By Alexander Nyarko Yeboah
One of the cardinal pillars of modern civilization is the idea of democracy. This Athenian culture of popular representation in governance ensures that, as much as possible, decision making reflects the aspirations and perceptions of the broader masses of the people. As such it places high value on the individual as the centre of the political setting from whom political power emanates and on whose behalf this power is exercised. It means therefore that for any democratic dispensation to thrive, it must first have as its priority to safeguard the interest and aspiration of the individual citizen in all respects. Anything short of that amounts to dictatorship which easily breeds political violence.
Political violence therefore erupts when there is a misconception that political power is to promote the elite in society who are privileged to handle power. The individual is then taken out of the picture and the personal and parochial interest of the elite takes over to the effect that the leaders end up championing their own rights and privileges. This is the beginning of political violence because they would do anything under the sun to seek those rights/privileges.
It is this misconception held by civilian leaders that make them amass wealth at the expense of the ordinary man. The situation becomes so pronounced that in some instances, disgruntled soldiers who feel the weight of poverty capitalises on the lapses and take up arms to violently change the political status quo. This often results in the shedding of blood and all other kinds of inhuman treatment to people because a revolution must take place to correct the social imbalances or, as it was said in the Ghanaian situation, to carry out “a house-cleaning exercise”.
Unfortunately, when soldiers take over they create more conditions for violence because they are also caught in the web of wanting to consolidate power. This results in unnecessary arrests, detentions without trial, tortures and sometimes extra-judicial executions to ensure that they maintain their grip on political power. This invariably leads to dictatorship that comes along with repression.
But one worrying phenomenon recently is what is often referred to as democratic dictatorship. This occurs when someone takes advantage of the privileges democracy offers to perpetrate violence against the people. In some instances, political violence comes about because elected leaders try to consolidate their positions. As such they consciously and systematically weed out any form of opposition, such that anybody who stands in their way becomes a target. They become so intolerant of criticism to the extent that they forget they were elected by, and therefore answerable to, the people.
Indeed, some of the presidential reshuffles witnessed in Africa are basically to clear opponents within one’s own government. A typical example is the recent sacking of the finance minister of South Africa by President Jacob Zuma simply because he objected to the purchase of a new presidential jet. We are all witnesses to the demonstrations that erupted recently because of this dismissal leading to demands for Zuma to step down. In other parts of the continent traditional chiefs have been forcefully removed from office just because they were seen as sympathetic to the course of an opposition party.
So there arises a situation in which the law is employed to mete out injustice to the people because the Executive wields so much power it could coerce the Judiciary to tow a certain path. Violence could set in when political opponents are prosecuted and imprisoned with questionable legal procedures and interpretations that suit the intentions of the incumbent government. And as this goes on, more violence is being sown for the future as the opposition could retaliate should they capture power.
Another form of this violence, interestingly, is dictatorship of the opposition. Africa is yet to understand the meaning of political opposition. This is because of the attitude of most opposing elements in our body-politic. In the advanced democracies, opposition means contest of ideas, and so one is only offering alternatives to what the incumbent government is doing. In Africa, however, the story is different. Opposition means doing anything possible to ensure the government fails so that power naturally falls into the opponent’s hands.
So all kinds of things are done by the opposition to make governments unpopular. This sometimes renders the country ungovernable, with the consequence that investors think twice before committing resources, and crime could soar because criminals are made to think the system is loose. Oppositions to governments in Africa have gone to the extent of aiding in the forceful overthrow of legitimate governments, the throwing of bombs, and other assassination attempts on the lives of presidents.
Another means of violence is party dictatorship. This is dictatorship as a result of the need to project a political party’s interest above that of the citizenry, even if it means destruction of lives and property. The result is that democracy becomes absent even within the political party that claims to be a player in the democratic process. Examples of extreme loyalty to party that resulted in a lot of atrocities were seen in Mussolini’s Italy, and Hitler’s Germany where there were party loyalist even in the military to police other military officers to adhere to party standards.
Ghana has had its fair share of this form of party violence. In the NDC we have had a couple of destruction to lives and property in an attempt to ensure the party stayed in power during the early days of the Fourth Republic. More recently, the NPP is gradually becoming the epitome of political party violence. This is because of the power struggle within the party. Already this struggle has claimed the life of the party’s regional chairman in an acid bath and that of a party member in a stabbing incident. We cannot fail to talk about a member who lost a leg, another, an eye in violent demonstrations, etc.
Going forward, Ghanaians must understand that we are one people with one destiny and that violence is not and can never be the solution to the differences that would ever come between us as a people. We must understand that our daily actions write history, and we should not go down in history as a people who took each others’ lives and destroyed properties simply because we wanted to annex political power.
Today the likes of Charles Taylor of Liberia, Slobodan Milosevic of the former Yugoslav Republic, Idi Amin Dada of Uganda, etc. have gone down in history as men who supervised carnage that claimed precious lives. Ultimately political power is not meant for the aggrandizement of any individual or party, and if politicians come to understand that the quest for power is only an opportunity to work to bring about an improvement in the lives of the citizenry, perhaps they would stop killing the very people they are supposed to serve.