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Opinions of Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Columnist: Otchere-Darko, Gabby Asare

Leave Kufuor And Blame Game Out, NPP

Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko

'Just take a deep breath and exhale slowly,' said a veteran politician in the wake of a presidential defeat. 'Forget about the finger-pointing, and start figuring out the way to a future that makes us relevant not just to our traditional constituency but to independents and independent-thinking NPP and NDC sympathisers.'

This was the opening remarks of an article I wrote on January 10, 2009 with the title ‘NPP MUST DEFEAT THE BLAME GAME’.

But, in the last week alone, there are reports of a New Patriotic Party constituency chairman blaming former President Kufuor for the 2008 electoral defeat and a Regional Organiser redirecting blame towards the 2008 flagbearer. The regional officer effectively blamed Nana Akufo-Addo for ‘engineering’ the prosecution of Kwadwo Mpiani and co over GIA! This is not healthy for Ghana’s democracy and certainly not for the opposition party. Ghanaians are eager to see the NPP directing its attention on the ruling party and offering alternatives to what the government has to offer.

I have a personal experience on how damaging the blame game can be to a family. Four years ago today, April 6, my cousin and best friend, Ferdinand Ayim died in a road accident. It was a most painful loss! The family was almost torn apart as the blame game started. Witches were blamed; family members were blamed; politicians were blamed; some of us were blamed for discouraging him, through a political calculation, from running for the NPP General Secretary position in 2005. Being the General Secretary, it was simplistically argued, would not have occasioned him travelling on an official government duty about paragliding!

Instructively, the blame game was by and large fed by people who were not members of our family, including pastors and jujumen. They succeeded in knocking our heads together. This blame game almost marred the funeral of a commonly loved one.

But, blamers and accusers alike could understand the pain that was driving the blame game. We were all pained and looking for an escape. However, we chose to manufacture answers in the blame game and risked tearing the family apart. The family of course recovered, but it cost us dearly. Rest in peace my brother!

For the next three months the NPP risks being consumed by the blame game and in a manner that could eat away the unifying anatomy of the Elephant Family. But, there are a lot of positive things happening in the party. There is a revived commitment to work harder and better at the grassroots level. The party’s challenge now is how to get through the next 3 months unscathed.

On Sunday, I witnessed an NPP constituency chairman addressing some party supporters, specifically, in Jerusalem, Kpong Kantamanso. He said, as Vice Chairman in 2008, not once did he come to that area to campaign and that this was not an isolated incident. But, that they are determined to correct the shortcomings of the past and work harder for 2012. The polling station chairman of the area also spelt out plans to create a welfare system and build a closed and caring family of NPP sympathisers in his area.

There are others who are determined to focus on the past to make a case for the future, however. This is not unusual. But, it should be checked. Focusing on whether Alan Kyerematen resigned or not in 2008 is unhelpful and divisive. Let him sell his message and leave it to the over 114,000 delegates to decide. Also, aspirants and their supporters should leave former President Kufuor out of this flagbearership contest. This contest is not about Kufuor. Kufuor played the biggest role in the party’s success and would play a significant role for the party’s future. Just leave him out of anything that seeks to divide the party. Even if he is not neutral the party should resist temptations to drag him into the centre of this campaign. Let those campaigning cry their own proverbial cry.

There are those who use their personal grievances against the former President to throw their weight behind a particular candidate and use that vehicle to settle personal scores. There are others, who believe they can only advance their intra-political cause by seeking factional refuge under Kufuor. They would, with uncontrolled passion, jump into the defence of the former President but in a manner that is divisive only to score a political goal by portraying an internal competitor as anti-Kufuor. There should be greater discipline from all sides.

There is always a legitimate reason in any competition to show why you are better than your competitor, which may invariably call for some comparisons. Yet, the dynamics of internal politics call for some sensitivity in using this tactic, and the reasons are too obvious to articulate but can be summed up as the need to protect and promote post-intra-contest cohesion, trust and unity.

For example, I have heard it said that the NPP did not sell its 8 years achievements well. Well, who can forget what compelled John Mahama to say comparing records was mediocre! Indeed, any scientific analysis of NPP campaign adverts and other message formats will confirm that the ruling party in 2008 spent more campaign time and money telling Ghanaians about Kufuor’s achievements (NHIS, Capitation Grants, School Feeding Programme, Roads, etc) than telling Ghanaians what to expert in the future. Nana Akufo-Addo’s IEA debate also showed how the party had the unique three-prong task of incumbency of promoting achievements, defending government decisions and projecting hope and promise for the future.

As I write, communication strategists are, for example, busily passing on ‘information’ to newspaper editors about their points-scoring interpretation of how the 2008 campaign was badly ran. They are of course free to do so. Some are bent on making this flagbearership campaign a retrospective one of apportioning blame, rather than what the party should do to win back power.

Regardless of what might have gone on in the past, especially during the presidential primaries, no leading member of the NPP, from President Kufuor through ambitious ones like Alan Kyerematen and Dan Botwe, to constituency chairmen like Nhyiaeso's Jokad, would have wished defeat on the party they love. After all, there is even better protection and comfort in being perceived 'opposition' within a ruling party than being in opposition with your party.

However, when full direct, effective communications are compromised, rumours and presumptions have their own peculiar way of manufacturing their own realities from facts conjured from the fertile but destructive imaginations from characters afflicted with the classic Pull Him Down syndrome of the Ghanaian cultural environment. This is the danger that the NPP faces as it continues to lick its wounds by using scapegoats as a soothing balm.

The NPP has not the luxury to engage in infighting. Their first responsibility is not to advance the egos of any inner group or individual, it is to the people whose interest politicians seek to advance - the people.

In the words of an Australian opposition leader, 'and that really means we have an obligation to, in the, you know, gladiatorial nature of politics in this country to do what we can to ensure that we are in government as soon as possible, given that we are in opposition everywhere. And that in government, we are actually able to produce the best possible role, results, for the people that we are seeking to serve. Calm down -- and start building a bigger tent.'

I believe the article I wrote in January 2009 is still relevant today. Those who care to read that may go to my blog,