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Opinions of Friday, 6 February 2015

Columnist: Antwi-Boasiako, Kwaku

Let my 11-year old vote in 2016 Elections

Article 42 of the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana provides that, "Every citizen of Ghana of eighteen years of age or above and of sound mind has the right to vote and is entitled to be registered as a voter for the purposes of public elections and referenda". The framers of our constitution may have thought that a person is matured and is able to make reasoned judgement and decisions once they reach the age of 18. Whatever the rationale behind that provision, it is the law and only persons who meet the age provision can register and vote in public elections in Ghana.

Over the last weekend, after 24 hours without electricity (in the Republic of Dumsor), my exasperated 11-year old son asked me, "so why did President Mahama want to be president, if he cannot solve the problems with electricity". We have a solar system at home, although the system cannot do everything over a 24-hour period. But my son had heard a report on Joy FM that talked about the extent some kids had to go in order to get electricity to do their homework at night. In his innocent 11-year old mind, if President Mahama offered himself to be elected as President of Ghana, then he should be able to solve the Dumsor problems.

My answer to my son was simple: I don't know. In truth, I was not with President Mahama when he decided to offer himself to be elected as president. I don't know what motivated him then and I don't know what motivates him know. What I do know is that I can probably count on one hand the number of Ghanaian politicians who I think offered themselves for election into public office with purely honourable motivation to serve the people. Recently, A former Rector of the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA), Professor Stephen Adei, was quoted as saying that, "We cannot build a nation on that basis when about 70 percent of all those who call themselves honourable are totally dishonourable and these are the people whom we must hold accountable". How can I expect 'dishonourable' people to have entered politics with honourable motives? Since January 1993 when President J.J. Rawlings took office as a democratically elected president, I don't think many of the elected politicians across the various levels of government have proved to me that they came into public office to offer public service. Over two decades are long enough for our leaders to have achieved much more than plunge the nation into poverty and excruciating and debilitating darkness.

So, my honest answer to my son was that I don't know why President Mahama offered himself to be elected president. Well, my son had a follow up question: "So, will people vote for him again?" Once again, my honest answer to the 11-year old was, "yes and President Mahama may probably win the next elections." At this point, I could see my son was innocently confused. It wasn't the answer he had expected. As a child, he thought that if a person has failed to solve the problems he was first elected to solve, then people should not vote for that person again. The reality in Ghana though is that people vote for candidates for entirely different reasons, regardless of the competence of the candidate. Recently, Joy FM reported (http://www.myjoyonline.com/news/2015/January-19th/why-do-you-vote-npp-and-ndc-otabil-stokes-debate.php) Rev. Dr. Mensa Otabil, Founder of the International Central Gospel Church, as wondering why Ghanaians have consistently kept the two main political parties, New Patriotic Party (NPP) and National Democratic Congress (NDC) in power for the past 22 years. They quoted Dr. Otabil as asking, "what is the main difference between the main political parties in Ghana beyond slogans, symbols, candidates and tribal affiliations; beyond that, what is the main difference"?

We all know that in some parts of the country, if you literally dress up a goat in the colours of certain political parties and manage to have it on the ballot paper, the goat will still win the elections because people will try to find a reason or reasons why the goat in their party will do a better job than the human beings in the other parties. It is a reality and logic that my 11-old son fails to understand. His next question, logically, was "why would they vote for him again when he has failed to solve the problems and people sleep in darkness?" I simply answered that people have different reasons for voting for a candidate.

I know some readers will say, well he is only 11-years old and cannot appreciate the complexities of elections and life. They are right. And it's precisely because of that sort of thinking that Ghana is still struggling to develop and to provide basic amenities for its people, amenities that elsewhere in the world people take for granted. In the corporate world and in developed societies, the logic is as simple as my 11-year old sees it: if you are hired to do a job but fails to perform, you are either fired or your term will not be renewed when the current one expires. Unfortunately, when it comes to elections in Ghana, this logic that works for the corporate world and developed societies doesn't seem to make sense to many voters.

So, if the framers of our constitution thought that people of 18+ years were more likely to be matured enough to make rational decisions and vote with reason, it would seem like we have bitterly disappointed them and in doing so, failed ourselves and future generations. And so, shouldn't 11-year olds be given the opportunity to choose leaders for Ghana in 2016, if the 18+ adults do not want to apply reason to their voting?

Kwaku Antwi-Boasiako

Accra, Ghana