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Opinions of Friday, 23 September 2011

Columnist: Ata, Kofi

Is the National Democratic Congress Democratic?

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK

As always on my Saturday mornings, I listen to Joy FM’s Newsfile current affairs discussion programme and last Saturday was no different. The only difference was that the programme had to be interrupted for a short period to bring listeners breaking news from Cape Coast. What I heard and subsequent reports on Nana Konadu Agyemang Rawlings’ Thank You tour to Cape Coast have necessitated this short article. I was surprised but not shocked to hear that some macho men were preventing Mrs Rawlings from using the Town Hall to address her supporters. Not shocked because, prior to her trip someone who claimed to be a member of the Central Region 31st December Womens Movement was reported to have warned Mrs Rawlings that, she was not welcomed in the region. Again, not a single soul in Ghana including civil society organisations and democratic institutions in the country raised objection to this person who was flouting the laws of Ghana and breaching the civil and political rights of Mrs Rawlings.

I did criticise the Rawlingses for her decision to contest the NDC Presidential Primary and did so on principle but not on anti-Rawlingses feelings. That decision was wrong and misguided and I still stand by that view. However, for the National Democratic Congress to continue to see the Rawlingses as danger to the 2012 Presidential elections to the extent that they would want to prevent Mrs Rawlings from mounting a political platform is not only undemocratic but also equally misguided. Ghana’s constitution guarantees freedom of movement, of association and free speech. So why this individual issued what appeared to be a proclamation to Mrs Rawlings that she was not welcomed in Central Region? Why the macho men or whatever they call themselves prevented Mrs Rawlings from speaking to her supporters in the Town Hall is anyone’s guess. No one in Ghana has the right to bar another citizen from any part of the country without going through the due process. For example, if it was credible that Mrs Rawlings would use her speech to incite hatred against certain groups (be ethnic, religion, minority, etc) and potentially endanger national security, it would have been right and proper for the appropriate authorities to take the necessary action to ban her from making the speech. Again, if her presence in the region could have constituted a breach of peace or cause a security risk for herself and or the public, then she could have been prevented from visiting the region. Neither of the two scenarios were the case.

Indeed, the warning to Mrs Rawlings by this individual was illegal and a threat because it was an attempt to violate the constitutional rights of Mrs Rawlings. In my view, the police should have spoken to whoever issued out this warning and to caution her against such behaviour in the future. In fact, since part of the warning did actually manifest itself, that is, the prevention of Mrs Rawlings from speaking to her supporters at Cape Coast Town Hall, it became incumbent upon the police to have identified this individual and take the action above.

When did “macho men” become part of the political landscape of and democratic dispensation in Ghana? Where did the concept macho men emanate from? The political terrain in Ghana is still rough and even if it is smooth, some of the edges are not. The use of and reliance on macho men in politics are retrogressive and have nothing to do with democracy. Civilised societies do not use and rely on macho men to resolve their differences, instead, through dialogue. It appears Ghanaian politicians did not learn anything from Obama’s speech when he made his maiden visit to Ghana and addressed Ghana’s Parliament and said “Africa did not need strong men but strong institutions”. In fact, the response from the police to the so-called macho men’s illegal action was pathetic. It is exactly the opposite of what Obama told Africa, strong men and weak institutions. How on earth, did the police as an institution of the state negotiate with macho men who have broken the laws of the land? It appears to me that either Ghana police do not know the laws of the land or they do not understand their roles as a police force. The police officers should have explained the law to the (mad) macho men that they were breaking the law and advised them to stop their illegal obstruction. Failure by the macho men to act as advised by the police should have resulted in their arrest and a caution or prosecution for breach of peace. Sadly, there are only strong macho men in Ghana and not a strong police institution. Police officers from top to bottom are afraid of a fly tuned politician, especially those in government and scared to take action against them for fragrant abuses of power, position and breaking law and order.

The above made to ask myself whether the party that calls itself as “National Democratic Congress”, is really democratic. Do the actions of the party as a collective and its members as individuals reflect the principles of democracy? The NDC as a party may not like what Nana Konadu says about the party and the government but it is wrong to use undemocratic and illegal means to shut her up. A true Democratic party should allow differences of opinions within and without, including opposing views. However, if such opposing views are damaging to the party, there should be structures within the party to reign in such recalcitrant members or mavericks. The NDC is behaving as if the campaign for the Presidential Primary is ongoing. The contest is over and all should be brought under the umbrella for the common good in 2012, otherwise, the party will be heading back into opposition. Numbers would be critical element in the 2012 Presidential and Parliamentary elections and any action or omission that would divide the party is tantamount to preparing for life in wilderness.

The responses from the party leadership to this sad event are disturbing. First, the Central Regional Chairman is reported to have justified the illegal action of the macho men on flimsy excuses (that the event was not a party event but party colours were used to decorate the venue and the Regional Executives were not informed of the event). Did the 31st December Womens Movement campaigned for NDC in 2008 and if so, did they use NDC party colours? The event might have been organised under the name or auspices of FONKAR but as a democratic party, couldn’t the Regional Executive have used alternative and more democratic method of resolving that issue rather than prevent her from using the Town Hall? Then came the Regional Minister’s attempt to justify the unjustifiable and worst still the General Secretary poured petrol onto fire by claiming that, the macho men were disgruntled members of the 31st December Womens movement. In any case how many men are members of the Movement in the Central Region?

The NDC must acknowledge that the action of the party members in the Central Region was wrong, a mistake and an illegality that should not be defended and encouraged in a democratic society. Again, the party ought to realise that it must shed itself form the past, when Ghana was ruled by decrees, the barrel of the gun and by Peoples and Workers Defence Committees activism. The actions of the Foot Soldiers and macho men are reminiscent of that past and if the party wants to be accepted into the comity of democratic parties, it must build consensus, desist from unconstitutional and illegal actions and work within the rule of law. What is wrong is wrong and no amount of spin would change that. The responses are characteristics of the government’s poor communication style (like father, like son). The Regional Minister, Regional Chairman and the General Secretary all offered different excuses for the illegality. I hope the party’s plans to establish a party school becomes a reality and that democracy, good governance, rule of law and the constitution of Ghana would be part and parcel of the curriculum of the school when established. Party members lack knowledge and understanding of these important ingredients of democracy and unless that is addressed, the party would forever be tainted by its past and the future through the illegal and undemocratic actions of its members.

It is interesting to note that, Ex-President Kufuor invited his predecessor, Ex-President Rawlings to the inaugural address of his Foundation at Legon on Tuesady. The applause he received from the audience when his presence was acknowledged by Ex-President Kufuor should remind NDC that the Rawlingses are not a spent foce yet. I hope this is the beginning of the end of the animosity between the two ex-presidents and do also hope that NDC members were watching and listening. They would make s catastrophic error if they delude themselves that the Ex-President and his wife are political liabilities. Even Nana Konadu Agyemang Rawlings has her ardent supporters that NDC would need their votes in 2012. Rawlings is still popular among the Ghanaian population and NDC will be committing political suicide not to take advantage of the thousands if not hundreds of thousands of his fanatic followers.

The Rawlingses may have their weaknesses, but such weaknesses do not outweigh the political capital they bring to the table in an election where a few thousands of votes could make all the difference. The NDC must learn to manage and accommodate the Rawlingses within the umbrella family. After all, the beauty and strength of democracy is its diversity and propensity to stomach the good and the bad. The treatment meted out to Mrs Rawlings was appalling. In fact, I suspect that if the NPP returns to power they would treat the Rawlingses better than NDC, considering the applause Rawlings received at the Kufuor event on Tuesday.

Disunity and intolerance within ruling political parties are signs of a party not ready to continue in government. The electorate consider such parties as risks to repose their future and fate into their hands. Such intolerance and squabbles push voters into considering an alternative government in favour the organised opposition. The independent voter is also turned off by the bickering and infighting within the ruling party and is prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to the opposition and vote for change. NDC, time is not on your side, unite or be prepared to go into opposition in 2012. It’s as simple as that. Demonstrate your democratic credentials by your actions or you become demagogues. Your actions do not reflect the adjective “Democratic” in your name. Are you democratic or dictatorial?

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK