I had to take a taxi to town to run some errands last week. There were
two other occupants aside the driver as I sat in the car: Kofi and Yaw, strangers who sat in the rear. I sat in the front, gracing the driver with my presence. I’m sure he felt honored. While I fixed on the seatbelt and adjusted my nose mask, the driver carefully twirled the tuning dial for a bit, and after “honing in onto the signal from outer space”, we set off. I was busy on my phone, reading something a friend had shared with me on whatsapp. I was so engrossed in what I was reading that I did not pay attention to what was being discussed on the radio. The only thing I remembered about the program was that it had to do with politics, and the host and his guests were talking loudly – a common feature of most programs on Ghanaian radio.
The radio and the infrequent cough from the car’s engine were the only sounds to be heard, and it remained so until something that was said on the program rubbed Kofi the wrong way. He started talking loudly about how he will not agree if anyone tries anything silly during the 2020
general elections in Ghana. He went on to say he was going to do anything, even if it meant fighting whomever was expressing the silly behavior. He explained that his party has been taking things lightly for a while now, but this year they were not going to agree (I don’t know which party he supported). I have been watching him through the rearview mirror but at this point, I turned to have a good look at him and guess what? He was wearing a t-shirt that had a message advocating for peaceful elections in Ghana.
Yaw then tapped him and asked if he could read and write, to which he answered in the affirmative. He seemed a bit annoyed and asked Yaw
why he would ask that? Yaw retorted in a rather mean voice, asking Kofi if he had ever read the inscription on the shirt he was wearing. Kofi repeated his first answer: “Why do you ask?” Yaw answered that he was surprised that a signpost that is preaching peace is speaking and behaving otherwise. Kofi said he felt insulted and that the fact that he was wearing a t-shirt that had such an inscription did not mean that people can take advantage of that and cheat him, that he was just wearing the shirt.
On hearing that, Yaw asked the taxi driver to lower the volume of the radio set, then he asked all of us in the taxi to pay attention to what was
going on. He told Kofi that he shouldn’t just wear it if he didn’t mean it, making sure to emphasize that he wasn’t encouraging Kofi to be violent. Kofi asked that what does Yaw expect him to do if someone is trying to cheat him during the election. Yaw asked him which position he is contesting and he answered none. Yaw again asked him what he meant by being cheated in the election and he said he belongs to a political party and some other political parties may try to do illegal things at the polling stations that will make their parties win and for him as soon as he suspects any such things, he will just start beating the person.
Yaw told him that it was unlawful to beat anyone because you suspect
they are trying to rig an election, he again explained that if any individual suspects any issues of rigging, they need evidence to petition to the right bodies and not necessarily beat each other. It might even happen that your suspicions are not right, but the harm might have been caused already, and in such an instance, what would you do? If the victim happens to die, there is no way we can ever bring them back to life. If they are alive, we may apologize, people will intervene and the victim will agree to forgive. Relatives of the two may begin to see each other as enemies and that is a story for another time. Yaw managed to persuade Kofi to change his mind about beating up people he thought were cheats during the election. Kofi apologized for causing noise in the car and the rest of the journey continued smoothly with the two passengers and the driver talking about the effects of electoral conflicts and violence. I went back to reading my post.
It is just a few days before Ghanaians vote for the eighth president of the republic of Ghana. From 1992, the country has always voted every
four years and all these have been peaceful even though minor conflicts and clashes have been recorded around some of these electoral process. Some of these violence are recorded during the voter registration or during a by-election. Even as we have never recorded any major conflicts or disturbance during an election, election years are usually tense, with a lot of activities aimed at promoting peace before, during and after the election. Sometimes these peace activities such as peace walks, peace symposia, fun games, radio and television talk shows, etc. start even before we enter the election year. And now because of COVID-19, some of these activities were done virtually. Politicians especially are engaged by the electorate and made to pledge not to express behaviors that will provoke violence before, during and after the election.
The reason why we all “hype” this peace thing is because we all
know what can happen if the peace rope snaps. Based on evidence from other African countries that have seen electoral violence such as Ethiopia in 2005 (which recorded over 200 deaths), Kenya in 2007/2008 (over 1500 deaths), Ivory Coast in 2010 (over 2000 recorded deaths) – this is by no means comprehensive. These have resulted in loss of lives, property among other things. With things like this having happened, I understand why Ghanaians are very careful about maintaining peace throughout the election season.
Recently, the peace campaigns have taken a different turn of events, people are quick to seize every opportunity to “stand for peace”. The irony of this is that while we are writing “I stand for peace” all over social media and shouting on TV and radio stations, our actions do not commensurate what we write. For many of us on social media, it is
merely for the glam, without reflecting deep on the meaning of what we actually post. That is to say our actions do not match with we are saying: in many whatsapp groups which I belong to, people have posted, forwarded or written messages on what will happen if we do not maintain peace before, during and after the elections. The same people will argue vehemently about their political parties, to the extent of insulting one another. Sometimes, other people in the group have to intervene or one of the parties engaged in the argument will exit the group just because they cannot tolerate what is happening.
The question is, are we just posting because we want to sensitize and remind each other about the need to maintain peace before, during and after the election or we are just posting for the fun of it? I know there is a fun part to it, that it is good, helps to ease tension and give people a good laugh but let us not forget the reason behind which we are having all the fun. It is interesting how in the midst of all this, we are able to read and twist some sarcasm in between the lines. Even as you owe MTN Quick Loan and you are still standing for peace, let us take a break and sit for a minute, sip some sobolo and rest. Let me quote what someone said, ‘can all those standing for peace sit down now so that we can all breathe some fresh air’. CHEERS!!!