No Mudslinging!!

16 Sep

In preparation for our Ghana trip, our class requires us to keep posted about the media and what is covered in terms of campaigning. We are required to consider the implications of various reports/incidents as well as the methodology of reporting the incident. We must consider the sources and critically reflect on the occurrences.

Initially, I skimmed through BBC, CNN, AlJazeera, and other major international news networks. I was on a mission to find something philosophical, something that as a political theorist, I would be able to comment on and discuss for hours and hours. I don’t know what I did, but somehow I made it to the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) and came across the an article called “President Mahama Calls on All Politicians to Embark on Competitive Politics with Respect & Civility”. To be honest, the article’s title alone can lead to hours and hours of discussion. For example, what do them mean by “call”, who are the “all politicians”, and where are they “embarking”, how does one define “competitive politics” and what are the boundaries of “respect and civility” in regards to the playing field of “competitive politics”. Furthermore, one could ask if “all politicians” are players in this game of “competitive politics” or does this include only those who are running for election? Does it incorporate the masses who are bearing witness to the competition unfolding? I could go on and on and on.

The article itself is brief. Really, what the gist of the news is that President Mahama has asked that campaigns focus on “issues and not personalities”. He is asking for a step away from mudslinging and to focus on the practicalities that need to be considered in regards to governance in Ghana. Furthermore, he appeals to the respect and reverence Ghanians hold towards late President Mills by asking himself and others to follow the “legacy of honesty, humility, patience and peace” that politics “was not a dirty game”, and to “exhibit maturity and unity” so that “Ghana’s democracy” can be seen as and serve as “a model on the African continent”.

There is a lot going on here. I mean, practically speaking, I cannot unpack this article, because it would take hours and hours. However, I will make some observations of interesting tactic, which I have already alluded to.

(1)

President Mahama is setting the ground rules, the precedent; essentially, he is setting the tone. What this means is, he already is one step ahead in the game. Not only because of his incumbency advantage, but because he has already made the first move. Essentially stating, look here, I am above dirty politics, and you best be too. And if you don’t fall into line, well then you are a dirty politician. The logic seems nice, but really he has posed a challenge. How to attack without muddying the waters? It is a game of verbal pre-emption. Really, a message of you are screwed, because from now on, everything I do will seem clean, honest, and forthright. Everything you do will be reactionary, threatening the balance, and in some ways dirty. Game on.

(2)

President Mahama’s appeal to President Mills, something we see here all the time in American politics. A throwback to good times, to good people, to great leaders, in order to be well not quite guilty by association, but glamorous by association. Sorry, I couldn’t think of a good word, and innocent by association just didn’t sound right to me. When one appeals to the past, they simultaneously set the framework of their future. An appeal to a former leader, gives cues to how one should expect the president to be. Now, I am not saying that expectations equal reality, nor am I saying that they will never be equal. But, what I am saying is that this appeal to a past figure, gives indications to the listener to draw similarities or pose differences that the one speaking is attempting to highlight. For the most part, President is not only associating himself with President Mills and wise and sagacious man, but also one who believes in and exhibits honesty, humility, patience and peace. I mean, who could say no to that? 

(3)

This will come up A LOT in my posts but democracy and Ghanian exceptionalism. Both of these concepts are connected to time, a historical legacy that only brings fruit to the future. Speaking of democracy in the present, makes one focus on the messiness of democracy, and no one wants to talk about how democracy is messy, especially during campaigning. However, everyone wants to romanticize the past as well as create an idealism towards the future. What better way to do that, with Ghanian exceptionalism, the fact that Ghana could serve as the democratic model on the African continent. Moreover, who better to take us to this glorious future, then the one who has recognized it for us, just as past figures have, the current President Mahama. These statements evoke a feeling of peace and contentment amongst the public, a soothing of fickle passions, a channeling of emotions towards a better future, a calming presence treating us with care, and so on and so forth.

(4)

I will make one last point. Just one. I have a lot more to say, but I will strive to focus. The article ends with the following “President Mahama would continue the tour on Wednesday, September 12, and would visit some communities, interact with the business community and the fisher folk in the region.” This quote, undeniably indicates a feeling of classlessness. The President Mahama is the people’s man. He will talk to (the missing enthymeme) the elite of the business community, as well as the day to day average people, the fisher folk. This statement, I believe, indicates a unstated bridge between people of different classes in society. Whether the author of the article (who is left unnamed) intended to establish this bridge or not, it is implicitly there. So, not only do these particular values of honesty, democracy, and purity exist in the discourse, but a practical down-to-earth, rolling up the sleeves kind of politics, without getting one’s hands dirty. Sounds pretty, huh?

——

Do I, as a commentator, sound skeptical? Not really. I, personally, am an optimistic person. Is President Mahama as great as this article makes him sound? Maybe. I don’t know the man. I would have to spend at least 24 years, and then some, with him to discover who he really is. But these are questions and thoughts that I had, when reading anything. What are the messages that I am supposed to be perceiving? What is implied? What should I feel when reading this? I am teasing out the emotions, unpacking the implications, questioning the responses that people might have.

The purpose of this exercise is not to cast doubt on any candidate. But to cautiously and curiously wade through the waters of political campaigns, political speech, and the power of persuasion.

Feel free to reflect and comment.

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African Democracy Project – WSU – Ghana

23 Aug

Hello World!

My name is Reem Abou. I am a PhD Candidate at Wayne State University  (specializing in Political Theory, identity, Du Bois, and Muslim-Americans). I will be traveling with my class to Ghana come December for the elections through the African Democracy Project. This initial post is supposed to serve as an introduction, I assume, to our expectations with the class and trip.

We’ve had one introductory course into the semester (last monday 8/20, I believe). I honestly do not know what to expect. I have found throughout my life, time and time again, whenever I expect something (or assume something), I am proven wrong. I have learned that a person should assume nothing, until otherwise indicated.

So, what do I expect from Ghana? Honestly, I do not know. I have read some profiles of Ghana, such as that of the BBC. My community leader happens to be Ghanaian, and has told me that he would share some of his first hand accounts; not as a part of my research project, but rather for some informative purposes, maybe for cultural nuances.

My expectations are the following:

1) Ghana will be much more modern than assumed.

2) Ghana will be more politically stable than assumed.

3) Ghana will be more culturally diverse than assumed.

4) On the whole, I imagine that the “African Stereotype” is a myth that will be dispelled upon encounter.

As an Arab/Muslim American, I have found that as Americans we stereotype “others” and create “myths” about them, without bothering to discover truths about them. Furthermore, we “study” people, all in the name of science, but while doing so, we turn people into “objects” to be observed, place them in exhibits to be studied. (A good explanation about this is the introduction of “Colonizing Egypt” by Timothy Mitchell). I learned, upon my early encounters with the Arab world, that the stereotypes of Arabs tend to be gross exaggerations of reality, as well as mythical as fantasy. Moreover, when we encounter “a people” that we endeavor to study, we use our own culturally specific logic, without considering their own. We, without truly explicitly stating it, prefer our own culture (or mechanisms of scientific inquiry) over all others. We take what we think we know and silence the very people and society we seek to explore.

Therefore, in this course, I hope that I can study the history, culture, and political manifestations (ect) of Ghana without being limited by the literature being reviewed. I would like to, upon reaching Ghana, meet with people, let them tell their stories, and allow them to reveal their perceptions of their own reality, while holding the assumption that they must understand the society they live in the best. I would like to bridge that gap between the absolute rigidity of a written text and the oral tradition of sharing narratives and story telling, of explaining perspectives.

What do I want to study while in Ghana?

Well, without being too vague (or preemptive, given that it is only the first week into the class), I would like to study the influence of W.E.B. Du Bois (as well as his interactions with) and Nkrumah on African Democracy, pan-Africanism, and the narrative of Ghana today.   Is this a stretch of the imagination? Can this actually be studied? I do not know as of yet, but as the semester progresses, I think I will discover the questions that I need to ask, in order to discover an atom’s worth of answers.

President Mills                                                       President Mahama

Why the narrative of Nkrumah (and Du Bois), I mean he (both actually) has (have) a “questionable” history? Nkrumah’s end in Ghana was not one that was favorable. Yet, recently, upon president John Mahama’s Address to the Nation on August 15th, 2012, regarding former President John Evans Atta Mills’s untimely death, he quoted Nkrumah. He states:

I am fully confident that greater success is within Ghana’s grasp and we
shall continue to be a beacon of hope and pride to Africa and the world.
Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, our founding father, the first president of the
republic, is famously quoted as saying, “We face neither East nor West. We face
forward.”

Here we find a few things:

1) A message of pan-Africanism — “to Africa and the world”

2) A message of Ghanaian exceptionalism — “within Ghana’s grasp”

3) A message of bridging the old with the New — hence quoting Nkrumah.

4) A message of unity — “we” (this passage doesn’t state the word unity, but the speech contains the theme REPEATEDLY)

5) A message of progress. “beacon of hope” “success” “forward”

— I can only say that had Du Bois or Nkrumah given this speech, it would not be misleading. One would not be able to deny that these themes are much repeated amongst the writings and speeches of both Du Bois and Nkrumah. I believe the influence is there, I would like to explore it, tease it out, and unpack it.

Peace.

-reem