Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Umbrella, the Elephant and the Rest

Driving through the streets of Accra, it is obvious the election fervor is at its peak. With less than two weeks to go, the two dominant political party, NDC & NPP, are pulling all the stops to win on December 7th. The radio in the car is tuned to 103.5 FM Agoo FM….a station that primarily features political talk shows and Rush Limbaugh comes to mind. Without being as abrasive or polarizing Agoo FM, does give you a heavy dose of opinionated politics. Hours after listening to the station, if you aren't an ardent fan of Mahama or Akuffo Addo (depending on which party's segment) you'll, at the bare minimum, find yourself reciting their credentials from hearing it on repeat. Like that nursery rhyme you're surprised to find you know the words to from hearing your niece or nephew recite over and again…NPP: "Free Senior High School (SHS)", NDC: "Working for You", "Free SHS", "Working for You", "Free SHS", "Working for You"…as if, like the political campaign suggests, the two should be mutually exclusive.

The billboards, posters and grass roots political movements are perhaps the more interesting indicators who the fore-runners in the elections are. The oft used phrase: to get to the bottom of something, follow the money, can be applied in this situation as well.

Accra Tema Motorway photo credit: emmanuel gamor

 Which party has the financial capacity to actually garner enough votes for the presidential elections? And which party is shrewdly financing their respective campaigns to translate to wins? These are questions I will be seeking answers to this week. From a layman's perspective, the battle is between the National Democratic Congress and the New Patriotic Party.

Vuvuzelas have been employed by the NPP. photo credit: emmanuel gamor

 The allegiances are most pronounced in locales with strong allegiances to either party but across the streets of Accra there is a 5 minute reminder, car poster, radio advert, painted face in party colors, to vote for Nana Akuffo Addo's "Free SHS" or John Mahama's "Working For You" mantras. Regardless of what the nationally televised and online streaming presidential debates would have you believe, it is truly a competition between two dominant political parties.

Allegiance to political parties are not just ethnic, in college I explored the correlation to ethnic parties during the 2004 elections(exclusive Ewe support for the NDC & unwavering Ashanti support for the NPP) as a research project, though these allegiances loosely hold true there is so much that more that determines political affiliation in 2012 Ghana. Businessmen and women, especially businesswomen who have expert proficiency in navigating the informal Ghanaian economy (the kiosks in front of registered retail stores, the hand off and exchange of currency that is not formally as part of the country's GDP) are the ones who make politics in Ghana interesting. Depending on their past business experience during a particular party's tenure their support is amplified by their business forecasts for future success. Voting thus becomes one of the most important business investment for the next four years. The more conniving investors find ways to benefit regardless of who is in power and show blatant support for one party and encourage a close family member/business partner to showcase blatant support for the other. Flip-flopping between political party isn't tolerated however, and you would rather lose during a 4/8 year cycle and benefit when your party comes to power than to be perceived as an obvious opportunist. As if most Ghanaians aren't that: polite opportunists with broad welcoming smiles.

2012 Presidential Candidates photo credit: Electoral Commission Ghana

 My family is strategically well placed. On my Ewe father's side, the family ties to the NDC government have been beneficial as aunts and cousins have moving anecdotes of how they have personally benefited from the government "working for you". One being married to a past minister of agriculture makes the case pretty obvious. On my Fanti mother's side, the allegiance has always been to the NPP government with my first voting experience during the 1998 elections giving "the elephant" my approval. I was secretly snuck into the voting booth and told my mom to pick the elephant "Kukurudu, Eshi! Rado Rado!" It also helped that my uncle received a diplomatic appointment as an ambassador when NPP was in power. And where does that leave me? As a Political Scientist turned Journalist I'm a moderate, voting on issues rather than having a blanket support for either party. I enjoyed vetting Obama's Democrats and Romney's Republicans and exploring the issues to push each side to better serve me/us/the world. In Accra it isn't just about the colors, chants, ethnic affiliations, or whom either one of my parents support, but who best serves my interests this election cycle. After all I'm Ghanaian, an opportunist with a broad welcome smile.

 Mosquito Claps: As a kid I used to try to kill mosquitoes by capturing them between my palms with a loud clap. This practice is not uncommon in tropical regions and especially in Ghana. The hashtag #mosquitoclaps however indicates a new post about my thoughts, experiences and observations in Accra on this blog.