- As a matter of public record, the Vice President, Dr Bawumia, has set these out in detail what the government has done and is doing. We can have a debate on the veracity of the claims that he has publicly set out.
Written By Rodney N.Boateng - I am not a veteran of demonstrations, with only two under my belt after more than five decades on this earth. Looking back, I regret this and wish I could clock up a few more ‘demo miles’ to make up for the dearth.
My first demonstration was at Opoku Ware School, when as a Lower Six student in 1986, I joined in a student demonstration against our headmaster.
I do not remember what our grievance was. We shouted and marched around the campus and then marched to Manhyia Palace to present our petition to the then Asantehene, Otumfuo Opoku Ware II.
It was a beautiful sunny day and we felt so accomplished as we returned to school.
After that came a long hiatus, until sometime in 2016 when I joined a ‘Dumsor must stop!’ demonstration in Kumasi, protesting the frequent power cuts characteristic of the time.
It was a long march, and even though my legs felt like lead at the end of the march and it took a mortuary-grade cold beer to get my blood circulating again, it felt exhilarating.
Social media agitation
In the past week, there has been considerable agitation on social media against the general conditions in the country, with a demand on the government to ‘Fix it’.
It gathered quite some steam and culminated in a plan to demonstrate publicly two days ago, on Sunday, in furtherance of that demand.
The demonstrators and the police appeared to square off over the planned demonstration within the context of both the Public Order Act and the COVID 19-related imposition of restrictions on public gatherings.
Predictably, the police ran to court to get an order banning the planned demonstration after the organisers refused to back down on the COVID 19-related concerns raised by the police in their engagements.
Power of demonstrations
Demonstrations and protests have been a part of our national life for as long as one can remember.
I remember the late 1970s’ protest marches against Acheampong’s UNIGOV idea. In the 1980s came the revolutionary demonstrations against western ‘imperialism’ and ‘neo-colonialism’, all the way through workers and students agitations to ‘Kume preko’ in 1995 to the ‘Let My Vote Count’ and ‘Dumsor’ demonstrations in 2016.
We certainly have a colourful demonstration culture which in many instances has yielded results.
Indeed, much earlier, the British colonialists, following the February 1948 Gold Coast protests and subsequent riots, set up the Watson Committee to investigate the matter, which then served as a catalyst for the independence movement of the then Gold Coast.
All over the world, crowds regularly gather to protest against a variety of issues, from political to social to economic, in order to demand change, and in several instances, they get their way, even if it takes a while.
The Black civil liberties campaign in the USA, the women’s suffragette movement in Europe and elsewhere, as well as the campaign to end apartheid, the Vietnam War and a host of others all successfully engaged street protests and demonstrations to drive home their point.
Of course, it is possible to respect the right to protest and still disagree with the basis of the protest, with counter-arguments.
I disagree with those who suggest that when supporters of government make claims about what government has done or is doing in response to their complaints or observations, it necessarily makes them insensitive automatons, or even worse, people paid by government to defend it. I think it is rather insulting.
In flipping the script, those firing at government from opposition trenches can then be described as paid agents of the opposition, but that would be an absurd claim.
It is important that both sides recognise that in a free country, it is legitimate to support or not support the government of the day and that there is no need to deride others for taking a position either way.
That said, it is extremely important for government communicators to be mindful of how they address issues raised by their fellow citizens and not to appear condescending, dismissive or insensitive, because that is politically expensive.
So the answer to complaints about an inability to afford LPG is not to ask people to use charcoal. The answer to an inability to afford to buy fuel is not to ask people to park their cars and use ‘trotros’, and certainly complaints about inability to afford food items such as rice should not be met by ‘well, eat kokonte!”
So far, government communicators such as Sammi Awuku, Dr Gideon Baako, Afenyo Markins and Nana Akomea have been measured and mature in their response to the issue, and I think that is significant and helpful.
It is true that times are hard. Nobody enjoys paying more for fuel, which in turn drives commercial fares and the price of goods.
After all, we all buy from the same markets and shops. It is true that many young people leave school without any hopes of a decent job, and that power stability is a challenge in parts of the country.
It is also true that ‘galamsey’ is destroying our environment and sanitation is a major headache. These and many other truths about the structures of our country are self-evident and it is the height of absurdity to even attempt to deny them.
But it is also true that some considerable progress has been made to try to turn this country around especially before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has ravaged many resilient economies worldwide and sent them into a tailspin.
As a matter of public record, the Vice President, Dr Bawumia, has set these out in detail what the government has done and is doing. We can have a debate on the veracity of the claims that he has publicly set out.
We can have a debate over whether there is enough to show for the four years and three months or so the New Patriotic Party (NPP) has been in office.
Every government needs live coals under its feet to keep it on its toes and I am pleased to live in a country where there is the space and the oxygen to help light those coals.