on patriarchal politics

In Notes on 4 February, 2012 at 4:41 am

december 2011 marked exactly a year before the parliamentary and presidential elections in ghana. chirstmas campaign season began in earnest a couple weeks after i arrived in tamale. the first time i came across a ‘campaign’, it was more of a street party. a truck blasting loud music drove past the spot we were meeting the director of a local NGO in damongo. our conversation stopped as we watched youth hanging off the truck, dancing with little regard for their dear lives.

a campaign poster on a TV. yes, really.

the next time i came face to face with politics in tamale was when i entered the modern city hotel’s restaurant for breakfast. i felt like i had walked into a wall of testosterone. the stares of close to a hundred men almost caused me to turn and run, but i walked on – ignoring the leers, the looks, the lewd comments. this is patriarchal politics.

on one of my last days in tamale before christmas, i was in the garden with ramla, the woman who runs my guest home (it’s more than a guest house). we heard a series of screaming sirens from the main road and she scowled, “the politicians are in town! campaign! they are serious!” ibrahim, another one who makes the guest  house a home said, “this year they should let us rest. we already know who we are voting for. they are wasting our time and our resources.”

what resources?

while i’m no expert on ghanaian politics, i have, in the last few months, been privy to politically charged conversations. one of the most memorable was between a young man and a driver in an NGO-branded car. we were on our way to chereponi for national farmer’s day. kirk, the young man, said, “we’re not letting development drive politics. we’re allowing politics to drive development.” at that sentence, i whipped out my phone and sat in the back seat furiously typing notes into a memopad.

kirk despaired at the lack of literacy in the country, the gender gap in education, the fact that children have to walk miles to get access to any education at all. the conversation led to the lack of tar roads between towns in the northern region of ghana. william, our driver, joked that  driving in the gutter is better. “the road to damango is so bumpy. you see the road is here and the gutter is there? you have to move into the gutter because the gutter is good!”

a school in jisonayili, tamale

kirk asked, “where is our MP’s money going to? people go into politics just to make profit.” (andrew, another young man, names politics “politricks”.) william compared a bad government to a bad boyfriend – all promises and sweet words, no action. “he say i will do this for you, i will visit your parents, we will get married next year – and nothing.” that was something i could relate to – suddenly it all made sense.

well…seriously though. i think that change needs to come from younger generations. as kirk says, “we need to be visionaries to take a bold step of change. i think that the generation that is coming up, we need to take things in a different direction. we need to do things in a more radical and pro-active way.” his voice softened. “our fathers are not helping us. our fathers are not helping us.”

"our fathers are not helping us"

kirk’s words struck me. he could offer sound advice to the millions of ghanaians who will be casting their votes in 10 months. “have you stopped asking questions? are we okay where we are?” kirk urges you not to be like trees – sticking with one party even if you are suffering and you’re not seeing any change.

kirk says, “of course we must not stop interrogating the issues, we must not stop debating or discussing. but the discussion mustn’t end in a boardroom. we must be more constructive to better the life of the ordinary ghanaian.”

what changes will ordinary ghanaians see?

i would easily vote for kirk. but kirk doesn’t want to be a politician. he wants to be an activist. that is exactly why he is suited to drive change in his country. his heart is in the right place.


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