Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Who is an old politician in Ghana?

by Kwado Affram Asiedu

The writer, a legal practitioner and General Secretary of the New York-based United Front for the Liberation of Ghana, takes the discussion initiated by Ato Imbeah in The Talking Drums a stage further.
In apportioning blame for Ghana's political instability and the frequent economic derailments, the old politician has often come under intense fire. He has become a virtual bête noire, and in the judgement of most Ghanaians, he is the root of all our troubles. Thus, were most Ghanaian political commentators to have the chance, they would utter in unison: "Throw all old politicians to the dogs", or, "Kill all old politicians".

In this treatise, it is intended to examine exactly who the much-maligned old politician is and then enter into a discourse as to whether all old politicians are a spent force, as it is often argued. We shall also explore the role, if any, the old politician can play in Ghana politics.

We may begin by asserting that, to the extent that the term old politician is used in the boiler-plate fashion to describe all those Ghanaians who have been in politics before, it is a misnomer.

Three categories of politicians in Ghana can be identified. First, those who entered politics at an advanced age, say, at the age of fifty, and stayed on for a very short time before a coup d'etat truncated their political lives. In this class, one can handily pick Dr. Hilla Limann, the for- mer President, and his Vice, Dr. de Graft Johnson. Certainly they do not qualify as old politicians for even though they entered politics in 1979, their actual years of incumbency were only two. For want of a better description, we may call them Ghanaians who entered politics at a relatively advanced age.

Secondly, we have the crop of politicians who entered the political arena at a very early age and are therefore still in the spring of their manhood. Examples are Dr. Jones Ofori-Atta and Kwaku Baah. These men have been in politics for almost twenty years from 1969 - but are now into the old politicians' club. At best, they are Ghanaians who have been in the game for a very long time but are still considerably young.

Thirdly, (and this category may best describe the average Ghanaian's conception of an old politician) we have the class that has been in politics for a very long time and are now old, or very old (call them political Metusalahs, if you will).

They include, but are not limited to, Mr.Paa Willie Ofori-Atta, Mr. Komla Gbedemah and Mr. Victor Owusu. Paa Willie, you will recall, was one of the celebrated Big Six and is now in his mid seventies; Victor Owusu has been in the game for over thirty years and is in his late sixties: Gbedemah was with the Late President Nkrumah in the pioneering days of the struggle and may be in his early seventies (I stand to be corrected on that). Having identified the categories of politicians in Ghana, let us discuss their usefulness or otherwise.

Obviously nobody can say that the politicians in the first and second categories have outlived their usefulness and there- fore they must give way to "new faces". Since Dr. Limann was not allowed to rule for the full four-year term as he was mandated by the people of Ghana, not even his bitterest critics at that time - including this writer - can seriously argue that he cannot contribute to Ghana politics. After all, he is not old, and is full of ideas. Nor can one say that Dr. de Graft Johnson is a "washout" because of only two years in politics proper. He, like Limann, may still have something to contribute. If the word "old" can be applied to them at all, it would be in terms of Limann being an old diplomat and de Graft Johnson being an old academician.

To say also that those in the second category Jones Ofori-Atta and Kwaku Baah are old politicians would be unkind to them. Even though they have been in it for nearly twenty years before Acheampong's "few amenities" coup. In the last civilian regime, they were in opposition for only two years before Rawlings' coup. Arithmetically speaking, their active political lives span only four years. Surely no one can say somebody who has been in politics for four years is old?

How about the real old politicians? Paa Willie, Victor Owusu and Komla Gbedemah? Should we now relegate them into the dustbin of Ghana politics?

In some situations, even some of these old politicians have been found to have exhibited admirable political strength in the topsy-turvy Ghanaian politics. It would be recalled by students of Ghana politics that, during the heady days of the Acheampong junta, when he was forcing down the throats of Ghanaians the bizarre UNIGOV concept, some of the gallant Ghanaians who fought him toe to toe included Paa Willie and Gbedemah.

Observant political chroniclers would still remember the picture of Mr. Gbedemah, with his head bandaged, that appeared on the front page of CATHOLIC STANDARD of years ago. Gbedemah, Paa Willie and other old politicians were brutally assaulted by Acheampong's thugs during an anti-UNIGOV rally. (Mr. Gbedemah may have unofficially retired from politics since we do not hear of him any more).

Again, in the present reign of terror, by far the Ghanaian who has heaped the most acerbic strictures on the PNDC junta is none other than "old politician" Paa Willie. In his series of talks at the Danquah Memorial Lectures, under the caption: GHANA A NATION IN CRISIS, Paa Willie has left no doubts in our minds that he may be old but he still has the Akyem fighting spirit. He mercilessly tore Rawlings and Co. apart and was brutally frank about the revolutionary pretensions of the present crop of rulers.

In the view of this writer, to arbitrarily draw a line of demarcation between old and (presumably) new politicians in Ghana, and to condemn the old to poli- tical Siberia, is palpably unfair. It would be tantamount to disenfranchising them, just as Jerry Rawlings is unilaterally, arbitrarily and unjustly disenfranchising Ghanaians: "No elections", he says.

In calling for the banning of old politicians, the converse view held by many Ghanaians is the case for the injection of new blood, or new faces. This call became very accentuated during the 1979 electioneering campaign. Thus the election of Dr. Limann - a new face was seen as being in consonance with yearnings of very many Ghanaians. But even that did not seem to satisfy our military masters who saw in the new faces political immaturity.

In the view of this writer, to arbitrarily draw a line of demarcation between old and (presumably) new politicians in Ghana, and to condemn the old political Siberia, is palpably unfair. It would be tantamount to disenfranchising them…

If I may be allowed to introduce into this discussion the experiences in other countries, then one can advance the theory that youth or new faces in politics do not, per se, ensure good government. In India, old politician Indira Gandhi was defeated and imprisoned for a while. Yet, within two years, the new faces having failed Indians, Indira was swept back into power, scoring a landslide. In Canada, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was pushed into political hibernation for a while, his office being taken by youthful Joe Clarke. Not surprisingly, after a very short time. Trudeau was returned to power in an avalanche of political victory.

Or one might take the case of U.S. President Reagan, now seventy-four years old. He has been in politics for nearly forty years but is still in control of his mental capabilities. The results of the last U.S. Presidential elections bear testimony to the fact that Americans prefer an experienced old politician since Reagan won all but one of the states.

In the opinion of this contributor, politics should be a matter of personal choice and should not be the preserve of any particular age-group. In Africa in particular, politics has become very unpredictable (with the fusillade of senseless coups d'etat) and therefore those who genuinely enter it do so at a very grave risk. Somehow, they should not be discouraged.

A case can be made for the old politicians in terms of experience. like all other professions medicine, law, academia, farming, fishing, carpentry, etc - the more one stays in it, the more experience one gains. Thus the likes of Paa Willie, Victor Owusu, Gbedemah and others may be old but they certainly possess a world of political experience which, if given the chance, could be of immense help in the reconstruction of our country.

As the Akan proverb goes: "Opany in nni whee koraa a owo abatwe". Freely translated, meaning: "If age has nothing at all, it has experience" To this, the youth would retort: "Wisdom is not the prerogative of ages"... but then wisdom cannot also be the preserve of the youth either! Very often this debate in the choice between the old politicians (The Old Brigade) and the youth (The Young Turks) puts the two groups in the defensive, with each group trying to defend its honour. Thus, as Dr. Samuel Johnson said, here, "Age looks with contempt at the temerity of youth and youth looks with disdain at the scrupulosity of age". However, what seems to have escaped

our minds in this welter of condemnation of the old politician in Ghana is the fact that, none of our "military masters" who stage coups has given as his reason the inefficiency of the old politicians. Afrifa and Kotoka's reasons for the 1966 coup were the so-called corruption (as if the soldiers are angels) and dictatorship: Acheampong said Busia had "whittled away the few amenities the soldiers had"; and in 1981, Rawlings said there was no democracy in Ghana, with 140 Members of Parliament elected by Ghanaians! Rawlings therefore, promised to introduce participatory democracy, yet here he is, ruling Ghana with not more than ten relatively inept PNDC members

It is being submitted that we must rather examine the flaws in the system and address ourselves to the naked facts that, for all the time-consuming argument concerning the "uselessness" of the old politician in Ghana, it is the role of the Armed Forces that should be the subject matter of further debates.

We can now conveniently conclude by saying that unless a politician, be he old or new, has been manifestly found to have indulged in any untoward act, criminal conduct, corrupt practices or other acts of moral turpitude, it would be unfair and improper to declare him a "political persona non grata".

And we may borrow Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey's famous saying that we need both the black and white keys of a piano to play a harmonious note and end by advising ourselves that we have a long way to go in our political evolution and, also, in the arduous task of national reconstruction.

We must, above all, exorcise the aura of the old politician that has been haunting very many of us for a long time. For, when one looks critically at the charge that the old politician is the "alpha and omega" of all our troubles, it turns out to be nothing but a farrago of misconceptions, inaccurate characterizations and plain sophistry.

talking drums 1985-12-09 educating women for progress