From Ghana: Are We the Masters of Our Own Destiny? Or Is It The Ultimate Grand illusion?
From the window of the Turkish Airline Boeing 737-900 I got my first glimpse of North Africa as we steadily flew southwestwards from Istanbul. It would be another four hours before we touched down at Accra, the capital city of Ghana that perhaps holds the key to the future of the sub-Saharan region. Seated next to me was Alenka Cerne from Slovania who was also headed to the West African nation which was holding its Presidential election on 7 December, as an observor for the United Nations. Previously, she had been part of a 600-strong team that had monitored the elections in Ukraine, and like me, she too was extremely excited about her first visit to Africa.
Ghana, like India, had also been a victim of colonial rule during the pre-War years when Englishmen boasted over pink gins that the sun could never set on the British Empire. ‘Most people expect the President, John Mahama to win,’ said Alenka, ‘but then this is Africa and the dynamics of tribal politics will make it a relatively tight race.’ The previous night in New Delhi, Wing Commander Rajesh Khosla, a keen member of AfrikaWatch had echoed much the same sentiment, ‘Mahama is a good man… he’s done a lot for Ghana but then in African politics tribal affiliations play a major role. A major segment does not vote as Ghanaians but as Northeners and Southerners, Ashantis, Mole-Dagbons or Fantes… and of course there are the British.’
I hadn’t seen that coming, and I gaped at him in surprise. ‘The British?’ I asked. With the air of a professor who was about to burst the idealistic bubble of a naïve student, Khosla had repeated what he had just said. ‘This time around, the perenial devil (Let me guess – I suppose he meant the United States) is too busy with its own trials and tribulations at home… that sort of clears the way for the British to play king makers and they see in Mahama a President, who not only prefers to deal with the French in Europe, but also has the potential to unite most of West Africa, extending from Dakar to Abuja. After Brexit and the emergence of a right wing government in the US, there will be a realigning of various agreements, moreso as his speech in the UN, where he told the West to get off the African back, Mahama is seen as a major threat to their interests.’
Combine Mahama’s fairly balanced stance with President elect Donald Trump’s near complete indifference towards Africa during the run up to the American presidential election, and his off the cuff remark on twitter that ‘Every penny of the $7 billion going to Africa as per Obama will be stolen – corruption is rampant!’ strengthens Khosla’s arguments.
Compared to the frenetic Indian electoral scene, the Presidential election in Accra hardly has a visible impact on the streets. A few posters here and there are a continent apart from India where every lamp post and house is festooned with repetitive flags and slogans… where recorded messages over loudspeakers focus not so much on the virtues of individual canditates but instead on the flaws of their oppenents and where even elephants walk gloomily up and down streets with large banners on them extolling the voters to cast their franchise in favour of their candidates. In Ghana the obvious advantage in the war of words invariably lies with the challenger, for those who have been in power (referred to as sitting Members of Parliament) can be torn apart with ambigous charges… some real and some not so real, for at the end of the day, politics be it in any part of the world, is a game of perceptions ! And yet… if you so much as replace the word caste with tribal, all the cross currents and behind the scene developments become dramatically similar, so much so its almost scary!
Last fortnight at the Tata Literature festival in Mumbai, along with Defence Analyst Maroof Raza I was pitted against former diplomat Pavan Varma and former UN Secretary General hopeful Shashi Tharoor. The topic of the debate, was ‘India and Pakistan can never be Friends’. The stark reality struck me that geoplolitics, in our context, even today is a somewhat alien subject for Indian politicians who continue to display an alarming tendency towards myopia, being simply unable to look beyond the bridge of their nose and their inflated egos.
In my opening remarks, I had decided to quote from my own book, The Long Road To Siachen published in 2010, in which I had argued on the basis of declassified papers that Pakistan had been created by the British as an extension of their ‘divide and rule’ policy to simply protect their oil interests in West Asia after they had been unceremoniously booted out of India. By itself, this was not an earth shattering revelation, for enough political pundits have said much the same, with Field Marshal Lord Wavel, the Viceroy of India who handed over the baton to Mountbatton, even writing a book about it – The Wells of Power. What was interesting – or should have been – was the fact that the British had actually drawn up the plans for the partitioning of India as far back as 1919, much much before the Muslim League or the Congress had ever heard of the name or the concept of Pakistan.
This cynical play which was ruthlessly implemented after World War II saw the macabre massacre of 500,000 Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims – a human tragedy of epic proportions. I also quoted from the Jinnah Papers, ratified by none other than the Vice Chacellor of Karachi University, that Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan had been recruited by Winston Churchill on behalf of Mi6 and the Colonial Office to actually put this plan into motion. My concluding sentence was… ‘For the Indian National Congress it (the creation of Pakistan) was the Partition of India; for the Muslim league it was the Division of the sub-continent and for the British, it was nothing but “Game, Set and Match”!
Though times have changed, the modus operandi probably remains much the same when it comes to placing British Interests ahead of everything else. Says the erstwhile National Security Coordinator, Mr Francis Poku: ‘British Intelligence will play a key role, for they simply have to marginalize Francophone influence in the region. Indians and African’s may have kicked them out of their respective spheres, but we must remember that the doors to our various nations have always been opened from within. And though the British may have physically left our shores, the self appointed ‘white man’s burden’ continues to cast its shadow. Nothing is beyond their dirty tricks department.’
It’s amazing how everyone connected with the coming election in Ghana talks about the possibility of ‘limited violence’. This, I have to admit, is a first for me despite having covered elections in the mid 1980s in states like Bihar which are considered to be India’s most backward and volatile regions, quite akin to the wild west, where it is hard to distinguish between organized and state crime! Almost all stake holders in India would talk of Mahatma Gandhi and non-violence even as they distributed arms and amunition for ‘self defence’, so that they could shrug and point fingers at the other side when and if blood was spilled.
‘There is talk of weapons being cached in parts of Ghana,’ says Cerne, who adds that within the circle of UN observors, these fears have been repeatedly expressed. Nana Akufo-Addo, the Presidential candidate of the New Patriotic Party, the main challenger to President Mahama, has attempted to create misgivings by voicing concerns about a grand plan to rig the elections. Mrs Charlotte Osei, who heads Ghana’s Electoral Commission, on the contrary has rebutted the fears saying “ in today’s context, unless all political parties are party to the act, it is well nigh impossible to rig any election. At every stage we are focussing on transparency and involving all the political parties”. It would have been helpful if Akufo-Addo had been more specific… general allegation relating to rigging, biases against election officials and even violence are charges generally aimed at feeding false perceptions and creating an atmosphere of fear and suspicion.’
‘Modern-day technology has certainly played a major role in eliminating rigged elections,’ says Khosla, who then adds that as a result pre-poll campaigns are today being fought on a far more vicious platform as it is literally a case of the gloves being off. In what surely must rank as one of the most sane statements I have come across in the run up to any election anywhere in the world, the director of operations of the Ghana Police Service, Chief Superintendent Dr Benjamin Kwasi Agordzo in a published interview urges his people to ensure a peaceful election so that ‘Ghanaians must win this election, not the political parties’.
Even in the last Indian general election, where the size of the electorate and the scale of the elections probably dwarf Ghana in statistics, there were absolutely no charges of rigging. “EVMs and the fact that today each man has access to a camera and has wi fi even in rural areas, has changed that part of the game,’ says Gangadhar Patil, a journalist formerly working for the DNA in Mumbai.
So where does the rub lie? And how do Intelligence agencies who would like to influence elections function in this scenario. ‘It’s simple really,’ says Khosla who has seen two general elections in Jammu & Kashmir, ‘the biggest weapon is the media and a sustained campaign of mis-information. This usually works superbly against parties in power, for anything they do or attempt to do, can be vilified. The more you do by way of development work, the more vulnerable you are to charges of corruption.’ Take the classic case of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in New Delhi where Arvind Kejriwal stormed to power by accusing everyone and everything of being ‘corrupt’. These charges – most of them wild and unsubstantiated – when looked at against the backdrop of ‘anti-incumbency’, usually forms a deadly concoction. Shortly after assuming power, Kejriwal himself dropped many of the absurd charges he had made, and to Delhi’s horror, his own ministers were then caught doing things on a regular basis that defied the very basic principles of morality.
Thanks to Wikileaks and a host of other exposes in the past, it is a known fact that western agencies (who have unlimited resources) have time and again played this game. It is, therefore, quite possible that the media will play up even minor infringes within the system to cry wolf and sway public opinion in favour of their preferred candidate. In India, the people have time and again been victims of this sort of manipulation, so much so that events have played out in a manner where we are now unable to reverse the course of history despite knowing the truth for a few decades now.
The irony of course lies in the fact that while developing countries like India and Ghana often try and maintain the code of conduct laid down for ‘democratic countries’ and are judged by the western media should they even remotely cross the line, no such rules are exercised by the media in the UK or the US when it comes to influencing events in their ‘national interest’. Perhaps the time has now come for us as a people to call their bluff so that we as a people actually have control over our own destiny.
So with Nana Akufo-Addo urging his people to vote for change and John Mahama asking them to cast their vote in favour of development, stability and continuity, may our Ghanaians brothers show not just the Sub-Saharan region but also the rest of the third world the light towards controlling our own destiny. For that, they must rise above regional identies and vote as a nation… for much too long, our peoples have lived under the tried and tested policy of ‘divide and rule’.
(Kunal Verma has authored several books including 1962: The War That Wasn’t.)