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Politics of Insults?

Frankly, I am tired of hearing President Mills preaching about what he likes to refer to as “the politics of insults”. I have been at great pains to wrap my head around the concept. What baffles me most, which probably shouldn’t even surprise me, is the fact that many people have latched on to this phrase and are talking about it, making all sorts of noises without understanding what it means.

I follow Ghanaian politics keenly and I am afraid I don’t see or hear anything that gives me the impression that our politics is laden with insults to the point where people should be wasting our ears with needless pontificating.

Politics is a high pressure endeavour where the exchange of harsh-words is permitted. Politicians are entirely within their rights to use puns, satire, wit, ridicule and sarcasm to argue their cases and win votes. These could be harsh and uncomplimentary sometimes, but it is perfectly alright. Politics is not about culture. It’s not about morality. Politics is not for the faint-hearted; people with frail egos and thin-skins.

Simply put, you don’t expect your political opponents to say the same nice words your sex-mate says about you. That’s why I am at a complete loss when I hear the president calling for an end to the “politics of insults” without telling us exactly what the phrase means.

If I called the president and his team incompetent, how is that an insult? In the last weeks of John Kufuor’s presidency, a lot of people descended heavily on me for describing him as “a lame duck”. If I begin to wonder aloud about what powder Baba Jamal has been using, does that constitute an insult? I don’t think so in any of these cases. I am simply using perfectly legitimate literary devises and phrases to make my point. Any politician who does the same is not, in my opinion, engaging in any “politics of insult”. If you are incompetent, you are incompetent. If a leader takes foolish decisions and behaves as if his head is not properly screwed on, we should say it as it is and not mince words.

For so many years in this country every misdeed, misjudgement or miscalculation is described with one adjective: “unfortunate”. It’s almost as if the whole country has rather unfortunately run out of adjectives. If the president mispronounces a word, it is unfortunate. If he steals our money, it’s unfortunate. When a headteacher farts in class, it’s unfortunate. When precious lives are lost in an accident, it’s unfortunate. When Ato gets divorced, it’s unfortunate. When the power goes off too often, it’s unfortunate. Damn! What is it with us and ‘unfortunate’? No wonder we are such an unfortunate nation.

Our failure to describe the actions and inactions of our leaders with the appropriate adjectives makes them all feel like it’s alright to misbehave and underperform. After all, what will the people say? Unfortunate! Who cares?

It’s time we diversified and increased our national vocabulary, moving away from the unfortunate (ahem!) situation where all we can say to anything we don’t like is, pardon me, “unfortunate”. If the word could complain I am sure it would be crying about how unfortunate it feels to be on almost every unfortunate Ghanaian lip, describing every goddamn situation! If you are behaving foolishly, you are behaving foolishly. I won’t describe your behaviour as “unfortunate”. That’s just too wrong.

If in moving away from “unfortunate”, the president feels sarcasm, wit, great puns and legitimate ridicule amount to a “politics of insult”, I’d say too bad for him. Perhaps, he shouldn’t have gotten into politics in the first place and it is not too late for him to get out. He could become a monk.

Of course, we must acknowledge that since our politics is bereft of ideology, some politicians mount platforms and resort to outrageous name-calling to make up for the fact that they have nothing of great substance to say. Every politician, including Atta Mills, has done it before. He called Kufuor’s government “corrupt” on so many occasions. No one can say this amounts to an insult but Johnson Asiedu-Nketiah was even more harsh in his choice of words. He said the 17 men who vied for the mandate to lead the NPP into the elections in 2008 were “thieves”. Now, without any evidence to support the allegation, that amounts to mudslinging – which also has its political value. That is why Asiedu-Nketiah is still walking around, unpunished. Aide to the vice president, John Jinapor called Ursula Owusu a whore. Deputy interior minister, Kobby Acheampong called NPP’s general secretary, Sir John, “a villager from under a cocoa tree” – my literal translation of the remarks he made in Twi. The president’s spokesman, Koku Anyidoho also has a very sharp tongue. He said I have cobwebs in my head and also described opposition MPs as “irresponsible”. The MPs found his comments insulting but I didn’t. Various NDC members have described Nana Akuffo-Addo as an incurable drug addict.
From the NPP side, we have heard many people describing President Mills as a sickly man who could fall dead anytime soon. I heard a man on an NPP platform in Kasoa say Asiedu-Nketiah is so wretched and unkempt that if he ever gets sent to negotiate for any loan deals abroad, he would be thrown out by the hosts. Then recently, we heard an NPP man suggest, rather outrageously, that President Mills and his adviser, Ato Awhoi, are gay.

From where I sit, frankly, NDC supporters and officials in this government are the worst offenders when it comes to political name-calling and mudslinging. I won’t condemn them because I consider most of it to be fair game in the political arena. If the president thinks otherwise and he wants it to end, he should start talking to his people. Since the NDC is in power, the president should do well to tell his people to show some leadership and lead the way in halting the name-calling. But the president would do no such thing because he knows that he benefits from the name-calling every once in a while.

Sometimes, I feel when the president has nothing to say, he just decides to indulge in needless, weepy preaching. If I were his mother, I’d tell him to stop it. He is our president, not our high priest! Through his needless preaching about a so-called “politics of insults”, he has created a problem where there is none.

If it is in his nature to preach (maybe, he’s a disappointed priest) I’d suggest he preaches about tolerance. In politics, people will call each other names. That’s alright. The good politician knows when to ignore such name-calling, when to respond to hurtful words, probably in kind, and when to laugh them off. What we don’t want to see is one politician taking a gun to another’s head because something was said about him that he found to be too harsh.

After all has been said and done, however, I believe, when, the name-calling gets so outrageous and borders on deliberate damage to one’s reputation, the courts are there for us to use. They are open all year round and anyone who doesn’t like what he hears being said about him can go to court. I like the fact that Ato Ahwoi is suing the guy who suggested that he was gay. Way to go! If Mr. Ahwoi argues his case well and wins, I am certain that people would be more mindful about the things they say about and against each other. I don’t understand why Akuffo-Addo hasn’t sued any of those who call him a junkie.

When we all start seeking redress in the courts for things people have said about us, the lines would be clearly drawn on what is permissible and what is not. It’s not about morality. It’s not about culture. It’s about what is legal and what is not. When we get the clear demarcation, our political discourse would be elevated. In the absence of ideology, we would move from the petty to the witty. Through deep wit, funny puns, clever ridicule and audacious sarcasm, we can all put our leaders in check and force them, with words, to perform. Atta Mills would stop wasting our ears with his preaching and, thankfully, the word “unfortunate” would take a well-deserved rest.

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