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Opinions of Friday, 23 March 2012

Columnist: Ata, Kofi

Has BBC’s Stephen Sackur Killed Akufo Addo’s “All Die be Die” Mantra?

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK

I listened to the audio recording of Mr Stephen Sackur’s interview with Nana Akufo Addo on the BBC HARDtalk programme first broadcast on 5 March 2012. I must admit that, I was impressed with Nana Akufo Addo’s command over the Queen’s language, English. It was a delight to listen to him, even if his responses were not convincing and persuasive. Unlike some African politicians, he sounded Presidential and very confident which made me proud of my Ghanaian origin. I know some people may disagree with me but I drew my conclusion from only listening to the interview so if those who watched the television interview and saw his demeanour have a contrary view, that is fine. Akufo Addo is not my preferred Presidential candidate but I am being honest by giving praise where praise is due. The fact that I would have preferred another candidate does not make him a foe. It is the impact of that interview on the “all die be die” mantra which is the subject of this article.

Since that unfortunate phrase was coined by Nana Addo, tens if not hundreds of different interpretations, justifications, defence and explanations have been offered by NPP, including leading figures, his campaign and communication teams. The HARDtalk interview was the first time I heard Nana Akufo Addo himself offer any explanation as to why he made that infamous statement. He tried but failed woefully to convince the interviewer that the lapses of the bye-elections conducted under the NDC government compelled or coerced him into making the statement. Akufo was pushed to the wall and he had no room to run to and no matter how hard he tried, Mr Sackur was not persuaded that a potential future President of Ghana, a nation of peaceful people and the pride of many should utter such war mongering words that could encourage violence.

It was very disappointing to hear those words from Nana Akufo Addo because he is an intelligent and a formidable politician. Despite the fact that he was born with a golden spoon in his mouth, he has worked tirelessly to accomplish many enviable successes in various fields of human endeavour. Those words were in bad taste, uncalled for and irresponsible of a national leader who is seeking the highest office of the land. In fact, Ex-President Kufuor was the only honest NPP guru to disassociate himself from the statement. When the media first asked him for his response to the statement, he told them to ask the one who made the statement. That was a clear indication that the statement was unsavoury and indeed, the Ex-President’s silence at the time was nothing but pure contempt for the irresponsible statement by the party’s Presidential candidate.

However, within hours of the statement being made public on air waves, television screens and the electronic media, the entire NPP machinery went into auto communication and propaganda overdrive to defend and justify the statement. T-shirts were printed overnight with the “all die be die” slogan or inscription on them and some leading members such as Ursula Owusu was reported to have gone into radio and television studios wearing the some of the T-shirts with the slogan. It was even claimed by NPP that “all die be die” would be a campaign slogan for 2012. I just could not fathom where these people were coming from and where they were going. They were defending the statement at all cost as if they were members of a religious cult who saw nothing wrong with what the leader said or did. They instantly metamorphosized into busy bee workers and soldiers determined to protect the queen from any attack and harm.

I was saddened with the other part of the statement and made me question if Nana Akufo Addo, an Akan Royal really understood the Akan people. If he equated Akan strength with violence, militancy and belligerence, then he lacks understanding of Akan history and culture. For his information, violence, militancy and belligerence are signs of weakness and that the Akan peoples’ strength and stability stem from peaceful coexistence with their neighbours and their ability to resolve differences with others through peaceful and amicable means without recourse to violence and arms. Violence, militancy, war, conflicts and belligerence are barbaric and have never been characteristics the Akan people and other ethnic groups in Ghana.

Interestingly or strangely, since the 5 March interview after Nana Akufo Addo struggled to defend the indefensible, NPP and its membership have gone quiet on the “all die be die” mantra. You do not hear them make reference to the infamous statement any more. The hitherto campaign slogan has suffered a sudden death syndrome. The question is, why? When Ghanaians told Nana Akufo Addo, his campaign team and the whole NPP that it was wrong, they behaved like ostriches and pretended, he was right. So why when a single BBC journalist challenged Akufo Addo that the statement he made was war mongering, calling for violence, the entire NPP machinery has ceased using or making reference to the phrase forthwith? Excuse my language, but was it because he is white or European? Is that not an indication of how Nana Akufo Addo and his NPP’s disrespect and have shown contempt for Ghanaians?

I do not blame Nana Akufo Addo and his NPP alone for this sorry state of affairs in Ghana but partly the Ghanaian media. Not a single journalist in Ghana seriously challenged him after he coined the phrase. It had to take a BBC journalist to grill him on the phrase for NPP to acknowledge that it was wrong. This week, I heard a radio journalist in an interview with Mr K B Asante, asking him if it was proper and right for the media to question Nana Addo about how he would finance his policy proposal for free high secondary school education in Ghana if he becomes President. I was flabbergasted when the journalist asked the question, as if he wanted confirmation from the elderly statesman and diplomat. It showed complete lack of confidence in a journalist. After all, is that not one of the roles of journalism and journalists (to ask the difficult questions and demand answers from our leaders and politicians). I am asking for Jeremy Paxman mode of interrogation (BBC Nwesnight programme regular host who once asked a Secretary of State for Home Office, the same question 22 times continuously in an interview), but we expect Ghanaian journalists to be forthright and hold politicians to account for their actions and omissions.

It is the weakness of the Ghanaian media that has led to the level of corruption in the country. The media is divided between NDC and NPP and playing games with Ghanaian. Media houses being aligned to a political party or ideology is not unusual, except that in Ghana that has become the survival mechanism for many if not all media groups and an integral part of the corruption by politicians and people in authority. How do Ghanaian journalists allow the Deputy Minister for Information and others to get away with murder by telling pure lies (the 1.5 million jobs created, why libation is not poured at state events, the recent achievements of the NDC government and many others). How could the media sit down quietly for the Director of Communications at the Presidency to refer to those who criticise the government as having rotten teeth, those who make unsubstantiated allegations against the government as bed wetting, etc?

I have got a message for Nana Akufo Addo, the Ablakwas and Ahidohos. Leadership comes with responsibility. It’s not every word/s (even if you believe in them) that should be said in public, especially when one is in leadership position. Loose talk is a sign of immaturity, someone not fit for office or risk averse. I hope Nana Addo has learnt his lesson from that unguarded statement and NPP will do away their inferiority complex, believe in and respect the views of Ghanaians, be bold to accept their mistakes and not wait for a BBC journalist, European and white before recognising that, “the all die be die” mantra was a call to violence and was totally unacceptable, should be condemned in no uncertain terms and wrong. What is wrong is wrong and no amount of spin and propaganda could change that. It should not have taken a BBC journalist before NPP accepted that the all die be dies statement was wrong. I also hope Ghanaian journalists would learn from the likes of Stephen Sackur and subject our politicians to proper interrogation and hold them accountable through rigorous interviews.

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK