At Each Others’ Throat

The many faces assembled at the Conference Room of the beautiful Capital View Hotel, Koforidua in the Eastern Region, among them a splendidly dressed Omanhene of the New Juabeng Traditional Area, Daasebre Oti Boateng, were not at dinner. They represented the various shades of political beliefs in the country, the beauty of democracy, but bound by a common desire to address the challenge of the negativities triggered by abrasive polarization of the country. They had been specially selected to come and discuss the unwholesome polarization of the country and the worrying consequences of the mawkish political trend. Mordant language by political leaders and the attendant response by their supporters have all muddied the political waters, widening further, by so doing, the schism in the country. Kwame Ahwoi Vs Ken Attafuah Internal polarization, as in the NDC today, and polarization at the national level were given academic treatment to bring out the various nuances of the trend in our body-politic. With Prof Kwamina Ahwoi delivering a paper on ‘Polarisation Of Ghana’s Politics’, and Prof Kenneth Attafuah critiquing, there could not have been a better way of treating the subject at such a level. The tone for the activity was set by Prof. Justice Kludze who underscored the importance of the function, as the country, according to him, inched towards the 2012 elections amidst acrimony between various interests groups in the political theatre. Dasebre Oti Boateng, Omanhene of New Juaben, smarting from a recent demonstration by some of his subjects in Koforidua, ably chaired the opening aspect of the programme. Chieftaincy And Politics The traditionalist/academic was just right for the position bestowed on him by the organizers of the function. His Ivory Tower background was not in dispute in the manner he steered the function. He told his audience that chieftaincy is a political institution, much to the amazement of those who have always held a contrary opinion about this important symbol of our heritage. The chieftaincy institution plays a critical part in the preservation of the nation’s cohesiveness, he added. Prof Kludze’s brusqueness perhaps put paid to the attempts at the diplomacy displayed by some of the participants in their handling of the key word, polarization. With surgical precision, he explained that polarization was reference to the vitriolic and bellicose engagements by political players, a phenomenon responsible for the current polarised situation in the country. The resultant effect of this is that every issue is regarded with political lenses, much to the detriment of the national interest. Definition The subsequent quest for a definition of the subject, polarization, by Prof Kenneth Attafuah found an answer in the retired Supreme Court judge’s definition, to which there was no disagreement about it. Prof Kludze suggested the establishment of a permanent think-tank to tackle the challenges relating to polarization in the country. The principal address was delivered by Prof. Kwamina Ahwoi whose experience from the PNDC junta days to his association with the NDC, impacted immensely in the quality of his delivery. He took his audience down memory lane to the days of the PNDC and decisions taken at the time which have influenced certain developments in the country today. The critique of his presentation by Prof Kenneth Attafuah offered another opportunity for the politicians to consider the two sides of the coin and make their individual deductions. In Or Out An interesting scenario was played out when Prof Ahwoi told the gathering that because of the restricted content of his delivery, he would rather journalists covering the discourse take leave and return only after he was done. It was interesting to observe how the Chairman, Dasebre Oti, handled the rather sticky issue. He said that being a believer in democracy, he would rather the issue is thrown to the gathering. Individual participants stated their opinion as to whether to allow the media to stay or leave so that Prof Kwamina Ahwoi could have a no-bars presentation so that aspects he would prefer not put in the public domain were treated as such. The issue was thrown to the organizers of the programme, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA); but the Senior Fellow Prof Kludze declined to have the think-tank drawn into the debate. Eventually, members of the media present were allowed to sit in but as though they had taken a consensus decision on the issue, none of them appeared to be interested in taking notes.It turned out that the presentation of the Prof was not new and contained certain aspects of some decisions taken during the junta of the PNDC which he preferred not to have put on the public domain. Some of the interventions made interesting reading when the debate over whether to have the media persons in or not, raged. One politician’s bluntness endeared him to the media persons when he made it clear that it is not only media persons who spread stories. His point was that some politicians themselves take stories to the public domain and so there was no point asking the media representatives to vacate the place so the Prof could make his presentation. For those who dissented, their position was that since it is the media who disseminate news to the outside world, it would be pointless to ask them to leave the conference hall. When he joined the fray, Ambassador Kabral Blay-Amihere stated that the media should be allowed to stay but asked that they respect the off-the record caveat. Forms Of Polarisation Prof Ahwoi dealt with the various forms of polarization as in chieftaincy, the past political regimes, the Preventive Detention Act of the Nkrumah era, ethnicity and the coups among others. What interested many was the other side of the revolutionary era which Ghanaians never knew; why certain decisions were taken, to which Prof Attafuah summarized: “We now understand the more morbid background of the revolutionary days.” The roots of the polarization in the country have never been so wonderfully presented, even as the ably critiquing of the delivery by Prof Attafuah gave an important reverse of the coin. He particularly defended the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) to set the records right when his colleague Prof’s delivery slighted the commission somewhat. Prof Ahwoi was indeed not charitable to the NRC, although he put it rather subtly. The issue of the treatment of former presidents came up strongly when one of PNC’s representatives at the function raised the issue of how former President Limann was treated before his death. Former Presidents Baba Jamal, deputy Information Minister, was of the view that courtesies due former presidents are dependent on how they conduct themselves. Prof Ahwoi intervened with a question about what Kwame Nkrumah did when he was out of power. He recalled how a price money was placed on his head even when he was in exile, and the answer the Prof received was that the man was writing books in Conakry, Guinea. The Truth When Boakye Agyarko, head of Nana Akufo Addo’s campaign team took his turn to contribute to the discussion on polarization, he held his audience spellbound when he recalled the ordeal he suffered during the PNDC days. He was of the opinion that the history of the country should be properly stated. The truth about what happened must be told, he said, as he recalled how during the so-called revolution he was picked up by a military officer, Kwame Nfodjoy, who happened to be his classmate. The military officer, he said, ordered his men to make mince meat of him at the Air Force Station after telling the soldiers that at school he was a bourgeoisie. “A soldier slapped me and I retaliated,” he said. He said it is necessary that those who offend others apologise for the wrongs they inflict on their compatriots. Mr. Agyarko asked for the blending of the youth and the old in national development as, according to him, this can reduce the political temperature of the country. Ambassador Kabral Amihere recalled his early experience with polarization. As Chairman of the National Media Commission, he stated the challenges the agency was faced with in the performance of its statutory duties. With some 200 radio stations scattered around the country and the inadequate budgetary allocation to the agency, the Commission is unable to perform its functions. Polarisation remains one major challenge of democracy today. There have been many efforts in the past to alter the trend so that the bigger picture of Ghana’s development remains the obsession of all citizens, regardless of their political affiliations. The recent labeling of some political parties as dealing in narcotic substances and the incidence of insults on radio stations have not helped matters, deepening negatively the already wide schism in our body-politic. Ethnicity, chieftaincy and the country’s painful historical past are among the many factors that have driven us to the brink today. It was heartwarming to observe the camaraderie that existed among the politicians during the workshop. Someone remarked, “Had this same spirit existed among their supporters in the street things would have been different.” It is also worth-noting that the traits of polarization were visible when individual participants made their interventions during the workshop.