Promise-making in Ghanaian politics is a double-edged sword that cuts both ways. While it may help put in power whoever seems to be the glibbest, it also may turn out to be the cause of that victor’s undoing. We can tell from the scathing criticisms and tongue-lashing of President Mills and his government that electioneering campaign promises can be really scary. They threaten political fortunes.
It is within this context that I comment on a major problem that the NPP’s Nana Akufo-Addo has begun creating for himself as he sets out to attempt wooing the electorate in his second attempt at becoming Ghana’s President. I wonder why he can’t read deeper meanings into how he conducts himself to be able to win public goodwill toward the 2012 polls.
Barely three weeks ago, Akufo-Addo said in London that he would not base his electioneering campaign on promises but “programmes and projects.” In making that assertion, he was emphatic that promise-making won’t be his trump-card. Thus, he would insist on persuading the electorate with the NPP’s “programmes and projects” as the key to unlock the electoral door.
Some of us quickly received that assertion with a pinch of salt and questioned the rationale behind it; we also wondered where Akufo-Addo sought to draw the line between “promises” and “programmes and projects.” To us, these were only two sides of the same coin, depending on how much sophistry goes into portraying each.
Not too long after making that assertion, however, Akufo-Addo is out, either knowingly contradicting himself or—by some inexplicable psychoanalytic flim-flammery—betraying what really lies deep in the heart of his politics. It seems that he isn’t himself aware of this problem, etched as it is on his hustings.
If he did contradict himself knowingly, thinking that Ghanaians would not be smart enough to make connections between what he had earlier vowed not to do but is now doing), then, he must be up to mischief. If it’s because of an unconscious and impelling factor, then, he is pitiable.
Here is the problem. Speaking at Abirem when he paid a courtesy call on Nana Amo Kyeretwie I, Chief of Abirem as part of his listening campaign tour to the Eastern Region on Friday, Akufo-Addo reiterated that a Government under his Presidency would provide free education from basic to secondary school level, according to a Ghana News Agency news report (July 10, 2011).
“This promise will never be a political gimmick because I know what I’m talking about and how the policy would be financed,” he emphasized.
Does Akufo-Addo consider this obvious promise-making as different from the “programmes and projects” that he touted as the substance with which to drive his campaigns?
There is nothing peculiarly wrong with promise-making as a political tool. What is wrong about it in the Ghanaian context, though, is that the people are wide awake now to know it as a mere ploy being used to win their votes. It is a cheap way to do politics, which by his own assertion, Akufo-Addo should be intelligent enough to know and avoid.
More importantly, the people appear not to be interested anymore in the WHAT the politicians will do but the HOW they will do it. That’s why Akufo-Addo’s problem here has to be understood in its context. How is he going to fulfill this promise and ensure its sustainability?
Such vainglorious political rhetoric on promises notwithstanding, there are still 5,000 schools-under-trees in the country. What has become of the Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) programme? Or what about the problems still facing the JSS (whether to make it three years or four years) and the lack of logistics to implement other programmes? How will Akufo-Addo persuade us that he knows HOW to solve these existing problems in the education sector, which spill over into the job market?
Akufo-Addo has other problems. While he is out there eating back his own vomit, other things are happening to worsen his credibility problem. The claim by former President Kufuor in the interview broadcast on Adom TV on Friday that he felt embarrassed by Akufo-Addo’s decision to go to court during the last round of the 2008 elections is a serious indictment on his character and sense of (im)propriety. It reinforces the negative impressions that his opponents have about him and will certainly influence how they portray him in public discourse.
By going against his own vow not to indulge in promise-making, Akufo-Addo comes across as a lying, cunning, and unreliable person who shouldn’t be taken seriously. I am reading this meaning into his flip-flopping to suggest that he is not being honest. Such a character can’t persuade me that he is stable enough to use the mandate of the people judiciously for national development. I am tempted to conclude that he hasn’t learnt any lesson from the circumstances surrounding his defeat in 2008.
That particular defeat came against the grain, especially after he had beaten the NDC’s candidate in the first round of the elections and seemed to have won the backing of the minority parties that had retained their opposition to the NDC. Within the three weeks that the electorate had the second chance to make their electoral decisions, they went for Professor Mills, making nonsense of the NPP’s cock-sure posture to win the elections “One Touch.”
Between that time and now, I haven’t seen anything new to recommend Akufo-Addo apart from the tall list of personalities that he has co-opted into his campaign teams at the local, regional, and national levels. These campaigners are not new “faces” to the Ghanaian electorate nor will they be those to wave the magic wand to ensure victory for him.
As has already been pointed out by some NPP malcontents in the Ashanti Region, Akufo-Addo’s approach is not without problems. They have accused some members of his 30-member national campaign team as undesirables whose role in the party’s hustings for the 2008 elections does not recommend them for what Akufo-Addo has again thrust on them. Lord Commey, the former National Organizer, is one such undesirable. There may be other issues but what has emerged so far indicates that Akufo-Addo hasn’t preened his feathers well enough to fly smoothly toward an electoral success.
Other issues bordering on his personal problems are still around. I will be blunt to say here that although he has threatened to sue anybody who attributes drug use to him, that threat hasn’t turned his critics’ crank. A cursory glance at comments about him in the many Ghanaian online media reveals that those who respond to anything concerning him are undeterred in their perception of him as a narcotic user. Such impressions are difficult to erase, especially when Akufo-Addo hasn’t been bold enough to clear the air once-and-for-all other than issuing such vain threats.
To worsen his credibility problem at this level, one of his close aides was recently unmasked as an ex-convict who was jailed in the 1980s by the British authorities for drug trafficking. Other allegations have it that Frank Amankwaah, now serving jail time in Brazil on drug-trafficking charges, is his in-law and one of those money-bags who financed his previous electioneering campaigns.
This negative perception will not vanish just because he has threatened court action against those spreading it. Nor will it be neutralized by other empty threats or noisome explanations by Kofi Jumah, for example. It will be better for Akufo-Addo to be bold enough to face up to his critics by exhaustively explaining the drug-related allegations and leaving no stone unturned in baring it all. Anything of the sort will redound to his image and portray him in a better light. The bull’s horns are beckoning him!
Finally, Akufo-Addo has to know that what will win any Presidential election for him is not how much noise members of his campaign team make about his credentials but how he himself comes across to the electorate. From what I have seen so far in his so-called campaign module called “Listening to the People,” he seems to be carrying along with him the very air of self-importance that detracted from his earlier quest.
Images showing him in the company of the “down-trodden people” whom he has so far visited in some communities in the Eastern Region don’t sell him well. He seems to be very much condescending, at least, from his posture alone. Such an attitude can’t sway people who have long concluded that he is arrogant and haughty. A “listening” politician poises himself better than what he is doing.
There is every reason to suggest to Akufo-Addo that he needs to cut himself off from the issues that prevented him from winning the previous elections if he wants to make any headway. As of now, he hasn’t done or said anything to prove to me that he has learnt any lesson since he lost to Professor Mills. If anything at all, he has only compounded his credibility problems—saying and doing too many contradictory things in one breath. Such a person won’t appeal to the electorate. He may not be the change that Ghanaians may be looking for at the 2012 polls, assuming that they find fault with President Mills’ leadership style or that his government has not performed well to be retained in power.
Regardless of what he is nursing in his mind, Akufo-Addo has already defeated his own purpose by shooting himself in the foot. Herein lies the danger for him because it is impolitic for a politician to raise questions about his own credibility and expect to win voters’ support. That’s what I want Akufo-Addo to take note of as he continues his tour. He has scored an own-goal and shouldn’t be surprised if the end fails to justify the means for him again.