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Opinions of Sunday, 30 November 2008

Columnist: Adobor, Henry

The elections are upon us: Time for sober reflection

“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality.” [Dante Alighieri]

By: Henry Adobor

In a matter of days, our nation will be called upon once more to elect a new set of leaders. As the words of the famous 13th century Italian writer and poet Dante Alighieri reminds us, this is not the time to maintain our neutrality, or sit idly by. For, every generation must be judged by the kind of legacy it bequeaths those who come after them. I am writing this as an open letter to politicians and all of us who have a stake in the country. I hope it gets us thinking about the task ahead.

The opportunity to elect new leadership is a welcomed occasion and one that should be celebrated by all of us. That is if we individually and collectively understand that it is not an occasion to create confusion, mayhem, and anarchy. All these negative and destructive things need not necessarily be a by-product of an election. We have had relatively peaceful elections in the past and should be able to do it again when we exercise restraint in the things we say and do, now before the elections, and especially soon after. This should be a time for sober reflection not bravado.

These seems to be some who believe, even before the votes are cast and counted, that there will be attempts by one party, section, or group to cheat and rob others of their opportunity to gain political power. There are others also who look to the unfortunate, regrettable and shameful mayhem that reigned in Zimbabwe and Kenya after their elections, and almost wishfully conclude that might be the fate of Ghana too. There is no reason to believe (certainly not wish) that violence will happen here too. At the face of it, there is nothing wrong with all the political parties maintaining vigilance as a means of ensuring a free and fair election. It is in the interest of both the potential losers and winners to know and believe that the contest was fair. For the victor will be greater legitimacy when everyone sees the elections as free and fair and to the loser, the knowledge that they have fought a good and fair fight.

Everyone has an expectation of the future, events and of people. We are free to have expectations. It is the nature of the expectations we have that may matter. There is the well-known power of expectations. Psychologists have fancy ways of describing the power of expectations. But at a simple level, their conclusions tell us that sometimes what we expect happens. The so-called self-fulfilling prophecy. It may happen because our own expectations drive us, in a twisted sort of way, to behave in ways that are consistent with those expectations. Now, what is terrible about expectations is that sometimes they may be based on erroneous perceptions. Yet, they may sometimes force us to behave in ways that are consistent with our expectations. It implies, for example, that if we continue believing that this election will end in anarchy, we will either consciously or unconsciously start preparing for violence. That need not be. All of us need to believe that Ghana is mature enough to avoid the fate of other countries. Talk and comparison of Ghana to Kenya, the idea that we thought Kenya was stable and look what happened there is foolish. That type of thinking also gives us comfort to continue with the sort of expectations that may just lead us to violence. I have a few suggestions for the country and its peoples and outline them here briefly.

Elections: Only One Person Can Win

It is important that all political parties accept that there can be only one victor in this type of contest. More importantly, because someone wins does not necessarily mean that they cheated. I may lose a fair fight. Perhaps my opponent was just better or maybe even lucky if you believe in luck. Also, because someone won a fight before does not necessarily mean they will always win, or should lose and vice versa. Of course, people/parties can win or lose depending on the situation. Winning or losing is all part of contests.

I am not naïve to think that sometimes participants in an election or any contest do not try to or actually succeed in cheating. What is important here is that there is a “referee.” Those of us who enjoy sports that are refereed know that sometimes we can disagree with a particular call. So no referee is perfect. But that is why there is always a group of people above the referee you can complain to when you believe that the referee was not fair.

We have in place a system of rules, procedures that any party who feels cheated can follow. These rules and procedures are there for a reason. The same way you should not jump on the referee in a match or halt the match because you believe the referee or your opposing team was unfair, or forcefully occupy the field because you disagree with a call, is the same reason why individuals, groups and parties should not resort to unilateral action even when they feel unhappy about the outcome of an election, or better yet the processes. The whole world will hear your case when you have proof positive that your opponent won by cheating. They will have no moral standing in the face of anyone.

I do not personally know all the candidates for president of the major political parties. But at least I have listened to them speak or read in the papers what they said, including some of their positions on a host of issues. All these men seem to be to be very reasonable individuals. I will not mind having tea or sharing a drink with any of them. More importantly, I have heard each and everyone say at some point in time that they are motivated to improve the lives of our people. If our prospective leaders are motivated by such noble sentiments (and I take them at their word), them my challenge to them is to educate their followers that at the end of the day, only one person can win. Losing an election is not the end of life. There is always another day, and a loser can always sharpen their message, prepare better and fight another day. The first test our political leaders face, in my mind, is the vigor with which they hammer home the point that victory attained violently is immoral, and not worth taking. We need to hear louder voices on this issue.

“Die-Hard” Supporters: Who and What Are You Going To Die For for?

I first heard the phrase “die-hard” supporters from my cousin when he was talking about his love for the Accra Hearts of Oak many years ago. Not a great sports fan, I never quite understood what exactly he meant by being a “die hard” supporter. I never did ask him, but I think I knew what he meant when I saw him climbing and perching dangerously on a tree limb outside El Wak Stadium to watch a match Hearts was playing against an Egyptian team. I doubt if he ever really got to see anything behind those tall walls. But that never dampened his enthusiasm for his Hearts of Oak. So, you see, “die-hard” supporters will sometimes do anything, even those that may not make much sense to those who do not feel the same way. To believe strongly in a cause, whether political, moral, or social can be a virtue. To pursue that cause with methods that cause harm to others is the vice that will destroy the noblest of intentions.

Often, it is the ordinary foot soldier that will bear the greatest burden if and when violence happens. Just look at Kenya. Those who were wielding the guns and the cutlasses have probably gone back to their villages and slums trying to irk out a meager living today. That is if they themselves survived the carnage. My message here is simple. For those of us who may feel a need to take to violence in pursuit of our objectives, it is important to remember that those we think we work for themselves will never pick up the weapons we pick up so easily to advance their causes.

Remember that for most of us, our lives will not change drastically after the elections. This is true no matter who wins the elections. Remember that if you engage in violence, it won’t be on behalf of your family or nation. Those dear to you probably just want to eat some meal the night of the election and the day after that and go to sleep. It is to yourself that you owe everything. Not to that person you pick for a hero. They will fly out on the next available plane to the USA or Europe. If you doubt this, go ask your family what they wish for Ghana the day after the elections. Most of them will probably tell you to leave them alone, that they are busy thinking about something more important. Please don’t die easily for any one’s political ambitions.

Civil Society, Traditional Leaders and the Rest of Us

There are many Ghanaians who either individually or in groups continues to speak out on issues of national importance. Your job in the next few months is even greater. It will be helpful for civil groups to continue drawing attention to the need for everyone to see the elections as a period for renewal. Whether the ruling party wins or the opposition wins, we can say there is renewal since the mantle of leadership will pass on to a new individual.

Our traditional leaders are respected and what they say is important. They need to continue speaking out if they already have. For those of us residing outside of Ghana, our task is simple: remind our relatives and friends at home of the need to be reasonable in their actions and not condone or engage in any violence during or after the elections.

The Press: Be Responsible

The amount of freedom the press enjoys today in Ghana is worth celebrating. Technology has also made it much easier for a wider participation in the political and social discourse of the country. With each right or privilege comes some corresponding responsibility. I would neither be the first nor the last person to note that there seems to be a troubling pattern to the abuse of some of that press freedom. I am referring here specifically to the many FM stations that are in operation. The owners have a special responsibility since radio reaches more people. Just remember what happened in Rwanda. Radio personalities used that privilege to fan the flames of carnage. If you are not sure of what to say, I suggest that you say nothing. Certainly do not become a mouthpiece for those who will seek to create violence. If you own a newspaper, you have the same responsibility. Don’t become a pawn for anyone. Check your facts and certainly don’t get sensational. We have had too much of that from certain segments of the press lately. You owe a special responsibility to the nation to ensure that no one with or without your own complicity, uses you to cause confusion.

And Finally.....

On a more personal note. My grandmother (bless her soul) lived through the Germans, British and two Ghanaian administrations, including at least one military regime before passing on. If she can see my “holy village” today (she never did travel far, so I couldn’t say Ghana today), she will notice not much has changed or has it? Oh well, the village built a new church. We are still fetching water from the stream. Only difference is that the stream is so much smaller now. Aaah…. the primary school is still there. But the white zinc roof is all very brown now. The little clinic the village built through self-help is still there alright, and won’t you know it, we have electricity! Well, sometimes. Oh, I forgot. The village will be empty by 9 am the day after the elections. Come on, the lean season for harvesting corn is here.

Henry Adobor can be reached at: []