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Opinions of Monday, 22 December 2008

Columnist: Abigi, Kwadwo

Why we arrived at December 28 - A Critical Analysis

The people’s expression of sovereignty

Article 1(1) of the Fourth Republican Constitution provides that “the sovereignty of Ghana resides in the people of Ghana in whose name and for whose welfare the powers of government are to be exercised in the manner and within the limits laid down in this Constitution.”

In other words, the Constitution signals that the role of government is to serve the people, not to lord over them. To ensure that the sovereignty that has been handed over to government on behalf of the people is not abused, certain mechanisms, structures and institutions have been put in place to check any excesses. These include the right of the people to institute administrative or legal measures against government or government officials to ensure conformity to legal rules and respect for guaranteed rights, call for resignation or removal from office; or simply to demonstrate or engage in advocacy work to press home their demands for better governance. Above all, where this power is exercised in an unreasonable or arbitrary fashion, the people can through the exercise of their civil rights, wrest it back from those it entrusted the power

The New Patriotic Party (NPP), particularly during the first term of the Fourth Republic when it served as “Opposition outside Parliament,” used the courts to challenge and correct some anomalies of the then NDC administration. The NDC, however, while in opposition, relied less on these administrative and legal means, apart from parliamentary boycotts to express dissatisfaction with the government of the day. Thus, apart from some individuals and organisations (particularly NGOs), Ghanaians generally did not utilise these other non-ballot box recourses provided under the Constitution to challenge the NPP administration and to remedy its perceived administrative anomalies.

Mother Hen or Mother Duck?

But it didn’t mean that Ghanaians are politically ignorant or the ‘Fama Nyame’ (Leave-it-to-God) syndrome applies without moderation when it comes to politics. Ghanaians rather behave like the typical Mother Duck. Our elders have a story which goes that one day, a young eagle on a hunting expedition came back with a prey – a chicken. Mother Eagle enquired to know what the reaction of Mother Hen was when her young was whisked away. The young eagle responded, “She raved and ranted and cursed. But then as I flew away, I realised that it began to mellow and to look around for her other chicks which had escaped into the bushes.” Mother Eagle said, ‘That’s ok then.” The next day, on another expedition, the young eagle caught a duckling. Again Mother Eagle, while congratulating the young eagle for its catch, asked about the reaction of Mother Duck. The young eagle responded that there was no cause for alarm because Mother Duck was calm, unruffled and seemed unconcerned about what had happened. Upon hearing this, Mother Eagle rather became alarmed and asked the young eagle to return the duckling. Mother Eagle explained that in the case of Mother Hen, one could read her mind and it was clear she wasn’t going to take any further action. But the contrary was the case with Mother Duck.

This scenario applies to the NPP government and the good people of Ghana. For the majority who were disenfranchised, marginalised and pauperised by the policies of the NPP administration and who did not resort to any other means to make the government account for their actions, they decided to vent their spleen against the incumbent regime on December 7. The results are crystal clear.

Comparing the results

In 2000, the NPP was ushered into power with a 57.4% for President Kufour (as against 42.6% for Atta Mills) and parliamentary majority of 99 seats as against 92 by the NDC (for a total of 200 seats in Parliament). This was when NPP was riding high on the wave of goodwill and so-called Ghana’s second independence. But then Ghanaians began to feel a second-wave of emasculation and disenfranchisement through some negative neo-liberal policies that the NPP government decided to implement. Instead of learning from their errors, it hardly made any reforms. This reflected in the 2004 elections when the presidential results showed a reduction in the goodwill and popularity it enjoyed among Ghanaians. This time, Kufour polled 52.5% (loss of 4.9%) as against 44.6% by Atta Mills (gain of 2%). In the parliamentary, with the creation of new constituencies and the increase of seats in Parliament to 230 from 200, NPP won 129 seats (increase of 20 seats) as against 94 by the NDC (gain of 3 seats). The new constituencies that were created clearly favoured the NPP. The economy grew, the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) was implemented, foreign direct investment rose, a construction boom emerged which provided employment for a good number of Ghanaians. In addition, the banking system took a firm grounding and expanded, bringing job opportunities and financial liquidity into the system, etc. But as these positive developments emerged, it was matched by increased levels of insensitivity, arrogance, cronyism, corruption, mismanagement, mortgaging of Ghana’s sovereignty and the penchant for grandiose projects on the part of the NPP, even including those that it had fought against under the previous NDC administration such as the presidential jet acquisition.

The result is that NPP lost its parliamentary majority to the NDC. While NDC won 113 seats (gain of 19 seats), NPP had 109 (loss of 19 seats). Moreover, NDC swept 7 out of the 10 regions. This may have come as a real shocker to die-hard NPP followers. Perhaps, any NPP supporter who expected an outright win, would have been living in a fool’s paradise. NPP was banking on the oil find but the people couldn’t be hoodwinked to believe that oil was poured into the basins around Cape Three Points by the waving of Kufour’s magic wand. Arguably, the NPP was relying on the awards, the medals, the prizes, the queenly invitations and showering of praises by the Western world on Kufour to win the elections. Nevertheless, the NPP regime had failed to realise that while the Western states may have benefited immensely from Kufour’s hands-off approach which has allowed for dumping of goods on the local market to destroy local industries, environmental pollution in mining communities, etc, the big losers were the same Ghanaians the NPP expected to vote for them. In the end, the gifting of cutlasses, rice, etc to appease them was considered as insults, mere window-dressing, and rejected. The NPP was hoping to impress the people by saying that under the Kufour regime, the cedi has gained value to be at par with the dollar when all that Kufour did was to cut off four zeros from the currency and accumulate about billions of cedis in debt to re-denominate the currency.

Campaigning style and impact

In the end, NPP had to pour so much money into advertising in a desperate effort to win the heart and minds of the people they had disenfranchised and marginalised. In fact, the top-notch state-of-the-art advertising strategy, executed by the NPP in the present election was par excellence. And it might have come at a heavy cost. In my estimation, NPP beat NDC by at least 2-1 in terms of money sank into advertising. It makes one wonder if there is no credibility in the BBC-run story that cocaine money played a huge part in this year’s electioneering campaign. In my opinion, the ability of Akufo-Addo to pull ahead of Atta Mills by that slim majority is attributed to a better orchestrated campaign strategy his team mounted (some of which included campaigning, particularly those linking the NDC to past PNDC atrocities) and some level of history and tradition which were on his side. But in the end, money could not save him and may not save him, come December 28.

At the end of the day, it comes down to who to really believe and trust, and I think the campaign of trust mounted by Prof Evans Atta Mills did work. Secondly, Prof Mills I believe is a more sociable person who has an organic touch with the people. His door-to-door, open market style campaign and interaction with taxi drivers, etc turned to be effective as it connected him more to the people. Nana Akuffo-Addo’s one-day tro-tro ride was seen as a mere political gimmick and didn’t fly. Nana Akuffo-Addo’s elitist background could not be broken down by the NPP campaign strategists, or maybe he simply refused to come down his high horse. Even the tone of his English language places him out of touch with the ordinary person. Perhaps, Obama might get away with his impeccable Harvardian English but I’m not sure Akufo-Addo’s foreign-acquired accent is doing him a lot of good among the ordinary street people.

Why Akufo-Addo failed

Nana Akuffo-Addo failed to distance himself from some major faux pas committed by Kuffour. And by endorsing such policies he was telling the people of Ghana he knew better than them. It was up to Akuffo-Addo to have adopted a McCain style of campaigning whereby he openly divorced himself from some of Bush’s terrible policies. Nonetheless, his campaign was all about building on the “solid foundation” of Kufour, with Kuffour portrayed as Moses and Akufo-Addo as Joshua. Nothing was found wrong with the Kufour administration. This was clearly demonstrated by the various pronouncements made by Kufour in his various interviews granted to foreign media such as the BBC in which he even took glory where glory was not due (good example being claiming credit for the Kenya power-sharing deal). This high display of condescending did not help the NPP campaign. The Vodafone deal was a fiasco. The construction of the presidential palace is another Achilles heel of the NPP. The argument that it is a national asset did not fly with many. Worse of all is the purchase of presidential jets when the same regime, while in opposition, had vehemently opposed an earlier attempt by then ruling NDC. Topping that is the presidential awards event. The crass level of cronyism that attended this event, which is supposed to be sacrosanct and a true reflection of rewarding people for their patriotism, sacrifice and devotion to the state, left a sour taste in the mouths of all well-meaning Ghanaians. The low level of the event was the President rewarding himself – as if all the awards he had picked up from across the globe were not enough for him. The NPP also did horrible by making Parliament less governable and taking advantage of the strong executive powers granted by the Constitution to the President to bulldoze its way through Parliament. According to some constitutional experts, Parliament became less democratic under the NPP era. No wonder, the late Rt. Honourable Ala Adjetey, who was supported by the NDC, was forced out of the Speaker’s chair to give way to a more malleable person who was ready to sing to the tune of the President. The Executive also eclipsed the Council of State, rendering it spineless, toothless and ineffective. So far, some of the key recommendations made by African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) to reform governance and better promote human rights under the Kufour administration have not been heeded to. Yet, the Kufour administration prided itself, as one of its achievements, as being the first African State to submit to the APRM. Also, the follow-up recommendations by AfriMAP have been shoved aside. Among others, it was proposed that the Ministry for Parliamentary Affairs be abolished, as well as decoupling of the office of Attorney-General and Ministry of Justice. One can also talk about the recommendations of the National Reconciliation Commission. Most of these recommendations have not been responded to. Yet, rather, the NPP tried to stoke the flames of disunity by referring to past human rights abuses under the PNDC era and linking that to the NDC.

In addition, NPP’s lack of application of its internal democratic structures, which led to imposition of parliamentary candidates or placing of stumbling blocks in the way of those who were less favoured by the bosses, was another factor responsible for its dismal performance.

Voter apathy?

According to statistics released by the Electoral Commission, about 65% of registered voters did vote. For that reason, there have been cries about voter apathy. This might be true to some extent, particularly among NPP supporters who decided not to as a protest against the imposition of candidates on them and for the general dissatisfaction with NPP’s performance in office. Quite apart from this, I will attribute the low turn-out to the efforts of groups and individuals to prevent illegally registered persons from voting. We should take into account the fact that civil society organisations (CSOs), particularly the Civic Forum Initiative (CFI), decried the high levels of illegal (under-aged, multiple and alien) registration. It was estimated that about 2 million people were illegally registered or not qualified to vote. Therefore the CFI and other CSOs and individuals put up a spirited fight to ensure the cleaning up of the voters’ register. This exercise was successful to some appreciable extent but it didn’t help to reduce the numbers drastically. CSOs, however, did not give up. In collaboration with bodies such as Conference of Headmasters of Assisted Secondary Schools (CHASS), the Ghana Education Service (GES), the NCCE, CHRAJ, etc serious efforts were made to ensure that minors and other “illegals” would not attempt to vote. I believe this collaborative effort helped to prevent a significant number of illegally registered voters from turning up to vote. Plus, the EC strategy of preventing double voting was effective in turning some people away. All these contributed to reducing election fraud. Therefore it would be wrong to conclude that voter apathy was simply to blame.

NDC bad strategies

Having said all this, my prediction did not place NDC as being able to stage such a dramatic come-back. I was rather expecting the CPP to perform better under a seemingly resurgent Dr. Paa Kwesi Nduom and rather poach votes from the NPP. This is due to the fact that the NDC campaign strategy was not very well coordinated. Atta-Mills at certain points became preachy and invoked too much reliance on God into his campaign message. The NDC could not articulate a sharp message that could counter the NPP strategy of linking the NDC to the PNDC. Sometimes the message was wishy-washy and unfocused. It seemed to say that NPP did not achieve anything at all. That is not correct. Such a message seemed to send jitters to the people as well as the international community that an NDC regime would discontinue some of the policies of the NPP. But the Constitution even does not allow that as it emphasises the need for continuation of policies where possible. By lumping all NPP policies together as a failure, the NDC failed to identify and hammer on some of the key failures of the NPP government and relate them to how they have contributed to impoverishing the ordinary person in simple language for the people to relate to. For example, how about down the cost of the presidential awards and costing how much this money could have constructed so many classrooms, bought so many textbooks, built a feeder road to cart goods from the hinterland, and graphically presenting this on the television screens?

The NDC also did not stress its good points, such as having contributed to peace in the country by ensuring a smooth transition to the NPP and some of the key social policy initiatives it initiated and were continued by the NPP.

Conclusion

As noted earlier, this weakness on the part of NDC enabled them to lose the presidential to the NPP. If it should do its homework well it is likely to win the run-off. If for nothing at all, history is on its side. Among others, the NDC should isolate Rawlings from their campaign. The man is more of a liability than an asset. The ability of Atta-Mills to dissociate himself from him from the campaign, and for example, choosing and ‘outdooring’ his Vice-presidential candidate without the blessing of Rawlings was a powerful message he sent out that he was indeed his own man. It is alright for Rawlings to campaign for the party but it has to be discreet among the NDC strongholds. This way, he could play a vital role in shoring up the NDC support base and at the same time not overshadow Atta Mills and give credence to the wrongly-held view that he (Rawlings) would return to power and influence under an NDC regime. Rawlings’ AFRC/PNDC human rights record is sour and unpalatable and any hint that we might have a return to those days, which seems well-nigh impossible though, is likely to be capitalised on by the NPP. To me Rawlings is passé in terms of his ability to dictate and influence affairs in the country.

The NDC needs to identify three to five key missteps and terribly bad policies executed by the NPP, highlight them graphically and talk about how they have contributed to the difficulties the country finds itself in today. It should then bring out ideas and policies which will be implemented to counter these negative policies and outline how it will benefit the people. At the same time it should highlight achievements made by Atta Mills during his tenure as Veep. Respect for the rule of law as against the practice of ‘rule by law’ should be emphasised. Strengthening of constitutional and statutory bodies to ensure checks and balances and particularly deal with corruption is key. Provision of affordable water, electricity and feeder roads, the setting up of rural-agro-based industries should be stressed. NDC has an advantage of wooing the middle class and by talking about policy measures that will expand and strengthen that class, as opposed to the NPP policy of creating an upper and lower class and weakening the creation of a middle class. It can also come up with ideas to strengthen the Council of State and make it more effective and more representative. I would even propose that it should embrace members of the National House of Chiefs. The lack of implementation of many of the recommendations of the National Reconciliation Commission is one gaping hole that it can exploit by strongly emphasise the point of implementing its recommendations as well as the APRM report. Parliament remains weakened as an effective oversight, legislative and deliberative body. This is another weakness that the NDC could exploit by coming up with succinct policies on how to make Parliament work better and become a true epitome of democratic governance in the country. Furthermore, it should come up with concrete steps to deal with the environmental tragedy faced by mining communities. Finally, it should talk of bringing justice to the door steps of the people by highlighting on improving alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms and dealing with judicial corruption. Above all, complacency should be eschewed.

All said and done, whoever wins the 2008 elections should realise that Ghana’s democracy has come of age. This is, in my opinion, is not due to the fact that the elections were violence-free and acclaimed to be free and fair. Rather, it is due to the fact that Ghanaians have now become politically discernible and savvy. Any time I went around the countryside and saw signs which read like “No light, no vote,” “No water, no vote,” I would smile and doff off my hat for the people, as it makes me feel that they realise sovereignty indeed resides in them and they cannot be taken for granted. Go Ghana!

kwadwo abigi