Notes from the Ghanaman File: Of party manifestoes and promises

One good friend of mine says political seasons in Ghana are his best times because the politicians give us comic reliefs by what they do and say when they get into their elements. A story is told of how the immediate post-colonial politicians had in their manifestoes ideas to fight colonialism, imperialism and all other ‘isms’. And on a political platform, a flagbearer was quoted to have said that his party would deal with cronysm, nepotism, socialism among other ‘isms’. An old lady at the rally shouted,’ei,so you can’t deal with rheumatism? Then You won’t have my vote.
Currently, one word which is popping up in all our political discourses in the season is manifesto. It’s not the first time in our political history or since the 4th republic in 1992 that the political parties have come up with manifestoes during their campaigns. Indeed they are part of the package each party must have to woo voters. But probably for the first time, analysts and civil society groups are questioning the manifestoes and lambasting the parties for making unrealistic or empty promises to as it were deceive the voters.
So we have heard ‘one district-one factory’, one village -one dam’, one constituency-one million Cedis/dollars’. We have also heard ‘1 child,1 tablet’,2 more shea butter factories in Upper East and East West, one new region or 5 new regions to be created etc.
Out of these political promises captured in the manifestoes, the public and political opponents in good measure are making fun of them. So we are hearing ‘one leg-one shoe’, one boy-one  girl, one bowl of fufu-one bowl of soup’ etc. You can trust, the Ghanaian’s great sense of humour!
Why are we doubting the promises in the manifestos? Are manifestoes not promises? An election manifesto is essentially a list of policies that a political party says it will enact if it is voted into o­ffice at a general election. The word “manifesto” itself originates from the Latin ‘manifestum’, which refers to a list of facts.
Before an election, each party will produce an offi­cial manifesto which will form the basis of its campaign. Manifestos serve a very important function, because they are the main way of telling voters why they should give their vote to a particular political party. This means that manifestoes are nothing but a way the parties think aloud about their plans and what they intend to do for the populace.
I have heard some panelists branding the Ghanaian politician as a liar and deceptive for promising what they cannot deliver. Groups like IMANI Ghana have come up to question how these parties would fund these ideas they are all pushing around.
Interestingly, our two major parties and the smaller ones keep accusing each other of ‘stealing’ its ‘promises’ captured in their manifestoes. This makes me wonder whether the parties think they have the preserved rights to ideas and promises.
If you ask me, I am not surprised at all with what the parties are churning out as their manifestoes. Some of the promises are indeed, out of this world. Truth is, politicians, not only Ghanaian politicians, would tell voters anything to get them to vote for them. Nikita Khruschev ,a Russian philosopher once said, “Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build bridges even when there are no rivers”. Several years ago, one local politician was said to have promised to ‘create a sea’ at Kejetia in Kumasi!
John Morley said “Politics is the art of choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable”. If you situate this to the Ghanaian case, you would ask which of the two parties; NDC or NPP is making very realistic promises. If you go back to their manifestoes in the past, you will be surprised to see the same or similar promises made but which they didn’t fulfill but keep rehashing every four years.
The Ghanaian politician is indeed very lucky. To the extent that most of their followers do not care a hoot about these manifestoes, and continue to vote for them in spite of the unfulfilled promises of the past. Unfortunately for the politicians,  the times are changing and not only the Civil society groups but sections of the populace are beginning to evaluate the promises and surely a time is coming when a good number of the floating voters would choose their candidates based on which promises are verifiable, measurable and realistic. After all, John Galbraith says that in politics the choice is constantly between two evils – the better evil always triumphs.
So we are in the season of promises and I promise to have a date with you next week.
By Kojo Ackaah-Kwarteng | Onua FM    

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