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Opinions of Monday, 25 February 2008

Columnist: Al-Hassan, Osumanu

Towards A Peaceful Election?

For many young electorates, what started as an exciting buildup towards the 2008 general elections is fast translating into apprehensions, and rightly so, because they could envisage dark clouds gathering on what should be a thrilling election year. Developments in our political environment in recent times clearly show that this country is heading on the same path as 'some countries that we know' have taken. Except for those who do not read the signs properly, the clamor in the country presently about the health and fitness of presidential candidates to contest in the impending general elections is recipe for meals that none of us would wish to swallow, not in the least the youth of this country.

Differences in issues about how to govern or develop a country do not necessarily lead to chaos and violence. Trouble only erupts when politicians become so greedy and selfish and then drag society along a certain line, which compel the public to become so petty that it relegates substantive issues about the country to the background while personal matters and tribal sentiments become topics for arguments.

Ghanaians have witnessed murder, poverty and instability in other countries and in many situations, the governments in power have sent our soldiers to go and help bring peace to such countries.

However, our politicians and indeed the entire Ghanaian public appear not to ever reflect on the antecedents of these conflicts and then take measures to steer this country clear from falling into similar crisis.

Ten months away from election 2008, the political environment is already so polluted and judging from how party stalwarts keep slandering the presidential candidates of opposing parties, it is evident that the 'clean campaign' call made by the four presidential candidates is going to end up in the gutters.

For instance, a hundred and one organizations in Ghana alone spend millions of dollars of donor funds to launch campaigns in support of the rights of people living with certain diseases, for example People Living With HIV/AIDS (PLWHA).

I have had the opportunity of attending a number of seminars where the public has been educated to accept PLWHA just like any normal sick persons and not to treat them differently from those suffering from other ailments like stomach ulcer, cancer or Tuberculoses.

Nevertheless, here is a country full of intelligent people dedicating precious media time and space to argue about the health of flag bearers. How does it profit this country when people spend half of their working hours arguing over the health of candidates and whether they are strong enough to stand the rigours of election campaigns? One cannot help wondering whether any of the candidates is bed-ridden and needs to be wheeled round in a wheelchair or is taking meals through a tube and receiving special treatment to get rid of the waste substances that his system generates.

In any case, don't sick people get better and assume their active live styles? Of course, unless the 'soothsayers' who have managed to see into the health of the presidential candidates are telling the rest of Ghana that these flag bearers would be dead and gone before December when the elections would be held.

The veil to this dark prophesies was finally blown away when an unknown face conveniently put an article on the internet prematurely declaring the death of the presidential candidate of the National Democratic Congress, Professor John Evans Atta Mills. The news of his death was first preceded by numerous newspaper publications declaring him too sick to continue as the leader of the umbrella party. Then it happened, he was declared dead to the whole world when the man was cooling off in South Africa!

Before Ghanaians could come to terms with all the slander being spread about the health of Professor Mills, Nana Akuffo Addo, presidential candidate of the New Patriotic Party was literally ordained into the mudslinging campaign religion.

Then a week or so ago, names of the remaining two presidential candidates were dragged into the fray when a newspaper publication alleged that one of the four candidates has HIV/AIDS, which in my opinion simply implied that the person is already kissing his tombstone, right?

I wonder whether it is necessarily sick people alone who die. Don't healthy people, young and old, strong and weak also die, naturally or otherwise?

In fact, as seconds role into minutes, minutes into hours, hours into days, days into months and months into years, we are all heading for one place. Every passing day means one less day on one's life. Death is there for the embracing, regardless of whether one gets sick or not, when it is time, bang, you would be off this rock in a flash.

I once read this interesting story about an intelligent lawyer who thought, just the way we are thinking today, that death visits only old folks. He had an old client of over eighty years. This client was very wealthy and had a large mansion but no close relatives.

This lawyer wanted so much to possess the mansion that he requested to buy it but the old man refused. The lawyer persisted and struck a bargain with the old man that he would buy the house but would only take possession of it after he (the old man) dies. Very smart, right? He assumed that since the client was old and sick he would be the first to die, conveniently forgetting that death is not necessarily for the aged or the sick alone. Of course, old age means death eventually but death is not necessarily about old age, is it? Well, it proved that way finally because the young and presumably healthy lawyer died and left the octogenarian client alive and kicking.

Could you believe with all the appeals for fair and clean campaign things could get so murky and issues so inconsequential?

Democracy as a system of government appears to be creating more enmity between people and tearing our societies apart rather than serving as a platform, where we agree to differ and differ to agree, as the saying goes.

The national security minister saga spells this clearly when callers on radio talk shows and newspaper articles referred to members of opposing parties as enemies hence could not be friends with the security minister.

Some writers even questioned how friendship between members of the National Democratic Congress and New Patriotic Party could be possible. A paragraph in one such article reads: "(Name), I have known is a member of the National Democratic Congress and so there was no way he could be a friend to the National Security Minister who is serving the New Patriotic Party....... But what is baffling is that even though (name) was a friend to the minister he was always insulting the NPP."

Does belonging to different political parties make us enemies? Is this not what this paragraph is suggesting?

If this is the case, then I guess we should forget the much-touted Ghana is a peaceful state because in a country filled with twenty million people, half of who are enemies to the other half, as we seem to be suggesting, there is bound to be trouble eventually. If we chose democracy above all other political ideologies because we believe it is best for our country and her citizens, then we should also make it a point to educate the electorates that belonging to different political parties does not make us enemies.

As a young man with many friends that are sharply divided when it comes to politics, the last thing I need is some crossed eye politician or his sycophants manipulating their sensibilities into believing they are enemies because they belong to the two largest opposing parties of this country.

I suggest we do away completely with the use of the word 'enemy' in our politics when referring to political opponents because it could serve as catalyst for ugly things, don't you think?

Using the word cockroach to describe people in Rwanda led to the most horrendous genocide ever recorded in history and even though we were not there, I am sure we have all seen a rendition of the events in the movie 'Hotel Rwanda'.

Thankfully, we do not have a history of this kind of ghastly experience to refer to, but experiences of other countries should be more than enough to teach us all the lessons we would ever need, so I suggest we start studying and taking valuable lessons from them now.



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