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Opinions of Friday, 15 February 2008

Columnist: Qanawu Gabby

Getting high on lies and insults

It has gotten to the point that NDC presidential candidate, John Evans Atta Mills has to come on radio, from his temporary base in South Africa, to say "I'm not speaking from a cemetery. I'm talking to you from my hotel room. I’m well and fit. Atta Mills is not dead!" From discussions at bars afterwards, not even his own voice could kill the suspicion created by the minacious mind which pulled that practical joke on the NDC.

That is how ridiculously scurrilous this year’s political campaign has gotten. A baseless, mean, reckless but probably orchestrated story is posted on the web (ghanaweb) that the NDC flagbearer is dead. A couple of radio stations pick it up and put it out there without cross-checking it. They attribute it to the website and believe, as usual, that alone exonerates them from claim or blame!

This has been the metastasis route in Ghana which guarantees that every lie designed to butcher the character of a publid figure spreads and spreads like a cancer with the hope that it malignantly destroys the entire career of those who have chosen to pursue national service at the very top.

This bizarre Mills is Dead story ended one week of speculative noises about the health of Prof Mills. The NDC’s way of dealing with wild speculations about their leader was to apply what they saw to be tit-for-tat. They upped their jejune, libelous attacks on the NPP presidential candidate Akufo-Addo.

Since his nomination as his party’s presidential candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo’s popularity has soared; he appears to be clearly running away with the polls from the other presidential candidates. The NDC can’t find an antidote to this so they have attributed Akufo-Addo’s ratings to performance-enhancing drugs! They are even calling for a drug test! As if this year’s presidential election is one of the disciplines at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

What the NDC, hopefully, should learn from the Mills is Dead fabrication is that the cheapest commodity in political PR is lies. It requires no research. Just make it sensational. Everybody can do it, so don’t ever fool yourself that you hold a monopoly on it.

Indeed, if The Statesman had not apologised, retracted and continued with their 2006 story that Prof Mills was afflicted by a throat cancer, an extension of that would have been that cancer of the larynx is often caused by excessive alcohol or smoking. Naso laryngeal cancer also affects the nose like sinus. Work that out for yourself.

Telling lies is cheap and can be as effective as you have friends in the media. The NPP has plenty. So let not the NDC kid themselves. Fortunately for them, the NPP candidate wants a campaign based on issues. And so it shall be but let no one mistake responsibility for meekness.

Their hackneyed, over-used, over-aged, sustained accusation that Akufo-Addo enjoyed a joint or two was clearly not working. The only thing that continued to be high was the NPP man’s ratings. They’d expected Akufo-Addo or his team to respond but none was coming. This frustrated the NDC but they kept lighting the joint issue holding it till it burnt their own fingers. If 'wee' was not smokey enough for the electorate, what about 'coke'? Surely, that would work!

Events elsewhere might have finally convinced them all that ganja propaganda goes up in smoke as far as voters are concerned. About half of the Tory (Conservative Party) leadership, including leader David Cameron had either admitted inhaling ganja or been exposed to have done so. This did not affect their poll ratings negatively.

Are the Brits that morally different from us? Do British voters no longer take cannabis smoking as a recreational drug seriously? Or do they simply balance what they know about a politician to what the papers say that the politician might have done in his youthful past or at his pastime? So the NDC papers, determined to win this election by burying the NPP under mud, moved from soft drugs to hard drugs.

Notwithstanding, attempts to link Akufo-Addo three years ago to Eric Amoateng’s heroine predicament had completely backfired, with the whole scandal being exposed as an orchestrated conspiracy of convenience made possible by the internet between NDC newspapers and a Don Quixote web-surfing character in the UK, who saw himself as the arrested MP’s lawyer and for a while made Ghanaians believe that he was both a lawyer and medical doctor.

It is recalled that media reports were that Amoateng had started singing and the names of tp politicians, including a cabinet minister was among his accomplices. NDC papers and a radio programme host said that minister was an MP, a royal, a lawyer, who was short. The name Akufo-Addo started to make the rounds. This Busia character was also being interviewed on air 'confirming' the details.

Of course, we didn't bother checking why a defence lawyer was ever so willing to come on air giving 'details' that are potentially damaging to his 'client's' case. It was sensational! We loved it! It turned out that the man was just a character who believed he was so many characters and was 'clever' enough to get others to believe him.

Around the same time, on February 8, 2005, in Baltimore, Maryland, rumours about Mayor Martin O’Malley came to a head. A report in the Washington Post revealed that allegations of the Democratic mayor cheating on his wife and fathering a lovechild were false. Worse still, it came to light that a senior aide to Republican governor Robert L Ehrlich Jr planted the stories on a conservative website. O’Malley had at the time mounted a serious challenge against Ehrlich for the 2006 gubernatorial. He won enough sympathy to upset Ehrlich’s incumbency.

Research upon research has shown that unlike many campaign related activities, scandals sometimes have the potential to bring about the defeat of entrenched incumbents. But, it would be dubious for the NDC to think that inventing scandals about Nana Akufo-Addo would help their candidate - the entrenched three-term flagbearing incumbent Mills.

The Palaver put out a story last week that as Foreign Minister Nana Akufo-Addo was arrested at a New York Airport carrying cocaine but was only spared because America, where users are jailed for carrying a gramme, showed leniency when the smuggler, carrying a diplomatic passport convinced them that the stash was for personal use!

Yes! America arrested an African politician carrying hard drugs into the country and allowed him to go! No date of the incident was given. The amount found was also not given. The paper’s Features Editor, who also happens to be the Deputy Spokesman to Prof Mills, zealously and confidently told radio listeners that the arrest took place somewhere in 2004 when Nana was attending a UN general assembly meeting. He said his paper has 'more evidence.’

It was a brave lie by any standard. But then again this is a country where a journalist can say he’d interviewed an imaginary mother of an imaginary teenager who had died after an attempt to illegally abort Akufo-Addo’s baby. And, yes, that ‘journalist’ is still allowed ‘oxygen’ to broadcast.

There is something extremely irresponsible about what the NDC is doing. To falsely accuse Akufo-Addo of being a drug addict – a wee smoker, cocaine addict – is to send a very dangerous message to this country’s youth who see him as an excellent role model. The message from the NDC to the youth is that ‘if you want to rise to the top take cocaine like Akufo-Addo.’

Akufo-Addo is a man who has excelled in every field of endeavour. His children will tell you, ‘he’s the best dad!’ In law, he reached the pinnacle of his profession, being counted as among the best of the elite profession. In politics, he has worked hard over the last 30 years and gotten to the top on merit. In business he has excelled. He has earned a remarkable international reputation as diplomat par excellence. He’s a great sport. He’s loved by all. To say this man is on drugs is to campaign for drugs.

The majority of Ghanaians below the age of fifty have been exposed to wee use, one way or the other. Even if Nana Akufo-Addo, who grew up in the flower, liberal age of the funky sixties in both England and Ghana, had experimented with grass, like many students do, what in modern PR tactics informed the NDC that they could win by tagging the man, who carries the tag ‘yenim wo firi titi’, as a dangerous, hopeless, reckless drug abuser?

Finally they got a response, with Akufo-Addo’s lawyers denying he uses any illicit drug. Is it not interesting that the source of this information is Kofi Wayo?

Last year, reports of British home secretary (interior minister), Jacqui Smith admitting using soft drugs (cannabis) as a student was as newsworthy as a dog biting a man, or a Ghanaian husband being unfaithful. She knew she was on safe grounds. Her predecessor, Charles Clarke’s admission in 1997, the year he became an MP, that he had taken drugs "a couple of times in my late teens" did not stop Tony Blair from appointing him home secretary.

Smith’s followed a series of revelations and admissions on the youthful highness of British politicians. Not odd for any Ghanaian who’d been a student in the West and the controlled recreational ‘usefulness’ of marijuana to many of those who later on turn out to be respectable leaders.

Even two Labour ministers responsible for the UK’s drug policy have admitted to taking drugs in the past. In 2003 Caroline Flint admitted she took cannabis as a student but did not like it. Her successor was more interested in it.

On becoming the minister for drugs policy, Vernon Coaker admitted having "one or two puffs of marijuana" while a student. Over 30 UK MPs have come clean. Qanawu was in the UK when in 2000, then shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe came up with what that shapeless fat bag thought was a fantastic idea of £100 fines for people caught with even the smallest amount of cannabis.

This got her own frontbenchers so unhappy that eight of them, including Conservatives chairman Francis Maude, shadow industry secretary David Willets and shadow environment secretary Oliver Letwin to all own up to a drug history. Tim Yeo, then agriculture spokesman but now a backbencher, told the Times: "I was offered it on occasion and enjoyed it. I think it can have a much pleasanter experience than having too much to drink."

On the other hand, Tory leader David Cameron and former Prime Minister Tony Blair have never admitted previous drug use, in spite of countless ‘revelations.’ When questioned by Observer journalist Andrew Rawnsley at a party conference fringe meeting, Mr Cameron said: "I had a normal university experience, if I can put it like that."

In a later television interview, he said: "I did lots of things before I came into politics which I shouldn’t have done. We all did."

He also told BBC One’s current affairs programme Question Time: "I’m allowed to have had a private life before politics in which we make mistakes and we do things that we should not and we are all human and we err and stray".

An analysis in the Guardian last year pointed out that highest-profile politicians - the leaders or would-be leaders - still tend to remain coy, or adamant in denial. Mr Cameron, who wants to defeat Gordon Brown is clearly determined to remain tight-lipped on the subject of his inhaling past. His officials are sticking to an unwavering, unequivocal ‘no comment’.

‘David felt, and feels, politicians are entitled to a past before they came into politics. He had a past, and he’s not going to be talking about it,’ a spokesman said. In Britain, gone are the days when a politician’s brush with any kind of drug necessarily risked serious, even fatal, career damage. It may not be the same here in Ghana. Yet, Ghanaians are not foolish to allow baseless allegations deny them of a leadership of hope.

Former US President Bill Clinton famously admitted using cannabis, but not inhaling. But on the subject of whether he has ever taken illegal drugs himself, Mr Blair remained silent.

But, Obama has been bold by admitting he used to puff. Some have even accused him of using cocaine in the past. But, the American voters believe they know him and they accept that their leaders are also entitled to a past.

Thus, to belive you can bring a good man down by fabricating a past or even a current addiction for a politician who neither smokes nor drinks alcohol, a politician who is envied, respected and admired by the majority of Ghanaians as the total leader is absolutely unwise. It only exposes those behind it as lacking in focus and programme.

In the US, Senator Barack Obama in his 1995 memoir, Dreams From my Father, detailed his drug and alcohol use in his high school and college years. He admitted using ‘pot...and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it.’ Recently a spokesman for Illinois defended

Obama’s admission that he had taken cocaine years before. ‘I believe what this country is looking for is someone who is open, honest and candid’ about such issues, the spokesman said.

Senior Cameron policy adviser Oliver Letwin, who memorably declared he had smoked pot by accident. ‘At Cambridge, I was a very pretentious student,’ he said. ‘I grew a beard and took up a pipe. On one occasion some friends put some dope in a pipe I was smoking. It had absolutely no effect on me at all. I don’t inhale pipes.’ Phew!

Tory education spokesman, David Willetts, was quoted as saying: ‘I had two puffs. I didn’t like it and I have never had any experience of drugs since then.’

From 1940 Winston Churchill used the barbiturate, quinalbarbitone. After his stroke in 1953 he was given amphetamine. Private papers disclosed that at the height of the Suez crisis in 1956, Anthony Eden, UK premier, was on drinamyl, better known as ‘purple hearts.’

Mo Mowlam, former Northern Ireland Minister, in 2000 admitted she smoked cannabis as a student at Durham. She said ‘Unlike President Clinton I did inhale.’

But, the ganja classico must go to Boris Johnson, Tory MP. Responding to an Oxford contemporary who said Johnson had never taken drugs, the Tory MP for Henley said: ‘This is an outrageous slur...of course I’ve taken drugs.’

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.