Bye-bye to electioneering campaign promises—to choke our politicians
By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
It is no exaggeration to say that promise-making is a bane to our national politics. In this 4th Republic, there seems to be too much recourse to promise-making without any convincing presentation of workable strategies for solving the systemic national problems that make it difficult for us to develop our country.
Over the years, we’ve heard many mind-boggling promises, one of which was the weird one made by the NPP’s former National Chairman, Samuel Odoi-Sykes, who set many minds on fire when he told Ghanaians before the 1996 elections that an NPP government under Kufuor would construct a railway line from Tema to Northern Ghana. That was at the time that roads linking the south to the north were even not in any good shape to warrant an addition of a railway line.
That was just one of the many troubling promises that our politicians have made to hoodwink the gullible electorate to put them in office. President Mills is currently sagging under the weight of public outcry against his government’s inability to fulfill its electioneering campaign promises. I wonder what he will rely on this time to reach out to the electorate.
It is not as if promise-making is unwarranted or contemptible. Far from that. Promise-making is a major political strategy used by politicians all over the world to seek voters’ mandate to be in office. It is nothing strange to be avoided except when it turns out to be a curse to both those who use it and the voters who are gullible enough to swallow it. None can insulate themselves against it.
Ghana’s political scene is awash with promise-making and it is clear that it will have dire implications for the makers and those for whom it is meant. But considering the extent to which promise-making has backfired of late, I wonder if it will continue to remain viable in Ghanaian politics.
The ongoing bashing of President Mills teaches useful lessons. So far as the electorate have woken up to the reality, it seems those regarding promise-making as their trump-card will be forced to look for other strategies or have their political ambitions shattered.
Regardless of the harm being done his reputation or the threat to his re-election bid by the Woyome scandal, President Mills has a more terrifying spectacle to lose sleep over. He must be very much ill-at-ease, jolted by the persistent outcry against his inability to fulfill the promises that he and the NDC bigwigs had made prior to winning the 2008 general elections. The loud protests and threats from the malcontents to vote against him for that matter ring clearly every day. He must be living in fear of the immediate future.
Today, it is the fishermen of Elmina who are angry. Yesterday, it was public-sector workers. Before then, it was the rank and file of the NDC followers (the so-called foot-soldiers and those banded together under the banner of Friends of Nana Konadu Agyemang-Rawlings (FONKAR)). The protests have come from all angles—within the ranks of his own NDC, in the folds of the farmers, fishermen, public sector workers, traditional rulers, and many others in almost all parts of the country.
Tomorrow will definitely give us other groups openly registering their discontent. It is a spate! In one way or the other, many segments of the population will emerge to declare their dismay at will, not because President Mills’ agenda of a “Better Ghana” is doomed but because whatever is being done doesn’t satisfy them. They know the quantum of promises and what has been done so far.
There is nothing more threatening to President Mills’ quest for a renewal of his mandate than this open expression of discontent at his government’s failure to fulfill those promises.
The national discourse on his government’s performance is clouded by such complaints. President Mills must by now have realized that this rampant display of discontent is not only a harbinger of the difficulties ahead of him but that those promises have become an ineradicable curse—a major hurdle in front of him to jump if his campaign for Election 2012 is to produce dividends. No amount of Christian fervor or “All-Night” prayer sessions can solve this credibility problem. The crossing of the Rubicon seems to have begun already.
This particular complaint has provoked others, much of which has been politicized and is being bandied about to torment him. Certainly, these promises are obstacles, not any political leverage to rely on.
Like the proverbial Sword of Damocles, these promises are hanging around their makers’ necks and cutting them deep to cause havoc. Their initial usefulness is now the curse that such a Pyrrhic victory offers.
From what has happened so far, it is clear that Ghanaians have learnt a bitter lesson and will punish those glibly making promises. The bell will surely toll for them at Election 2012. Those promise makers will definitely live to rue their glib tongues.
That is why I caution the NPP’s Akufo-Addo to be circumspect in how he presents himself to the electorate. He has arrogated to himself the acumen to solve problems that he and his followers haven’t ceased condemning the NDC government over. He is all over the place, making huge promises and projecting his political ambitions as the abracadabra for Ghana’s age-old problems of under-development.
He is quick to make such promises but very slow in telling us how he will generate the funds to fulfill them. Or how he will solve the systemic problems that have prevented others from fulfilling their campaign promises to warrant his recourse to those very effusive, high-sounding promises and counting on that sugar-coated delivery to do the trick for him at Election 2012.
Of course, there is a lot wrong with such a penchant. But he won’t recant or discard that approach because, to him and his NPP machinery, that’s the best way to undercut the incumbent—picking on where it has failed and hammering on it to reach out to the electorate for their mandate to be in power. They consider winning political power as an entitlement, a non-negotiable raison d’etre for abandoning their chosen careers for partisan politics!
Coupled with the promise-making is another strategy to confuse the electorate. We are now hearing a different tune from Akufo-Addo that he won’t spill anybody’s blood in his bid to win power. Yet, behind all that noise (which he made outside Ghana, anyway), lies the “All die-be-die” motivational slogan. Put all together and you will see the duplicity with which the NPP is conducting its political campaigns.
Ghanaians will be better off if they stop placing their destinies in the hands of these politicians, especially those making the loudest noise to be heard as the only people capable of solving the country’s problems. Hindsight cautions us not to uphold such people as redeemers. They are mere self-seekers.
Our history is dotted with such people. We have been careless enough to believe all the claims made by them only to regret after the fact. Despite his huge accomplishments for Ghana, the Great Osagyefo (Dr. Kwame Nkrumah) couldn’t make it. His mantra of “Seek ye first the political kingdom and all other things will be added to you” didn’t save us.
It produced the National Liberation Council whose precedent was to lay the foundation for subsequent military adventurism in our national politics. Evidence of the exploits of the Acheampongs, Akuffos, and Rawlingses are still available to assuage all doubts that the military are terrible managers of national affairs. We are even not talking about all the abortive military actions against those military governments. Despite all their loud-mouthed promises, how many of our civilian politicians have been able to do what they had boasted of before being empowered to rule the country?
The fundamental problem shouldn’t be overlooked. I have insisted that nation-building is not an individual citizen’s affair, no matter how endowed that individual citizen may be. It is a collective effort to be made under an able leader. And who is an able leader to depend on? Are we not still under-developed because we lack such an able leader? Your guess is as true as mine.
But in whom do we see an able leader? Certainly, not these holier-than-thou politicians parading the landscape and using promise-making to brag about their capabilities. They are merely hiding behind the smokescreen of promise-making to deceive us. These are the very people who have either been part of governments that have already failed to solve our problems or who are still active today just by virtue of successfully recycling themselves to fit into the political pattern of our kind of national politics.
And how have they recycled themselves to fit into this political pattern that suits their purposes? A mere ability to read between the lines to know that promise-making is the key to unlock the electorate’s door for their mandate. They know deep down their hearts that their ulterior motive is to settle in office to enjoy the cozy atmosphere that will drastically transform their hitherto wretched personal lives at the expense of the electorate. We have enough evidence of such happenings to advise ourselves on how to relate to such latter-day saints in Ghanaian politics.
Ultimately, though, solving Ghana’s problems demands more than the tools that these politicians wield. It must go without saying that since independence, the very systemic problems that have made it difficult for us to progress are still with us, militating against our national development efforts. Our politicians haven’t ceased identifying them or boasting of solving them when put in office. Such boasts and promises have only turned out to be their adroit means for perpetrating self-acquisition, not national redemption.
The situation, thus, remains the same because when they enter office, they use the power to serve their own interests rather than solving those very systemic problems that have persistently kept our people in narrow circumstances. They know that they can remain in office for as long as they bombard the people with promises to be accepted and installed in office. Promise-making for its own sake is harmful to our national interests; but it inflicts more harm if it is turned into a catalyst for corrupting the national psyche.
That is why the Ghanaian voters must take decisive steps to halt this spate of moral degradation. For once, we must sit up. As Election 2012 approaches, we must look for better qualities in these power seekers and be bold to reject the promise-filled ones. That’s the only way to choke them out of contention. Let’s close all avenues to these self-seekers seeing all our problems as nails and going for nothing but a hammer as the solution.
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