I don’t want to be a politician when I grow up

By Ouborr Kutando

According to Aristotle,” Politics is a vital and sometimes noble human activity”. In present Ghana, politics has been reduced to cynicism and grand insults. Our political space is just too inundated with insults.

Over the years, Ghanaian politicians have relegated politics of development to the background and gracefully adopted politics of insults and name calling- these insults we assume will move country forward and inspire the youth to aspire to greater heights.

Over the weekend, I was a resource person for a leadership program for senior high school students and was tasked to educate them on civics in Ghana. To gauge their level of understanding of Ghanaian politics, I decided to play a word- association game on politics.

I asked these 16 year olds to each write two words that they associate with politics. These were the overriding words our kids associate with politics: corruption, insults, fighting, selfish, greedy, liars, and power-hungry among other adjectives were what they thought about their political leaders.

When I asked how many of them wanted to be politicians in the future, none amongst the 20 children raised their hand.

In two years these youngsters will be voting, they have had little contact with politics apart from listening to the radio, reading the newspapers and watching television. Yet, what they have seen and heard has created their cynicism about politics in Ghana.

We need to be serious as a people and shift from politics of insults to a politics of development. Our politics have been reduced to fierce insulting matches typical of the football matches between Kotoko and Hearts before our league comatosed. Instead of adopting a national consensus and talk politics of development, our politicians have reduced important national debates to scornful attacks, personal insults and the widely divided Ghana after the 2008 elections has not healed an inch.

The insults have become so amplified that they have drowned out and relegated important national issues like unemployment, education, increasing taxes, insecurity, collapsing health insurance, the lack of adequate health facilities and infrastructure to the middle pages and instead, what we see on front pages and headlines is who was insulted today.

The political topography is so plagued with insults that the two leading political parties have insult champs or heavyweights who are handsomely rewarded for their macabre.

attack personalities

Only a handful of our politicians debate important policies and offer constructive analysis and criticisms. The dominant majority are quick to attack personalities instead of providing policy directions to move Ghana forward. We should seriously look for solutions to the problems instead of talking and insulting ourselves over the problems.

With the gargantuan challenges we face as a country, its astonishing how much time we devote to insults and irrelevant issues. When I tune on my radio or TV, I want to hear politicians deliberate on how my health insurance will be sustained and improved, how I get access to loans and low interest ones for that matter, want to hear how we can broaden the tax net, lower my taxes and create the much needed jobs, how we will provide security and build the road that goes to my village. Politics of insults cannot create jobs for the youth or put money in our pockets, it will not build the road but increase the cynicism, antagonism, pain and humiliation that people endure.

What our politicians forget is that, no matter how much apologies they render, the pains associated with such insults are indelible and repeated apologies exacerbate the pain inflicted. Insulting politics wastes everybody’s time because we have to go back and forth as to what was said or not said whiles our youth are waiting for jobs.

vulgar politics
The 20 children are not the only ones in Ghana who will refuse a call to public service because of the cynicism and adjectives associated with politics  but the phenomenon of vulgar politics is alienating decent, smart, dedicated and well meaning Ghanaians who would have contributed very much to our quest to develop as a country. These people just ignore politics to the detriment of Ghana because they are not ready to engage in the politics of insults being practiced.

The trend over the years has been that, most of those who know and can offer constructive suggestions are too scared to speak because they don’t want to be insulted and most of those who have the courage speak on top of their voices half of the times do not know what they are talking about.

What we need is a holistic consensus that will respect opposing views so that people from all political divides can collectively agree on where the country should go. Our politicians should be cognizant of the truth that insults do not win elections or engender development but widens the divisions we have to contend with.

Explaining and addressing the negativity associated with Ghanaian politics was a tough sell for me given the cynicism of the children. My intellectual integrity meant that I had to tell the truth about politics. I had to tell them difficult truths about how some but not all politicians are corrupt, how some but not all politicians actually lie because they want political power at any cost and how some politicians but not all are unruly and insult themselves on radio. In the end I had to at the very least convince them that politics is vital and we can clean it up to be that noble human activity Aristotle envisaged.

Ouborr Kutando is a Policy Analyst at the Danquah Institute (DI)

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