December 7, 2012. Does our Vote Matter?

20 years on, since the birth of the 4th Republic in 1992, neither of our major political parties have been able to provide us with our most basic needs – clean water and stable electricity. How many of us continue to store water in polytanks or go through the daily struggle of working or living without electricity? For those with modest means, life can only be harder.

In December 2012, all eligible Ghanaians will go to the polls with the goal of electing a new government to manage the affairs of our country for another four years.  The two main political parties–NDC and NPP– will present the people of Ghana with reasons why the electorate should endorse their party’s mandate to govern. The critically minded and informed citizen should ask whether the December election really offers Ghanaians the freedom of choice to select the most competent manager of Mother Ghana. Or could the informed citizen be justified in asking whether the election is just not another exercise of futile choice between two major political parties which would eventually result in the transfer of our nation’s wealth from one ‘partisan’ party’s executive to the other.

Since this will not be the first time Ghana goes to the polls, would it not be wise to allow our past experience to influence the choices we are called upon to make in the near future? We can only consider ourselves intelligent voters if we allow our memories of these men and women contesting for our nation’s highest office to determine how we react to their striking promises

For the next ten minutes, I plead with you, to join me in setting aside our divisive partisan politics and to enter the public square as we assess what is good for us as a nation. Do we know and have a sense of what is good for Ghana? Do the politicians who will be soliciting for our votes in December really care about us

When Ghana elects a president in December 2012, on what basis will we be making our choice? The two main candidates coupled with almost every single person contesting for a seat in Parliament are not new to Ghanaian politics. What guarantee do we have that this time, our votes will be meaningful post the 2012 election? These ‘partisan’ interest politicians immediately forget every iota of the promises they made whilst campaigning. All they do is live lavish lifestyles whilst the average Ghanaian continues to suffer. Indeed, ‘partisan’ politicians can never represent the hopes and aspirations of the good Ghanaians people. Instead of serving the interest of the Ghanaian people, they rather protect the interests of their immediate families.

When the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank imposed economic reforms in Africa in the 1980s and 90s, and forced us to sell off state enterprises, float currencies, cut public expenditure (including health and education), sack thousands of state employees, in the name of Structural Adjustment Programme, not only did these ‘partisan’ political elite fail to argue against the scheme like their Latin American and Asians counterparts, but they also willfully failed to come up with an alternative plan. Did these men loot Ghana, privatise our state resources behind closed doors, create political parties with state money and proceed to invest into the various parties with Ghana’s stolen wealth in order to reap lifetime profits? Have they betrayed our nation? Are they really still asking for our votes??? Is this an illusion of choice or a mirage of hope

A similar “folly” can be linked to our bauxite operations fifty years ago. The Akosombo Dam was built to support Ghana’s ambition to become leading aluminum producer in the world. Our government signed a contract with the multinational Kaiser Aluminium Company. Kaiser, however, never used Ghana’s bauxite to produce aluminum. Instead, it imported bauxite ore from Jamaica and produced alumina in Ghana with Akosombo’s cheap electricity. The company then shipped the alumina to the United States. Instead of creating industries to provide jobs for our people, ironically we rather help create jobs in foreign economies by our continuous patronage of finished foreign products.

It is absolutely ludicrous for Tema Oil Refinery to import crude oil for processing. Why has it taken us so long to process our own crude oil? TOR has become crippled, and as a result can barely raise Letters of Credit to procure crude oil for refining. Who signs these contracts, on what terms and do they do so with the interest of the average Ghanaian in mind? Ghanaians cannot benefit from the Jubilee Field because we rather export our crude oil only to import it back to our shores

Should we vote? Do we have an alternative

In late 1969, Ghana’s bill for foreign food was fifty-five million cedis. A year later it was seventy-nine million cedis. By concentrating on growing crops for export, we stopped growing crops for our local food markets. A large part of our meager annual revenue was spent on buying food that we failed to produce for ourselves. Consequently, we have come to depend on the world’s charity, as well as buying foreign food, with the annual surplus which we should be spending for our nation’s development. Forty-two years later, and Ghana is still a net food importer. In a recent article, Ghana Business & Finance estimated that Ghanaian agriculture operates at just 20% of its potential in staple foods production to feed 24 million people. The figure may be disputable but how do we explain the recent events that led to the Japanese Ambassador, Mr. Naodo Nikai, under the Japanese food aid programme, handing over a consignment of rice totaling 17,000 tons worth $12 million to Ghana to supplement the country’s shortfall in domestic rice production?

Since independence, every government has borrowed heavily, each subsequent government making the preceding government’s debt look very modest. With debt-servicing rising and the nation’s revenue falling, how can our government attend to the pressing needs of its citizens?

While our public debt keeps rising some government officials proudly say that in relation to our growing GDP, our debt is at an acceptable level. Does our growing GDP justify our government’s choice to increase our borrowing and debt?

Does the National Insurance Scheme really work? What alternatives do we have in transportation if we do not own our own vehicles apart from the Kufuor Bus, trotros and taxis?  We are still heavily reliant on unsafe trotros and our taxi fares are too high to get from A to Z.

Since independence, the same elites soliciting for our votes have replaced independence and progress with material possession. Our politicians and their business partners have joined hands in proclaiming greed as the supreme virtue.

Is it not illusionary to believe that Ghana can progress without having a sincere concern for the welfare of our general citizenry? Without this concern, our progress would become stagnant, benefiting only a few. Haven’t you had enough of being offered an illusion of choice every fourth year?  What we need in Ghana, are leaders and people who would heed  the calling of Pope John XXIII, who warned that unfair laws cannot bind citizens to obedience for without justice kingdoms and states are nothing but great bands of [legal] robbers. He later defined true democracy- unlike what we learn in school- as not a platform of campaigns and runoffs, of parties and platforms. To him, democracy should entail the activities of the spirit, in which every human being, male and female, young and old, rich and poor, is accorded equal human dignity. Irrespective of our religious, political or ethnic background, we cannot in all honesty deny the message above as the voice of truth speaking. It is absolutely against logic, human psychology, and social behavior to expect a peaceful society without a just equitably sharing the investment of our nation’s resources.

This is our country. This is our life. This is our future. Our young men and women must be given hope.

We should not be indifferent to the immense challenges our nation faces– inequality of opportunities,  high unemployment, poor education with hardly any research centers, divided communities, low performance by the public service, the marginalisation and isolation of the poor by spatial patterns, corruption, crumbling infrastructure and the fact that our economy is entirely dependent on our raw materials.

Our moral foundation has not been built, it has been neglected. Let us hope that our leaders understand that when the comfort and stability of a middle-class life is utterly unknown to the masses due to selfishness and negligence, our communities are sitting on a time bomb unless its rulers react in time to correct this treacherous injustice. In time those of us living in the comforts of our high walls separate from the plight of the masses will have to answer to their knocks on our gates demanding to share in our comforts

But there is still hope; we can still prevent our country from disaster and save it for our children. Within a generation, most of the problems we face could be erased if we chose to do so. We only need to have to have the will to make changes. To achieve this, we need to wake up from the illusion that we have any meaningful choices under the present parties. Sober reasoning and wisdom must become part of our national politics if we are to realise our potential as a nation with a common purpose. Our politicians, if they are sincerely interested in offering us authentic and meaningful choices– should acknowledge that their interests must become wider towards the plight of the everyday Ghanaian, You and I. The walls of their egos should recede in order to merge their interests with the universal hope of all Ghanaians.

Therefore, we must all change the content of our thinking, and take the right actions. If we have the will to ACT and WORK HARD, and make the necessary SACRIFICES for the next generation, success will be waiting to crown our selfless efforts.

Unless this happens, the 2012 Elections will just be another meaningless exercise of choice between two identical parties whose executives have no real wish to make Ghana better. As usual, whatever the outcome.

It is time to create an alternative choice a movement where the focus about National interest and not partisan interest, if we do not the trash might change but the smell will remain.

Dominic Mensah

A young man who is chiefly passionate about the big questions of life. Philosophical ideas give my life meaning. The joy of thinking, the challenge of understanding, the inspiration as well as the consolations of philosophy- welcome to my world! On Africa, knowledge is prerequisite to its liberation and survival. The progress of Africa must be sought by improving the intelligence of every African soul. I seek to serve Africa through critical thinking. Therefore I became a thinker to serve Mama Africa.