The elections are over. A new president was sworn into office on January 7th, 2017. The ‘dark cloud’ that many feared hovered over the political climate, slid calmly into oblivion. For the next four years, the new government would be engaged in fulfilling the promises it made to Ghanaians. The opposition, on the other hand, will indulge themselves mostly in trolling the government.
One of the aftermaths of this political change has been reported clashes between supporters of the two leading parties. The supporters of the New Patriotic Party (NPP)-who emerged winners, are reported to be attacking the supporters of their opponents, National Democratic Congress (NDC). The clashes have been condemned by both parties. One group of supporters, who have also found themselves in this melee, are the artists who identified and campaigned strongly for the NDC.
According to reports, these artists –including actors John Dumelo, Mr. Beautiful and singers Rex Omar and MzBel-have been abused on social media. There have been stories of alleged physical attacks on some of them, with MzBel being a ‘notable’ victim. Hours after the release of the results, a phone recording appeared of Mzbel, telling a radio presenter that her house has been invaded by NPP supporters.
In all these happenings – whether real or staged (as some ascribe to MzBel’s situation) the question that I have kept to myself is whether, after twenty-four (24) years of democratic practice, such post-electoral (mis)behaviour or incidents should be recorded. Generally speaking, artists have most often become victims of political decisions. And this did not start today.
History: Earlier Years
Political victimization, especially of artists, did not begin under the Fourth Republic. This unfortunate sub-culture began in the 1960s. Artists have been abused, arrested and have had their songs banned on national radio. Under the regime of Nkrumah, artists such as Nana Ampadu and Dr. K. Gyasi had their songs Obi Te Yie and Agyima Mansa respectively banned by the Nkrumah regime. Also banned was Nsuo Beto A, Nframa Dzi Kan by E.K. Nyame.
An interesting fact is that, this song was banned because Nkrumah’s political opponent, Dr. K.A. Busia had requested E.K. Nyame’s song to be played for Ghanaians on a Nigerian radio station. And when Busia was overthrown by Lt. General Acheampong in 1975, To Wo Bu Ase by Kofi Sammy and The Okukuseku Band was the chosen farewell song for Dr. Busia.
The first known artist, who became the first known political casualty of the Fourth Republic, was highlife artist Jewel Ackah. One of the biggest artists of the 80s and 90s, Jewel Ackah recorded a campaign theme song for the NDC in 1996. That decision marked the end of his career. Fans, who held different political views, allegedly stopped patronizing his music. Event organizers also stopped inviting him to play on their platforms for fear of losing business. His talents notwithstanding, the Jewel Ackah brand became tainted and unmarketable. This led to his premature exit from the music scene.
Actress Grace Omaboe (Maame Dokono) has had her own regrets with politics. Her decision in 1998 to join, campaign and contest a parliamentary seat for the NDC, perhaps sounded the final death knell on her glorious career. She lost the contest and lost ‘everything’ else. Even when she switched allegiance to the NPP in 2012, the NDC supporters did not forgive her. Mr. Beautiful, who in 2012 was vociferous for the NDC-and continues to by saying he’ll choose the NDC over his acting career-complained of being overlooked by movie producers due to his political affiliation.
This year, we saw popular actor John Dumelo, Mr. Beautiful, Rex Omar and Mzbel campaigning vigorously for the NDC party. Whereas Rex Omar and Amanzeba Nat Brew performed for the NDC at various political events, MzBel was loud on social media with John Dumelo, a speaker at NDC rallies. Juxtaposing these developments against Ghana’s democratic growth, political victimization should not arise. But alas!
Why these victimizations?
Many a reason could be ascribed to why actors and artists get victimized for their political choices. Political immaturity, revenge and cultural or traditional views readily come to mind. Many Ghanaians still hold the view that, entertainers should not take part in active politics. In their view, entertainers must shield their political views, walk the middle ground and concentrate on their careers.
One reason some of these entertainers get victimized is less about waving a certain party flag. That is, it is not the act of campaigning for a political party that put an artist’s talent or career in a precarious position. It is rather what they say during their campaigns that pitches them against opposing fans. The caustic, demeaning and often tasteless vitriol they pour on their ‘enemies’ is what makes them targets for attacks when their party is defeated in elections. As Chinua Achebe reminds us ‘he who brings insect infected firewood home should not be surprise at the sight of lizards at his house’.
An example to buttress my earlier assertion, is how people treated Daddy Lumba and Kwabena Kwabena following their association with the NPP. Whereas Lumba has been composing campaign songs for the NPP since 2008, Kwabena Kwabena, has without a blink, publicly declared support for the NPP respectively. Despite, their political associations, I have not heard any of them report of any violence when their party lost the 2008 and 2012 elections respectively. In fact, they still attract fans to their events and get people dancing to their music.
That’s the major difference between them and the likes of MzBel and John Dumelo. Another person worth mentioning is Amandzeba Nat Brew, whose public show of support of NDC does not go beyond performing during campaign rallies.
As our democracy gradually matures, instances of thuggery and physical attacks on people who support one party or the other will end. Entertainers will be free to campaign for their favourite candidates without fear of any reprisals, either directly or indirectly. Their campaign will focus on issues rather than vitriol geared at denigrating a candidate. Like all voters in this country, artists do vote; they are stakeholders in our political development; they have a right like all of us to express views on issues. They should not be considered ‘jokers’ – Grace Omaboe, David Dontoh and recently Kwame Dzokoto have been described with such a term – when they support a party. I’m even looking to a day when some of these artists will contest for political offices.
Criticizing, attacking and throwing disparaging commentary about entertainers who partake in active politics is appalling and a blot on our democratic progress and sense of tolerance.