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Opinions of Monday, 6 October 2008

Columnist: Adomako, Appiah Kusi

Violence Free Election: Our Shared Responsibilities

Appiah Kusi Adomako, Leaders of Tomorrow Foundation, London

Election 2008 is getting closer by the day. All indications are that Ghanaians are fully prepared for the election, which will produce one of two outcomes: either retaining the ruling party under a new leader or bringing back into office the country’s largest opposition after they were ushered out in the 2000 election. The interest in the events leading up to the election is indicative of the fact that people want to play a part in who governs them and how they are governed. Ghanaians have come to the full realization that government for the people and by the people is the best form of government. Electoral campaigning in developing democracies hasn’t always been plain sailing. From pre-voting to post voting, violence has torn countless countries apart. Its devastating effects on the continent of Africa are enormous. Even now some countries are trying to pick up the debris generated by elections. Is this violence or political storm a good reason to condemn the concept of democracy to the shredder machine? I agree with the words of the celebrated US President John F. Kennedy that ‘democracy is not perfect but it is better than any form of government in the world.’ Does this mean that we should resign ourselves to the fact that democracy is strife between opposing parties and ideas which must result in conflict, with some becoming deadly? It’s historically acknowledged that Ghana’s path to independence was relatively peaceful. This cannot be said about contemporary Ghanaian politics and elections. For all the elections that I have witnessed in this country, none can boast of clean hands in terms of violence. It has littered every election in this country-whether it is a general election or a parliamentary bye-election. And it’s always the two major political parties-the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and National Democratic Congress (NDC) that take the nation into the boxing ring. Anytime you hear of any political unrest in the country it is these parties that are the main culprits. When I was a student at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) some years ago, there used to be a blood bath between the two main male halls-University Hall (popularly called Katanga) and the Unity Hall (Conti). This blood bath was only present anytime the two halls would go to the University Sports Stadium for games. Whenever students from these two halls would sit in the same lecture rooms for lectures they were brothers. But whenever they would meet for games they became distant strangers. Meanwhile these students worshipped in either the mosque on Fridays or in church every Sunday. This example is the same across other public universities in the country. In Legon, it exists between Commonwealth and John Mensah Sarbah halls, and in Cape Coast it exists between Caseley Hayford and Atlantic halls. Ghana’s political violence and animosity can be likened to the two halls at KNUST and at other public universities. The recent political violence in Tamale and in other cities is another unfortunate chapter in our democratic expedition. The rate at which political violence has spread gives cause for concern and TRUMPET OF CONSCIENCE cannot keep quiet when the nation’s life is being toyed with by some unscrupulous politicians. I know that this shall not be the end of political violence between the two main parties. It appears that in the northern region, political violence is fuelled by tribal or ethnic sentiments. These are the same tribal clashes that damaged Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya etc. We are not far from this. I am not wrong when I say that Ghana is systematically approaching political collision and the least force can cause us to spirally out of control. Every Ghanaian ought to be concerned about what is happening in the country. Political parties have a responsibility to urge all their intemperate Peters ‘to put down their swords’ History is replete with the wreckages of nations and communities that followed violence. When I talk of political or electoral violence I am not talking about physical violence alone. More violent words scream from newspaper headlines and echo through the media. This is happening in a nation which prides itself as an oasis of peace in a turbulent West Africa. The big political shots in Accra sound the discord of violence and party supporters in the regions chant the chorus then pandemonium ensues. I think it would be appropriate for the Chief Justice to establish a special court or assign court days for dealing with all cases of electoral violence. It also behoves on the incumbent government not to meddle in the waters of justice whenever a party member is found foul of the law. Temptation has always been great for parties to protect and defend their members even when all the evidence shows that the member committed the criminal act. The church and the mosque should see it as an ecclesiastical obligation to proclaim the message of peaceful elections. Individually or in our small ways we should crave and work towards peaceful elections. It must be noted that all the gains chalked up since independence can be destroyed in one electoral dispute. In life it is always better to learn from other people’s mistakes than to learn from your own. Politics or democracy should not be seen as an extension of wars fought on battlegrounds like that of Afghanistan or Iraq. Democracy is a moral arena where people converge to determine to become stewards of the public will. We have all inherited a big house called Ghana which we must all learn to live in together as one, irrespective of one’s political orientation, ethnic or religious belief. There is always beauty in diversity. In conclusion, this election would be like a knife which either serves us or severs us depending upon where one holds. If we hold the knife by the handle we can use it well to our communal advantage. On the contrary, if we hold it by the sharp end it will sever us.