Out of the political closet

There is no better way to find out how someone feels about you than to give them the opportunity to vote for you or your arch rival. That is what  typically happens in political elections. Two main parties vie for votes and wait for the surprise. In the case of Ghana’s December 2012 presidential elections, the surprises that popped out were stranger than costumes at a gay pride parade.

Since its conversion to democracy in 1992, every four years, Ghana’s main political parties the New Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) campaign bitterly for the Ghanaian vote. They give out darling favours like pens, T-shirts, flip-flops and of course perishable essentials like rice, cooking oil and of course, hard cash.  Both parties engage in this art of persuasion but because of the NDC’s checkered past, it is often assumed that kicking them out of office is a no-brainer. Afterall, between 1979-1981 and 1981-1992, the PNDC ruled Ghana under the military dictatorship of JJ Rawlings. The earlier years of this rule was dominated by bloodshed, curfews, public flogging of women and confiscation of assets. Facing enormous pressure from various international bodies, in 1992, Rawlings opened the country to multi-party elections. PNDC became NDC, but the reign of terror that Ghanaians had experienced became the single motivating factor to vote against NDC.

Anyone who declared their support for the NDC stood the risk of being chastised as an apologist for murderers and oppressors. As far as some Ghanaians are concerned, any good that Rawlings did is nullified by the role he played in Ghana’s version of the Bolshevik revolution.

It has been sixteen years since the military beret toting Rawlings peacefully exited political office, yet he remains an enigmatic power house. The lean virility of his youth has given way to a rounder but still domineering physique. His sharp jawline which when clenched used to send ministers crawling under tables is now softened with a healthy roll of grey beard. He continues to be undeniably charismatic. He entertains crowds, eviscerates his opponents and still has the ability to make the average Ghanaian believe he is their humble ally.

With these mega watts traits in tow, Rawlings’ endorsement helped his predecessor, a demur civil servant called Atta Mills, win the elections in 2008.  But once he was sworn in as President, Atta Mills needed to show that he was his own man so he went to great lengths to distance himself from Rawlings. Ministers in the previous (P)NDC administration who used to lick Rawlings’ boots now mounted podiums and derided him. Rawlings was alienated from the party he had founded and the post-Rawlings NDC makeover was in full swing.  Yet the political climate still frowned upon private citizens who supported the NDC administration.

By 2012, when NPP was preparing for a political comeback, the NDC’s makeover went into overdrive. Four months prior to the elections, their leader, President Atta Mills died and a relatively new face, John Mahama, sought to lead the NDC to another victory. Oozing charisma and promises of a better Ghana, a new NDC was born under Mahama. Gradually, people started coming out of the woodworks to publicly say the forbidden: I am voting for the NDC. Even individuals whose families have been diehard NPP supporters, side stepped family loyalty and rooted for the NDC. They were out of the political closet.

My own cousin came out. A real Ashanti man whose family has long supported NPP changed his Facebook profile picture to that of NDC emblem. The family was up in arms, but he stuck to his guns and voted NDC. What is behind this coming out parade for the NDC? At an engagement party last December, I turned to a friend whose family has financed several NPP campaigns and asked:

“Who did you vote for?”  Without flinching she replied “I voted skirt and blouse. CPP for my constituency and Mahama for president.  I rotated to another girl whose family was scathed by the excesses of the Rawlings era.

“Who did you vote for?”

“NDC all the way.”

“What? But your family is NPP, I thought you were NPP. Why are all you traditional NPP supporters voting NDC?”

“Maybe we are rebelling against our parents who have always supported NPP simply because of what Rawlings did. But we, we have moved on.”

I smiled inwardly, maybe Ghana has finally reached a stage where votes are not driven by ‘who did what to my family 30 years ago’… Then her voice jarred into my thoughts again.

“Plus, the NDC is more open. They will give me some of the government contracts. E dye be k3k3.” My smile is widened sardonically. In Africa’s popularity contest, votes are influenced by politics of the stomach and rarely by policy.  With the NDC makeover complete, their supporters can now chop without guilt.

Photo credit: gulfnews.com

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