The bigger problem beyond political slaps
I do not recall being slapped in my adult life, neither do I look forward to such an experience.
People I know who have endured it tell of the sting on the cheek, which may be accompanied by a loosening of a few teeth and a possible realignment of the jawline, especially if delivered by a hand the size and coarseness of a gorrilla’s.
They say the worst part is the helplessness and humiliation it brings, especially if the victim is not in a position to return the favour because of the size and/or authority of the ‘slapper’ or in the case of a fight between two equals, when a busybody strategically separates the combatants after one slap has been delivered.
But I have witnessed many a stinging slap in a variety of situations, from a safe distance in live situations to slaps on screens, whether in movies or in otherwise recorded.
Of course, we can readily disregard the movie ones.
The recorded assault of a Member of Parliament and another person believed to be his aide, by way of slaps, during last week’s parliamentary bye-elections in the Ayawaso West Wuogon Constituency would trouble any right-thinking member of society and they are utterly condemnable and despicable.
No human being deserves this. Violence is never the way to resolve differences and in fact they do escalate them, because the victim or his associates, are likely to ignore the biblical exhortation in Romans 12:19 (‘Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves…vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord’).
Our Fourth Republic has been replete with many examples of political slaps and full-scale violence too many to list here.
But beyond the Fourth Republic, we have a history of political violence, especially in the runup to independence, with pro-Convention People’s Party (CPP) and pro-National Liberation Movement (MLNM) groups in the 50’s, which came to a head in October 1955 when a quarrel between the CPP and NLM groups in Kumasi’s Ashanti New Town led to the stabbing to death of E.Y Baffoe of the NLM by K.A Twumasi Ankrah, the Ashanti Regional Propaganda Secretary of the CPP.
My earliest personal recollection of political violence was in the matter of Union Government which the Acheampong regime tried to smuggle into the country in the late 70’s and which loud protests that the government tried to curb by sheer intimidation and violence, especially in the aftermath of the 1978 referendum that was clearly rigged.
I also witnessed the sheer terror that was visited upon citizens in the aftermath of the 1979 and 1981 military takeovers, and I think it was in 1979 when as an 11-year-old boy, I witnessed my first political slap at Prestea by soldiers accusing a woman of ‘selling beyond control price’.
The slaps were followed by a public whipping. It was pitiful.
I think we have a wider problem as a country beyond political slaps and violence.
For a strange reason, too many people I know seem to favour or acquiesce to violence as an answer to problems in many aspects of our national lives, and insist that it is actually called ‘discipline’.
Our national life is replete with policemen publicly slapping trotro or taxi drivers for offences real and imagined, and many of us shrug and complain that our commercial drivers are too unruly anyway.
Suspects in police custody get slapped all the time in a bid to make them see stars and sing like canaries.
People are caught stealing and they are lucky to avoid being killed but rather getting away with a few dirty slaps and swollen lips or eyes, and we shrug and say ‘serves them right’.
A directive is issued that children should not be caned in schools and we complain that we are compromising discipline.
Older people of a certain generation actually look back with fondness at the ‘good old days’ when Warrant Officer Salifu Amankwa, the dreaded head of the Kwame Nkrumah Circle Sanitation Task Force, ruled over the Holy Gardens at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle in the 1980s with an iron fist, and dropping litter or spitting in that area could earn you a whipping you would not forget in a hurry.
Somehow, as a nation, we seem hardwired into our DNA the notion that our citizens are like sheep who need to be whipped into shape in order to keep them on the straight and narrow
Perhaps, this is grounded in the fact that many of us respond to the fear of brute force.
Perhaps, this is in turn birthed in the nature of the military regimes that have ruled us in the past.
It is said that commercial drivers who enter Burma Camp or any of our military installations are usually ‘steady’ and on their best behaviour there, observing speed limits and obeying every single traffic regulation which they would otherwise ignore on the civilian streets.
It is also noted by some that hardly do outsiders drop litter on the premises of military barracks when visiting.
They would rather carry their empty ‘pure water’ sachet or plastic bottle in their pocket or handbag until they are safely out of slapping range, where they would casually toss the offending item out of their speeding vehicle, be it a rickety trotro or the latest, gleaming Range Rover model.
I think that tempting as it may be for some, we cannot and should not turn this country into one giant barracks just to get citizens to behave themselves.
In a nation where the law works by way of clear sanctions, one does not need a whip hovering over the head or coarse hands itching for a slap to behave oneself.
I refuse to accept that we are stubborn sheep who only understand the brute language of violence.
What happened to the honourable Member of Parliament, and in the past to other political figures during bye-elections and demonstrations, is simply a manifestation of a belief in our country, especially by people in authority that citizens who ‘misbehave’ ought to be ‘taught a lesson’ and ‘disciplined’, and that this ‘discipline’ invariably manifests itself in the infliction of violence, instead of a civilised, restrained response by people in authority faced by defenceless, unarmed citizens.
Unless and until we change that narrative, we will continue to see the perpetuation of violence as a measure for conflict resolution, the political space included.
I do not believe this country is on the verge of collapse, and that the demons of Armaggedon beckon. But we cannot take our peace for granted and must work assiduously to preserve it.
It is unnecessary that in the build-up to general elections in particular, citizens feel on edge as political sabres are rattled.
Whatever our political differences they must be resolved through the vigorous exchange of ideas and not exchange of slaps.
I note that at the top of our political pyramid, our parliamentarians and other establishment figures are actually friends from across the political divide and sit and drink and eat and joke together.
Those lower down the pecking order need to learn from this and be wise.
Slaps, political or otherwise, are no laughing matter and ought not feature in national life.
By Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng