran and won elections on tribal lines. In order to hog power he instituted a flawed system that guaranteed him the presidency even though he never won fifty plus percent of the votes. In 1992 he won the elections with just about %37 of the votes. Any electoral system that declares a winner with less than %50 of the total votes is deeply flawed and is a recipe for disaster.

Atta Mills, by his flawed reasoning diminished the most worthy achievement of his ‘master’ J.J. Rawlings. Though some may not agree with me, Rawlings is the very good reason why Ghana hasn’t and won’t plunge into chaos like Kenya. Though he had every incentive to entrench himself in power, he chose the peaceful route which allowed us a nonviolent transition in 2000. Unlike Kenya, we didn’t initiate our multi-party politics on tribal lines. To the extent that no ethnic group forms more than %50 of our population, no party can ever win elections in Ghana on tribal lines. As much as NDC got close to %100 of Volta region votes, Rawlings couldn’t have won the 1992 and ’96 elections without votes from other parts of the country. In the same token, Kuffour couldn’t have won the 2000 and ’04 elections just on Ashanti votes.

To address the vote rigging issue, I can confidently say that since 1992 no single election has been rigged to the extent that it changed the results. Though I recognize that our elections haven’t been free of malpractices, we can assure ourselves that Ghana has never seen vote rigging of Kenya’s proportions before. I can confidently say that Rawlings beat Adu Boahen in 1992 and Kuffour in 1996. The only election that comes close to Kenya’s was that of 1992, which was understandable because it was our first time running elections in many years, and with that malpractices were expected. In 1992 the NDC machinery was at work. I remember it like it happened yesterday: in my area the NDC leader had the list of names they had registered at various polling stations and the young men of voting age were sent on multiple errands to vote with those names. This was possible because there was no photo identification by then and they had a concoction they used to wipe off the ‘indelible’ ink. If that did not trigger violence in 1992, then Atta Mills should know that Ghanaians are more civilized than he thought, and that it will take a far more massive injustice for them to heed his call.

I bowed my head and shed tears when Atta Mills implied that Ghana could have gone Kenya’s way just because Jake Obetsebi Lamptey called the 2004 election results at a press conference even before the EC declared the results. I shed tears because the learned Professor has lost it all; all that he studied and taught for all these years he lost it to politics. I have to disclose that I have no law degree. I only have 3 credit hours of business law plus the little law I studied in secondary school, but even with my deficiency in law I can single handedly beat the learned professor at this, and only this I must confess. He would have all the clout to draw the sword if the Chief Justice, on inauguration day had proclaimed herein that, “on the call of Jake Obetsebi Lamptey, a non-Electoral Commission entity, I swear in John Agekum Kuffour as President of Ghana. However, every well-meaning Ghanaian knows that wasn’t the case in 2004. Unless Atta Mills knows otherwise, there is no law that prohibits anybody from tallying election results and calling it whenever they want. Individuals tally results in their bedrooms; radio stations do it; and how much more political parties who have much more at stake. If Atta Mills is against people calling results, then what will he suggest is done about candidates who concede defeat based on tallies even before final results are declared by the EC? In Kenya people didn’t go on the streets just because a minister called the results, but they waited till the EC declared the results before they headed to the streets. So Prof, how does Kenya compare to Ghana in 2004?

Atta Mills has always been known as the ‘Asomdwie’ man, but his attempts to portray himself, as the tough speaking guy won’t help him win the 2008 elections. In recent times, there has been an increasing tone of militancy in the pronouncements of some NDC leaders. Just before the recent CJA protest in Accra, some people openly threatened to defend themselves with guns just to create the impression that their safety wasn’t guaranteed. After losing two elections, Atta Mills should know better: politics of fear does not win elections and more so, Elections in Ghana today can only be won on issues. At his press conference, Atta Mills seemed to have predicted his own demise by struggling to match the NDC to the Kenyan opposition. Instead of exposing what the NPP has done and is still doing, he is rather crying over milk that is not spilt yet. What is evident to Ghanaians today is corruption, high cost of utilities, high school fees, low wages, etc. He could draw more votes by reminding Ghanaians of their hardships under the NPP government rather than instigating fear into them.

It is the duty of Atta Mills and all political leaders to remind Ghanaians of the threats that jeopardize our peace. However, it is important that we identify the exigent threats that could more easily lead us that path of Kenya, rather than waste precious time on fictional threats. Chieftaincy disputes and ethnic rifts posse more threats to our peace more than anything else. If recent conflicts in Bawku, Anglo, and Dagbon are anything to go by, then it is fair to conclude that more lives and properties are lost to chieftaincy and ethnic disputes than are lost to party politics in Ghana? So Atta Mills will be better off telling Ghanaians how he will resolve chieftaincy and ethnic conflicts rather than making noise about issues far remote from us. Professor Mills’ inability to appreciate how Ghana has managed to remain peaceful after four elections is rather more dangerous than what could potentially happen in the 2008 elections. How can he preserve our peace if he doesn’t know and appreciate how we have remained peaceful in the first place?

As much as Atta Mills tried, there is little semblance between Kenya and Ghana. The two countries began the same journey in 1992, but they each took different routes. We shouldn’t take for granted how far Ghana has come since 1992. Comparing Ghana to Kenya diminishes our hard won success at running elections. All over the world elections are never conducted without contentions, so being able to conduct four peaceful elections, as a developing country in Africa is no mean achievement. In 2001 while Ghana was peacefully transitioning power to an opposition party, in the US, election results were being contested at the courts. Ghanaians have matured politically and Professor Mills and the NDC have to come along. The 2008 elections presents us with the opportunity to further cement our foothold on democracy and no amount of fear will distract all well meaning Ghanaians from playing their peaceful role.



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