Monday, November 3, 2008

"Speaking of Politics..." by Chris; 3 Nov. 2008

One-man campaign rally

So I figured with the U.S. election just moments away (GO BARACK!!!) and Ghana’s just over a month away, I should try and give you all a primer on Ghanaian politics.

I am absolutely NOT an expert on politics let alone Ghanaian politics so what follows is merely my observations combined with a bit of light research.

Ghana’s as with all other African countries pre-colonial political history was based on clan and tribal groups. The colonizers came in and established arbitrary national boarders based on nothing more than how large an area they could claim and possibly the occasional natural boundary i.e. river or mountain ridge. Tribal boundaries were never considered which arguably doesn’t help with the alleviation of strife across the African continent. On March 6th 1957 Ghana declared its independence from England becoming the first African country to free itself from colonial rule.

Between then and now Ghana has had its fair share of coups. One of the more prominent and “popular” political figures that even to this day influences Ghanaian politics is Jerry Rawlings who came to power via a coup in 1981 and ruled until 1992 when he was then elected president by popular vote. He was reelected again in 1996 and gave up the presidency in 2001 due to term limits. There was concern that Rawlings would be reluctant to give up power after having led Ghana for so long. Yet to his credit free and fair elections were held and in 2000 John Kufour was elected as Ghana’s new president.

Campaign band in Accra

President Kufour’s term has run out and now for the first time in 8 years Ghana will elect a new president. There are (from what I understand) 7 or 8 parties vying for the presidency; the NDC, CPP, PNC, (sorry, Ghanaians love their acronyms) the DFP DPP, RPD, and the NPP. Another party, the NRP is not fielding a presidential candidate this year. I suppose you’d like to know what these all stand for. Well, so would I. The ones I am sure of are the NPP-New Patriotic Party, the NDC- National Democratic Congress, the PNC- People’s National Convention, CPP- Convention People’s Party, the DFP-Democratic Freedom Party, and the NRP- National Reform Party. The rest I would love to tell you but I am not confident I would correctly identify them correctly.

I am sure that soon you will all start to hear about the elections over here. Ghanaians will not only elect a new president but also an all new parliament and Regional heads (like our governors). The reason you will hear about these elections first of all is because Ghana stands on the brink of a very important event. They have operated with relative peace longer than any other African country and the world is hoping that it will remain that way. Secondly, due to the violent events that have taken place on the continent during recent elections, i.e. Kenya and Zimbabwe, everyone is holding their breath. Thirdly in recent months a number of violent outbreaks have occurred related directly to political campaigning.

Why the violence? It would be a huge understatement to say “it’s complicated”. First of all, and again from what I understand, all the political party’s’ platforms are relatively similar. By our standards they all resemble the democrats with strong social programs and education taking priority. Also, as with all of Ghanaian life, all the parties have very strong Christian leanings. So I have a hard time seeing how such violence could erupt based on disputes over party platforms that are so similar. The people here are very passionate about their politics and they love to discuss/argue about it endlessly and I suspect often it gets out of hand and sometimes completely out of control. What I have heard and concluded is a good deal of the violence is largely based on clan and tribal disputes that go way, way back. Many of these parties by default have tribal roots simply because their candidates were born of one tribe or another and this makes some people like or hate this or that candidate. There is also a strong concern by many that if the NDC which is the party John Rawlings created should win, it is a back door way of putting him back into power and there is no love lost for Rawlings by many Ghanaians who were persecuted during his 18 year tenure.

They are doing a lot of PSAs (public service announcements) on the importance of a peaceful election. They talk about avoiding the use of inflammatory speech aimed at opponents, American politicians should take note. I really wished we could record some of these PSA’s. But let’s just say that the production quality is… well. They are darned entertaining though. We heard that they are even taking a little film festival around to all the villages showing the movie Hotel Rwanda, which I assume is to scare people into behaving themselves.

campaign revelers at a rally in Donkorkrom

I have heard our PC Country Director, Bob Golledge, speak of his concern about violence during the elections on a number of occasions and felt he was overly concerned. Then a month or so ago two different parties planned rallies in the town of Gushegu on the same day, violence erupted and several people were killed and a great deal of property was burned and destroyed. I no longer feel he is being overly concerned.

From December 5th to the 10th Peace Corps will hold an “All Volunteer Conference”. The Ghanaian elections are to be held on December 7th. This is not a coincidence. The Peace Corps and US government want all the PCV’s in one place at election time so that if God forbid there are problems we will be more easily evacuated. In order for a party to win the election, it must take a majority of the votes (over 50%). Well since there are seven parties vying for the presidency, the chances of one party getting the majority is not good. This means a run-off and if that happens there is an even greater concern for unrest. The plan for us PCVs is that we will be put on what they call “stand fast” mode which means that we must stay in a designated location until the elections are over and a winner has been declared. The run-off would probably be held just after Christmas.

So some final thoughts on politics over here; The other day Tammi and I were talking and I had goose bumps when I came to the realization that we are living in a country that could possibly erupt into civil war over an election. The goose bumps were for a couple of reasons, first the obvious, fear. It is a very scary thought that at any moment large scale violence could break out (I do truthfully doubt it though). I also know that all the PCVs will be well taken care of and kept out of harm’s way, but I worry for the Ghanaians that can’t simply be evacuated. Secondly what might be harder to explain is that I truly realize how delicate, profound, and fleeting democracy really is. I am saddened at the apathy of my fellow Americans toward politics and government but I will save that rant for some other time. I am impressed that over 70% (it may be higher) of eligible Ghanaians will cast a vote, and often the voter will have to overcome serious adversity in order to perform their duty. I was speaking to a fellow teacher about the number of people that will vote. He gave me the 70% number but he was upset that not more would vote. He was shocked when I told him that in America we would be lucky to get 50%. I would say violence not withstanding America could take a lesson from Ghana about the preciousness and importance of participatory democracy.

More Later on campaigning in Ghana…

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