Ghana: a nation addicted to hyperbole or a country in democratic euphoria?

African Update – 03/01/13

Very few political observers would disagree Ghana has carved a niche for itself as one of the most democratic countries in Africa today. Do not mind that it is currently mired in post elections brouhaha. It is a model of hope and ‘a good news story’ in a continent challenged by governance and often dismissed as irrelevance in international actorness. Located in troubled West Africa it stands the country even taller as a beacon of pedestal peace and exemplary stability.

One essential piece of evidence of this relative great democracy rests in its world acclaimed press freedom. And freedom of speech is no doubt a cardinal test every democracy has to pass to be respected as such or at least resemble one. Yet today, avid followers of the media in the West African country will indicate a nation on edge, constantly and sharply divided on issues, even issues that should otherwise unite them. It makes one wonder whether the character of the people is defined by hype or the country is in no mood of return from a date with democracy.

The media might be the easy culprit here, but truth is they do not always set the agenda. The run up to the recent elections on 7thDecember 2012 and the post elections controversies suggest the stake holders in the hyperbole are not always the media. Hell broke loose, for instance, when news broke of Alfred Woyome benefitting from ‘gargantuan’ payments in a judgement debt. Politicians, whose interest it served electorally, seized upon it for political gains albeit in the name of justice to which most Ghanaians are legitimate subscribers.

Woyome suddenly became a household name. It entered into the Ghanaian lexicon and merited a song, composed by those for whom Woyome was no associate and posted on youtube. You would actually think Woyome never lived until then, or no judgement debt had ever been paid in the annals of the nation’s history. No, this was different and ‘unprecedented’. It was discovered in an election year after all and the amount involved was colossal. Irrespective that the case was back in the courts of law for judicial attention political capital needed to be exacted.

No sooner had the Woyome story began to wane than attention quickly turned on the very man who broke and crusaded the Woyome story. They call him Kennedy Agyapong. He is alleged to have called on his ethnic group to rise up and kill people of two other ethnic groups. Some say he even declared war on his political adversaries. Whoever gave this man the powers of the presidency to declare war muted in the rage that followed. The tables had turned and those on the other side of the political divide called for Agyapong’s crucifixion.

Nobody paused to realise Agyapong had this penchant of inviting needless attention onto himself with very little clout, if any at all, to walk his talk. Nor would the security services have the privilege of being the sole authorities in dealing with what smacks more of loose banter than anything else. Instead, other politicians saw in it an opportunity to pay back Agyapong and his camp in their own coin. They demanded a pound of flesh and boxed their opponents into a real tight corner. By the time the security agencies finally stepped in Agyapong had already had his day in the court of public opinion.

Nobody turns the cheek in this nation of hyperbole, not even the men of the collar. Everyone seemed to have perfected the art of hype. Not too long ago a political party zealous to win favour for its policy in education borrowed a leaf from the sermons of a pastor to make their point. It might have passed with little notice but for the decisive intervention of the man of God. He is said to have asked the party to discontinue the use of the sermons in the way they did. When the party failed to heed the request the pastor hit the roof and for many days it became breaking news.

It would seem the news tend to trend around the Hammurabic ‘tooth for a tooth’ and ‘eye for an eye’ rule of justice. Nowhere did this smack more hype than in the secret tapes saga. First we heard of Yaw Boateng caught in a tape offering recruitment into the security services to loyalists of his political entreprise.  The scheme, as reported, was to use them to visit mayhem on opponents at the December elections. Just when we all thought this was heinous enough came another secret tape, this time it was said to have the voice of Anthony Karbo plotting to bring in mercenaries or what he preferred to call ‘bad boys’ from outside the country to aid his party win the same elections.

Boateng and Karbo are both Organisers of the kingpins of contemporary Ghanaian politics. As it is, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) have between them literally taken up every available space in the political landscape of Ghana. They, not only dominate the news, they dictate it. Such is the dogged polarisation impacted by these heavyweights that the state of affairs of the media is one that is becoming increasingly ‘victimised’ to a point of being sing along choirs. It is certainly not uncommon to hear of NDC press and the NPP media. The louder each of these choirs sing from the pages of the NDC or NPP the more the hype and much less the substance.

The country once reined in by a ‘culture of silence’ has inadvertently shifted gear to a cacophony of voices occasionally too jarring to tune in, thanks to democracy! It reached its hyperbole worst in the wake of the post elections contestation for the goodwill of Ghanaians. The NDC, according to the Electoral Commission, won the presidential elections with 50.70% of the vote. In the opinion of observers, both international and local, they were free and fair, and represented the will of the people, some irregularities notwithstanding. The NPP disagrees and the disagreement is vehement. It thus sets the tone for a revisit of entrenched positions akin to those witnessed in the pre-election campaign trails.

Even as congratulations continue to pour in from the international community for a successful election the NPP and the NDC remain at polar ends at home. The media could not want more and simply cannot have enough of it. In many democracies freedom of speech is both a tenet and a dividend. In Ghana it is the spoils of democracy. There is nothing wrong with that of course except for the hype that has all the potential to unnerve even much more than the substantive issues often alleged to threaten the peace and stability of the country. The tendency to focus mainly on the challenges and neglect our own good news stories that occur daily is a very slippery road to travel.

The refusal of the NPP to concede is certainly a test of democracy but not in itself a problem worthy of anxiety. It is how those in leadership positions use the democratic channels provided for by the laws of the country for conflict resolutions that will ultimately determine whether democracy has truly come of age in Kofi Annan’s country or it still merits a fledgling description. For that to stay the course, it is important the media return to the days of their missionary role in civic education, always proclaiming the good news of one nation, one people and one destiny. After all, there are no NPP Ghanaians or NDC Ghanaians; there are only Ghanaians and that bit of ‘sankofa’ might do us all some good.

Samwin John Banienuba

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