Feature Article of Monday, 18 June 2012

Columnist: Kpebu, Seidu

What the Public Needs to Know about Politicians

By Seidu Kpebu

The term politics originally meant state or city (polis) which later metamorphosed into politics according to classical Greek records. We are therefore living with a term which has transcended generations and has taken on some negative connotations culminating in it being synonymous with spin, mistrust, deception as well as positively- 'saviour of the masses'.  This year is another return to politics and the spinning of political messages.

This is the time blatant lie is made to appear truthful and breakfast, lunch and dinner combined for my best friend in the street who last saw slops on his dinner table in December 2008. He was made to feed fat so he could clearly see the names and photographs on the ballot paper. He could also be in his senses to know how to use his big thump. Once in every four years the deprived and my 'akokorowa' in the village will say thank you lord we are remembered again, at least.

The late Dokpam Naa, Attah Nantogmah, one time Deputy Minister for Defence in Nkrumah's government, once narrated to me how he and his campaign team were caught between telling the truth and spinning to secure votes from a village in the 'over seas' area of the Northern Region. The villagers needed a dam or a well (borehole) to serve them with water and a road linking Damanko in the south-eastern Northern Region and a bridge over River Oti.

He was regarded by these village folks as a person whose credentials were beyond reproach. However they needed him to tell them how his government was going to provide them with their needs. He found himself in a dilemma and finally had to rely on persuasive speech, making the impossible seem possible to his constituents.

It is agreeable that politicians may sometimes be pressed into relying on spin, but it is not an excuse to leave the people to their fate after they have achieved their aim; winning the elections.

Take for example the Eastern corridor road. Politicians have promised the people of these areas years on end that the roads would be upgraded or tarred if they are elected. Year-in-year-out these areas are cut off during rainy season and politicians who ply the route used their countryside four wheel drives to wade through the muddy and rugged roads without an iota of concern, seeing private and commercial vehicles stuck in the middle of the roads.

Never would politicians tell them that government coffers are dry and such projects can't be undertaken now or ever (NDC government according to reports has finally awarded it on contract). The people don't know that the grader seen on the road mockingly busy in an election year would not be seen after the elections.

Sadly, our soft spoken and eloquent good fellows (politicians) believe in the wizardry of spin to the extent that some behave much more like psychopaths. They don't care a hoot if their followers cause genocide to perceived opponents or people belonging to the other part(s) of the political divide. The end result of all political activities is nation building, not nation ruining.

Different people have different approach to the same problem and the electorate must be educated along these lines not to see people as opponents. When it comes to education the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) and the media have a major role to play. Equally too, are the politicians and civil society groups.

In 1996 prior to the elections, Mr Kwame Pianim (failed on his presidential ambition due to a court action) met a group of students in Casley-Hayford Hall in Cape Coast University. After outlining his vision and his plans for the country, he told the students not to consider people belonging to other political parties as enemies. He said what the electorate needs to be told is that, politicians mount political platforms to verbally attack each other and later converge at a point to discuss what they said against each other on their campaigns.

Why then have politicians failed to tell the public that these things happen in closet over a bottle of Stella Artois beer if indeed what Mr Pianim said is true? If they know, as Kwame Pianim said, that this brings harmony and understanding between them, can't they try to ensure such peace and co-existence among their followers?

I once shared a hotel with Dr. Wereko Brobby at Tamale in October 2000 prior to the elections and after every rally he returned to the hotel with his team to analyse his speech and how the electorate responded. The sycophancy of his team members told one story, that after all politicians can also be spun. What his followers then said in Dabgani, which he believed was praises, now belongs to political history. So politicians should not assume that all their followers are stupid and have no independent minds.

This year is again an election year and politicians must behave responsibly and tell the public what they must know. They will want to know when their lives will improve, what are their policies and when the previous election promises would be fulfilled before December to justify any seeking of votes from them.

It would make unpalatable reading but the reality can't be ignored. The voiceless have suffered for too long and need to be given the chance to also ventilate and get matters off their chest. The media has a social responsibility either to be the voice for the forgotten or medium to give people voice to ask questions and to give suggestions.

The public may not know that some media houses get huge income from government and opposition advertisement deals. Such media groups would not dare challenge the government or the opposition, but to promote the good works and image of them. The media is a major carrier of government and opposition's political spin.

The situation in the West is different, especially UK, where the people are politically informed and any media house which helps the government or the opposition to deceive the people is easily found out. There is a growing trend in the West where people tend to trust the media more than politicians and this is playing well to the advantage of the public. It puts everybody on the best moral discipline. Especially my friends in politics can no longer plant stories in the media without being noticed.

The Labour government in UK was on the ropes of the boxing ring because it had reneged on its election promises and blatantly, defiantly and arrogantly done the very opposite.

For instance, their manifesto stated clearly that they would not introduce top-up fees and foundation hospitals and would reform the public sector. But they introduced foundation hospitals and top-up fees, bills that they forced through the House of Commons with arm-twisting. The informed public, with the help of the media, turned on the government and its polling ratings was at its 27 year lowest in 2008.

Post-modern society seeks detailed information in other to fit in the superstructure called global society. Failure by the media and political parties to provide them with the needed information leads to mistrust, distrust and disloyalty of the people within the social strata.

The Ghanaian electorate must also ask politicians to produce results of their stewardship and every political message must be considered with a third eye. Not only the ruling party but also the minority parties must be subjected to scrutiny.

From now until December, I needn't tell any political office seeker that arrogance goes on sabbatical, giving humility the chance to play. Happily, my old lady in the village would get a bowl of 'dawadawa' (a local spice) this election year in exchange for her thump. That is how politics operates in Ghana. But hey warning!, Ghanaians are now descerning more than ever before.

P/S: Do you know that supermarkets in the UK know more about their customers than the government does? They use loyalty cards to determine your spending pattern and what your interests are.

Do you also know that in 2004 every cow in the European Union (EU) was subsidised by £1.40 a day and that three out of four Africans have less than that to live on?