Prime News Ghana

Tribal politics is in the NDC's DNA; the NPP cannot be blamed for it

By Kwabena Antwi-Boasiako
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For all my life, I’ve attended two political rallies, both in 1992, when I didn’t have a vote. The first one was an NDC rally at the Techiman Methodist School park. When I heard that President Rawlings was coming to town, I made it to the rally grounds sharpish, taking a position as close to the dais as possible to see President Rawlings 'fiili-fiili.' Sadly, President Rawlings' spoke in an inappropriate manner that even his interpreter, the late I. K. Adjei-Mensah, tried to polish things up. But Rawlings would have none of that, insisting that the interpreter should say exactly what he had said. When the interpreter persisted with his 'polishing-up' interpretation, Rawlings pushed him aside and asked someone else to do the interpretation.


It was not only Rawlings who used inappropriate language; speaker after speaker at the rally warned the electorate against voting for Prof. Adu Boahen and the NPP, claiming that the NPP was an Asante party, and an Adu Boahen presidency would be preoccupied with extending the sea to Kumasi instead of developing the country. Speaker after speaker warned of how an NPP government would expel Zongo residents from Ghana. Like most of the audience, I believed them.

Then a few days later, I heard Prof. Adu-Boahen was also coming to town, to the same venue. His title ‘Professor’ confused me; I wondered if he were a magician because I thought Professors were magicians – there was a popular magician who appropriated the title ‘Professor.’ To satisfy my curiosity, I attended the NPP rally. But Prof. Adu Boahen performed no magic; all that he did was to dispel the propaganda that he would deport all Northerners people from Ghana. He mentioned that his running mate, Roland Issifu Alhassan, was from the North. I knew that between him and the NDC, one was lying. Even my little mind did figure out that the NDC were the liars, and I was right.

I recount these events because the NDC has been doing tribal politics since the dawn of the fourth republic; their tribal politics didn’t begin in 2011 when Nana Akufo-Addo allegedly said ‘We Akans.’ To suggest that it is the NPP’s ethnocentricism that fuels the NDC’s tribal politics is to put the cart before the horse. Even in 2000, the then candidate Kufuor had to deny a malicious NDC propaganda that he had said all Fantes are jokers. I listened to Kufuor’s response on Joy FM, where he explained that even his own children have Fante blood in them since their mother (Mrs Theresah Kufuor) is partly Fante. The time the NDC made that false allegation, Ken Agyepong was unknown in Ghanaian politics. Ken, therefore, couldn’t have been the one who fueled the NDC’s tribal and divisive politics.

Truth is, since 1992, the NDC has been serving Ghanaians a virtual diet of tea laced with the opiate of deceit, brewed in a concoction of lies. This potent elixir has drugged the Ghanaian voter into a state of mind where they believe that a vote for the NPP would amount to nothing more than creating an Akan hegemony. While a few have awakened to this diabolical lie and the grave danger inherent in voting on tribal lines, the majority remain convinced that the NPP is for Akans, even when the facts do not support that. Because these people have been brainwashed to see the NPP as against minority tribes, they go about soliciting evidence to support their preconceptions.

As an Akan proverb (am I even allowed to say that?) goes, ‘Wofiifii funu ani a, wohu saaman’ (to wit, when you probe the eyes of the dead, you see a maggot). Fables and adages embody many psychological truths, and the above proverb is one. In 1960, the psychologist Peter C. Wason investigated how humans reason. He gave his subjects (the people with whom he did the experiment) the three number sequence 2, 4, and 6. He then asked them to try to guess the rule generating the numbers. Specifically, he asked the subjects to give him other three-number sequences, to which he would respond "yes" or "no" depending on whether the new sequences were consistent with the rule. The people could produce as many three-number sequences as they wished; once confident with their answers, the subjects would tell the rule.

The correct rule was "numbers in ascending order." Nothing more. But only a few of the subjects discovered the rule. To discover the rule, they had to offer numbers in descending order, to which the experimenter would say "no." Wason noticed that the subjects had a rule in mind, and produced three-number sequences aimed at confirming the rule they had in mind, instead of trying to supply series that were inconsistent with their preconceptions. The subjects dutifully kept trying to confirm the rules that they had made up. Wason called it confirmation bias; that is, humans have a natural tendency to look only for data that corroborates opinions they have already formed. What the confirmation bias theory tells us is that when we form our opinions on people on the basis of some weak evidence, we have difficulty interpreting subsequent information that contradicts our earlier opinions, even when the new information is obviously more accurate. 

For example, if we assume that Mr. A is arrogant, we go about looking for evidence to support our presumption. And given that none is perfect, we’re likely to find a small evidence that supports our belief, and then blow it out of proportion. Even if the evidence that we find does not support our prejudices, we try to interpret it in such a way that it fits our presumptions. So a statement of fact as 'we Akans' is twisted to mean looking down on other tribes, however absurd the underlying logic might be.

Because of confirmation bias, what Mr. B might do and go scot-free, hell would break loose if Mr. A were to do the same. A few examples will suffice. Leading to the 2000 run-off, the late Prof. Mills, speaking at an NDC rally in Accra, declared: “We’ll chalk two successes this year; the NDC will win the elections and Hearts of Oak, our [i.e. NDC] team will win the [African] Champions League.” Subsequently, the management of Accra Hearts of Oak rejected items then candidate Kufuor presented to the club. How Mills' subsequent ‘ade wo fie a oye’ and other tribal comments escape the apostles of objectivity shows how biased our reasoning can be. John Mahama has not shied from asking the people from the three Northern Regions to vote for him solely because he is from the North. He even went as far as ridiculing how Asantes speak English on the floor of Parliament. Yet, somehow, some people don’t remember. Confirmation bias helps us to understand why. If you think Joy FM is a pro-opposition media house, you’ll by all means find some evidence to support that; same as those who think Joy FM is in bed with the government. 

The idea that the NPP is for Akans is a poisonous meal the NDC has been serving Ghanaians since 1992 for political gain. To say the NPP is an Akan party does no justice to the facts. According to the 2010 population census, the region with the highest proportion of Akans is the Central Region (82 percent), followed by the Western Region (78 percent), Ashanti (74 percent), Brong Ahafo (59 percent), and Eastern (51 percent). If the NPP were an Akan party, then winning in Central should be easier for the party than winning in Eastern.

Since 1992, the NPP has balanced its presidential ticket with a north-south partnership, with the exception of 1996, when its Alliance with the National Convention Party led the party to pick the late Kow Arkaah as its running mate. The NPP’s record in government shows every region had a fair share of the national cake. The Keta sea-defence wall springs to mind. However, for those who believe the myth that the NPP is an Akan party, confirmation bias suggests that they will at all cost find instances where the NPP didn’t treat some non-Akans well, just as fault-finders will find faults even when in paradise. For every instance one cites as evidence of NPP’s disdain for non-Akans, I can find another where the NPP promoted the cause of non-Akans. 

It's wrong to assume tribal politics is only detrimental to the NPP because it denies the party the opportunity to govern. The truth is that, ultimately, it's Ghana that loses; tribal politics ensures that competent hands are overlooked in the search for national leadership while favouring the clueless, yet tribal entrepreneurs. But a mismanaged Ghana affects all, not least the vulnerable, who incidentally tend to drink the tribal political elixir the NDC has been serving and continues to serve.

But even more dangerously, it's only a matter of time that the NPP finds a way to counteract the tribal politics either by also doing same or resorting to other below-the-belt tactics. And that can only lead to anarchy.That's why we must teach politicians that it doesn't pay to engage in tribal politics; we must teach this by condemning and rejecting those who dabble in tribal politics instead of trying to find equalization in the name of being objective. If we fail, tribal politics will become our lot as everyone would figure out it's the best way to win power. Then, we would turn around to blame the ‘victims’ who have only learned to react 'appropriately'.