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Opinions of Friday, 30 November 2018

Columnist: Cadman Atta Mills

Cadman Mills on politics and the 'leap year Ghanaian cocoa season'

Dr. Cadman Atta Mills, brother of Ghana's late president, John Evans Atta Mills Dr. Cadman Atta Mills, brother of Ghana's late president, John Evans Atta Mills

The 2020 election and its accompanying “cocoa season” for political operatives are already upon us. The main opposition party (the National Democratic Congress -NDC) is in full campaign mode. National executives have been elected. Within days one of the eleven aspirants will be selected as flagbearer in the 2020 presidential election.

There are no mysteries in Ghanaian politics. The candidate with the highest profile and name recognition, most resources and/or deemed “viable” by party financiers will get the nod. The morning after signals the starting bell for political operatives to solicit funds purported to be destined to the party nominee’s campaign. In political circles, it is referred to as the “cocoa season” for political operatives.

The significance of the Leap-Year cocoa season

The importance of the cocoa season is not lost on the party financiers. It is the period during which party financiers establish their claim to the spoils of victory. Ghanaian politics is characterised by extreme partisanship and election outcomes mean that “winner takes all”. And the winners (of contracts, government appointments, board membership, etc.) are the political party executives, party apparatchiks, family members and party financiers.

Organised labour, farmers’ and other professional associations, the youth and other socio-economic groups are mere observers in the political process. Given the high stakes, this passivity or the non-involvement of organised socio-economic groups would be remarkable, if not regrettable. There are no voices decrying the extreme partisanship and the influence of money in Ghanaian politics. Equally notable, there are no groups (other than the political parties) that recruit, endorse, and/or mobilize support for candidates to champion policies that advance their economic interests as groups.

The focus of Ghanaian elections

The focus of Ghanaians elections is always on the candidates. The candidates distinguish themselves from the others by stressing their background, qualifications, experience, and electability. As a result, Ghanaians are barraged with (in addition to catchy campaign jingles and slogans):

The Politics of Promises where candidates imply that they alone are in a position to best make decisions on how to allocate and efficiently manage the national budget to meet “the needs” of the population. These promises, often fanciful to the extreme, are made with scant prior analysis on technical and economic feasibility. They become yokes around the necks of the eventual successful candidates. And the costs of realising the promises can, sometimes, be unacceptably high;

The Politics of Personalities whereby candidates and their surrogates tout their own competence, honesty, corruptibility and piety, often by contrasting themselves to their opponents; and
The Politics of brilliant ideas/solutions for perceived or real problems and visions of a more dynamic glorious future for Ghana. Ghanaian politicians increasingly feel the need to present a vision of the Ghana they will like to build and is very much akin to the politics of promises.

The disconnect between politics and voters’ concerns

The disconnect between what Ghanaians are passionate about and the nature of the political campaigns could not be more glaring:

1. Many Ghanaians feel betrayed by politics. There is a perception that a handful of people (politicians, their families and cronies) are getting very rich while the bulk of the population faces crushing poverty and unemployment.

The statistics show this. Social tensions are very high and the rivalry between NPP and NDC supporters is intense. There is a distaste for politicians. The verdict is that politicians do not represent the interest of the “ordinary Ghanaian”;

2. People feel totally disempowered and disenfranchised. The sentiment that nothing that they do will improve their situation in life is pervasive. In their daily lives, and even for such mundane tasks as obtaining a pre-paid electricity meter, the intervention of more “powerful people” may be necessary. Poor Ghanaians indifferently self-identify as NPP or NDC depending on their interlocutors and according to whether they anticipate that they will receive assistance if they choose the “right” party;

3. Parents spend fortunes to educate their children only to find them face unemployment for as long as 10 years even for university students. Moreover, having the “right” party affiliation is often a necessary condition for obtaining the few positions that are available. For these reasons, they perceive that Ghana is ruled by the “who you know” syndrome, and by pastors who promise a short-cut to divine intervention;

4. Most Ghanaians are barely surviving. Many are resorting to survivalist strategies, most of which are degrading, dehumanising, and probably illegal. It is particularly heartbreaking to see pre-teens engage in child prostitution with the connivance of some parents because of the need to survive.

The Vicious Cycle

Increasingly Ghanaians are becoming sceptical of promises made by politicians. Voters are even demanding that promises be kept before voting! Thus, slogans such as “no water no vote”; “no power no vote”; “no ‘settle’ no vote” and various other demands. Many candidates, as a result, choose to demonstrate their commitment to the voters by financing the building of boreholes, school buildings, public latrines, etc. ahead of elections.

It is a vicious cycle. Voters demand that candidates “pre-finance” their promises because they are sceptical that, once elected, candidates will honour their promises. And candidates are obliged to fall back on party financiers thus leading to debts that have to be repaid with contracts and appointments.

Democracy as representative governance

Given voters’ disenchantment with the current political dispensation, it will be untenable for the two dominant political parties to remain as complacent as they currently appear to be. In the not-too-distant future, political parties will emerge (or the current dominant parties will have to transform themselves) to truly represent the interests of the majority of voters (farmers, teachers, labourers, petty traders, students, youth, unemployed, etc.).

In the short run, we anticipate a grassroots movement by voters to demand political reforms to neutralise the influence of money in Ghanaian politics.

Critical among these reforms are campaign financing, emoluments and procurement reform to reduce, if not totally eliminate, cronyism, bribery and corruption, contract price inflation and inefficiencies in the allocation of resources and the execution of projects.

Dr. Cadman Atta Mills is the brother of Ghana's late president, John Evans Atta Mills. His articles are published at: