Serving My Country: Losing An Election

According to some trivia I read about Harold Wilson, Labour Prime Minister, some time ago, one of the things he missed most after leaving Number 10 Downing Street (Can’t remember whether it was when he lost to Edward Heath in 1970 or when he resigned in 1976) was the telephone.

As Prime Minister, he never had to dial himself. Calls were made for him, but on leaving office, he had to dial his own calls and discovered the toll it was having on his forefinger! Poor Mr. Wilson, touch screens were a mere decade or two in the future!

A Labour Leader of the touch screen generation, Ed Milliband, in the last British General Elections, lost to another child of the touch screen generation, David Cameron, who also lost out to British European haters. Ed Milliband did not get into No.10 and Mr. Cameron prematurely had to leave No.10!

Again, I read somewhere that US Senator McCain, on losing to Barack Obama, said he felt like a baby: wake up in the night, cry a little, sleep, wake up, cry again and sleep! Or words to that effect…

In 1992 when Professor Adu Boahen lost to Flt. Lt. Rawlings, it wasn’t funny at all. The great Kontopiat was so sure of winning that he remarked in an interview I heard that he was the most popular politician in Ghana. And from the crowds he was drawing wherever he went, it did seem like he had a valid point! And so on Election Day as the initial results started trickling in, it was tantalizingly pointing to a victorious outcome – that was, until the Ketus started avalanching in. He lost and carried it very bitterly. He never conceded and in that, many of us never conceded either. He was not the only loser; we, I, also lost that election with him. I voted for him! Since then, I have won and lost elections, the latest one being the one we just held – which I lost…

Does anyone remember the image of a defeated John Kerry walking into his house, lonely and dejected after he lost to Bush Junior…Or the face of Jimmy Carter during the inauguration of Ronald Reagan, the man who got him out of the White House? After Bush Senior’s “thousand points of light” and the Desert Storm victory to his credit, he had to concede as a one-term President to Bill Clinton…

After a hard fought campaign and with many positive achievements to his credit, President Mahama had to concede his way out of the Flagstaff House. I was standing beside him that night as he read the concession speech. Some people were in tears, others seemed bewildered and well, I was disappointed. President Mahama himself was so full of bonhomie and remarkable composure that one could not help but draw energy from him. He was laughing and hugging the well-wishers who had thronged his residence when it was clear that the polls had not gone his way…

My 2016 election loss started early on voting day, December 7. By the time I got to my polling station, a little before 7am, there was a long queue. I had a flight to catch to Nairobi that morning. A brief negotiation with the polling officials from EC, polling agents and the citizens already in the queue, allowed me to jump queue. So I was one of the first people to vote that day, because it was not long after the booths had opened. Ghanaians can be gracious if they want to. There was no objection from the NPP, NDC and other political party agents, neither was there a murmur from my fellow citizens in the queue who had woken up early to get their pole positions.
Obviously, because of my outspoken support for President Mahama, most people in the queue knew where my ballot was going…Okaikoi Central has always been an NPP stronghold and chuckling quietly to myself I suspected some of them in the queue would at best be grousing about my “wasted vote” or at worst, raining curses on me!

I left for Nairobi through Kigali (Rwanda) after I voted and arrived at my destination with one of the most debilitating bouts of anxiety and apprehensions I have ever been through. Was it a premonition?

The conference I was attending was propitiously on “The African Narrative” organized by the African Media Initiative (AMI). Ghana, providentially, was at the same time writing one of its own narratives in an election. No wonder, on the sidelines I became a “person of interest”! Conference participants were curious: Would the President get his second term? Optimistically, I would respond that there was no doubt that he would get his second term, even if it would mean a tough fight…

It was also evident that, it was not my wishes and hopes that they were after, but the information spewing to them on the internet through their laptops or other handheld devices! They knew the figures were telling a different story. I still clung to my hopes, wishes and desires. The atmosphere was choking and the conference was now turning into a concentration camp and my hotel room a torture chamber as my mind went into a torturous black hole. By the end of the conference, on the 9th, my enthusiasm and optimism in the elections were being replaced by confusion and distress.

At Jomo Kenyatta International, as I waited at the boarding gate for my flight home, a noisy band of young men and women stampeded in. They were Ghanaians, Nigerians, and others who had also been attending some conference or the other. Their boisterousness was rather unbearable as they treated the rest of us with the kind of contempt young people in a pack often reserve for others, but there was one among them whose persona will remain etched in my memory as one of the defining images of Election 2016: a fat, garrulous, ill-mannered and badly dressed Nigerian young man. He could not have been more than 30. Shabbily dressed in a pair of knee length shorts, loose fitting sandals and a T-shirt, he behaved as if the airport belonged to him. His voice rose above everybody else’s and anytime he knelt down I noticed the cleavage of his backside! All of a sudden, this blob turned to his Ghanaian colleague and barked a question: “So what is happening in your elections? I hear Nana is winning. That is good!” I squirmed and for a moment, feeling the temptation of asking him what business of his was our election? The Ghanaian, who obviously had been feeding his colleagues with his own predilections, said he could not confirm, but that was how it was looking. A young woman, also a Nigerian, chirped in to say she was happy Nana was winning!

I was the unhappiest Accra-bound passenger on that flight. At Kigali International Airport where I had to connect to Accra, I sat all by myself lost in my worries about what I would be meeting at home. My worries were worsened when on the flight, a few seats away from me, were three Ghanaian Twi-speaking individuals. They had the looks of either up-and-coming business executive types or mid-range international organization types. I could overhear them and it was bad news! They were discussing how things had gone wrong for Mahama…Though there was no turbulence disturbing the flight, after what I overheard from these young men, it was one bumpy flight for me all the way home!

And so Mahama lost, and I lost. It was only an election. We did not lose our lives or country. When I voted for Adu Boahen and lost, I lived to win and lose other elections, in the end rising to one of the most privileged public service responsibilities as a High Commissioner.

Jimmy Carter went on to become the best US President-out-of office, Senator McCain continues to serve his nation in the Senate and John Kerry as Secretary of State, was next only to President Obama in influencing world affairs.

John Mahama has hit his post-election-loss life with a sprint. At the time I was doing this commentary he was up there in the Gambia trying with others to mediate the election impasse there. Back home, where to lay his head had become the subject of embarrassing and nauseating partisan posturing…

Losing at elections, and for that matter, losing at anything, no matter how small, can be emotionally draining. Elections, in principle, simply mean that we all agree to cede our individual and collective powers to an individual (President, Prime Minister) or an organization (Political Party) to look after our affairs. Voting FOR or AGAINST is an expression of the freedom of choice and that is why after voting, winners and losers move on. Where the integrity of voting is not in doubt, Society accepts the principle and governance proceeds. The principal assumption of this principle is that winning an election does not mean lording it over citizens (FOR or AGAINST), or that losing an election should condemn the losers to marginalization, victimization and loss of opportunity. Losing an election should not lead to panic or apathy – disappointment, certainly, and having won and lost many elections myself I have learnt to take my disappointments with a sense of humour!

Source:

A Harruna Attah. P.O. Box CT 4910. Cantonments. Accra. arhattah@hotmail.com

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