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Opinions of Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Columnist: Amuna, Paul

Why we should not allow the chickens to “come home to roost” in our politics - Part II

Paul Amuna

This is the second and concluding part of this article

That brings me to where and why I think the likes of Trump have succeeded. America is great, but American politics is completely broken and this is at the heart of the problems they have faced over the last 40 years, going back to the Reagan era in my opinion. President Reagan was successful in mobilising Americans (Democrats and Republicans) in a way only few have managed, with the promise of yes, – ‘making America great again’. At the time, there was frustration, disillusionment and a feeling among Americans (though largely wrong in my view) that America was losing its power, and this was highlighted by the failed attempt under President Jimmy Carter to rescue American hostages held in Tehran, Iran in 1979, around the time of the Iranian Revolution. The last bits of The Cold War, a weakening Soviet Union also seeing its last days, and the rise of the likes of Lech Walesa in Poland whom America supported to help bring down the Communist regime, were highlighted as early successes of the Reagan regime and he could do no wrong.

The fall of the Soviet Union and the symbolic tearing down of the Berlin wall around 1989-1990 were further signs of US dominance and ‘triumph’. The right wing was in full voice and nothing Reagan did could be wrong, , even with the Iran Contra Affair, and to this day, this same song and expectations cloud the vision of a people whose power in the world is built not merely on sheer power and military supremacy or might (as we have seen in places like Iraq), but perhaps more on their leadership in restoring peace and bringing the world to heal on o=important global issues affecting us all, including economic partnerships and e.g. working with the Chinese, Cubans, Russians and others to bring Iran to heal, or successfully fighting the devastating Ebola virus in West Africa in 2014-2015. Yet who is really listening and are ordinary Americans taking any notice and do they really care about everyone else except their own perceived self-interests?

The Republic party in Washington has spent the best part of the last 8 years doing everything in its power to derail, negate, reverse, thwart and destroy anything and everything this current president and his government have sought to bring into being. Starting from his declaration to “close Guantanamo Bay” to his pronouncements about opening up dialogues with US arch-enemies – Iran, North Korea, Cuba (and other leftist Latin American States) and others. I recall the man even winning the Nobel Prize for Peace even before he had had time to settle into the job with a lot of hope and global expectation on his shoulders.

He came in on a platform of “Change”, a message of hope and vowed to change America to be in line with the rest of the world, not by losing her place and power (in the Unipolar world that had been created since the fall of the Soviet Union), but to use ‘soft diplomacy’ to try and ‘bring the world together’, whilst maintaining to tough option of intervening where necessary although the evidence of such interventions as in the case of Libya where Nato, led by Sarkozy’s Frances and backed by the US with the likes of Senator John McCain and then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in full voice has failed spectacularly, and opened a wide corridor for the spread of arms to terrorist groups including Boko Haram, destabilising parts of West Africa, and now Libya is a potential safe-haven for the ISIS Islamist terrorists. The president inherited a country in tatters, an economy which had been brought to its knees through decades of poor decision-making and unwise Reagan and Tatcherite-era deregulation of the markets, and permissiveness of the financial system. His woes have were compounded by the needless and unjustified wars which continue to cost the country trillions of dollars and thousands of lost lives and shattered livelihoods, not to talk of whole nations destroyed, become ungovernable and now safe havens for terrorists. He had to start somewhere and he had to recalibrate and refine his agenda for America. To what extent he has succeeded is perhaps for posterity to judge, but what has clearly and certainly not helped is the instant and continuous, relentless opposition he and his government have faced and the blatant attempts to block all efforts at unity and common ground. Is it any wonder he has had to resort to Executive Orders which are his entitlements (within the US Constitution), in order to get things done where there was no compromise?

That today we have an agreement on Iran’s Nuclear programme and Cuban-US relations are being restored are examples of situations in which the US president has had to use his executive powers to make them happen. Bringing affordable health care (the so-called Obama Care) to millions of Americans who in the ‘richest country on earth’ hitherto lacked access to adequate and affordable health care has been marketed almost as a crime by the opposition and ALL the political contenders in the current cycle of US Presidential primaries have vowed to REPEAL the Act!!!

The Tea Party movement backed by rich billionaires who only seem to wish to see things done their way, have found their voice. Media openings and right wing propaganda a messages through e.g. Fox News which to Joe foreigner like me, simply do not make sense and are largely distorted. They are often not based on verifiable facts, but nonetheless reach the homes of millions of their citizens who do not even bother to check the facts, and who are constantly fed this pap which to a large extent, appears to be influencing their thinking and decision-making this election cycle. The political system and process has thus been hijacked by those whose primary selfish motive is their own self-interest and because some of these people control the purse strings and can conspire to unseat members of Congress and Senators, people have simply had to ‘tow the line’ especially in so-called conservative and some Swing States!!

So there are many on all sides of the aisle, and independent US electorate who are genuinely frustrated, bitter, disenfranchised and can clearly see that “Washington is not working”. Trump and others like Bernie Sanders on the left, have therefore found a fertile niche within which to attract certain constituencies who traditionally have gone off politics because they felt left out, disenfranchised, not considered. The Ku Klux Klan members perhaps fit into one of those categories from the right wing, and typical Klan members have never recognised the current incumbent as their President, and they say it all the time. I don’t blame Trump, I put the blame fairly and squarely at the doorsteps of Congress and the US Senate who have failed spectacularly in their jobs as public servants and rather than go there to represent the interests of the many, have indulged in partisan nonsense, represented extremist views and groups, and failed to make government work. How the likes of Trump if elected can, and will change the current narrative is impossible to fathom, yet what is very clear to me is that not only can he not keep most of his promises, he simply has no clue when it comes to government, and is most likely going to set not only America back, but with it the rest of the world. So rather than “Make American Great again” as his campaign slogan tells us, he is likely to Diminish the Standing of America in the World (you mark my words). By the way, when asked this question about his lack of experience of public service and political office Donal J. Trump said he would ‘appoint a politician’ as his Vice-president, and delegate a lot of government business to that person. He wants simply to “Do Deals that will make America Great Again”. I’ll be damned!

Now returning back home, are there any parallels?
The simple answer is No, and Yes.

No, because Ghana and Ghanaians have been fortunate to have emerged as a nation with fundamentals for human decency, respect and a value system built on equality and tolerance as clearly enshrined in our constitution. In a largely homogenous society such as ours, with a history such as ours, one that has not been too corrupted by a powerful history of racism, there is always hope that we can overcome our differences of religion, tribe, creed and social class. We are also a small country (unlike e.g. Nigeria which runs a Federal system of over 50 States) with a unitary system and have a constitution which to a large extent is not clouded by deeply entrenched and outdated and outmoded such as the right to bear and carry arms (and use them when you feel threatened I suppose), amendments for which people are prepared to place far more importance than the very many things that unite them as we continue to see in America with the gun lobby and politicians sponsored and supported by them.

Yes, because our politicians appear to be no different from the types we find in the unworkable, disparate and partisan Washington, the very political atmosphere which has contributed in no small way to the rise of the likes of Donald trump. There are Ghanaians in the Diaspora and some dual nationals domiciled in the United States who, even on this forum simply do not see anything wrong with the way politics is done in the US. I certainly do, and in my view it is that which is at the very heart of the problems America (and the world) faces today. Freedom of speech and expression have been taken to such extremes that you sometimes wonder if our parliament and our politics is a microcosm of the US political landscape.

As many a statesman have lamented over the past few years in Ghana, ours has become a ‘politics of insults’, non-compromise and with no space to acknowledge and recognise the good in the other party or government. Sadly, this state of affairs is cyclical and is not limited to one particular party or the other, but to all of them. If I see nothing good in the governing party, and if anything they do is bad, and I trumpet the notion that the president “is out of his depth”, clueless, and his government is corrupt and up to no good no matter what they do’, then surely when my party is in government, I should not expect any different response or attitude from the opposite party. The idea of parliamentary committees I thought was to bring together representatives from all the various parties elected, to dialogue and help shape bills, polices and acts which help us to govern but what do we have in Ghana? There is endless debate, foolish partisanship and brinkmanship and then things are leaked to the media, when their responsibility is first and foremost to the parliamentary process and they simply forget that they are accountable at the end of the day, to the Ghanaian people who elected them in the first place to represent their interests, not their party’s cynical positions.

I find that many of our own politicians (like some politicians in the US) are ignorant, do not bother to read or study, and have limited knowledge of the things and the world around them, not to talk of issues around politics itself, the political processes, economics, national development, government and running the country. Some politicians and so-called political pundits are so ignorant that they think screaming and shouting and insulting their opponent in a debate is the way to do politics – that’s plain wrong. One of the things I personally lament is the lack of ‘grasp with policy details’ and lack of wit, wisdom and smartness by some government appointees and ministers / deputy ministers. I find the way some of them respond to serious questions so amateurish and appalling, it would have been laughable but for the fact that it is most sad and a serious indictment of our weak ‘political education’ for so-called professional politicians.

The fact that some people think that just by being ‘party activists’ and spokespersons or contributing to a party’s election qualifies them to hold political office is simply beyond me. What we need in parliament and in government are smart people who know their brief and who can lead in the areas where they are placed to serve. The notion that once appointed they are now the bosses, and so can say or do anything is another wrong attitude which so often characterises especially those one would refer to as “never ever dreamt that they would ever get here” type. Sadly, there are too many such perambulating and peddling their political trade unchallenged. I understand there have even been instances in some ministries and departments where no one else can ride in the same lift was the ‘director’ or ‘minister’. How pathetic!

My Take Home Message
1. Ghana as a country has come a very long way. We have had missed opportunities but to a large extent we have made good progress despite systemic problems including incipient corruption, poor governance, mismanagement and ignorance which have bedevilled politicians and appointees of all parties.

2. More recently our politics has become increasingly partisan and polluted in my view from the bad politics in places like Washington. All political parties are guilty of falling for the ‘cheap option’ of only seeing the negative form their opponents and nothing good except from their own side.
3. We have experienced a bad press as a nation internationally which does not help our governance and economic ratings, simply because some politicians have found it expedient to condemn their own government (and country) to the external, in the erroneous belief that that would endear them to the outsiders, and that it would show that they are far better and will do a better job. Nothing could be further from the truth.

4. I have encountered Ghanaians in the diaspora, most of them ignoramuses, including those who do not even visit regularly, and / or visit only occasionally and for 2 to 4 week holidays to spend money with their families or ‘stay in their so-called mansions’ they have invested in over time. All well and good, but what I find objectionable about these individuals is their near-hatred of the government in power, and they having absolutely nothing good to say about their own country, but all negative!!!

5. We have to desist from this dumbing down of our own nation. Sadly, when the detractors attempt to ‘recall the good old days’, they don’t seem to be able to place it anywhere!!! 1940s? 1950s? 1960s? most of them were simply not there and all they know about those days is from some written and mostly oral history, passed down along the family chain. 1970s? 1980s? May be, but these were decades filled with the most military Coups d’états, something those who were lucky to live through those decades decry and lament. 1990s? 2000s? May be, but simply tell me, what was so dramatically different for Ghana and Ghanaians during these decades? And by the way, where were we the critics during these same decades?

6. Our adoption of US-style political dialogue and approach is not only alien, it is unhelpful and quite frankly has not, and will not help heal our differences nor help us build our country. It is time we began to re-examine these missteps and re-evaluate who we are, and what we wish to become as a nation. We don’t have to be like America to be successful. Ghana is blessed in its own unique way, let’s embrace it.

Finally, as the 2016 election season heats up, we need to focus on the issues, and for there to be calm within parties and between parties. We need to put our country first in all things and remember that as politicians, people are called to serve, not divide and lord ourselves over the rest of the population. I hope ordinary Ghanaians will see through all the lies, deceit and pomposity, and that substance, not personality, fame and money will rule. Lest we allow the chickens to come home to roost. Don’t say you were not warned.

The author, Dr. Paul Amuna is a regular contributor to political dialogue and an advocate of political integrity and national development built on good governance and respect for the constitution, inclusiveness, mutual respect without regard, and a multi-partisan approach to nation building.