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Opinions of Friday, 22 March 2013

Columnist: Amenyo, Kofi

Reflections on Akufo-Addo’s “all die be die” speech

The campaigns have ended long ago. The elections have been held, declared lost and won. The presidential vote is being disputed with the matter still in court. This has been the subject of discussion for many commentators. This article is, however, a reflection on the failed candidate’s now infamous all-die-be-die speech. Whether or not he should have apologized for the speech is now purely of academic interest only. But that is what my thoughts have been revolving around this far removed from the elections.

Every Ghanaian knows that Akufo-Addo was repeating a most common Ghanaian saying. “All die be die”, and “do and die”, are phrases all Ghanaians, both educated or otherwise, say all the time. A football team going into a cup final or a student preparing for a final exam that he has failed repeatedly will say such things. But the same words, transferred to the heated political arena, take on completely different meanings and connotations. The man simply uttered a very common Ghanaian saying on a most inappropriate occasion.

As for me, I am sure that in his heart of hearts, Akufo-Addo will NOT want Ghanaians to bath in blood so that he can become the president. I know many Ghanaians also think that way. The man simply made a genuine mistake and if the situation should repeat itself, I am very sure he would stay clear of such statements.

The question now is if he should have apologized to the people of Ghana, humbly expressed his regrets and formally withdrawn the statement. Such an act may not have any effects on his die-hard opponents who would not have been moved even if he had poured ashes on his head and walked around barefoot in sack cloth for seven days. But for a section of the floating voters, and even his own party members, it would have cast him in a more favourable light. They may have seen him as a man (and a Ghanaian politician as such) who is ready to admit his faults. This would have made him as human as those who were going to vote for him. Besides, he would have proven to Ghanaians that he is not the arrogant person rumours say he is. And if the opposition raised the issue, his supporters could have responded: Yes, but he has apologized and withdrawn the statement. Is it not human to err and is not forgiveness divine?

But those in his corner never thought of going along these lines. Perhaps they did but discarded it. They told him to stick it out and be adamant like he did with the other accusations levelled at him. Now, after the fact, we all know it was not the best strategy. Even now, some people still think he lost the elections because of that ill-fated statement even though the reasons why he lost are more complicated than that.

In reflecting over this incidence, I am reminded of the controversial British politician, Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech. That statement dogged the man for the rest of his political life and followed him into his grave. It was 1968 and Powell was addressing party faithful in his native Birmingham. He was speaking as MP for Wolverhampton on the impact immigration has on indigenous communities when he said: ‘As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood”’. That turned out to be a big mistake – a very big one. In a later interview, Powell would say that the quotation came easily to him since he was a classical scholar. His reference was Virgil’s Aenid at the place where Sybil of Cumae was speaking to Aeneas, who was reputed to be the founder of Rome even though he was an immigrant to Italy. Powell could easily have quoted the relevant verse in the original Latin but he spared his audience that.

The context to Akufo-Addo’s speech is different in some important respects. It has been argued that Enoch forgot that his constituents were not classicists and he was not speaking on the floor of the parliament. But Akufo-Addo could not have defended himself by saying he was quoting Virgil or Homer or Dante or some classical African scholar even though his statement can be said to have been painting an apocalyptic vision worthy of Dante. Akufo-Addo was talking to ordinary Ghanaians using a most pedestrian expression they understood all too well. His audience may have hailed the speech as they heard it but the more reflective among them may have pondered over it long after.

What are the lessons for Ghanaian politicians? The first deals with how politicians should handle negative news about themselves. Sometimes, it requires professional PR men and psychologists to find out the best ways a public personality can deal with bad publicity. It appears Akufo-Addo did not have the best advice. But it also shows that Ghanaians are now very sensitive to the private behaviour of people who are asking them to vote for them. Whether this will lead to better behaviour on the part of our politicians is another matter. So far, this has not been so since they are still talking “by heart”.

A second lesson is that, a party’s screening process should be thorough and transparent. The NPP boasts of its democratic credentials but it seems they didn’t put every card on the table in the selection of their candidate in the past two elections. If they had done a more thorough background check on the candidate, they may have come to the conclusion that even though the candidate may be good in many respects, he carried too much baggage that could be troublesome.

We in Ghana give too much respect to our political leaders and hold them in too much awe. This makes them see themselves as gods. The electorate also sees them as gods and expects godlike qualities from them which they cannot deliver for the simple reason that they are not gods. A man, with whom, only yesterday, you were running around chasing the same village girls, enters parliament and he becomes a completely different person beyond your reach.

Perhaps if we stop calling our presidents “His Excellency” (when “Mr President” or “The President” would do) and call our ministers and parliamentarians by their given names instead of “Honourable”, the gap between ruler and the ruled will start narrowing. The politicians too will stop seeing themselves as gods who are above the people. Their identification with the people will go beyond the one off ride on a tro-tro or a public eating of kenkey in front of the television cameras. We shall also stop expecting them to be perfect human beings and accept the fact that they can also succumb to human failings like the rest of us. This will make us realise that if a man smoked wee in his wayward youth or told a few white lies in his life, these lapses need not prevent him from becoming president if, at the same time, he exhibits sterling qualities of leadership that far outweigh the frailties of his past.

The case over who really won the last elections is still in court but we can, even now, talk about the eventual legacy of Akufo-Addo in Ghanaian politics – we, who so easily forget our heroes. Will Akufo-Addo’s fate be like Enoch Powell’s – a brilliant man who was not understood by his generation and who is, today, regarded negatively in British politics? Or will he be known as a man, who, despite his reputed arrogance, was the best President Ghana never had? Will he be remembered as the man whose suit at the Supreme Court forever changed the manner in which our elections are held and will books be written about him? Only the proverbial time will tell. But now, it will be very interesting to know what, exactly, goes on in the man’s mind when he retires to bed at night as he awaits the outcome of his suit at the Supreme Court. Who can tell?

There is one thing I have noticed on ghanaweb. There were a few writers who were dead set on seeing to it that Akufo-Addo never becomes the president of Ghana. They wrote articles and took part in heated discussions against him. Now that he lost, those writers have suddenly disappeared from the pages of ghanaweb. Their main purpose has been achieved. They have won their fight against the man and have turned their attentions elsewhere. Is that not a huge pity?

Kofi Amenyo (