Ghana: Boycotting the IEA debate will hurt Mahama

By IndepthAfrica
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Nov 15th, 2012
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By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Comments from so-called NDC functionaries urging President Mahama to boycott next Tuesday’s debate under the auspices of the Institute of Economic Affairs are annoying, to say the least.

Leading the pack of those elements howling for a boycott is Alhaji Bature of the Alhaj newspaper, who thinks that public utterances by Mensa Otabil (General Overseer of the International Central Gospel Church) have impugned the integrity of the President for which reason he must react strongly by boycotting the debate. Alhaji Bature thinks such an action is the best way to contemn Otabil, who is the Chairman of the IEA Committee, organizers of the Presidential debates.

He is of the opinion that Otabil’s verbal attacks on the President in reacting to the tape circulating about his (Otabil’s) rejection of free education betrayed his political bias and the President shouldn’t appear at that forum to rub shoulders with him. The boycott might be a way of registering the President’s protest or paying back Otabil.

Concentrated nonsense, that is. Nothing can be more childish and politically suicidal and unwise than a suggestion for a boycott of this IEA-sponsored debate. How do some people think?

Are the December Presidential elections between President Mahama (the NDC) and Mensa Otabil? Even then, if they were, won’t a boycott give an undue advantage to the party that uses the occasion to sell itself to the electorate?

There is no ground for a boycott of the debate. President Mahama must participate in it, and if he is worth retaining in office, prove it to Ghanaians through his delivery. The onus is on him and he has a heavier charge to acquit himself responsibly and remarkably to win support than those at the touchline finding fault here and there. If he has nothing to fear, he shouldn’t hide. Nor should he seek refuge in escapism.

Common sense dictates that Otabil be seen for what he is and written off without any more attention being paid to his wishy-washy damage control efforts. Once he couldn’t deny ever making those pronouncements and chose instead to hurl insults at the President and those using his pronouncements for politicking, it must be clear to all that he is not at peace with himself. Were he to be so, he would know how to control his emotions and not allow his heart instead of his head to influence his rhetorical manouevres.

Once Otabil has chosen to descend into the gutter by hiding behind insults and diversionary measures, he should be left to his fate to suffer silently. If he can’t do so, especially as his own conscience pricks him hard, he will yell again for us all to know how the mighty have fallen. After all, we know that nothing is ever more wretched than a guilty conscience.

Leaving Otabil to his fate means moving on with the kind of politicking that will win goodwill for President Mahama and his cause. It means going beyond what has been done so far or doing right what has been wrongly done. And many things have been done the wrong way! Those left undone at this stage in the electioneering campaigns should be tackled to “sell” President Mahama in a more concertedly persuasive manner.

We can tell from the rumpus surrounding this Otabil tape that the message has already sunk and Ghanaians who either support Akufo-Addo’s promise or see it as a ruse to gain political advantage have already made up their minds. Nothing will change anybody’s mind unless the inevitable happens. Akufo-Addo won’t take back the promise he has made, which the NPP considers at its flagship campaign message.

Those who have already welcomed it will not change their minds just because Otabil is saying that his pronouncements should not be used by the NDC for its campaigns; nor will those already skeptical of Akufo-Addo turn round to support him overnight even without anything new emerging to prove that his promise can be fulfilled. Or that he has a better administrative acumen than the incumbent. He doesn’t.

I know that his promise is nothing but a hollow political gimmick that is short on its being made and will be long on its fulfillment. I have long since treated it with contempt and will continue to condemn it for as long as I am not persuaded by stronger arguments woven around substance. So far, it’s all a matter of ugly noise, insults, and threats in reaction to my stance.

Certainly, those who seek to build the future don’t sit back to prate over the past. That’s why President Mahama must look beyond this Otabil irritant to position himself better for public acceptance. Participating in the IEA debate will give him the opportunity to present his own arguments and counter the negative impressions being created by his opponents. He needs to forcefully neutralize all that negative propaganda, using the IEA forum to present and defend his government’s policies and to justify why he should be given the mandate. No hard words will ever break anybody’s bones.

Considering the orchestrated negative propaganda that his opponents have mounted against him, it is better for him to use every opportunity to expose his true self and assure Ghanaians that he is a better quality material than all those at the periphery making noise to attract needless attention. I urge him not to budge to any form of intimidation from those purporting to be campaigning for him and threatening not to do so any more if he participates in Tuesday’s debate.

For all he may care to know, what will make or mar his electoral fortunes won’t necessarily depend on this fracas with Mensa Otabil. It has its roots in many problems, some of which have been caused by those claiming to be his campaigners.

Unfortunately for President Mahama, such problems have already harmed his interests and clawing back goodwill needs more action than what is being done. I have in mind problems created by those in government or in its communication team who have taken more delight in insulting at will than in doing mature politics to garner support for the Presidency.

The causes of some of these problems can also be traced to the Mills era, particularly the disenchantment against the government’s inability to fulfill its 2008 electioneering campaign promises and the continued worsening of living standards as a result of low productivity and insufficient revenues, the petroleum dividends notwithstanding.

The haughtiness of some NDC officials and public perception of corruption in government circles are others. We are even not talking about the in-fighting in the NDC and the emergence of the NDP as a manifestation of the weakening of the NDC’s support base. Make no mistake; the anger seething in those who have broken away cannot he easily defused; and the harm they will do to the NDC’s cause may be noticed only at election time.

It is in this vein that President Mahama must be cautious in his electioneering campaign efforts. Without seeking to dampen his spirits, let me say that there are dark clouds hanging all over the political horizon as a result of the persistent misinformation/disinformation campaigns by the NDC’s opponents who are spreading malicious lies and downright insults against President Mahama and his own followers’ miscalculations.

Winning the elections needs level-headedness in the political campaigns, not the flim-flammery that has come to notice. The situation will not improve if those whose unguarded utterances and ill-mannered conduct are not disciplined. I have in mind some whom—for want of any better word to qualify them—I will write off as buffoons in the NDC.

Take Allotey Jacobs of Cape Coast, for instance. Here is someone whose utterances have continued to vex many because they are either uncouth or politically unwise. His recent pronouncements on what is happening at the NDC front in Elmina clearly demonstrates his buffoonery. One expects that a character like him will not be given the kind of responsibility that he has had all this while.

There are many more of his type all over the place who are good only in the amount of anger that they provoke against the government. How can the President win any public goodwill with such characters playing the frontline role in his electioneering campaigns?

One is even not talking about Afriyie Ankrah, the co-ordinator of President Mahama’s campaign, who was so immature and politically unwise as to compare the recent Melcom tragedy to the fate of the NPP at the December polls. He has withdrawn that comment and apologized but the harm he has done through that impolitic comment can’t be repaired easily. Indeed, President Mahama has a lot to do within the short period left.

In sum, then, boycotting the IEA debate will dim his light and portray him as politically immature and incontinent. No voter will go for such a person to be the country’s President.