I was sitting in a taxi in Accra, windows rolled down, hawkers’ parading their wares and the afternoon sun was as it is in the tropics this time of year. The radio in the taxi was tuned to one of many political talk shows on the air from 8 a.m. to just before dinner. To an outsider the nature of the discussion, the intensity and heated nature of the rhetoric, would run chills down their spine. Talk of shooting opponents, threatening the president, and action plans that are clearly ethnocentric. To an outsider this would look like a country on the verge of civil war. To the rest of us, it’s just an election year.
Few aspects of the western-style democracy that was thrust upon Africa beget such fear as does an election year. I am not talking of the kind of fear of having half your country think it’s a good idea to elect a racist, reality television host as president. No, the kind of fear I mean is the kind that makes dual citizens book tickets around Election Day, the kind that makes political aspirants bring in foreign security guards, the kind that starts a steady outflow of cash from Ghana to foreign accounts.
In all fairness people do have a genuine right to be afraid. It is common to hear Ghanaians say, “nothing will ever happen here, we are a prayerful country.” However those words are said much more as a hopeful statement than words of certainty. For starters, Ghana has had its fair share of revolutions and coup-de-etas. Also, the events that occur in neighbouring countries do not go unnoticed. To make matters worse, a new form of security threat has reared its ugly head in the West African sub-region. Militant, fundamentalist Islamic terrorists have decided it is safe to operate in the area (a reasonable deduction by the way). I am by no means saying that these are a presage for what might happen in Ghana. But, there is an old Ga saying that, “when you see your neighbour’s house on fire, you fetch water and place it near yours.”
For the majority of Ghanaians, they would have peace. Peace to cook their jollof rice, to go to the market, to play football. Peace to work for a better future than they had for their children. It is for people like these that my heart breaks. They live in a country where a few, for their own aggrandizement and to satisfy personal vendetta, would willingly sacrifice the lives of an entire people. To move their families forward would set an entire nation backwards. These “leaders” stoke the fires of hate, and prey on the frustrations and pain of innocent people. They send and encourage others to die while their children sit in private boarding schools abroad. These politicians whose manifesto builds fear and promotes hate, it is one of these “fine people” that we are forced to vote for.
In a few months many Ghanaian citizens who are able and willing will go to the polls. The usual news stories of macho men, snatched ballot boxes, violent attacks, etc. will be heard on Ghanaian air waves. This is realism, not pessimism. The world will see very little of this, and even less if the ludicrous idea of a national social media blackout on that day is enforced. The fear will continue not because there is nothing to be done about it but because we all shrug and say, “it’s just an election year.”