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Opinions of Thursday, 15 August 2013

Columnist: Amuna, Paul

The Call to Put Our Nation Before Party

By Paul Amuna

The simple call by the Christian Council (ghanaweb, Wednesday 14th August 2013) to put our country first before party interests, is one that put another way, says that we as a people, as a nation and as Ghanaians collectively are stronger and more productive than each individual or group wanting to see their side 'dominate' in national proceedings. It seems to me this is something that Ghanaians who by and large appear to take their religion (s) and 'faith' seriously would embrace without question. The reality however is very different and that is the worrying bit.

Why should it require the Christian Council, the Chief Imam and Muslim Council and other religious groups, leaders, civil society and politicians (plus the security agencies) to drum home the point about peace? It simply fails to register in my simple mind why we need this. The reason (s) perhaps relate to our understanding of what is more important to us: Our Party or Our Country. The two main political parties in Ghana bear the names: "Democratic" and "Patriotic".

By "Democratic", one presumes there is 'inclusiveness' in matters of individual and the collective interests, respect for the rule of law, civil and individual rights, freedoms and a sense of encouraging all to participate and to take the interests of all into account in matters of governance, national development and dialogue.

By Patriotic, one would again assume a sense of an all-inclusive, ONE-NATION approach to doing business and putting the country first. A patriotic individual is one whose sole and primary interest is in working for the 'organisation', community, or 'nation' they belong to. In countries such as Germany, the sense of patriotism is inculcated into children from a very early age and they grow up believing in Germany. They say the pledge, respect and value their national anthem etc. This is seen in quite a number of other countries and whenever the American National Anthem is sung, you can see the passion with which people sing the anthem.

In Ghana, Kutu Acheampong introduced the national pledge whose opening lines ARE: "I promise on my honour, to be faithful and loyal to Ghana my motherland..." We learnt and sung this at school assembly EVERY MORNING when we were in elementary (cyto) school and in all schools up and down the country, this routine was repeated every single school day.

I wonder how many people understood or even valued this simple, repetitive and routine process. I certainly did, and reading from the postings on ghanaweb, writings and arguments by various people who appear on the various media forums, it is easy for me to see those who understood and have learnt to live with this pledge and those who simply did not understand, and have NOT lived with it. This is at the heart of my earlier question about why the need for anyone or group to be calling for peace and now, patriotism as the Christian Council is doing.

I also wish to make reference to something that is common to the name (s) of the two major political parties in Ghana: the word is "NATIONAL". The CPP and PPP call it "PEOPLE'S" but the NDP also uses the name "NATIONAL".

Why "PEOPLE'S" or "NATIONAL"?. Again it seems very obvious that the word "national" is meant to attract a 'broad church' or demonstrate the party's appeal TO ALL up and down the country. It may also be read to mean with an interest in reaching out to all and taking care of the needs of all, regardless of creed, tribe, region, party affiliation or ideology. On other words, all these parties tell us they wish to work in our collective interests and for and on our behalf.

Such a bold and open statement suggests a commitment to ONE-NATION and to work with, and for ALL, regardless of party. It is common to hear people say that if they won elections, they will work to UNITE the nation and to work for all!!! In the recent Mali election run off for president, the two candidates Cisse and Keita pledged to work to "Unite the nation" and to have an inclusive government. In Ghana, politicians have pledged to work for all, and to have policies that benefit all, including e.g. "FREE SHS for all" (NPP) and the so-called "Better Ghana Agenda (NDC).

Our parties also talk about looking for, and including all 'well meaning Ghanaians' who have something to offer, irrespective of party affiliations. Some of us have argued for the need to recruit people based on merit and to look for the best people to serve in the various sectors and roles, based on integrity, honour, respect and know how. We continue to argue that the nation is bigger than anyone person, and that people irrespective of party, should accept approaches by government to join and work for the collective.

But what do we see in reality and on the ground? We seem to be consumed by the "winner takes all" mentality and much as I have no quarrel with "elation and jubilation" following electoral success, what we see is one party taunting the opposition, whichever one is the winner of elections at all levels. Name calling becomes the order of the day and as we have seen with the current electoral challenges in court (both presidential and parliamentary), some argue (both logically and illogically) that they have been cheated.

We also see political parties actively discouraging their individual members from taking up any government appointments and where (and when) any of their members seeks to recognise something good in the ruling government or praise any good deed (on indeed condemn anything negative from their own side against government), such individuals are accused of having been 'bribed' or 'seeking favours' from the ruling government.

This phenomenon by the way is not unique to Ghana and has been seen in even so-called western industrialised countries, except that in those cases the individual appointees generally still go ahead to take up those roles. In the United Kingdom, a number of Labour party (current opposition) members have taken up roles in the ruling Conservative/Liberal Coalition government e.g. MP Frank Field. In the US, the former (Gates), and current (Mr Hagel) Defence Secretaries belong to the Republican (current opposition) party. Indeed during the Clinton administration, the then US Defence Secretary appointed by president Clinton was also a Republican, In the case of Hagel, some members from his side, tried hard to 'block' his appointment (for certain reasons) but failed. In most of Europe, perhaps Ghanaians are not aware, but Coalition governments and sharing of political positions has characterised politics for a very long time, and single parties running whole governments is harder to achieve. This is partly explained on the basis of the type of voting systems and the system of representation overall. Practicalities also play their role, not to talk of patriotism and the need for national cohesion, balance and stability. In the case of Ghana, apart from the ‘smaller parties’ which have accepted this sensible approach to inclusive governance, it seems to me the “winner takes all mentality” and dissenting voices within and from other parties makes it difficult for ‘appointments across the carpet’ to take place without “revolt”.

It also seems to me the present agitation by so-called NDC party youths and other indisciplined groups and demonstrations against people appointed as MMDCEs by the government are yet another example of how ‘partisan’ people are when it comes to doing government business. I refuse to accept that you can truly represent ONE NATION and make use of all our talents without tapping into the talents across the board. I regard it as primitive, wrong, backward and unedifying for anyone in any political party to say or argue that ONLY “party people” who have “fought hard to put the government in power” should be given appointments. The fact is, many of these so-called party people are good at canvassing and shouting on top of their voices and sure, some of them may be very popular locally, but do they have what it takes to run their own families let alone whole departments, ministries and organisations? That is the central question that some of these advocates simply miss.

These partisan actions and agitations make a mockery of the so-called “inclusivity” preached by political leaders. I wish to see our nation move away from this partisan nonsense and begin to operate as a modern-day, forward-looking and progressive democracy. To my mind, the development of our country and our democracy requires a more inclusive, meritocratic approach, rather than the largely partisan approaches used by both sides of the political divide. It is not uncommon in Ghana for an excellent candidate having been vetted, interviewed several times and demonstrated their ability to lead, for them to be asked about their political affiliation. I am aware of cases where individuals who indicated that they were “party-neutral” and did not favour one party or the other have failed to land “lucrative” jobs because they refused to “commit” to the party in government. I have the greatest admiration for such individuals and encourage more to do so, and to know that whatever they do, nobody, party or government can take away their talent.

Ghana is fortunate in the sense that despite all our 'fights' and arguments, our 'founding fathers' who themselves are on record to have been 'fighting' among themselves e.g. the UGCC/CPP domains nonetheless established solid foundations for ours to be ONE NATION, respecting regional differences and diversity whilst remembering our commonality as a people and a nation.

You can argue about differences, distractions, opposition for the sake of it etc. The fact is, our nation has been 'at ease with itself' relatively speaking, and our school system helped us to know, understand and work with each other over the decades. The mixing of pupils and students from all regions in school dormitories, "sections", teams etc. have helped us in no small way to realise how very close we are to each other, and to forge life long friendships based on mutual regard. Indeed there are many examples of friendships which are "thicker than a brother" and in my own experience, it is common to see friends become 'members of the family' although they belong to different political, ethnic and religious persuasions'.

It is this unity in diversity that is beautiful and so palpable that it makes you feel proud to be Ghanaian. Indeed it is UNCOMMON for any Ghanaian to speak just one language or dialect!!! It is rather common to find fellow Ghanaians speak three, even four or five dialects and languages FLUENTLY.

Why would I speak any other language or dialect and make efforts to express myself even in those in which I am not so fluent if I did not want to feel a sense of belonging? It seems to be barmy that anyone would wish to create a wedge of deceit and tribal superiority unnecessarily, or to suggest a 'party superiority' when in fact, the PEOPLE themselves seek to integrate and to work together.

Unlike our great neighbours Nigeria where you can visit whole institutions and find MOSTLY (if not wholly) people from ONLY one ethnic or regional group working to the exclusion of others, it is always refreshing to see the mix of people working together in Ghanaian institutions up and down the country. It is a matter of historical record that certain individuals from different regions have been feted by other regions where they made a mark in the country. Two classic names I am familiar with is one Mr Ampofo who though an "Akan southerner" is still remembered as one of the best regional administrators in the then Upper Region in the 1970s. Similarly Col. Minyilla who hailed from Navrongo/Chuchilga in the Upper East region is still revered in the Eastern region where he oversaw the development of the region as head of the Eastern regional development corporation (EREDEC) in the 1970s.

Of course these reflections cannot be complete without reference to the Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah's own aspirations which have recently been so eloquently been referred to by none other than Honourable Kofi Annan, the Ghanaian-born international statesman and former UN Secretary-General. Nkrumah's aspiration was simply that we will have a country at peace with itself, harnessing all its talents, emancipating its people, developing and "demonstrating to the white man that the black man is completely capable of handling his own affairs" (Osagyefo Dr Nkrumah, 1957).

That we are still chasing Nkrumah's aspirations is partly because we did not understand, and from the poor showing and the poor leadership of our politicians today and their younger surrogates – so called NDC Youth and Young Patriots of the NPP. I cannot see how we will emerge from this partisan, winner takes all mentality and most of the time stupid notion among these people who never learned nor understood Acheampong's "National Pledge" when you continue to have "babies with sharp teeth" trying to lord themselves over the rest of us.

Jerry Rawlings in his 'zeal' to 'weed out corruption' and to get our nation back on track to reach Nkrumah's vision, made his own share of mistakes by 'isolating others' and creating a new breed of 'self-appointed lords' many of whom were undeserving in my opinion. That said, he must be given some of the credit for his role in our new democratic dispensation, however imperfect it was at the beginning. Indeed it should be said that the 'unified opposition' of the 1980s and early 1990s also played a significant role in getting us where we are now. In the 1990s, groups such as the Association for Accountable Government (AFAG) had credibility, was more inclusive with a common sense of purpose for which many a neutral supported and associated themselves with. Sadly, over the years, AFAG has also made its fair share of mistakes, the biggest being its very clear current affiliation with the New Patriotic Party NPP. That is a huge mistake and has made it lose credibility among many a neutral Ghanaian.

What part has our Ghanaian media played in the whole business? Under Nkrumah's ONE-PARTY dictatorship, something which in my view is probably the greatest failing on the part of the Osagyefo, press freedom was almost completely non-existent and a one-sided dogmatic, partisan and sycophantic media was the order of the day. Any attempt to publish anything critical of the government was met with arrest, detention and punishment of a kind which is simply impossible in today's Ghana. This in itself is a mark of progress. I wholly condemn and regret that particular "dark episode" of our national journey. On the other hand, 'tit-for-tat' is not only dangerous, it is downright wrong and could even be worse!!! What followed Nkrumah's crack down on press freedoms was equally bad, and indeed, there was no press freedom too!!! Is anything, there was a 360 degree turn about, with CPP-leaning or other critical press being punished severely including the closing down of media houses and prosecution (one famous one involving Chief Justice Akuffo-Addo in the late 1960s).

The intervention of the military in 1972 to oust the Busia government we were told was meant to restore our democracy, the rule of law and to restore Nkrumah's aspirations. Indeed there was talk of "bringing the Osagyefo back" from Guinea but that was the year Dr Nkrumah died from what to date are not clearly determined causes and indeed some argue that the cause may have been related to polonium poisoning as the doctors in Budapest, Romania despite their investigations at the time, could not establish an exact cause. The only one who can attest to this assertion in my view is Prof. Nkrumah, eldest son of the late Osagyefo, who was among the last people to visit and see the Osagyefo on his death bed. At this point of little digression, the ignorance of the likes of Dr Sekou Nkrumah are best left to himself as he does not seem to have taken the pains to really study, understand and attempt to emulate his illustrious father and left that to the rest of us (of a similar age as himself) to do that.

The issue of national pride, patriotism and putting our nation first before our party affiliations is one that needs civic education (first instituted by the Osagyefo) and a collective effort. From a religious point of view, the simple question is: who are we? what are we here for? If we believe in a supernatural creator and if we believe we are here to please and work in the interest of such a creator, and if that creator made all Ghanaians the same and equal, then surely, our duty to care for each other, work in our collective interests and in the process 'please our maker' is far more important than which party or tribe we belong to, and which affiliations we are loyal (patriotic) to?

That means that when our fellow brother or sister is put in charge of government business and they fail to do their job properly or injure the state, they must be held to account and punished accordingly and appropriately even if they are our own blood? It also means that when our party or group is wrong or doing something wrong, or any of its members is doing wrong, we should be able to individually and collectively condemn their actions and seek that they are removed from that responsibility in our group, party or government to demonstrate our commitment to the collective (Ghana) rather than our party or government? That is what true patriotism means to me.

The writer, Dr Paul Amuna is a leader in the Global Health Community and an advocate for harmonisation of professional training and leadership in the Nutrition and Health sector in Africa. He is a pedagogist and works to promote capacity building and strengthening of professional training and research in African HE institutions, influence health policy and political leadership, integrity and good governance with a ONE-NATION focus. He is also a political commentator and development advocate.