I’ll welcome whoever wins, but Ghana deserves a better election than this


Kumi Owusu-Ansah

I’ve always resisted the urge to engage those voices who only see politics as a “career for devils” – a career stained with brainless dishonesty, puerile insults, false accusations – and the whole charade that takes us for idiots. It is a baleful chorus I refuse to accept, given the fact that we still have some honourable individuals pursuing the course in making the country a better place for every Ghanaian.

Once again, politicians of all colours have erupted back into the mainstream like the sonorous belch that warns of a meal indigested; the bilious portent of a messy regurgitation. Their campaign messages come in familiar flavours with an edge of stale acidity – the scorn for political class that knows no patriotism; the lament for a country in social, economic and moral decline; the warning that misappropriation of funds is gobbling scarce public resources and confected fury at betrayal by politicians who keep breaking their promises to end the scourge.

As this year’s election campaigns get underway, I’ve observed some few miscues by the two main parties (NPP and NDC). The candidates they keep putting forward are nothing but the same secret snowflakes whose shiny wraps melts away within few days of post-election life. What makes it more interesting is the irony surrounding the fact that four years from now we will still find ourselves in the same electoral cycle with the same people staring us in the face.

Yes! Once again, they are back with a guttural demand for an id of body politics – with faces printed on T-Shirts we’re almost fed-up with. It is the same dish cooked up for “change”, now back on the menu under the same political party brands.  Most of these candidates (especially those in opposition) were all set to quit the political fray, they claim, but have been called back to “serve the people”; their people. The vanity is spicier, with a dash of messiah complex, this time around.

There has always been an electoral market for these kinds of political products; hardline nationalists who tell a compelling story of citizens whose life ambitions have been thwarted, who feel ignored by politicians and who correlate their unhappiness with the dire situation in the country. That cohort only swells in times of economic distress, and during elections. Yes, many are crying for a better economy but the more desperate politicians become, the further our democratic processes get dragged through the mud.

The election of the incumbent back in 2016 was proof of the apathy of our democracy, but also voters’ innate knowledge that something was wrong in Ghana. Many of those candidates won by brilliantly marketing a vague panacea to a population who were desperate for “change.” It’s been eight years since that change has been occupying the Jubilee House.

The hypercapitalists defenders of the politics that foreshadowed that period of creeping inertia found easy target of blame: from “incompetent” to “corruption” to “dumsor.” Our country has always been a blank canvas to project new political ideas on to, from the formation of new regions to “one district, one factory…” The architects of these purveyors utilised the apathy of post-millenium politics to project such promises and conjure fear in a fit of political carnivalesque. These policies got pumped up in a way they didn’t so much during the 2016 election. This was win or lose, all or nothing. Fight night, but with consequences.

That is still the case today, with the same old barbs being exchanged daily on our radio and television. Forced to condensed their election campaign pitches, our politicians on daily bases are giving performances in how dishonesty about the state of our country has become normalised because all that matters is who can look harder. And so we are finally through the looking glass, as they attack each other right in front of our eyes. It’s all one bad thing; a matter not of economics and employment needs of the country, but “dumsor”, now a dirty word that can be hurled like a slur.

For those who believe in the sanctity of human life, can our democracy really not interrogate the two main political parties of government for the lack of hospital beds (with pregnant women lying on hospital floors), starvation in the country, the sight of school children sitting under trees, massive youth unemployment? Really? Both NPP and NDC should have been honest: their consensus reaches far beyond these awful scenes. Yes, NPP harangued, while NDC waffled. Both political parties offer dire plans or few ones to tackle these problems in our country. They offer misinformation about the dire situation we face as a nation or repeatedly failed to clearly rebut it. The incumbent likes to trade on a record most have contempt for; the opposition offers little break from it.

With no commitment to make Ghana an equal society, one thing is clear: the two main parties are no-thrills middleweights with no-thrills ideas. Both are hoping to hop out of the early political graves they both dug for themselves in their track records to land the punchline of the moment. Depressingly yet expectedly, neither offers a positive case for our welfare or our well-being, both eager to out-hawk the other as a fixer-in-chief. Bizarrely, the incumbent proudly thinks Ghanaians agree on the path our country’s destiny have taken thus far – suggesting, alarmingly naively, that they believe consensus on “positive direction” of Ghana’s economy is rarely in recent history.

We don’t need to be brainwashed by adverts or winnable arguments about how well the government is doing or the track record of the main opposition party when in reality we already know what’s on the ground. This explains also the curmudgeon-on-steroids election pledges that sound cranky to everyone in the country. The performance on the cedi and the economy in the last eight years looked like an early vindication for the NDC. Once again, with the subsequent volte-face, they have snatched back that silver of consolation. The campaign of the NPP is left looking like a lame tribute act, suddenly upstaged by the appearance of the original star.

To all indications and evidences, there should be no equivalence between NPP and NDC. However, other candidates emerging as real alternatives may be astute campaigners and effective communicators with pernickety fluency, but they are not interested in responsible government. Their declared aim is just to shake up an election campaign that they find boring, given that the same old faces keep appearing, and to hollow out the two main parties enough that they can occupy the husk of the NPP and enjoy making mischief when NDC gets bogged down in the hard business of government. Those alternative candidates are self-serving amplifiers of impotent rage, not purveyors of practical solutions.

Yet even as they are splashed across every front page and headlines, they trivialised the importance of the election. They make absurdity of our democracy. The media is lavishing so much attention on these inveterate attention-seekers because they spell a certain defeat for both NPP and NDC. They may not yet have featured on the ballot paper, but are among the chief ghostwriters of our politics. They have not reached that position by democratic means, extreme events have put them in high a place, like a fishing boat marooned half way up a hill after a tsunami; if by democracy we mean open and rigorous testing of ideas and arguments.

Instead, they have rallied upon sugar-daddy businessmen and global dictators who fund their movements. They also depend upon the chuckling indulgence of the media in panel discussions and comedic shows to all their various franchises. They claim only to be voicing what people think but dare not say. And it derives extra influence when mainstream politicians are not saying anything much, such as now.

Their collective talents may have been inducing panic among the two main parties and beguiling the media. But they are moths that only persuade the flames to come to them. Some of these alternative candidates have professed admiration for dictatorship and fraternised with some of the nastiest far-right parties around the world. T

here should be a discernible boundary between their brand of malevolent provocateur politics and our two main parties that still claim to represent a broad swath of the Ghanaian cultural mainstream. Maybe the NPP and the NDC can’t see the line or maybe they think they are clever enough to dance around it without tripping. Either way it is a catastrophic misjudgement made all the more stupid and cowardly to allow them such room.

How many more concession must we feed to the nervous Ghanaian public before discovering that this kind of politics can’t be sated? Since democracy arrived on our shores in 1992, our views have always aligned with the two main political parties who have dedicated themselves to lead us to the common good. Today, these same parties are no longer recognisable. Over the past thirty years or so, they have behaved disgracefully: it is now abundantly clear there is one set of rules for them, and another for the rest of us. The way they have criminalised legitimate protest in this country is disgusting. And to our mind, ministers are being appointed into government that are not fit to tie their own shoelaces, let alone run the country.

Never is a long time, but we can’t imagine ever allowing these alternatives to jeopardise our fragile democracy, not unless they have a complete change of mind. But where our vote will now go is another question. We can’t see ourselves turning to any of these new proxies other than our two main parties. I am what you might call an ecowarrior – the environment is very important to me – and I’m dreadfully disappointed by how we have allowed galamsey to destroy our forestry, water bodies and greenbelts.

The nagging question still remains: have our two main parties (NDC and NPP) given up on the future of our country and our splintery democracy for their own self-seeking agendas? The commitment to protect our democracy is under threat from politicians who place their personal and party gains above the well-being of our people, and from the insurgent of focus groups whose views dictate the abolition of what gives us all freedom as a nation.

Elections are moments to remind ourselves of what is at stake: our precious heritage. In a presidential system like ours everyone must have an “ism”, a vision for the country handed down by a mighty leader to his party. Instead, flagbearers of the two main parties have a hollow agenda that is merrily filled for them by hangers-on and pundits. Nature abhors a vacuum and so do political journalists. Far better to write about some imagined political philosophy than the actual origin stories of policies.

Increasingly, however, our election is becoming an unpopularity contest. A presidential contest involving politicians as awkward as two flagbearers from the two main parties who have tasted power before, have arrived with two registers: simpering and hectoring. Intimidation and goad is rife in our elections. Political authority is urgently needed, and must be infused in the way our election campaigns are run, no matter how long this may take to bend reality. During the honeymoon period that is likely to follow whoever victory accord to lead our country, great expectation remains paramount to sweep out things that threatens the stability of our country and realigned our politics.

The writer is an investment banker and a contributing columnist on Economics and Politics for the B&FT.


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