Exactly a week ago, the Supreme Court of Ghana decided against putting the General Secretary of the New Patriotic Party in prison for his deeply offensive and contemptuous utterances about the court in general and its President in particular.
On the same day, the military in Egypt took off its glove of pretence and cracked down hard and fatally on peaceful protesters demanding the restoration of their elected President.
Both events occurred in the name of protecting the “Expressed will of the people”, the animal that goes by the generic name of Democracy. Here in Ghana, we have been engrossed for more than eight months in the effort to determine whether it was President Mahama or Nana Akufo-Addo who secured the real mandate of “us the people of Ghana” in the general elections of December 2012.
In Egypt, President Mohammed Mursi, elected by universal adult suffrage, has been overthrown in a military coup supposedly carried out in response to demands by the ‘overwhelming majority’ of Egyptians; though no one has told the world how this majority was arrived at.
In our own backyard of Africa, the outcome of elections held in Zimbabwe has been welcomed as “free and fair” by distinguished Africans who observed them in the name of African institutions but roundly condemned by observers representing the “free world” as ‘troubling and fraudulent’.
What has amazed me and continues to baffle me is the reaction of the leaders of the so-called free world to the specific events in Egypt and Zimbabwe in recent weeks, and the constantly shifting and convenient stance of the US and the Western world as to what constitutes “the will of the people” or democracy.
In this, and on reflection, at every major opportunity over the six decades of my life on earth, Lord Palmerstone’s 18th century doctrine that, “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests”, has continued to shape the “free world” view of democracy and what constitutes “the will of the people”.
US Secretary of State, John Kerry, who welcomed the military overthrow of the democratically elected President Mursi of Egypt, said of the Zimbabwe elections: “The United States shares the same fundamental interests as the Zimbabwean people: A peaceful, democratic, prosperous Zimbabwe that reflects the will of its people and provides opportunities for them to flourish. For that to happen, the Government of Zimbabwe should heed the voices of its citizens and implement the democratic reforms mandated by the country’s new constitution.”
True, the brutal crackdown on the peaceful demonstrators by the Egyptian military (resulting in close to 1000 deaths) has been condemned by President Obama and all the leaders of the “free world”. This condemnation has been followed with inconsequential pronouncements about the punitive measures, disappointment and displeasure about the barbaric slaying of people expressing their abhorrence about the fact that their will, which they freely expressed in elections conducted under universal adult suffrage (i.e. Democracy a la Free World), has been yanked away by force.
Yes, the US and its allies have been embarrassed to condemn human rights abuses. What they have palpably failed to do is the outright condemnation of the overthrow of a democratically elected president through a military coup and the necessary imperative of restoring President Mursi’s rule.
Egypt is just the latest example of the underlying hypocrisy and cant of the West in the global geopolitics founded on the age-old tensions and struggle between the Christian and Islamic world views. Whenever the crusades of the 11th century pop up in their modern forms, the “free world” tweaks its supposedly non-negotiable view of democracy to suit the “permanent interest” agenda.
My first introduction to the whole United Nations business came in the form of Resolution 242, which was passed in the immediate aftermath of the 1967 war between Israel and Egypt. Its basic construct was that the basis for achieving a long and lasting peace was for Israel to retreat to its pre-war borders. Forty-six years on, much Arab land has been overrun with Jewish settlements. The ‘free world” has mouthed displeasure at the blatant breach of international law by Israel in the same breath that it has looked on approvingly at serious abuses of human rights, all in the name of the indispensable and overriding need to protect their ally, Israel.
When the “free world” encouraged the Palestinians to hold “free and fair” elections and “the will of the people “was manifested in a victory for Hammas (the more strident and pro-Islam party), the West conveniently branded the winners as a “terrorist organisation” and refused to deal with it, rather preferring the defeated but Christian-influenced Fattah. They conveniently forgot that David Ben Gurion and the founder members that fought for and created the state of Israel were also labelled as terrorists who are now revered and worshipped as visionaries by the same free world?
I am baffled to this day by the terminologies used by the Western media to describe the factions in the terrible civil wars that engulfed Marshall Tito’s Yugoslavia in the 1990s. There were Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Croats, and wait for it, Ethnic Muslims. The Christian factions were described by their nationality, while the Islamic faction was labelled by its religion, an undertone that looked unconcerned at the brutal massacres of the Muslims, which were so excessive that they embarrassed President Clinton, who intervened in Bosnia, and Tony Blair, in Kosovo.
You may be asking: “Why is Tarzan taking us through all this?” The purpose of my detour into recent history has everything to do with us also beginning to fashion our democracy in line with our own sense of where we have come from without jettisoning the fundamental and non-negotiable principle that whatever process we adopt to choose those who govern in our name must be founded on “The will of the people”.
A major reason why Africa has retained the descriptor “Worst in sub-Saharan Africa” for every major calamity of human sufferance in the modern world — hunger, AIDS, infant mortality, poorest” —and so on and so forth, is that we swallow and worship the “free world” notions hook, line and sinker. We have embraced and clothed this in the wonderfully benevolent concept of development partnership. We have continued to depend on the handouts from the ‘Free world”, when we should be emulating the handshakes of the Chinese who were poorer than us less than 25 years ago.
“A friend in need is a pest” is my most favourite joke of my red-ferreted “free-word” comedian of the 1970s, the incomparable and late Tommy Cooper. As we stand on the eve of the most momentous political decision in Ghana’s history since 1957, let us seek solace in the instinctive context of togetherness and being each other’s keeper, which is the root of our culture and traditions, to accept the outcome of the long drawn tussle to determine the real expression of “the will of the people” on December 7, 2012.
The Supreme Court listened to the collective appeals of Ghanaians and decided not to put Sir John in prison, even though they convicted him (he did not escape as many reported wrongly). Yes, we are of the modern world and belong to the global village but we should also realise that our democracy must be grounded in the domestication of origins and experiences of Ghanaians and be always weary of the shifting sands of the free world’s notion of democracy, which is also founded on their self-interest.
By Charles Wireko-Brobby/Daily Graphic/Ghana