I have been quietly mulling over events of December 17, 2021, in our dear Parliament, and I keep wondering how a Hansard parliamentary reporter, would render it: whether with all the fisticuff details or through a censured summary. For those not quite abreast with our history, please be informed that within our 4th Republic, December/January, have not been disappointing in living up to boxing expectations in the literal sense.
Recent incidents in our legislature twice this December, are quick follow-ups to the midnight brawl of January 6th/7th that somehow inaugurated the 8th Parliament. Having been thus inaugurated in legislative chaos, it was most likely that ‘turmoil and turbulence, (like goodness and mercy), shall follow us all the days of this parliament…until a clear majority group emerges.”
Parliamentary brawls however could be somehow comforted by a history of fisticuffs in governance, by which I mean situations where high government executives have added a blow or two to push down a defiant message.
Three years into Ghana’s own 4th Republic. December 28, 1995, two days after the festive Christmas Boxing Day, rather than exchange gifts, Cabinet must have decided on fisticuff exchanges. This was a case where our revered seat of government lived up to boxing expectations. The Castle, the former seat of Ghana’s democracy, was temporarily transformed into a boxing arena during a cabinet meeting.
That day, the nation’s Chief Executive 1 did the unusual. Let me here be careful translating ‘Nana yii ne nsa ano kakra… as our elders would say in polite discourse. The Big man himself, ‘mildly displayed with his fists.’ The outcome was the badly shredded coat of Ghana’s Vice President, Neenyi Nkensen Arkaah, whose life was mercifully spared. In the words of the Vice Pee himself at a press conference the day after:
He gave me a terrible blow on the shoulder which sent me falling to the floor. He then attempted to pull me up by the shoulder in order to hit me further, he tore the shoulder of the jacket in the process. In his frustration, he kicked me a couple of times in the groin.
There were no camera witnesses then, but the Vice Pee then at loggerheads with his President, was a credible witness. Those were days nature had spared us the scourge of social media. The news, Vice-Pee’s shredded coat and all, would have gone viral.
Yet the front page of a private newspaper projected the disturbing image of a badly battered ‘smallish’ second in command, his favorite coat ripped, or to be polite ‘tampered with’ by his giant boss. The incident those days gave me nightmares for our young Republic. My fear stemmed from the prospect of that history repeating itself across the road into Ghana’s legislature.
If that strange incident was excusable, it was also because Ghana had travelled only three years after a dizzying 10 year-military rule, at a time it could be said there was still a residue of red or alcohol in our eyes.
In a 21st Century Ghana, after seven successive parliaments, a historical echo of that nightmare in whatever form was least expected.
Let me in this post-Christmas message, deviate from issues of blame, including the limits of parliamentary immunity, implications for the budget, E-Levy, etc. My eavesdropping on countryside discourse (fireside gossip), points to apparent trifles within the architecture of the brawl: the lurid details of the physical showdown.
Countryside gossip centres on ‘which side won the fight, who were pushovers; the heroes, and who were vanguards against the onslaught.’ Others include paperweights who spent a greater time on the fringes; the tall and mighty back-stoppers; the ferocious Yaa Asantewas; Robbin hoods with nimble fingers; peacemakers, pacifiers, cheerleaders. Those little gossips amaze me a lot and step down the heat from a badly battered E-levy.
If allowed, many a pedestrian would be elated by opportunities the incident provides for running commentaries on the several videos on social media: opportunities to indulge in rhythmic expletives and shouts that provide rhythm to hefty blows. Catchy slogans and unisons in praise of blows, successful ducking, missing of targets and all. In such commentary and praise chants, that unspeakable Ga expression at cinemas would reign supreme. You know what I mean.
All this could be part of a Merry Fracas or a preamble to 26th December Boxing Day. But that would also be meant to transform a political tragedy into comic relief, meant for the brush of Akosua of Daily Guide.
Above all else, it would urge us to take a second look at President Obama’s famous statement on his 2009 visit to Ghana, where he spoke at Ghana’s 6th Parliament. After speaking dismissively about corruption in Africa, Obama added:
‘Africa does not need strong men; it needs strong institutions.’
Really? Reflecting together with my countryside friends, we could offer copious amendments to Obama including the following:
Yes, Africa needs strong institutions but also strong men—- to protect the Speaker’s chair.
A Sorry Sorry Christmas!!!
The writer, Kwesi Yankah, is an academic, author, and university administrator. He is a professor of linguistics and oral literature specialising in the ethnography of communications.