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Opinions of Saturday, 8 October 2011

Columnist: Otchere-Darko, Gabby Asare

Negative Campaign In Ghana And Lessons From .....

Zambia, Kenya, Cote D’ivoire

By: Asare Otchere-Darko

If you had any doubts about politics being dirty visit Ghana for a week. Buy just 6 of the 8-16 page party propaganda tabloids which are not even bothering to do a good job at being falsely seen as credible newspapers and tune in to a few of the radio stations to get a taste of the NPP vrs NDC usual breakfast, lunch and supper diet.

Perhaps, never in contemporary politics had negative campaigning been made the main course for what is turning out to be an entire duration of a ruling party’s tenure. Negative campaign usually has the knack to backfire if it is insincere or hypocritical. The value of negative campaigning 10 years ago cannot be the same as today because thanks to the same proliferation of radio stations Ghanaians are today more informed than ever in this country’s political history. Thus, in the arena of bi-partisan mudslinging, discerning listeners can still pick up some objective facts.

Ordinarily, for negative campaigning to be effective it must have a short lifespan which gives the target very little time to recover and campaign strategists believe the best time for a political party to go all-out negative (let alone dirty) is in the last couple of months in the run up to an election.

The reason is simple: negative campaigning normally targets undecided voters who are yet to make up their minds over a political choice as it is a powerful medium to sway the minds of these voters to your side or against you, where you are the target.

Going negative and staying mostly negative is allowable when taking on an incumbent. But even then, after repeatedly telling the voters what is wrong with your opponent the work is only half done; you have to convince them about what is right about you. However, the rules have been overturned in Ghana. Over the last two years, at least, the ruling party here has been engaged in mudslinging, and can take some credit for even succeeding in putting the opposition on the defensive much of the time. Unfortunately for the government, it has not stopped the opposition from speaking loudly on issues that matter to the Ghanaian and exposing the flaws and failures in government policies.

It is all too clear to Ghanaians that the governing National Democratic Congress has a very straightforward communications strategy when it comes to addressing the Ghanaian through the mass media: attack, attack and attack Nana Akufo-Addo, the 2012 Presidential Candidate of the NPP. Attack him, attack his family and attack his party.

Thus, while government communicators have chosen to focus on tarnishing the character of the NPP leader, the NPP, after some necessary defence work, has been shifting back attention on the concerns of ordinary Ghanaians. Therein you find the danger in the ruling party’s strategy. Their unbalanced diet of bashing Akufo-Addo is beginning to look as if the NDC believes it has achieved nothing to write home about. It is as if the NDC accepts that the 2012 election is a foregone conclusion against them unless they can frighten Ghanaians off a caricature and that garb of caricature has to be manufactured and forced onto the personality of Akufo-Addo. But for how long would it fit?

ONE-TERM RUPIAH BANDA IN ZAMBIA A similar scenario panned out in Zambia just last month. It is useful to trace the political history of Zambia which shares some characteristics with Ghana.

Kenneth Kaunda ruled as head of state of Zambia for 27 years before the advent of multi-party democracy in 1991, just around the time that Jerry Rawlings’ 11-year-rule in Ghana was going through its own democratic metamorphosis. Frederick Chiluba, for two terms, ruled Zambia as the democratically elected President from 1991 to 2002; Jerry Rawlings did the same from 1992 to 2000.

After successfully completing his two terms in office, Frederick Chiluba was replaced by Levy Mwanawasa, who ruled from 2002 to 2008. President Kufuor replaced Rawlings in 2000 and also ruled for 2 terms. President Mills took over in January 2009. In Zambia, Mwanawasa died in August 2008, and per the Zambian constitution, his death forced an election in October 2008. Mwanawasa was the ‘anointed’ son who turned against his political mentor, Chiluba once he graduated from vice president to the substantive!

A couple of weeks ago, Michael Sata was elected President of Zambia after defeating President Rupiah Banda. President Banda broke a record in the South African Development Community as the first elected head of state to have been in office the shortest period. He also holds the record as the first one-term president in Zambia. It is instructive to note that he was once a vice president before being elected president.

Mr Sata had been rejected by Zambians before and yet his message did not change. His message of economic transformation and empowerment to provide jobs for the growing number of unemployed youth in Zambia was repeated in this year’s election. He emerged victorious with a margin of over 188,000 votes and his party, the Patriotic Front, secured a majority in the National Assembly.

It was sweet revenge for him, having lost narrowly to Mr Banda by only 35,000 votes (a margin of 2 percentage points) in the 2008 presidential election occasioned by the mid-term death of Levy Mwanawasa.

Political arrogance and economic hardship could be a summary of the reasons as to why Rupiah Banda did not have his chance to have a second term in office.

Interfering with the Judiciary, the shipwrecked fight against corruption, the perception of mining companies extracting vast amounts of profits without any benefit to the local people, government’s failure to make good electoral promises, massive and widespread youth unemployment, the contracting of $6 billion worth of Chinese loans in a matter of 2 years, were among the myriad of charges against his administration.

Banda’s communicators were also known for their ruthless attacks on his main opponent, Sata. The hostility and character assassination were so vile that Michael Sata was renamed Michael ‘Satan’ by activists of Rupiah Banda through vitreous attacks in the public media.

President Banda simply did not listen to the cry of his people. He was seen as weak and ineffective, who had mortgaged his country to special and foreign interests. We are faced with similar scenarios in Ghana and yet the government of President Mills is refusing to listen and take appropriate action.

The celebrations that erupted in the streets of Uganda after Mr Michael Sata was declared winner of last month’s presidential elections were those of a nation staying true to the founding principles of democratic governance, where the authority and right to govern are determined by the collective will of the majority of the people as expressed through elections. The message from Zambia is that a second term is not an entitlement but the prerogative of the electorate based on their assessment of your performance; so just don’t take us for granted.

KENYAN, IVORIAN LEADERS AT THE HAGUE As Ghana gears up for elections next year, we should reflect on the actions of the electorate in Zambia and we must also not lose site of the happenings at the International Criminal Court regarding the prosecution of state officials for post-electoral violence.

Again, just this week, we have been informed that the ICC at the Hague is commencing investigations into the post-electoral violence that erupted in the aftermath of the Ivorian elections after Laurent Gbagbo refused to hand over power to Alassane Ouattara after the former had lost the 2010 elections.

The National Chairman of the New Patriotic Party was right in pointing out on Oman FM Wednesday that Ghana has no superior predisposition to the people of Kenya or, even more poignantly, Cote d’Ivoire. Indeed, we share ethnic backgrounds with the people next door. So, let us not kid ourselves into thinking that we are of a unique breed and that the kind of unimagined violence that took place in those two places can never happen here. Until recently, Kenya was among the most peaceful ‘democracy’ in Africa. Until the turn of the century, Cote d’Ivoire was the most stable country in our region.

The facts from the Kenyan experience give clear caution to state officials here in Ghana. 6 officials who supported the main protagonists in the 2008 elections, i.e. President Mwai Kibaki and now Prime Minister Raila Odinga, are currently facing trial for their actions and inactions that led to the loss of over 1,300 lives.

A group that was marshalled by the government to visit mayhem on the people of Kenya (mainly along ethnic lines) was the Mungiki. This group has been described as a “politically motivated gang of youths. It's more like an army unit.”

In Ghana, the Mungiki could be likened to NDC footsoldiers, Azorka boys or the yet-to-be-seen Bamba Boys; but that is not to suggest that any of the two Ghanaian partisan groups mentioned above have done anything close to what the world witnessed in what used to be peaceful Kenya. You may call it organised violence from foot-soldiers. The chief commissioner of the Kenyan police (IGP in Ghana) is accused of having ordered the police to turn a blind eye to the murderous activities of the Mungiki. The footsoldiers of the Kenyan ruling party in 2007 were allegedly provided military gear for their operations upon the directive of the then Commissioner of Police, Hussein Ali.

Current Minister of Finance, and a 2012 Kenyan Presidential hopeful, Uhuru Kenyatta, is also charged with funding this group to the tune of millions of Kenyan shillings. The message here is that not even their political paymasters are safe. Not even those who would benefit from the bloodshed can claim immunity from the sanctuary of their remote-controlling actions. What this should tell our politicians is that the person who may sign the cheque for groups such as Azorka Boys or Bamba Boys to go on rampage may one day have the book thrown at him, likewise the head of police who turns a blind eye to the actions of these hoodlums in his bid to please his political masters.

What is refreshing is that the International Criminal Court will help encourage a new rule, a rule that says leaders cannot commit atrocities to gain power. My only reservation is that this culture against impunity is not being established through an African Criminal Court.

Nevertheless, the last time I checked, the distance from Accra to Amsterdam was 5,230 kilometres whilst that of Nairobi to Amsterdam was 6,659 kilometres. What it tells us is that the path to the Hague is even shorter from Accra than from Nairobi and not that different from Abidjan. The author is the Executive Director of the Danquah Institute