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Opinions of Friday, 12 December 2008

Columnist: Nelson, Ekow

Electing Professor Evans Atta-Mills in the run-off

....is a necessary corrective to the hubris and vandalism of the NPP

Ekow Nelson

At the end of another two-term presidency dominated by one party, the people of Ghana are back where they found themselves in 2000: presented once again with a run-off between two leading new challengers for the office of President. Assuming those who voted for the NDC and NPP candidates do not change their minds, the decision as to who becomes Ghana’s next President will fall on the three percent of the electorate that voted for leaders of minority parties - including the Convention People’s Party (CPP) and the People’s National Convention (PNC) - in the first round. This is a serious responsibility for a minority of the population and should be exercised with great care and judgement.

However, given what has transpired over the course of these elections and the NPP’s own less than stellar record in office, I would urge members of my beloved Nkrumaist parties to vote massively for Professor Evans Atta-Mills in the run-off. If after eight years in office the NPP has been unable to persuade majority of the electorate to vote for its candidate and has lost its overall majority in parliament, it has in my view failed to make a case for a fresh mandate and the other candidate must be given a chance.

Before I proceed to expand on why I believe the country should elect Professor Evans Atta-Mills in the run-off, let me make a few points about the performance of my beloved CPP whose showing at the 2008 elections was once again abysmal –we failed to rise above the 1.x percent threshold. Although some have expressed surprise at the at the CPP’s dismal performance given the media publicity and the general acknowledgment that it appeared better organised than it has ever been, on reflection, the results should not have come as a surprise to anyone who was listening to what voters were saying. In my conversations with ordinary people in Ghana in the weeks leading up to the elections, the sentiment I heard expressed over and over again by taxi drivers, market women, students, family members and ordinary folk was “this time the CPP is doing well but it is not ready for primetime (to use an Americanism)”; “a vote for the CPP is a gamble that is unlikely to payoff”; “it is a wasted vote”. It was clear to me therefore that admiration for the CPP’s campaigning efforts were unlikely to translate into votes, especially among those who were determined to use their vote either to return the ruling party or bring about change. If you were of this disposition then voting for the CPP was gamble too far.

Having said that, the public squabbling among leading members of the CPP, culminating in the deplorable behaviour of the National Youth Organiser whose credibility was shot to pieces by the party’s campaign chairman, Mr. Kwamina Benyarko, weeks before the election was also damaging. Neither, of course, did the antics of Bright Akwetey, Professor Agyeman-Badu Akosa or indeed superannuated party elders like F.A. Jantuah and Lucy Ennin help.

If Professor Agyeman-Badu Akosa has any ambitions to lead the CPP then the political naiveté he demonstrated by not throwing his full weight behind the elected leadership of the CPP may have ruled him out. He could easily have taken a page out of Hillary Clinton’s book: while she may not even have voted for Barack Obama in the privacy of the polling booth or may have done so reluctantly, she was savvy enough to know that her future political career rested on how loyal she was perceived by the Democratic Party. It appears, however, that unlike Clinton or even Nana Akuffo-Addo who lost the NPP’s flagbearership to J.A. Kufuor in 2000, the Professor does even want to appear to ‘do loyalty'. The excuse that Dr. Paa Kwesi Nduom was himself disloyal to the previous flag bearer, Mr. George Aggudey, is just not tenable. When did someone else’s bad behaviour become a standard worthy of emulation? May be Dr. Paa Kwesi Nduom should have apologised but that would have been viewed as opportunistic and self-serving. However, I would like to think he now concedes that that was not his finest hour and the CPP can draw a line and move on.

Still, there is was one bright spot in the CPP’s hour of darkness in far away Jomoro, where Samia Yaaba Nkrumah quietly trounced the incumbent MP as I predicted she would (in 2004 Lee Ocran only obtained 40 percent of the vote and won the seat by a margin of four percent) to become the only CPP MP in the next parliament. More significantly, she broke a CPP jinx in the fourth republic by becoming the first and only CPP Member of Parliament to be elected without the help of either of the two major parties. Unlike Kojo Armah, Freddie Blay and even Dr. Paa Kwesi Nduom in 2004, she was not given a free pass by the NPP and she won beautifully. That, in my view, is cause for celebration and a worthwhile positive to takeaway from the 2008 elections. Samia has shown that “yes we the CPP can” without hanging onto the coattails of the NDC or NPP. Good for her!

Alongside such obvious joyous news, however, we also witnessed disturbing shenanigans and possible attempts at gerrymandering in the conduct of the recent elections which raises many questions such as:

Why, if the US and the UK with significantly larger populations can complete counting their votes within 24 hours, do we need to wait for three days to count our votes?

Why did we need to five or more recounts to declare Sheik IC Quaye winner in his constituency?

Why were ballot boxes transported under police/military escort from Weija to Amasaman - another constituency?

Why do we think that if we co-opt the police/military for our self-serving political purposes they will not intervene in politics when it suits them?

Why was Radio Gold taken off-air? Is it because it provided running commentary when the ballot boxes were being transported and raised questions about the transparency and fairness of these elections?

We also learn that the former NPP general-secretary and member of the ruling party’s presidential campaign team was found in the data room of the Electoral Commission during the counting and collation of votes. If true, what was Dan Botwe doing there during this sensitive period?

The NPP would quite rightly be crying foul if these had occurred under any other government and I find it rather amazing that they can support, let alone justify these actions. To his credit, even the ultra- partisan Professor Stephen Kwaku Asare conceded there was something not quite right, when he wrote on Ghanaweb’s “Say It Loud” that the NPP has work to do to repair its damaged brand.

I personally do not believe what happened was an accident. It is what all incumbent governments do - gerrymander - and NPP has proved to be no different than any of its predecessor governments.

Beyond the apparent attempts at gerrymandering the elections, however, there are other reasons why they don’t deserve another term, namely: corruption, hubris and wanton vandalism. In 2000, the NPP promised zero-tolerance on corruption but instead of upholding their commitment they turned a blind eye to many instances of malfeasance at best and at worst, encouraged and nurtured them. One only needs to look at the way the nation’s resources were flagrantly plundered arrogantly and flamboyantly by Ghana@50.

In 2001, when the NPP took office, Ghana was ranked 59th in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. A year later Ghana improved its ranking, coming 50th in the index. Since then, however, it has hovered around mid-60th to 70th place. According to the latest index, Ghana is perceived to be more corrupt in 2008 (ranked 67th) than it was when the NPP took office in 2001. There are countless incidents to support this perception - from the unilateral abrogation of the open tender to build stadiums of the Cup of Nations football tournament; the bankrupting of Ghana Airways and the lies told about the obligations of the would-be buyers who were bottom of the list of independent consultants; to the recent contract awarded to Dr. Kobina Arthur Kennedy who also doubles as spokesperson for the NPP presidential candidate on a non-compete basis. The conflict of interests is so glaring it beggars belief that this so-called party of ‘good governance’ can even defend it.

After all their posturing and pretence, the NPP has turned out to be like any ordinary government – corrupt and more interested in securing power than in preserving democracy. I am not suggesting the NPP is worse than any other government; my argument is that despite previous pretences they too have secured their place in the ‘Hall of Shame for Kleptocrats” as many governments in Ghana and they should enjoy no advantage over any other party just because of their rhetoric. The more serious charge, however, is that they have misled and betrayed the trust and goodwill of the people of Ghana and for that and that reason alone they do not deserve be given another chance.

The folks who told the world that Nkrumah was spending Ghana’s meagre resources in ‘luxuries’ like harbours, roads, Accra airport and Akosombo Dam among others, have borrowed (sic) US$50m to build a presidential palace in a country that neither needs or can afford a modern-day African Taj Mahal. The hypocrisy is so breathtaking it sounds like a fairy tale. Who will ever take the UP/NPP seriously in the future when it has shown that its criticism of past governments have not been driven by principled beliefs but by the self-serving affliction of ‘oppositionitis’?

Left to me the next President will not move into this vulgar monument to hubris, but turn it into a public building with access for all- a museum, lecture hall, libraries or even classrooms for the University of Ghana whose facilities are so stretched its students attend lectures standing outside overfilled classrooms.

But the vulgarity did not end there: in came Bokassa-style self-congratulation with expensive ‘blings’ for an inconsequential and weak Presidency and less than distinguished political staff and party apparatchiks.

I never imagined the NPP would translate their mantra of property-owning democracy quite as literally as they have; with the rumoured sale of government owned and Armed Forces lands to private individuals, the sale of public bungalows to ex-Ministers, it is clear that the vision of these folk is of a Ghanaian landscape strewn with private homes even if there are no connecting roads, local police stations schools etc. No place for public parks, spaces, squares, buildings, museums, theatres and those things that elevate the human spirit. For these people, the only vision is to own not just a home but multiple homes.

Like their predecessors they send their kids to be educated abroad, are proud to travel to South Africa, Europe and US for medical treatment while they spend money building ridiculously expensive mansions in Ghana. Why will they have any incentive to rebuild and upgrade the infrastructure of our hospitals and schools? They celebrate the over-rated Accra Shopping Mall which most people cannot afford as progress, forgetting that in Kotokuraba, Makola and Kejetia markets we have always had own shopping malls and in that regard it does not actually represent any advance. Call me elitist if you wish but is this what our civilization has come to?

I am told by some who know him that the NPP presidential candidate Nana Akuffo-Addo who comes from the old Ghanaian aristocracy is a little more sophisticated and that unlike the simple-minded nouveau riche who, to coin a phrase (borrowed from late British politician Alan Clark of Britain), have to “buy their own furniture”, he is not interested in enriching himself but I have heard nothing Nana Akuffo-Addo has said about the current lot to convince me of his disapproval of the ugly spectacle of avarice and vandalism we have witnessed under the current lot.

I have myself been constantly critical of the NDC and will never forgive them for the brutality and violence its founder unleashed on the people Ghana. I wish we had an alternative to both parties but alas Ghanaians have to choose between two very unsavoury options. Given that the NPP has had an eight-year run and failed to distinguish itself, I believe as I did in 2000, that the other guy must be given a chance. A brief spell in opposition will do the NPP a large dose of good and remind them that the overwhelming goodwill shown by the people in 2000 should not have been taken for granted.

The conventional wisdom among some CPP supporters and observers is that an NDC government will spell the death of our party. Well, we have had, and for the most part, been in collusion with the NPP over the past 8-12 years and look where that got us. We continue to languish around the one percent mark while the NDC enjoys over 40 percent solid support. It is naive and simplistic to wish the NDC away. It is even supremely so, when you talk yourself into believing you can be thrown a lifeline by an old political foe to enable you rebuild your party and challenge them again. In fact it is not only naïve it borders on stupidity, and may just be that.

To those who think there are no differences between us and the NDC on core values and policies let me just say that the NDC is a mirror image of the NPP – they are both parties of professionals and intellectuals: one claims to be on the Left and the other on the Right. But in essence, they both come at politics believing that they have a right to govern because they are smart.

I am also told that the NDC’s founder idolizes the late Lt. Gen Emmanuel Kwasi Kotoka as the NPP leadership does. Indeed the current president served as a minister in the violent PNDC regime. With a common hero, a love of coup-plotters and a shared vision of letting outsiders whose financial institutions have collapsed spectacularly dictate our futures, who says there are no differences between us and the NDC? Of course there are. When the CPP can successfully and independently differentiate itself from the NDC, it will be back in the business serious politics; until then it will wallow in the doldrums of Ghanaian politics. Hanging onto the coattails of the NPP will not help - it is just cowardice.

I continue to be nervous about the influence and role of former President JJ Rawlings but on balance, and for the good of my country and the future of my beloved CPP, I urge all those who have a vote to return Professor Evans Atta-Mills as Ghana’s next President. Time for a change! even if I say so with a very heavy heart

Ekow Nelson, London

December 2008