Unpacking Voter Apathy Among Ghana’s Emerging Middle Class

It’s been difficult to feign enthusiasm for the 2016 edition of Ghana’s election process, and with an incumbent government performing so poorly, that should serve as a red alert that something is fundamentally wrong. With all the corruption scandals and improprieties exhibited by the ruling NDC, many more people should be rabidly howling for a conversion in government, but even at this 11th hour “I don’t know who I will vote for, and I may not even vote” is a common refrain.

Why should that be? There should be a clear victor here, if we as a nation have a collective vision concerning our heading.

Speaking in general terms, NDC is corrupt and incompetent. NPP is unpalatable in its arrogance and has spent the first part of its campaign cannibalizing itself. CPP is clueless and Ndoum – who embodies the PPP is proving to be a vindictive shrew. Neither of these parties nor its leadership can be trusted to move the mind of the nation forward. In fact, none of them has the slightest interest in elevating the political discourse, for in doing so it would mean that the citizenry would have the tools to hold the political elite to constitutional account. They are busy pandering to the lowest denominator, 1) because it’s easy and 2) because there is little pressure to perform beyond the minimum from those who occupy that space.  When was the last time you heard a Ghana politician speak passionately in the public sphere about the constitutionally guaranteed rights and role of the citizen, or the part the government plays in ensuring those rights and guiding/enforcing those roles? I can’t think of a single instance this campaign season, and I’d wager that people who are tired of the old way of politics being done in the country have given up hope.

On Nana Ama Agyemang Asante’s podcast ‘Unfiltered’, she has been asking eligible female voters if they will be voting in this election cycle. To her dismay – and mine as well, frankly – many women responded that they would not be voting. Why not?

“I just don’t want to,” they said.

You could hear it in their voices. The pitch and register of their answer is familiar. It’s exasperation. We as women employ this response in our lives every day. “I just don’t want to” is the polite and succinct way of (not) saying ‘Your stroke game SUCKS, you pre-mature ejaculating chimp’ or ‘I could work out, but that’s what society expects of me so I’m just gonna sit on the sofa and eat Pringles and kelewele and watch this The Princess Bride marathon.’ It would take the responder too long to explain why voting is such a chore that it elicits a sullen sigh, rather than a thrilling gasp and a flush of the cheeks. It has everything to do with the way political campaigning is done in Ghana and the Ghanaians’ response to these stimuli.

NDC was run a cruel and negative campaign, at times crossing into the ridiculous. Rather than focusing on the issues, they have spent the majority of the time attacking the main opposition leader, Nana Addo, personally. They have intimated that he is old, frail and therefore physically unfit to lead the nation. Nana Addo is a relic of the past. The latest one compares the relationship between the Ghanaian voter, NDC and NPP to a love triangle. Just watch:

Funny, right? At first blush, it does make you chuckle, but it’s a really troubling ad. Ghana – and its citizenry by extension – is portrayed as a fickle, idle girl who is compelled to depend on men to care for her needs. Despite the fact that Ghanaian women make up more than half of the labor force and are incredibly entrepreneurial, the ‘lazy, gold digging’ trope still exists. And if that weren’t odious enough, the ad makers threw in a dash of colorism, which continues to be a plague on our collective mental health. While “Ghana’s” pursuer (NPP) is a darker skinned male in a polyester shirt, the guy she temporarily dumped (NDC) is light skinned, current and smooth. She realizes she’s made a poor choice and coyly tries to sidle up to her previous partner. All of these play on the Ghanaian’s insecurities at the intersection of ethnicity, gender and color.

NPP’s problems have not been with advertising. Their woes have everything to do with their mouth. John Mahama, his brothers and Anita ‘the dwarfs ate your cedis’ De Sosoo have run the country into the ground, sprinkled lights over the rubber glue monuments they’ve constructed and dubbed them Dubai. It should be easy to defeat this boorish breed, but people aren’t convinced NPP is any better. Mahamudu Bawumia and his wife notwithstanding, both the party leadership and its supporters provoke an ick response in a lot of people.

Clearly, Nana Addo is not interesting in courting new supporters. This is hubris on both his and his supporters’ part. I suppose he can’t see past the crowds of people who show up at rallies and is satisfied that the clamor is enough. He routinely refuses to participate in debates, has not put out a concise, actionable message that the university graduate or young entrepreneur can relate to, and he certainly has not called for his leadership to behave circumspectly. Kennedy Agyapong and George ‘Show me your wife’ Andah threaten and disrespect women with abandon, and those who cry foul are silenced and made to feel shame. This tyranny goes right down to the Ghanaweb comments section, for what is name-calling and cyber bullying compared to a bus branding scandal? Vote for change! Is this alternative truly any better? Is it more tolerable to live in a country where people fear to express their thoughts and ideas than it is to live in a dumsor republic? Are we not simply trading one form of darkness for another?

If you call out these transgressions, then you MUST be an NDC supporter. NPP sympathizers have been nasty, illogical and downright insufferable over the previous 12 months, so much so that people want them to lose this election just to shut them up. Lydia Forson wrote an objective, thought-provoking piece detailing why NPP could fail to grasp power this season, and like the hit dogs they are, the violent canines did holler. She has been subjected to the worst sort of personal attacks – online and off – that have been seen in recent history.

Ghanaians have the gall to ask why more women don’t participate in the political process, musing over why we don’t have our versions of a Michelle Obama, or Hillary Clinton, or Sheryl Sandberg to boast of, conveniently forgetting how men threaten to release nudes in response to political analysis or reflexively default to reducing a woman to her looks if she is considered ungovernable. Even the EC Chair, Charlotte Osei , has not been immune to ad hominem attacks. While not having executed her first election cycle with the perfection that she required of the presidential candidates, she does not deserve to have that failure reduced to it being a consequence of giving a woman so much power. Naturally, there are death threats predicated on her presumed partiality to the party who appointed her.

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As if this series of fiascos weren’t were not bad enough, Joyce Amankwaa ,the Assin North municipal assistant civic education officer of the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE), has urged the wives of the Ghana police service to “satisfy their husbands very well in bed to enable them work effectively during the upcoming elections”. Once gain ladies, the fate and the stability of the nation rests your vagina. But don’t get too cocky! That you have a vagina also makes you inferior and weak. Always remember that the man is the head of he household and your natural leader.

Let’s not even get into the IGP who cannot decide if he wants to block social media or Election Day or conduct himself as though he’s living in a modern democracy where the citizens have rights and can be trusted to employ reason.

The whole thing is a charade and a circus, and little wonder so many people just can’t muster the passion to stand in the sun and be a part of the sideshow. For many people, Ghana’s politics do no reflect their values, nor is it representative of something to aspire to. It is considered retrogressive for reasons that are far too lengthy to list in one blog post. No wonder so many people find themselves apathetic!

Now, there are people for whom none of this matters. They are the party faithful at both ends of the economic spectrum. The wealthy are those whose fortunes are inextricably linked to the umbrella or elephant in office, and the poor simply want the satisfaction of knowing their team won. Ghanaian politics is FIFA’s sickly step-brother; but if we’re all lucky, we’ll avoid the melee at the end. But for those in the middle, the now despised neutrals who cannot bring themselves to hold their noses and pick a side, there is no clear choice here. A win for either party is merely a win for the party, not the country as a whole.

It’s time for Ghana politics to grow up. It’s time to transform the election process into a cerebral exercise, rather than an emotionally reactive one. We’ve been choosing the lesser of two evils for so long that it’s gotten us back to HIPC and disenfranchised our brightest minds. I always say that if you have a choice, choose greatness. Why settle for mediocrity and mendacity? We must all demand more of ourselves, and especially those who presume to lead us.

I’ll end with Kinna Likimani’s apt thoughts on the politician’s failure to woe undecided voters. She says:

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2 thoughts on “Unpacking Voter Apathy Among Ghana’s Emerging Middle Class

  1. Paul Donkor

    It is true that our political discourse as a nation ought to be elevated far beyond where the bar is currently set. I am quite certain though, that things are gonna get much much better after this election. I completely agree with the views shared by HK Prempeh on manassehazure.com/2016/11/h-kwesi-prempeh-writes-bawumia-factor-2016-elections/

    1. Malaka Post author

      I read the article, and it was vintage Prempeh. Well thought out and constructed. However I failed to glean from it the notion that politics will get better or how the conversation will be elevated. If anything, I am convinced that it will only get worse – if by his summation the NDC will indeed continue to campaign on identify politics and Us vrs the Asantes. Or are we to pin all our hopes on Bawumia bringing sanity to the process? He’s only one man.

      What has you sure that things will indeed get better after this election, specifically? I want to share in your optimism!

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