Dear reader, I believe apologies are in order for failing to turn up on this page last week as scheduled. There are times, as you will bear with me, that the spirit is eager to do the needful, but the body simply throws a tantrum, goes into a mighty sulk and refuses to cooperate.
As my deadline approached for submission of my article last week, I finally had to give up writing and yield to the idea of actually going to the hospital to seek medical attention for some ailments that were niggling at my body and which I had been trying to ignore out of sheer, useless bravado.
Eventually, following some scans, laboratory tests, injections, drips and assorted pills, I ended up in bed at home tossing and moaning and being irritable all day and all night long, incandescent with impotent rage that I had to miss out on some social and other engagements.
Food tasted like chopped cardboard garnished with coarse sand. I believe I lost a kilo or so, with a friend wryly remarking that perhaps I needed to get ill a bit more often as a weight loss mechanism. Can you imagine?
With very little to do aside from browsing through Facebook without the energy to actually make any post or engage in my usual boisterous arguments, I found myself often thinking about my mortality, even though my condition was not life-threatening.
On several occasions my life would roll by slowly in my mind, and I think on one occasion I actually wondered whether I would go out with a bang or drift slowly into the afterlife. What would my funeral be like?
Other crazy thoughts drifted through my mind in those idle moments. Thankfully, I am back in good form and more sensible thoughts run through my mind, with my appetite fully restored.
As I was negotiating the final leg of my recovery over the weekend, I noticed that social media had gone agog over some rather strong (to put it mildly) comments that legal practitioner Martin Kpebu had made on the Multimedia’s ‘Newsfile’ programme last Saturday morning regarding President Akufo-Addo.
Of course I do not care to repeat his comments on this page and in any case, as I write on Sunday night, I gather he has retracted and apologised for his comments.
Predictably the fire erupted on both sides of the political divide over Mr Kpebu’s comments, with New Patriotic Party (NPP) supporters howling in outrage whilst National Democratic Congress (NDC) supporters largely shrugged and referred to the proverbial stick that was used to hit ‘Takyi’ being revisited on ‘Baah’, in reference to Mr John Mahama when he was in office as President of the republic between 2013 and 2017.
4th republic trajectory
Of course, Mr Kpebu’s vitriolic comments were not the first to be lobbed against the President since he first took office in January 2017.
They have come in thick and fast over the years, and in all manner and form. It is equally true that his predecessor, Mr John Mahama, got quite a share of insults, vilification and invective when in office.
But it is also true neither man’s tenure represents Ground Zero in respect of such treatment of our heads of state, and only a political neophyte or lazy analyst would seek to make that weak claim as a premise for whatever argument he or she seeks to make on this subject.
All our Fourth Republic heads of state, from President Rawlings to Akufo-Addo, have been on the receiving end of incendiary comments, wild allegations and scurrilous abuse, so in a way, Martin’s comments, like many others that have preceded them in times past, did not really shock me.
In fact, little shocks or works me up much in our politics these days. Maybe I am growing the hide of a rhinoceros. My sanity is, thus, better protected.
Perhaps it is the Fourth Republic’s constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and media pluralism, egged on, to a certain extent, by the social media explosion of recent times that come together to create the toxic platform through which we are assaulted by all manner of invectives lobbed at political figures in general and our heads of State in particular.
After all, at the very basic level, all one needs is a bit of data and a smartphone to be able to mount the digital soap box and ‘free’ one’s mind, even if from behind a pseudonym.
Braver souls parade our radio and television stations in the name of the sacrosanct concept of free speech to haul abuse at people old enough to be their fathers just because a microphone has been shoved in their faces and they find themselves on the opposite side of the political divide, with no consequences whatsoever.
Then ironically we turn around and collectively hail and take pride in our Ghanaian culture, which of course does not encourage such behaviour.
Then again, let us not pretend the 4th Republic is our Ground Zero in this matter. My parents were both shy teenagers in secondary school when Dr Kwame Nkrumah became Prime Minister in 1957 and subsequently President in 1960, and so I can only speak to some of the things that I heard were said about him, albeit more along the lines of a whispering campaign. Again, I was only a year old when Dr Busia came to power and just under four years old when he was booted out, but I have heard some of the things that were said about him, including personal abuse.
I recall the latter part of the Acheampong years and actually heard some of the things said about him, albeit without the oxygen of social media and a liberal media space. Perhaps with the exception of General Akuffo, who was in power for only 11 months, I clearly recall the gratuitous abuse hurled at subsequent heads of state, including Dr Limann, who lasted only 27 months in office.
Of course no brave soul dared say such things openly about Chairman Rawlings in the heady days of the revolution, but again, the whispering was audible.
Race to bottom?
Deplorably, it appears we have, over the decades since independence, almost perfected the ‘tradition’ of people throwing insults and wild allegations publicly at fellow citizens that they would not dare throw at their ‘abusuapanyin’ or even their village ‘Odikro’.
Our heads of state and political leaders appear to be on the sharp end of the vitriol, because, after all, especially under the Fourth republican dispensation, they willingly put themselves up for office, therefore they are obvious candidates for shooting practice – with or without evidence – or so the logic goes, and they must be responsible for our every woe.
As the schism of political partisanship intensifies and the polarisation gathers momentum in our body politic, it appears both sides are in a hot race to the bottom of the political insults and vilification barrel, sabre-rattling and without any institutional brakes in sight.
That is particularly depressing.
Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng, Head, Communications & Public Affairs Unit, Ministry of Energy, Accra.