On Saturday January 7 2017, I took one of my last executive actions as a High Commissioner. I took down President Mahama’s portrait at its place of honour on one of the walls of the Head of Mission’s residence. I followed up with a whatsApp instruction to the Head of Chancery to do the same at the chancery building first thing Monday morning. After bringing down the portrait, I looked round the room and the flag of Ghana and Coat of Arms stared back at me…There was no taking them down. There may have been a change of portraits, but Ghana remains Ghana and our loyalty to flag and country inviolable.
This simple action activated my mind’s search engines to throw up some flashbacks of my encounters with “Electoral Fortunes” at home and internationally over the years.
If I have to place a finger on a time line, I will surely put it on 1969 when I got a card for voting. That was when Dr. K.A. Busia and Mr. K.A. Gbedemah were drawing huge rally crowds as they went round the country campaigning. I do not remember voting, though members of my rather big extended family were split in the middle between the Progress Party of Busia and the National Alliance of Liberals of Gbedemah. Even then, it was an Abudu-Andani affair for them!
The UNIGOV referendum was another early voting experience. Those were exciting and rebellious times. We rallied behind the “No” campaign and dealt poor General Acheampong a devastating blow. Mr. Amarteifio (“Mr. No”)already known in sporting circles gained more visibility when he led a fearless crusade against UNIGOV. Other names including those of General Afrifa, Nana Akufo-Addo, Sam Okudzeto, and many others featured promptly in the anti-Acheampong movement…
In the ’79 elections, which sent Dr. Hilla Limann to the Presidency, I voted. Dr. R.P. Baffour, the Hon. Fritz Baffour’s father was my preferred choice. I wonder how many people remember him as a Presidential Candidate.In the run-off between Hilla Limann and Victor Owusu, I put my ballot in for Victor Owusu.
The Rawlings coup truncated things and the next encounter with a ballot box was in 1992 when we were asked to approve of a new constitution – The 4th Republican Constitution. I went along with those who said NO and refrained from voting. A highly revered institution even boycotted the consultative assembly that brought it into being. The referendum passed and the document became our basic law. The irony for me is that some of the staunchest interpreters of the constitution today led the resentment against it when it was being put before the people. I remember us making much about the “Transitional Provisions”, especially the section that indemnified our coup makers – a pity because a firing squad had already dispatched many of them.
After the referendum, the scene was set for our first election in a decade. December 1992 generated excitement and great expectations. The PNDC Chairman Jerry Rawlings morphed from his military drills into civil garb to contest. Arrayed against him were stalwarts like Prof Adu Boahen, Dr. Hila Limann, General Erskine and others. Those elections ended in a “Stolen Verdict” according to the NPP and I went along with those who said we should not participate in the parliamentary elections to follow so I did not vote.
In Presidential Elections, I have voted for Prof. Adu Boahen, J.A. Kufuor, Dr. Nduom/Nana Akufo-Addo and John Mahama.
Voting is supposed to be a civic duty so there should be no shame in where one’s conscience and convictions have led one’s vote to. Elections may or may not turn out our way but democracy works, even as it also sucks! Some say politics is a dirty game: it need not be. There are many reasons why people vote and elections can be won or lost on those reasons. I am curious to know how many people voted in our last elections on the grounds of their appreciation of Liberal or Social Democracy which the NPP and NDC espouse respectively. Many things did come up: perception of corruption, ethnocentricity, one village one dam, utility prices, infrastructural development, security, etc., and to some, the eight-year political itch! Some of the campaign ads said “8 years of the NDC is enough” and so on. It was in the final days of the campaign period when I published my testament on ethnocentricity and earned the title of “Prostitute” to add to my MOV!
On the international scene there have many eye-popping electoral fortunes too in the past and in recent times: Why did Neil Kinnock lose to John Major in 1992 in the UK elections that were widely expected to go the Labour Leader’s way? Still in the UK, when the Scots held a referendum to decide on whether to leave the UK or not, I did not fancy a UK break-up and applauded when they decided to stay…but after Brexit, I am no longer sure. On Brexit itself I did not expect the outcome and would have preferred for our former colonial master to remain in Europe. After all they are Europeans. Their royal family, which they hold so dear, was the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (German) before it became The House of Windsor during WWI. William III (of Orange) was partially Dutch. In culture, a great British icon – in fact one of the most beloved – George Frederick Handel was originally German. His oratorio, “The Messiah” with the heavenly Hallelujah Chorus remains one of the most inspired human achievements of all time. I have never quite understood British Euro skepticism and the vote to leave the EU….
Another landmark European polling event, as if it never even took place – because it has so soon receded into history – was the Greek referendum on its bailout conditions last year. Alexis Tsipras, the Prime Minister, had thrown the decision to his people and to the chagrin of the country’s creditors, the Greek people voted to support their Prime Minister’s strategies. Greece has survived and even as its Grexit was expected it never materialized. Angela Merkel’s refugee policy is affecting her electoral fortunes; Jacob Zuma has just seen the ANC’s electoral fortunes dip badly. And just before our elections in December the Americans went to the polls and the world held its breath: Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton? I know of many who are yet to recover from the direction those electoral fortunes took!
Our ECOWAS neighbour, The Gambia, at the time of writing, was in the grips of uncertainty with a defeated incumbent still insisting on clinging to power. In many parts of Africa, elections and term limits are still extremely hard to come to terms with and in some cases have resulted in much social trauma.
On the diplomatic front, Ghana remains the toast to democracy. For those who wanted a regime change and those who wished for a Mahama continuity, one thing is agreed on: Ghana is now among the best of them in the practice of democracy. Many of my diplomatic colleagues in Windhoek have very touchingly expressed their disappointment at my leaving but in the same vein, have congratulated Ghana for again showing its growing maturity in democracy.
The fact still remains: democracy neither pleases nor satisfies everybody! Some would jubilate and some would sulk, but either way, it does not make you any more or less of a citizen. Democracy can build and can also destroy. By a quirk of democracy, the acknowledged criminal of all time, Adolf Hitler, was the product of an exercise in voting…
In many living rooms one would often see a wall hanging proclaiming, “Home Sweet Home” and when confronted with political extremism, we would often proclaim that “Ghana is the only Home we have”. In all the polls I have been privileged to participate in, we really have not done badly at all, these 60 years. We have opted for democracy; the next crucial stage is to accept some of the key fundamentals that make it work: 1. Different ideologies competing for broad acceptance by the people. 2. Even within the same party, there can be different shades of opinion on a given ideology, strategy, policy or even leadership. 3. Tolerance for fair (and unfair?) comment. These ensure the growth of democracy with time and over generations.
Fundamentallydemocracy does not condone the demonization of citizens who disagree. Within a political party or outside of it or even if they do not espouse membership of any political party, the national space is for all citizens. Orwellian “four legs good, two legs better” cannot be democracy by any stretch of the imagination. In the end, Ghana is the only home we have. Home Sweet Home…! That is why when taking down portraits you do not touch the flag and Coat of Arms. They remain…
By A Harruna Attah