President Nana Akufo-Addo’s recent advice to his campaign team for Election 2020 could be interpreted to mean, using an analogy from another era, ‘the election is not an insults contest’.
One thing that has never ceased to confound me is the vitriol that seems to characterise Ghanaian political campaigning.
Even when it’s political party primaries, among contestants from the same party, the amount of mudslinging is simply astounding. In some cases one wonders if the candidates concerned will ever again be on speaking terms when it’s all over.
So no surprise that when the contestants are opponents from competing political parties, the acrimony reaches unbelievable heights – or ‘unbelievable depths’.
The President’s position expressed when he was addressing the Campaign Communications Advisory Team of the New Patriotic Party on July 12 was, he indicated, an endorsement of a strategy proposal from the team.
He emphasized that as the NPP has a proud record of achievements, their campaign messages should highlight their comprehensive accomplishments. There was no need to resort to attacking opponents on their origins, religion or gender.
“For the first time we’re going to go into elections where the two major parties are being led by a President and his predecessor. It’s not happened before … so the issue of record is absolutely critical. I think we have to be very, very insistent on looking at the record of the two leaders.
“In talking about the record, I think there’s one thing which is very important for us in the NPP to continue to stress: the quality of (the) achievements of this Government in various areas. We have to do a campaign which is not about where you come from, whipping up ethnic sentiments. It has NEVER helped this country and it will not help us.
“This diversity, this mosaic, this Ghanaian tapestry is full of so many different elements but (they) come together in the Ghana statement; and we should be stressing that. ‘The ‘Ghana Project’ is what I call it” (emphasis added).
Furthermore, he pointed out, “we still have to ask who best can manage the affairs of the country in normal times and as well in extraordinary times, like these last three or four months.
“We’re looking at all times at records and competences.”
The meeting, via zoom from Jubilee House, was an online one because the President was in quarantine after one of his close aides tested positive for COVID-19.
His caution couldn’t have come at a better time, with the general election countdown in high gear.
Why can’t the political parties base their campaigning on their track record and what plans they have for the country’s future? Why the muckraking?
Another aspect is that the ‘tit for tat’ is quite counter-productive because it tends to put the electorate off because of the animosity generated.
I recall that ahead of Election 2016, the Media Foundation for West Africa mounted a campaign dubbed “Issues Not Insults”, to stop politicians using abusive language on radio.
However, earlier this year, the MFWA singled out for commendation one politician, Tangoba Abayage, the Upper East Regional Minister, citing her exemplary campaign conduct during the NPP parliamentary primaries.
In a statement, the Foundation praised Ms Abayage, for making a strong commitment to issues-focused campaigning in her bid to become the NPP parliamentary candidate for the Navrongo Central. She pledged that she wouldn’t allow “any foul language against anybody. We have a message and it is that message that will (take) us to Parliament on the 7th of December, 2020.”
Mr Joseph Adda, the incumbent Member of Parliament for the constituency and Ms Abayage’s main competitor and colleague Minister, had allegedly accused her on a local radio station of not being politically active in the constituency and that she only went there to drink beer.
Ms Abayage’s reaction? She reportedly said: “I don’t know what is special about Navrongo beer but I know that what is special about Navrongo is the togetherness, the socialization, the camaraderie.”
What a witty comeback! She effectively turned the tables with that humorous, but astute response. (She won with 307 votes as against Mr Adda’s 266.)
Her unflappable attitude recalls a quote by ‘Iron Lady’ UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher regarding insults by political opponents: “I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.”
This issue also draws another comparison, J H Mensah’s unforgettable “beauty contest” quip at an NPP delegates conference in 2017. The former Senior Minister told his party that what was important was to select the candidate who could help them win, the one capable of offering “quality leadership”, for Ghana’s betterment. And, he added: “this is not a beauty contest.”
Similarly, Election 2020 should be about campaign messages relevant to the needs and aspirations of the “mosaic, this Ghanaian tapestry full of so many different elements” which constitute what the President calls ‘the Ghana Project’.
Why should insults be part of that? Who needs the politics of abuses which, unfortunately, has become such an ugly component of Ghanaian electioneering?