When insults become our main political tool…

Two incidents (whether real or imaginary) reported by the pro-NPP Daily Guide newspaper seem to be creating conditions for deepening the gulf between Ghana’s arch political rivals—the NDC and NPP. Whether it’s for political weal or woe, the report has aroused public interest and seems to be reflecting the troubling contradictions in our political system. Both the NDC and NPP seem to be locked up in an unhealthy battle-of-nerves whose main arsenal is insults… insults… insults; and nothing but insults.

Those using insults as a political tool must know the benefits while those at whom the insults are hurled are vehemently chafing under the impact. Using insults as such is offensive to public morality. Whether we like it or not, however, recourse to insults as a political tool has been the norm over the years. The earlier we acknowledge this problem and work seriously to solve it, the better chances are that we will be re-positioning ourselves to do clean and productive issues-based politics.

What seems to be arousing anger in the NPP followers is straight-forward. Kobby Akyeampong, Deputy Minister of Tourism, is on record for his “kokoase kurasene” reference to the NPP’s General Secretary. With this Daily Guide publication that he insulted the NPP’s Akufo-Addo as a “fruitcake,” he must be said to have scored another goal in this game of insults. As if that is not already too much for the NPP to cry over, the Deputy Minister of Works and Housing (Dr. Hannah Bissiw) is also alleged by the same Daily Guide newspaper to have labelled the NPP’s Akufo-Addo as “a sexy old fool.”

Both Kobby Akyeampong and Hannah Bissiw have come out to deny ever making such utterances and cautioned the press to be circumspect in their reportage. Indeed, their denial seems not to have been heard at all by the NPP. As is to be expected, the NPP is up in arms, seeking official sanctions to be imposed on both Deputy Ministers. A top-ranking official of the party has asked President Mills to divest them of the Ministerial appointments because their conduct is unbecoming of the standards for public officials.

What must the NPP be dreaming about? That President Mills will act on their word to unnerve the very people in the NDC who know how to use insults to advantage? Or will it be because the NPP is not guilty of the very offence that it is quick to identify in Kobby Akyeampong and Hannah Bissiw? Inconceivable. In any case, their cry is misplaced. Dismissing the two Deputy Ministers from office won’t solve the problem.

The NPP functionary who made this call must just have come out from a long period of hibernation, so to speak. Is he saying that this the first time that he would have heard such insults being hurled at politicians by their opponents? Let him cast his mind wider than the scope he has defined and he will not be surprised at what he will find.

Turning political opponents into the bull’s eye for verbal archery is not the forte of the NDC alone, which must be stated clearly. That is not to say that I condone this kind of insulting, debased politics. I abhor it with the strongest urge that I can muster up.

Recourse to insults is pervasive in our local and national politics; it exists within the political parties, as we know from the bad-blood relationship between party officials (and among party functionaries); it cuts across partisan political party lines and sours relationships, as we have seen happening between the NDC and NPP, particularly. It also exists anywhere human beings come together, especially if their coming together is attracted by a common interest—mostly on the basis of material benefits over which they struggle.

The insults come in many guises—open and brazen, direct invective; and concealed, implied, or metaphorically framed. When Kwame Pianim said “any idiot” at all can be the NPP’s flagbearer, he didn’t mince words. When Rawlings described office-holders in President Mills’ government as “greedy bastards,” he laid it all bare. When the NPP’s Minority Leader refused to accompany President Mills out of the Chamber of Parliament after he had delivered this year’s “State of the Nation” address, the insult was indirectly couched. By slighting former President Kufuor and the Chief Justice, President Mills had insulted them; but he made amends by reaching out to the offended parties—a lesson which all party functionaries should have learnt but haven’t.

Resorting to insults confirms fears that our politicians have cheapened national politics and given themselves a bad name. It shows the depth of moral decadence to which they have sunk. The truth is that our politics is dirty. It has no prestige but continues to attract all manner of people into it because of the benefits it holds in store for them. And they are using insults to attach each other, giving the society needless anxious moments to worry about.

The root causes of this kind of low-class politics are not difficult to identify and acknowledge. The crux of the matter is that our politics is largely devoid of issues and is rather heavily weighted in favour of personalities, ethnicity, plain mischief, thievery, and sleight-of the-hand (or mouth?) manouevres.

For as long as we continue to place more premium on tongue-lashing than on serious and purposeful efforts to solve pertinent national problems, that’s what we should expect to dominate our national and local politics. After sowing the wind, what should we expect to reap besides the whirlwind?

For many years now, we have lost our sense of propriety and sought to use any means at all in politics to achieve our objectives of wielding political power and using it to exploit the goldmine that we have turned national service into.

The NPP is being hypocritical on this occasion, though. Will we so soon forget the insulting conduct of NPP functionaries toward those of the NDC, especially the two prominent NDC leaders who have been raised to the pedestal as Heads of State? Can the NPP elements so soon forget their open, unbridled bad-mouthing of former President Rawlings?

A cursory assessment of the contents of the discourse on national politics gives a clear glimpse into the problem. Constant hurling of insults by these elements at Rawlings over the years is their pastime. They still do it with impunity and relish it as a potent political weapon to weaken the NDC. Just let Rawlings’ name show up in anything, and these opponents jump on him to say anything at all they wish about him. No one who has any conscience that is not seared will condone this kind of deplorable conduct.

Then, take President Mills too. He has been the butt of their verbal attacks all these years. Even before he had the chance to aspire for the Presidency, Kofi Coomson had set the harsh tone when he used The Ghanaian Chronicle to portray him as a “poodle” on Rawlings’ leash. This denigration stuck to President Mills for long and did much harm to his hard-earned public image. It was within this context that he sought hard to create the impression that he was his “own man” and that he was no one’s poodle.

How about the cartoon piece that portrayed ET Mensah as a sheep following former President Kufuor around the Ningo-Prampram area when he once visited there?

That’s not all of it. Former President Kufuor had lambasted Rawlings as “Obonsam” and as someone who was doing things in “a patapaa” manner. Rawlings too has not only received insults but he has also hurled them at others too. He did equate former President Kufuor to the notorious armed robber, Nii Ayi, when he sang the cacophonous song (“Nii Ayi nie… Kufuor niee…”) on the spur-of-the-moment at the Osu cemetery.

The NPP’s Akufo-Addo derided President Mills as “Professor Do-Little,” which the NPP followers hailed as a demonstration of courage. Then again, Ursula Owusu and Frances Essiam have led several NPP insult-hurling escapades against the NDC followers. How much haven’t we heard from Kennedy Agyapong too?

In all these instances, the appropriate official institutions that should curb this wanton irresponsible behaviour seem to side rather unexpectedly with the perpetrators. The numerous libel cases that were brought up by those victims ended being dealt with in favour of the culprits instead. Apparently, in handling these cases this way, the courts created the impression that they condoned that waywardness. What else should we expect if there is no means to curb this insulting conduct?

We are not strangers to the nasty goings-on in our political arena. We know that insults have become the stock-in-trade of our politicians and their followers. That’s what we are served with every day that a politician seeks to undermine the integrity of his/her opponents.

Whether it’s on the airwaves or in the print media, it’s insults, not issues that are raised as the first line of assault or defence. Rather disappointingly, even when a politician raises an important issue and seeks input to help define it for inclusion into the agenda for national development, those who respond to it turn to insults instead of providing the required input.

A cursory reading of the comments that visitors to the online media pass on issues raised by politicians or those of us who write opinion pieces should leave no one in doubt about the depth of degradation to which we have sunk. It’s all insults…..insults….insults; and nothing but insults.

As is to be expected, those of us who comment on national or international issues in our opinion pieces are also guilty of that misconduct. We have used inflammatory language and levelled accusations against those we regard as our nemesis or those we just don’t see eye-to-eye with.

How can a country develop if this waywardness becomes the order of the day? I am yet to understand the Ghanaian psyche.

In any case, institutions such as the Church (clergy, particularly), chieftaincy, and other official, quasi-official, or non-governmental organizations that are expected to play a crucial role in stemming this tendency are themselves either unwittingly caught up in it or just stand aloof as if they don’t see the danger inherent in this kind of public misconduct.

We must not be surprised if the situation deteriorates further. That’s when what we see and dismiss as mere insults will develop into open threats and consequent recourse to confrontations. Indeed, some of the politicians have already graduated from the level of insults to issuing open threats. Here, I have in mind Akufo-Addo’s “All die be die” war-cry and other unbecoming utterances from some as “The country will burn if the NDC government tries to steal the 2012 elections,” or other utterances to that effect.

After scrutinizing issues, the question on my mind is: Was it only the Daily Guide newspaper that covered the event at the KNUST to report issues that are now creating this problem? If not, what are the other media houses saying?

Of course, knowing the anti-NDC stance of the Daily Guide newspaper, some of us always read deeper meanings into anything it publishes about the NDC before making up our minds. Once the management of that newspaper have chosen to go to bed with the NDC’s opponents and are determined not to see anything good about the NDC to report on, there is no gainsaying the fact that whatever its reporters see through their own terministic screens and publish will be regarded as a part of the problem, not a means to solve any problem of the sort that the NPP functionaries are raising dust about.

For as long as our journalists have taken sides and will be willing to do the dirty political job for their paymasters, we mustn’t expect the problem to be solved soon.

Already, the battle cries are out in the air and we shouldn’t be surprised because they are the direct upshot of the very insulting behaviour that we appear not to be wary of enough to curb.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

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