The Politics Of Boycotts

Last week Friday in the afternoon, I had the chance to listen to a rather noisy exchange on the National Economic Forum (NEF) on an Accra radio station between Anthony Karbo speaking for the opposition NPP and Kwadwo Twum-Boafo for the ruling NDC. I am quite sure a lot of those who tuned in to that programme missed what, for me, was the clearest indication of what transpired the following week when the forum opened at Senchi on Tuesday. The entire posture of Anthony Karbo made it clear that the NPP did not put much stock into the forum and had already decided to boycott it, even though at the time of the programme in the studio, the formal invitation was yet to be received at the NPP headquarters. Indeed, at the end of the programme, Karbo proffered to Kwadwo Twum-Boafo that the three or so Dr Bawumia lectures presented to the forum as the position of the NPP. The following Monday, that is, the beginning of this week, the pieces fell into place. The NPP held a press conference in the morning, and party Chairman Paul Afoko formally notified all of us that the party would not be taking part in the forum after all. That afternoon, the same radio station got former Finance Minister Yaw Osafo Marfo for a lengthy interview on the forum, since he had been invited, and had at the time of the interview agreed to be present and chair one of the sessions. For me, what was critical in what the eloquent Osafo Marfo said was that he had been informed that a meeting of the functional executive of the party had taken place the previous Thursday and had taken a decision not to be part of the forum. The former Finance Minister was clearly unhappy that the party had not deemed it fit, as a matter of common etiquette, to invite him for his views before taking the boycott decision, since they knew he had been invited to the NEF in his capacity as a former minister in charge of finance, as had others like him. My purpose in giving this long account of events leading up to the boycott of the NEF by the NPP is simple; the facts do not support the purported reason given by national chairman Paul Afoko at the press conference last Monday. Mr Afoko had cited the principal and main reason for the boycott as the lateness of the invitation to the forum. The party had only one working day interval between the receipt of the invitation and the beginning of the forum at Senchi. The narrative above shows clearly that the decision to boycott was taken before the invitation came in, and, therefore, could not have been dependent on the late arrival of the letter. Even if it was taken on that basis, a party which claims to be the biggest political party in this country could readily have asked for a few days postponement to enable it to prepare adequately for this important national exercise. Asking for a postponement in the current circumstances would also have stamped the party as a group unprepared for power but with a careless penchant for making unsubstantiated statements on the economy? That risk, for true patriots, would have been worth taking in the supreme interest of Ghana. In essence, the NPP knew of the forum in good time, its content and purpose and the people and institutions likely to be part of it, but chose to boycott it, using the late invitation as a smokescreen. Other minor reasons put forward by the NPP chair had been the irrelevance of the forum because government had already decided on matters in advance. Not a single one of these remaining reasons is tenable. National budgets are routinely presented to our Parliament annually by the ruling party, seemingly set in concrete, but subsequent discussions and fierce debates always end in useful amendments and emendations before the appropriations are approved. Whenever in our history of engagement with international financial institutions have our local views not counted or even been canvassed? It is simply unbelievable that Paul Afoko, who suffered the most extreme negative publicity before his election as party chair just a month ago, would use the hurling of insults, scorn and contempt from some members of government on suggestions from the NPP to support the decision to boycott the forum. It is unfair to Ghanaians for public-spirited persons to use negative reactions against them to abandon their desire to help solve our problems. Harsh treatment of our politicians has been normal in our politics since 1957, and will never cease. It is just a variant of our free speech rights. The most ridiculous of the reasons proffered in the media, but not canvassed in the Afoko statement, was that specific NPP gurus had not been invited, for example, Dr Bawumia. The party unwittingly revealed its biggest albatross by having some of its media spokesmen cite this as another cause for boycott. The reliance on the esteemed economist and banker who is arguably the fresh and burnished face of the NPP at such a forum may have consequences that would have been unpalatable for current leading lights of the party. Nothing stopped the party from accepting to participate and having Dr Bawumia lead the charge, as he had done in the election petition case and on other platforms. For the NPP, the old, boring, arid and unproductive narrative of boycotts continues. It is players on the field of the game who change the rules, not scornful observers.