Have EC Chair, Will Snivel

Esther A. Armah

The name came out. And the political knives went in. Mrs. Jean Mensa. Named as succeeding EC Chair, after the ousting of Charlotte Osei along with two of her deputies, ignited the usual political firestorm.

The shout was loud, if predictable. This was party political sniveling.

Jean Mensa is pro NPP, anti NDC, screamed one headline.  There was ‘shock and disbelief’ from NDC General Secretary Mr. Johnson Asiedu Nketia.

Needless to say, had the NDC won presidential power and been tasked with EC chair nomination, the NPP may have articulated the same accusation with equal passion.  Or maybe not. Really? Who are we kidding?

Party political spats are the norm here in Ghana. They can happen over virtually anything.  If a dog peed on the leg of an NDC man, expect some commentary somewhere alleging it was an NPP dog. You laugh. I do too. Except it is not always funny.

For those who say NDC’s claim has weight, I invite you to pause. Think back to the nomination of Martin Amidu as Special Prosecutor by President Akufo-Addo. The People’s Vigilante whose integrity is respected and no-nonsense, pro-justice-for-all stance admired, attracted the same ire from the NDC camp. Martin Amidu was – and according to the NDC general secretary still is – a member of the NDC.

My point is less about the party political spat.

Party political spatting has equal weight.  We have seen it ad infinitum from the NPP camp when NDC held presidential power. No party is immune. Each is and has been guilty. For me, the major issue is the consistent way exploring and discussing the merits of an appointee are obscured by the incessant, unrelenting party political spatting and sniveling.

I had simple questions. I am sure millions of others in Ghana did too.

Who is Mrs. Jean Adukwei Mensa?

I wanted an introduction to this newly nominated Chair.

I wanted to understand what she had done; from where she had come and what she might bring to this highly charged, deeply polarizing and crucial leadership position.  But I also wanted to better understand the process of selecting an EC Chair.

I was seeking information. Party political noise drowns that out. Party politicized opinion serves to deflect and distract from necessary exploration, discussion and critical analysis of an appointee and what they may bring to any given table.

Regarding Mrs. Jean Mensa; finally as party political noise died down, I would learn of her policy, advocacy, leadership and legal credentials. She was Executive Director of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA); she worked on the Government Committee of the Affirmative Action Bill. She advocated a review of Ghana’s 1992 Constitution and contributed to revisions of the Political Parties Bill and the Political Parties Funding Bill. She is powerfully credentialed. I know less about her leadership style – we will discover more about this as she engages the role.

I had other questions.

What is the process of selecting an EC Chair? What checks and balances are made? What kind consultation takes place? Who is involved in the Consultation? Given the very real probability of party political accusation, what steps – if any – are taken to ensure the integrity and impartiality of the nominee?

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The ousting of Charlotte Osei followed the headline-making allegations of financial impropriety that played out in the media post the NPP’s election win made for gripping viewing and reading.  I – like thousands of others – listened to accusation after accusation from EC deputies swiftly followed by Madame Osei’s retort, rebutted with more accusations – all playing out in the media. It felt as though we were witness in some back and forth high stakes rally; as if this was tennis final and the EC Chair was playing against her two deputies. Our heads whipped from one side to the other as verbal assaults and accusations volleyed back and forth.

This first woman EC Chair would meet her position demise post an investigation by a Committee that concluded procurement laws had been breached. That conclusion is not without concern and critique. And part of the critique at the time of the back and forth allegations is the picking process – neither new nor news.

And it is the process that is coming under some thoughtful fire.

Think tanks called for a more consultative process, while acknowledging the President did not flout any Constitutional law.  The Centre for Democratic Development’s Dr. Kojo Asante called for in-depth consultation with those bodies whose specialism is this work of good governance; as well as engaging chiefs and religious groups.  He also called for the consultation process to be made public. Local government expert Mr. Fred Oduro called for consultation with previous presidents.

Process matters.

Consultative processes are about rigor. Rigor molds and strengthens democracies. We shun this at our peril. Building strong institutions in Africa is – at least partially – about developing working processes that all must adhere to.  Comprehensive, collective action must replace individual connection, privilege or power.

I think our default position to institution building is, too often, that we don’t mind a little democracy mixed with a lot of dictatorship.  By that I mean, we don’t really want the public consultation and interrogation of policy and ideas; we do want a rubberstamping of what an individual Oga has put forward.

Mrs. Jean Mensa is now Chair of Ghana’s Electoral Commission. Her chops are impeccable. Her resume is impressive. Her skillset is powerful.

Let her leadership begin!

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AFRICAN WOMAN’S DAY!

Patience Osafo. A Ghanaian woman, an African woman, a mother and a grandmother, and right now a visual testimony of the brutality by some men of African women.

July 31st is named as African Woman’s Day. It was named in 1962 after the first Pan African Woman’s Congress in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. It was established to recognize and affirm the role of women’s organizing for the political freedom of Africa and advancing the social and economic status of women on the continent. It offers a national, continental and global opportunity to recall and affirm the significant role of African women in the evolution of a Continent with shared values, objectives and vision for the future.

Unlike International Woman’s Day, African Woman’s Day is little known and not widely celebrated or acknowledged.

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We must change that. The day can – and should – be used to draw attention to major issues that impede the progress of African women. Impeding that progress is jeopardizing the progress of a nation.

Patience Osafo reminds us of the collective need to confront horrific violence that is an impediment to nation-building. Millions watched the viral video, horrified, as an armed police officer slapped, beat and punched a grandmother holding a 3 month old baby in her arms on the premises of Midland Savings and Loan.

The Officer, Frederick Amanor, has been fired and faces prosecution.

The danger is individualizing what is a Continent wide issue. Violence against women is, of course, a global issue. For African Woman’s Day, we must zone in and focus on the women of this Continent.

With Patience Osafo there are dots to be connected between physical violence and sexual violence.

Headlines such as ‘Don’t Have More than 3 Babies!  admonishing Ghanaian women not to have more than 3 babies in a bid to curb population growth is an outrage. It is an issue worth zeroing in on as an opportunity for connecting the dots on this African woman’s Day.

Such headlines that include data highlighting teenage pregnancies at 15 and concluding population control is the answer are deeply problematic for multiple reasons.

One is the consistent failure here in Ghana to connect teenage pregnancy to sexual violence and rape.

Patience Osafo’s grandchild was the result of the rape of her special needs teenage daughter.  It was her need to feed her grandchild that led her to refuse to leave the financial institution that had kept her waiting for three days and failed to release her money.

This policy failure means our approach to sexual education overlooks or minimalizes consent issues, the toll and legacy of sexual violence and, most egregious, it places the weight of this result of rape squarely on the shoulders of teenage girls.

Connecting such dots should inform our wide-ranging approach to teenage pregnancy. Despite statistics that highlight rape – and these are so under-reported due to the normalization of rape – we maintain a policy that fails many thousands of Ghanaian girls, but serves some flawed policy agenda.

Rape of teenage girls is real.

Develop comprehensive policy that addresses and engages all these factors.

The dots are there. Connect them. Change course. Create a way that serves girls, not one that elevates their struggles.

When African girls and women win and thrive, Africa wins and thrives.

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African Woman’s Day is July 31st.  In the spirit of how this day was formed, EAA Media Productions has created a series of 3 one hour podcasts spotlighting Ghanaian women reimagining notions of success. Tune in on July 31st as Nana Amoako Anin of Bliss Yoga and Touch A Life; Maame Adjei of Girl Going Places; Kathleen Addy of National Commission of Civic Education and Nana Akosua Hanson of Drama Queens offer invaluable insight into how we can expand our worlds and be visionaries within our own Continent. They reimagine the worlds of tourism, wellness, governance and art as activism.

Happy African Woman’s Day!  

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