In recent times, especially within the last two weeks, the kind of political discourse we have witnessed in Ghana – especially in the media – has not been pleasant, neither does it promote peace.
As this year is an election year, based on previous election periods, some of us expected the political temperature to rise. However, we did not expect political communication to turn into warmongering messages from political party officials, traditional leaders and even some clergymen – who have turned their pulpits into political platforms and are preaching politics instead of the word of God.
In the past, many complained about the use of intemperate language by our political players; but since the last two weeks following deployment of soldiers and other security personnel to Ghana’s borders, the usual abusive political discourse has transcended into ethnocentrism. Some members of Parliament (MPs), chiefs and community leaders from the Volta Region raised alarming concerns about the presence of deployed personnel in the region, while some members of the governing New Patriotic Party (NPP) responded with inflammatory language. These kinds of statements are stoking tribal hostilities in Ghana, as there is no doubt that this pitches Ewes and other ethnic groups in the Volta and Oti Regions against Akans especially, simply because the president is Akan.
Former President Jerry John Rawlings could not stay away from becoming entrapped in this ethnic wrangling. Despite his privileged knowledge of security issues and how governments operate, he was quoted as saying that “the deployment of soldiers at this particular point in time along Ghana’s borders in the Volta and Oti Regions is generating suspicion and animosity among the citizens, whose basic way of life is being disrupted”. His statement gave a wrong interpretation of government’s reasoning, and thus fuelled the situation.
Also, former President John Dramani Mahama who left office only three-and-a-half years ago said: “To send troops into regions in times of peace for the sole purpose of preventing them from registration amounts to declaring war on them. Any president sanctioning this sort of activity stands in breach of his oath to the people of Ghana. Any president doing this commits a grave sin against the very people he swore to protect”. He added that: “The singling out of Volta, Oti and other regions for this kind of attack must be condemned by all. We cannot remain silent while a part of our country is marginalised on account of political calculation”. Clearly, his basis for the statement was false.
The Aflao Traditional Council, in a press release, said the deployment was only in the Volta Region “without doing same at the Western frontier with Ivory Coast or the Northern frontier with Burkina Faso”. This was also false.
The Volta Caucus MPs even went further to give government a 24-hour ultimatum, within which period the security personnel must be withdrawn from the Volta Region. The Chairman of the Caucus, Emmanuel Bedzrah, said: “The fire has been lit and we the Voltarians are ready. We are not cowards, and I want to repeat that we are not cowards”. The IMANI leader, Franklin Cudjoe – who incidentally comes from the region, couldn’t shepherd his think-tank from falling into the local Ghanaian tribal trap when he was reported to have questioned government’s motive for deploying the security personnel in Volta and Oti Regions.
The strange aspect of all these concerns and statements is that all those who made them have access to the necessary information, either from government or other sources, to check if the deployment was only in the Volta Region before their explosive and war-like statements.
Both President Akufo-Addo and Defence Minister Dominic Nitiwul, in separate speeches, explained the rationale behind the security deployment. They said it was not only in the Volta Region, and also the deployment started as far back as March 30 this year, to help the Immigration Service ensure compliance of the closure of Ghana’s borders as a result of the coronavirus. The president gave the breakdown of soldiers deployed in the border regions as 102 in North East; 110 in Northern; 207 in Upper East; and 21 in Savannah. The rest, he said, are Upper West, 69; Bono, 64; Western, 14; Oti, 72 and Volta, 98.
The president said the deployments were not in any way intended to intimidate or prevent eligible Ghanaians from registering to vote in December, and that the longstanding deployment of security personnel along Ghana’s borders “is another dimension of this process of guaranteeing the peace of the nation…it is no secret that our neighbour to the north, Burkina Faso, has in recent times been on the receiving end of a number of terrorist attacks, as has another neighbour, Cote d’Ivoire”. He added that deployments of soldiers in areas along Ghana’s borders have been regular, and residents living in border towns will bear testimony to this – noting that operations such as ‘Conquered Fist’ and ‘Koudangou’ have been going on since February 21, 2019.
The Defence Minister said: “What we are doing is making the people of Ghana safe by blocking all the unapproved routes; and as long as our borders are closed, it is our duty as a government to ensure that Ghanaians are safe”.
In another speech, the Interior Minister, Ambrose Dery, said the police and military deployment is to protect Ghana’s borders, adding that Ghana’s neighbours – Togo, Burkina Faso and La Cote d’Ivoire – do not have testing records for the coronavirus, hence enforcing the border closure will prevent persons crossing from those countries with the virus.
Listening to the president, defence and interior ministers one could be satisfied that the practice of troop deployment is not exclusive to only the Volta Region, and that the alarmed concerns from people of the region are unfortunate.
However, one can fault government for creating this unfortunate situation, due to its failure to engage in effective communication. Unfortunately, this has been one of the characteristic weaknesses of our governments – lack of effective political communication.
Pre-emptive communication and information dissemination is far better than the ‘damage repairment communication’ our current and past governments usually prefer. Also, instead of making professional communicators take the lead, government waited until the Adansi Asokwa MP, K. T. Hammond, exploded with his hate-filled ethnocentric language that fanned the flames of ethnic fire.
Speaking to journalists, Mr Hammond said: “The Togolese and the Voltarians – when I talk about Voltarians, the Volta Region – remember the history … basically the same tribe; so, they walk into Ghana, but they are not Ghanaians. When they walk in there, they can do whatever they want; so, I guess that is the reason for that military influx.
“There is a classic example; you remember 2008, the second round. We had so much – 100,000 or so votes leading Prof. Mills at the time of the second round. In the next round, one constituency, Ketu South, cleared all the votes we had. Where did they come from? You see? So, everybody from wherever, they came to vote; so, this is what the whole thing is about. 35,000 people at the time voted; the next one, everybody on earth voted there; where were they coming from? So, this is the whole issue; we want there to be sanity. The military is there to make sure that you vote if you are a Ghanaian; you vote if you have the constitutional right to vote, that’s all there is to it.”
He added that the deployed personnel are not electoral officers but a peacekeeping force, maintaining the peace and ensuring there is no infiltration. “I mean, come on, let’s be serious; what’s the point in going through all that we’ve gone through, to the Supreme Court and all that, then allow a porous border for people to come through and then infiltrate the register again?”
In the 2008 presidential election, Akufo-Addo had 4,159,439 (49.13%) as against Mills’ 4,056,634 (47.9%). The difference between them was 102,805. In the run-off, Mills had 4,521,032 (50.23%) and Akufo Addo, 4,480,446 (49.77%). The difference was 40,586. In the Volta Region, Akufo-Addo had 99,584 (14.98%) in the first-round while Mills had 551,046 (82.88%) with a difference of 451,462. But in the second-round Mills increased his votes by 79,853 to 630,899 (86.06%) while Akufo Addo increased his by 2,589 to 102,173 (13.94).
The issue K. T Hammond questioned was, from where came the 79,853 extra votes in the second round? However, he never gave any statistics to confirm his view that people from Togo accounted for that increase. A convincing argument would be to tell us the total number of registered voters in that region and whether the second-round total votes exceeded that number.
Without these statistics, speaking the way he spoke did not make sense to anybody, more so when he failed to give similar figures for Ashanti Region, being the stronghold of the NPP. A professional communication person could talk about this issue without beating any ethnocentric drums in the way he did.
The Deputy General Secretary of NPP, Nana Obiri Boahen, was also reported to have said that persons condemning government over the security deployment in Volta Region were “stupid”, because the deployment was in all the border regions. Such intemperate language needed to be condemned by his party, but nothing of that sort has happened. In the 2016 election, the NPP won only one parliamentary seat in the then Volta Region – in Krachi East; but with the creation of Oti Region where Krachi East belongs, the NPP has no MP in the Volta Region. One thought the party was re-drawing its strategy to ensure it wins seats there or increase its votes. But how can the party win in Volta Region with people like K. T. Hammond and Obiri Boahen spewing venom against the region’s people?
In political communication, three processes are very crucial if one is to achieve positive results. These are how to package and deliver the message; the content of the message; and the effect of the message – i.e. how the message is received and interpreted by the receivers. It is thus important that government and its officials, as well as all political parties, become decorous in their communication by guarding their words in the political arena. Each word uttered between now and the December elections could either help sustain the country’s peace or move it into turmoil.
For instance, it is difficult to reconcile former President Rawlings’ comments about the security deployment in Volta Region and his subsequent statement a few days after – that Ghanaians should be extra-vigilant from now to the December polls, otherwise Ghana will come under terrorist attacks; because credible intelligence indicates that Ghana is on the radar of terrorists. “Our country faces a real threat of terrorism with the heightened attacks in neighbouring countries,” he stated.
Politicians must show honesty and consistency in their actions and utterances. Inflammatory speeches like that of Ho West MP, Emmanuel Bedzrah that: “The fire has been lit and we the Voltarians are ready”; and of Asawase MP, Mohammed-Muntaka Mubarak: “We are aware that some people will be mobilised from different constituencies to register their names at Asawase. Our message is clear; if you are coming, just bid your families farewell because we will guard the registration exercise with our lives”, are not statements Ghana needs from people who describe themselves as ‘honourable’ members of Parliament.
It seems our political, community and other leaders are bereft of peaceful language that soothes tension in election periods. But let me remind them that Ghana needs decorous political discourse and the tone must be set by these leaders; and they must ensure their followers do the same during this election campaign period, voting and after. Posterity will not spare them if they drive the country into conflict.
The writer is a Governance & Media Consultant. E-mail: [email protected]