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Opinions of Sunday, 11 October 2009

Columnist: Al-Hassan, Osumanu

Trapped In The Past

By Osumanu Al-Hassan

I love fairy tales and I can say I have read quite of lot of them. I remember before I learnt to read for myself, my Dad used to read fairy stories from a book titled, ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales,’ though I cannot remember the exact name of the author. As a grown up, I have read a lot more fairy books. Not only that, I have also seen many fairy movies and cartoons and till date I still enjoy such stories. The parts of such tales that captivate me have to do with instances when a character travels to the past and for some reasons gets trapped and cannot make the journey back to the present.

In science fiction moves (which seem to have taken over from these fairy movies) that depict such stories, people go back to the past to effect changes to make themselves very important and wealthy personalities in the present and then return to enjoy fruitful lives. I sometimes wonder if given the opportunity to return to a year in the past, which year would I go to and what changes would I effect for my present life? I have always thought of that until the message of a sermon I listened to hit me like a rock. According to the preacher, everyone is given the opportunity by the Creator to return to the past, though unconsciously and to effect changes for the present, which could lead to success or otherwise depending on what changes the person makes.

I have since believed that Ghana and Ghanaians were given the opportunity to go to the past (perhaps during the reign of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) from 2001-2008) but then we seemed to have chosen the sordid periods when everything went wrong and unfortunately we seem not to have made it back to the present. Indeed, while other countries, which suffered horrendous conflict experiences have managed to journey to the present from their pasts, separated themselves from that past and are working feverishly towards a better future, we in Ghana I believe are still trapped firmly in that past.

The National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) was to have served as the conduit through which Ghanaians would cross over from the past to the present. It, however, appeared many were not able to cross over and those who did brought along sacks full of bitter experiences which they take with their tea and coffee every morning and afternoon. We have always talked of ‘moving this nation forward’ and this catch phrase became the campaign theme of the then ruling party for the December 2008 polls, yet people were not prepared to leave the bitter past to make that move. And given the least opportunity they spew such bitterness, polluting the atmosphere in the process.

We were all witnesses to the kind of campaign waged during the December elections when calendars of the military days were sent from house to house to warn people that if they voted for the National Democratic Congress (NDC), the country would become a lawless country in which soldiers would massacre innocent civilians. This kind of campaign, apparently tasted so sour on the tongues of Ghanaians that it eventually contributed to the defeat of the then ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) government because lest we forget, money and precious time were used to set up the NRC to reconcile Ghanaians to enable us forget this very same past in order to move forward together in building this country.

It is clear from such bitterness that there is an imbalance of emotions and before this imbalance is off-set or people learn to cross that Iron Bridge from the past to the present, the peace we have will continue to be a mirage. Admittedly, this country suffered her unfortunate past but compared to the horrible civil wars that were fought in other countries on the continent; the slaughtering of people in the Congo, the annihilation of men, women and children in Burundi and Rwanda, the liquidation of previous human lives in apartheid South Africa, then we have cause to reflect. Indeed, this is not to say what happened in the past is right because taking of innocent life for whatever reason is wrong. Therefore the lives we lost in the distant or recent past should remain sacred to us by moving us towards a future where losing another innocent life to such excesses would never be an option.

The NRC was expected to have purged the bitterness that filled our system but clearly, the work of the commission had been for naught simply because the feeling of bitterness continues to linger and is perhaps more bitter than it was years ago, as evidenced during the election. Our West African neighbours of Liberia and Sierra Leone spent close to ten years or more in wars where boys were made to kill each others’ parents and made to commit some of the most horrendous crimes ever committed on the face of the earth. People in these countries have successfully made the journey out of this past and today perpetrators and victims alike could talk about the past without bitterness because they understood that they can only get to the future they seek by leaving the past where it belonged.

We, on the other hand, have not been able to do that and unfortunately the immediate past government have done more to make people bitter and vengeful, especially against those belonging to the National Democratic Congress, and this again, was so obvious during the December election. I witnessed such bitterness spill over when a course mate at the university lost her cool and threw tantrums during a lecture. It was an economic class and the lecturer was tracing the economic development of the country since 1900. When he got to the NDC era he outlined some of the economic policies of the NDC that brought benefits to the nation and added that if the party had won the 2000 election and pursued those policies, the development efforts of the country, in terms of that sector, could have seen massive improvement.

After his analysis, murmuring broke out in the lecture room and as usual, stalwarts of the NDC and the NPP had one thing or another to contribute to this part of the lecture. And then this lady blurted out, loud enough for others on the corridor to peek into the lecture room to find what was happening. She actually said it in Akan and it went, “Owidi fo yi na oka omu asem sei? Saa akronfuo yi die, mempese mete omu asem!?*?!” Oh man, you could actually feel her hatred spilling into the lecture room in huge waves and to say the least, her sudden explosion left many of the students chilled.

Not surprisingly, this open hatred for those who subscribe to the NDC had been a feature and even perhaps a policy of the then ruling NPP with such extreme loathing cultivated both on radio and in the press. It is good that Ghanaians emphatically decided to change the government as we did because at this moment of the nation’s history, Ghana no doubt needs a president and a political party that do not see the need to spend time in office looking through archive pictures to find people to blame for some pains suffered in the past.

Indeed, we can draw two significant differences between the inaugural speeches of former President Kufuor and President Mills. Whereas ex-President Kufuor emphasized that it was a good time to be a Ghanaian, President Mills on the other hand called for unity and in his words “there is no NDC Ghana, NPP Ghana, PNC Ghana or CPP Ghana. There is only one Ghana for us all.” He then urged Ghanaians to put the elections and what was said behind them and together move the nation forward. This call by President Mills appeared to have awoken the spirits of one people one destiny Ghanaians may have felt during the days of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. Of course, except for those who have sworn to destroy anyone and anything that has something to do with the NDC. And there are still remnants of them who incessantly vow on radio to destroy the NDC.

As a religious country, we prayed for good leadership and God Almighty, in his wisdom chose President Mills and the NDC and for those who still believe in Ghana it is time to take the president on his call to move this country forward, albeit in the right direction.

And let us not forget that happiness is a conscious choice, not an automatic response and to be a happy, people will have to choose happiness and work together to achieve it.