'Will The Elephant Return From The Bush?'
The elephant is not a domestic animal and so chasing it into the bush after a sojourn ‘abroad’ is not a big deal.
The big deal, really, is how to lure the elephant back from the bush and, thereafter, tame it into a domestic animal. Surely, it will take something extremely compelling to attract the elephant back from its comfortable zone in the bush, and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and its flag bearer, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, cannot be oblivious of that enormous task on December 7.
Beyond the publication of Dr Arthur Kennedy’s ‘Chasing the elephant into the bush,’ a critique of the performance of the NPP in the 2008 general election, there have been many other elaborate assessments of the party’s performance in that polls.
Indeed, the NPP itself has done a thorough self-examination, culminating in the adoption of the three-prong strategy of ‘Reflect, Rebuild and Recapture’ as the party seeks to reflect on what went wrong in 2008, rebuild its broken structures and attempt to recapture political power in the December polls.
Having observed the 2008 election campaign of the NPP at close range, as a journalist covering the party’s flag bearer, there are some personal observations that Nana Akufo-Addo and the NPP must consider critically if they really want to lure back and domesticate the elephant.
One observation was how the NPP campaign was heavily laden with complacency, spearheaded by the ‘Agbenaa’ (it’s finished) slogan. Meanwhile, the campaign was bleeding profusely at the grassroots level where much of the action was required. On one of Nana Addo’s visits to Kumasi, I interacted with some of the party’s ‘foot soldiers’ who had travelled from various places to Kumasi to seek financial and logistical support for campaigning in rural communities.
Some of them needed just GH¢20 for transportation to execute that task but their desire was not met and their faces were dimmed with frustration.
Certainly, money could not have been a major problem of the NPP, given the pomp campaign it ran in 2008. Some of the resources could have been channelled into more intensive work at the grassroots, but complacency misguided that priority. Following the demise of the late President J. E. A. Mills, many NPP supporters think the battle has been won long before December 7, forgetting that the battle is not over until it’s all over.
The National Chairman of the NPP, Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey, was spot on at the launch of the party’s manifesto in Accra recently when he cautioned members to eschew complacency in the run-up to this year’s election; otherwise, efforts to bring back the elephant home would be in vain. Another observation was how all the ‘big’ people in the party were so eager to follow the flag bearer around to the neglect of effective campaigning at the grassroots.
They seemed to enjoy driving in long convoys, flaunting themselves on rally platforms and receiving cheers from the crowd. When some of them were asked to speak on platforms, they chose to use the opportunity to attack political opponents without addressing critical national issues that would direct the thumbs of voters in the party’s favour.
The last NPP rally at the Accra Academy Park in Accra just before the election was one of the biggest (if not the biggest) political rallies I have ever witnessed since 1992. Prior to that, the party’s Ashanti Regional rally held at the Jackson Park in Kumasi was equally massive. There were two interesting observations I made at those rallies. One was about the fact that many people in the crowd, especially the youth, were not registered voters. Some of them were below 18 years; others did not either register or lacked interest in voting in view of the violence that characterises the process or were ignorant of the whole election process.
The other observation was that a large number of the people, particularly those who attended the Accra Academy rally, had to vote in their hometowns, but they were either not prepared to travel just for that purpose or did not have the means to travel. The implication was that the size of crowds at the Kumasi and Accra rallies did not reflect in votes for the NPP. It is, therefore, imperative for the NPP to address these challenges and ensure that the large crowds that patronise its rallies are translated into votes. This requires education for party supporters to appreciate the need to vote.
The perception about Nana Addo as an arrogant person was a big deal in 2008, and I daresay it is still a big deal now. I’m not quite sure about the extent to which the flag bearer and his campaign team have addressed that issue or are seeking to do so. But the crux of the matter is that this perception has to be flushed out of the minds of the electorate if the elephant is to return from the bush.
Many people, especially journalists, have also expressed concern about the inaccessibility of Nana Addo. I do not share a contrary opinion. The NPP flag bearer tends to speak to the media when he so desires, but he is rarely accessible when the media need him. Whether this is a personal attitude or campaign strategy, such posturing can be very costly because it feeds into his perceived arrogance.
Covering Nana Addo’s campaign in 2008, one would have imagined that after every tour, there would be an opportunity for the flag bearer to interact with journalists following his campaign to clarify issues and even get a feedback from independent, objective and non-partisan perspectives. That approach, in my humble opinion, is better than the over-reliance on praise-singers who only seek to soothe the ears with favourable information, which at best false hope of electoral victory.
The security detail of the flag bearer, in their over-zealous and sometimes unnecessary actions to provide protection, block access to Nana Addo, making it difficult for party faithful to at least shake hands with him. Journalists also find it difficult to interact with and take good pictures of him.
The security detail must appreciate the role of the media in the campaign process as complementary to the services they (security personnel) provide. If the role of the media does not matter, the NPP would not be making a big fuss about allegations that GTV did not capture Nana Addo at the funeral of the late President Mills. It will also not be complaining that the Daily Graphic has been bias against the party in its coverage of political activities.
So why should the security detail be hostile to journalists who want to get close to Nana Addo to do a good job? Even in Iraq where suicide bombing is a past-time of many, the worst thing an Iraqi journalist could do to register his disgust at America’s occupation of his country was to throw a pair of shoes at former US President George W. Bush Jnr. What then can harmless Ghanaian journalists do to Nana Addo to warrant hostility from his security detail in the course of their duty?
Beyond the observations made of the 2008 election campaign of the NPP, it is also pertinent for the party to address some issues that have the tendency to hurt its electoral fortunes.
First, the ‘All die be die’ mantra is not sitting well with many Ghanaians, particularly floating voters who may make the difference in December. The mantra sends a negative signal as a threat to peace and stability. The closeness of margin in the 2008 election should make every wise political party and politician respect the sensibilities and views of the floating voter.
The amount of time NPP spokespersons have spent in explaining the philosophy underpinning the mantra is enough a good reason to abandon it as a message for electoral victory. The party will be better off spending that time to water the seeds of Nana Addo’s campaign policy on free education up to the senior high school level and others that look very attractive to the electorate.
Similarly, it is very important for the party faithful to avoid tantrums such as the one unleashed by the Member of Parliament for Assin North, Kennedy Agyapong because they could cause irreparable damage to the party.
It is important to note, without any fear of attack from any political quarters, that the NPP has waged a better campaign towards Election 2012 than any other political party. So why must it allow unguarded pronouncements to undermine the good efforts made so far?
Sometimes, political parties have a way of dismissing such tendencies as trivial and inconsequential to their electoral fortunes. But pretence, no matter how strong it seems, will always crumble in the face of reality.
Indeed, the NPP has a huge tax to create a conducive environment at home to attract the elephant from its comfort zone in the bush as Election 2012 approaches.