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Opinions of Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

The Dark Side of Ghanaian Politics

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong (kakos064@uottawa.ca)

Politics can be a complicated matter. It doesn’t matter whether in the advanced democracies or emerging ones like Ghana. How intricate it is, is informed by the players, the peculiar environment, more the unrefined, dark aspects of the particular society.

This explains the fact that despite its universal architecture and the ideals driving it, democracy in Ghana is surely slightly different from USA or India or Britain or Nigeria or Kenya or Zimbabwe. In the United States, in the build up to the November 4 general elections, ACORN, a voter registration outfit, is accused and is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for alleged voter registration fraud. US analysts say the allegation against ACORN reflects the dark side of their country’s electoral system.

Some countries are so disciplined and better ordered that there appears to be no dark, rough side to their democratic system. In Canada, in the just ended October 14 parliamentary elections, the system seemed so civilized that there were no dark side of the electoral system reported, either with regard to voter registration fraud, attack on candidates, insults, threats, incitements for disorder, ex-Prime Ministers calling for parallel national security meetings in their houses because there is a violent clash somewhere, or juju-marabouts and other spiritualists darkening the political system.

But, in Ghana, as sparks from the ongoing electioneering campaigns indicate, things are different, and events can be darker. Despite experiencing some of the US electoral challenges, such as voter registration frauds, the Ghanaian socio-culture also influences its electoral practices. This is informed by the behaviour some of its politicians, a few of who talk misguidedly, and certain cultural values. The thinking is that in playing the bright side of politics, the dark side is revealed for refinement. This is seen in Osabarima Antwi Agyei V, Chief of Okadjakrom, touting the gravitas of tradition, requested politicians to shun campaign of “insults, acrimony, ethnocentrism and violence to preserve Ghana’s peace, unity and stability.”

When the convoy of the increasingly popular Nana Akufo, the presidential candidate for the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP), was attacked last week in Accra, it was the highest point of the dark side of the Ghanaian politics. And so were when political clashes between the NPP and the main opposition National Democratic Congress in the north and other parts of Ghana. When a mentally challenged teenage boy was ritually killed in Accra recently, Ghanaians read into it as politically motivated in the heated run up to the December 7 general elections. This is the dark side of politics influenced by certain aspects of the culture.

As Ghanaians know pretty well, the political darkness can be scary, if not scarier, in the last leg to the December 7 general elections if figures like ex-President Jerry Rawlings lapses, as he occasionally does, and roll out his explosive statements that flashes frightening nightmares of coup detat, incitements, threats, harassment, death, and other screaming dreadful experiences Ghanaians have gone through in 51 years of Ghana’s corporate existence.

The Ghanaian democracy may be toddler, and politicians and civil society still learning its nuances, but Ghana’s emerging democrats, convinced beyond all reasonable doubt that democracy is the best vehicle for sustainable development, unlike the gratuitous 21 years of military juntas and grandly threatening 6 years of one-party system Ghana experienced, are working to contain the dark side of Ghana’s democracy.

In Osabarima Agyei, reflecting how traditional rulers and institutions are nurturing and guiding the 16-year-old democracy a la Botswana, more enlightenment to deal with the dark side of politics are constantly being preached. Against the milieu of dark politics, Osabarima Agyei charged politicians to “educate and explain issues, their policies and programmes to solve the country’s socio-economic and political problems to enable the electorate vote for them.”