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Opinions of Monday, 29 August 2016

Columnist: Asubonteng, Bernard

Buying votes to win elections in Africa; a sad reality.

By Bernard Asubonteng

Before we start talking about anything today let’s think about samples of the following quotes for a minute: “Look, you are peddling Third World politics here in America; These politicians ought to know that we’re not a Third World country; We’re not gonna let anyone turns our nation [U.S.] into a Third World country; I tell you what, this is Third World demagoguery but American people are smart enough to see the deceit behind it; It’s shameful that our water supply and railway systems look like a Third World country now and our policymakers appear clueless…”

The quotes above are snapshots of some of the campaign appeals or pronouncements frequently used by many frustrated politicians or individuals seeking various public offices across the United States. Apparently, these utterances associating perceived societal dysfunctions in a Western nation with “Third World” country implies several things.

The foremost among the implication is that the political, economic and other social structures in (say) the U.S. are too sophisticated to be allowed to descend into the level of mediocrity, inertia, and disorganization commonly displayed in less developed countries such as Ghana and other so called Sub-African nations.

As a person of Ghanaian and African descent living in the U.S., often shame and sadness overwhelm me upon hearing some derisive “Third World comments” about Africa. Many of us know that the history behind the concept of Third World isn’t pleasant one. It is why some of us find it tough to accept that derisive classification for the motherland.

But upon sober reflections, the sad reality sets in, paving the way for the recognition of the cold truth that Africa in general is, indeed, still recalcitrant problem-kid not whole-heartedly willing to wean itself from the yoke of small-mindedness and self-serving ways of running its share of this amazing universe.

At best, progress in Africa are still at the basic levels, although almost all its inhabitants have access to some advanced technologies like iPhones, social media, or the fact that its markets have availability of more Western goods, including cheaply mass-produced Chinese items.

One of the many disheartening realities is that African leaders or policymakers hide behind these mass-produced imported goods in their respective nations, as well as the constructions of some few second-class roads and other shoddy infrastructures here and there to hammer home to the people that everything is rosy. Ghana is a classic case here.

All the basic socioeconomic metrics indicate that Ghana is heading in the wrong direction under President John Mahama, yet the ruling NDC government is singing praises to the highest heavens insisting Ghanaians are far better off than ever before. Sadly, there are a lot of gullible Ghanaians who are falling for these “accountability tour” half-truths and politics of low expectations.

Like it or not, electioneering campaigns marinated with “presidential gifts” works well in Africa politics. In an environment where majority of the people live in rural areas with little or no formal education, when an incumbent president visits these areas promising the people the moon, it can be a thrilling once in a lifetime experience for many of these less savvy political folks.

That is probably what President John Mahama and his minions are doing now: Manipulating the power of incumbency under the guise of “Accountability Tour” while capitalizing on those unsuspecting Ghanaian electorates to have an undue advantage in the impending elections.

It is a typical textbook case of backward Third World politics many U.S. politicians make reference to in their speeches all the time that it is not part of their political culture. In Ghana or in African politics, every means justifies the end, regardless of its ethical connotations.

Recently, the anti-corruption organization Ghana Integrity Initiative (GII) has come out to say that President Mahama and his government is engaging in the massive vote buying effort in the Western Region, doling out outboard motors to the fishermen there (see:Myjoyonline.com, Wednesday, August 17, 2016).

As expected, the NDC government has come out strongly to deny the GII’s claim of vote buying, although the Mahama folks did not dispute that the government was freely handing out taxpayers’ funded fishing tools, cutlasses, food, and many other items during NDC’s election campaign events or durbars.

At any rate, the government’s lame excuse for becoming election-era “Santa Claus” handing out “goodies” at political rallies was to help make the recipients or the fishermen’s working life better.

Given that the sole purpose for the government’s handouts was to assist the fishermen, farmers, and others across the country improve their poor working conditions, why wait for too long around the election year to distribute this government-funded equipment to the people?

It was an interesting coincidence, though. But either way we spin or look at them, all “presidential gifts” are inherently bribes, period! We know President Mahama’s crowd will not admit this as bribes.

Just as the president was recently exposed by one of the finest Ghanaian journalists that the president accepted “presidential gifts” of Ford motor truck from a foreign government contractor, so also is the NDC government’s disbursement of farm tools, outboard motors to fishermen, presenting a Toyota truck to regent of the Abudu Royal Gate of Dagbon, the Bolin Lana Mahamadu Abdulai in the election period a form of bribery.

Critically looking, in all these scenarios above, there are vestiges of quid pro quo. Clearly, the election time NDC handouts, clothed as “government assistance” are designed solely to influence the outcome of the December general elections in favor of the incumbent party led by Mr. John Mahama.

Unfortunately, this is how in many ways African politics is conducted: Mismanage or run the country aground and during election time, employ all the tricks available, including handing out state-funded “gifts” to guarantee your way back to power or reelection. No wonder Africa is classified as Third World.

Writer's e-mail: b.asubonteng@gmail.com.