In the last few days—maybe weeks, our airwaves have been filled with condemnations and demands for apologies. These calls started with Nii Lantey Vanderpuye's call for people who have non-Ga names to be prevented from registering in the Odododiodoo constituency and escalated with Ken Agyapong's declaration of war. All of a sudden, some who had seen nothing wrong with Nii Lantey's words and actions were scandalized by Ken Agyapong's words, while those who had been appalled by Nii's conduct were seeing nothing or very little wrong with Kennedy Agyapong's declaration. Amazing!
While this was mainly about politics, let us broaden this discussion. Apologies and the condemnations that sometimes precede them are very important in life. According to US expert Joan Silk, an apology is a way of returning a relationship to where it was before it was damaged. Good apologies reduce the desire for retribution and increase the willingness to forgive. To be effective, the person making the apology must be contrite, admit responsibility and promise not to repeat the offence. As everyone knows from experience, either at work or in their family, apologies are a vital ingredient in maintaining relationships and harmony, at the work-place, in the family or in communities. Indeed, virtually every married person has had to apologize for one thing or the other in their marriage at some point.
Naturally, due to the contentious and emotional nature of politics, religion and nationalism, apologies regarding these spheres are rather noteworthy. In addition to the fact of the apology itself, how it is made and how quickly sometimes matter. For instance, in 1077, the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV apologized to Pope Gregory VII for church-state conflicts by standing barefoot in the snow for three days! Sometimes, a whole nation needs to apologize to God or to some of its citizens. In 1863, US President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday and enjoining the nation to repent for 'our national perverseness and disobedience to God during the civil war and asking forgiveness for the sins that led to so many deaths'. In history, there have been many apologies by nations and some by individual politicians. Amongst the apologies by individuals were those of a Sheriff of Montgomery county in Alabama for routing 600 civil rights demonstrators with hoses and clubs in 1965, and President Clinton for 'Monicagate' in 1998.
Despite the well-accepted practice of apologies, Africa and indeed Ghana has not reached the apology age yet. When we apologize, we do so with meaningless generalizations. Here in Africa and in Ghana, no one in politics is ever specifically wrong. For a nation that purports to be predominantly Christian and/or Muslim, this is surprising. Barely a week passes without one of our leaders showing up in church or a mosque to remind us of his/her religious attributes. In 1st John, 9 and 10, it says, 'But if we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that His word has no place in our hearts.'(New Living Translation). The result is that while we are always demanding apologies from others, we and the groups we belong to are never ready to admit wrong and apologize. Indeed, I wonder what would have happened if Jesus had been walking at a point mid-way between the NPP office and the NDC office in Accra, when he declared, as reported in John 8:7 regarding the prostitute that 'He who has never sinned should cast the first stone.' The group of sinners would have stoned that woman to death because we would have lacked the courage and integrity to admit to our sinfulness. That would have been tragic because some of the stones might have hit Jesus himself. To be fair to those refusing to apologize, those who demand apologies must do so with clean hands or at least hands that are not very dirty. That is our problem. Unfortunately, this defect is not only found in the politicians. It is found in media practitioners, the police, religious bodies and NGO's. If I am wrong, why did those condemning Kennedy Agyapong not condemn Nii Lantey? Why did the 'neutral police' find nothing wrong with Nii Lantey while going after Kennedy Agyapong? While Mr. Agyapong's words were inflammatory and unacceptable, his mouth was no gun and indeed no one has been physically harmed by his words. On the other hand, those acting on Nii Lantey's words had already beaten up Ursula Owusu and marched through Accra terrorizing innocent citizens. Do inflammatory words offend more than violent actions? Does the political persuasion of the offender matter more than the sin?
While Mr. Agyapong's words and the actions that prompted them showed us at the brink of a national tragedy in April for an election scheduled for December, we have been here before. As a nation and as political parties or ideological groups, we have repeatedly caused pain to others without deigning to apologize. Despite having a national reconciliation process, one of the things that seemed to be in very short supply was apologies. I state without prejudice that this would be a better country if someone or some group had apologized for the following:
— The Kolungugo bomb incident
— The death of Danquah, Obetsebi-Lamptey and others in jail
— The execution of the Generals without due process
— The murder of the judges in 1982
— The pledge to turn Ghana into Kenya if things did not go a certain way in 2008
— The threat to kill judges like cats
— The death of the 'Kumi Preko' demonstrators
— The violence in Volta, Chereponi, Akwatia and Lamagushi
— 'All die-be-die'
— Nii Lantey's words and actions and Kennedy Agyapong's declaration
And there are more. I am certain that many will have lists that are different from this one. However, the point is the spirit of the list—not its exhaustiveness. In the spirit of this article, let me offer my heartfelt apologies to all those who feel upset by this list. The omissions are not intentional.
By our individual, sectional and collective failures to deal with these things, we have allowed wounds to fester and grievances to enlarge. That is not conducive to the strength of our democracy and the health of our republic.
It is time for us to look our brothers and friends, even those in our own party, in the face and tell them when they are wrong. Too often, we are prevented from doing this by the evil combination of sycophancy and partisanship that permits us to see virtue only in our party and its leader and vice only in other parties. It is time to accept that some or even most of those who belong to other parties are good and decent people who also love Ghana—like we do.
In this spirit, let me end on an example that should inspire and ennoble all of us. In August of 1993, South African President J.W. de Klerk apologized for the apartheid era on behalf of his government and his party. Two days later, Nelson Mandela apologized for the atrocities committed by the ANC during the anti-apartheid struggle.
Now, that was leadership. It helped heal deep-seated wounds and set their country on the road to reconciliation and peace.
I am sure we could use something like that here in our country. Therefore, today, I urge our leaders, particularly President Mills and Nana Akufo-Addo, to show leadership.
It is time for the president to stop urging people to stop insults and violence and to act—by cracking the whip on his followers who are violent and the police who have been derelict in preventing violence. For a man who used to be called 'Asomdwehene', the insults and the violence do not do justice to the title 'Asomdwehene'. When the President acts, Nana Akufo-Addo must match him positive step for positive step. Indeed, for the best results, we must encourage them not just to talk in concert—but to act in concert.
Let us turn away from violence and move forward together—towards a peaceful 2012 election.
By Arthur Kobina Kennedy