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Opinions of Thursday, 31 January 2019

Columnist: Elizabeth Ohene

Of hereditary jobs and politics

The writer The writer

A few days ago, I watched a video clip of an angry young woman threatening hell and damnation against the President of the Republic.

Since the subject of her anger was Menzgold, I thought I had heard already all there was to say on the subject, until she caught my attention with a narration about her pedigree.

The group of people on whose behalf she claimed to be talking were all soldiers.

She said she was the child of a soldier, she was a barracks girl and it appeared everybody in her life was a soldier.

Now, this was something I had always suspected but it was interesting to have it stated unintentionally so dramatically.

It is fashionable these days for lots of people, including some senior policemen to complain that the recruitment process into the Ghana Police Service had been bastardised by politicians.

According to this narrative, the politicians bring all sorts of unsuitable people to be taken into the service.

The same argument is made about recruitment into the military.

I have been taking a close look at the advertisements for recruitment into the military, especially, and the procedure appeared so rigorous that I wondered how it could be breached.

I have come to the conclusion that what has happened and is happening is that recruitment into the services has ceased to be the close shop it used to be and is now open to a wider section of society.

Up until recently, barracks children had an automatic right of entry into whatever service their fathers or mothers belonged to and on the strength of which they had grown up in the barracks.

The children of policemen entered the police service, the children of soldiers entered the military, the children of prison officers joined the prison service, the children of fire service officials, followed their parents into the service, if they wanted to.

As the angry young lady in the video said, they were barracks children of many generations.

I doubt that the barracks children were or are any more qualified than the people that the politicians bring.

I do not suggest that people following their parents’ profession is peculiar to the services.

It is the natural thing to do.

If I had been a little more obedient and listened to my father, I would have become a teacher like he was.

Indeed he had assumed I would follow him into teaching.

Just as my childhood friend became a goldsmith like his father and another became a seamstress like her mother.

If you went into our medical schools, you will find that many of the medical students are the children of medical doctors and the law school has many students who are children of lawyers, and we all expect the children of our farmers to become farmers.

When Abedi Pele, our famous footballer encouraged all his sons to follow him into football, nobody thought it was strange.

All these examples would seem perfectly healthy when children are being encouraged to follow their parents’ profession, but it becomes insidious when the practice gives an unfair advantage to some and shuts the door on others.

I could never understand, for example, how the public universities justified giving a more generous cutoff entry grade to the children of staff members, but for years they did.

It is not unusual to find that an official establishment is populated solely by relations.

When the Railways were active, it was famous for employment practices that favoured taking on relations of those who work there.

In other words, the barracks phenomenon is applicable in all other sections of the economy and society as a whole.

The Judicial Service has its own version of the barracks and children, cousins, uncles, aunties and friends expect and do get employed because that is how it has been done for years.

Politics is showing an interesting bloodline.

Samia Nkrumah has followed her famous father, the first President of Ghana into politics, and it is not clear what percentage of her votes are for the name, Nkrumah.

Zanetor Rawlings is in Parliament with both her parents active in politics.

The point could be made that just as some children grow up with carpentry as background to their lives, she grew up with politics as her background noise.

Would she have won her seat if she were called Zanetor Mensah?

John Dramani Mahama’s father was a politician and a Minister in the First Republic, he followed him and went one further and became a President.

Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo our current President is the son of Sir Edward Akufo-Addo, a man with as impeccable a political pedigree as can be found, member of the Big Six, famous lawyer of his time, a Chief Justice and ceremonial President of the Second Republic.

More examples in India

Once I started looking, I found that there are many examples of the phenomenon. But I find that we are nowhere near as interesting as India.

Rahul Gandhi, president of the Indian National Congress knows just how ridiculous the Indian situation could be.

He comes from a long line of politicians, the Nehru-Gandhi family and he told a group of students: “My father was in politics.

My grandmother and great-grandfather were in politics.

So, it was easy for me to enter politics. This is a problem. I am a symptom of this problem.”

A British writer, Patrick French points out in his book India: A Portrait, a fact that is apparently unremarkable to Indians but startling to outsiders when expressed through statistics.

One hundred per cent of the elected members in the lower house of the Indian Parliament who are under the age of 30 are from families with a political background.

I suggest you go back and read that sentence again: One hundred per cent of the elected members of the lower house of the Indian Parliament who are under the age of 30 are from families with a political background! Mr French calls them “hereditary MPs.”

Sixty-five per cent of members in the 31-40 age group are hereditary MPs.

The phenomenon is not limited to politics. Mr French found that in mainstream Hindi cinema, all the top actors cast in lead roles, barring one, were sons of former film stars, directors or writers. As is the case with several lead actresses and directors.

In other words, judging by these figures, it would appear that the thousands of young people who flock to Mumbai hoping to make it big have almost no chance of making it to the very top.

Our Parliament is not yet that interesting nor our music or film industry, but maybe we should keep an eye out.

Maybe there is a case for breaking the barracks chain.