How it started
This is not fiction. I have known Esi and her husband Kwame for as long as I can remember and if there were any such thing as “Member for Life” of a political party, I could have sworn that this couple would be in that number. Or so I thought.
In our neighborhood, Esi and Kwame actively campaigned for the National Democratic Congress (NDC) before the 2012 Ghana elections. Kwame went ahead to join the campaign team for the NDC parliamentary candidate of his constituency. They were excited when their preferred presidential and parliamentary candidates won the elections.
The first few months after the results were declared were quite smooth. Then gradually, the economic temperature increased. About two years after the elections, the prices of the bags of rice and the gallons of oil that Esi used for her catering service almost doubled. She wailed loudly. Then the power crisis peaked. The couple and their children spent many nights in darkness and unbearable heat. Then came the numerous scandals that have characterised the Mahama administration: The Woyome, SADA, GYEEDA, Bus Branding, World Cup and most recently the PURC Boreholes – scandals that have cost the country several billions of Ghana cedis. The Woyome, Ameri Group and Karpower shady deals alone have cost Ghanaians GHc4 billion. To better appreciate the sum, let me mention it in old cedis: 40 trillion old cedis! …40 trillion cedis gone down the drain of bad and bloated contracts, contracts they would not sign for their own private enterprises.
Amidst such gross economic mismanagement which saw the cedi successfully and massively depreciate against all major international trading currencies, Esi and Kwame, like millions of other Ghanaians, felt the pinch in their tummies and their pockets.
A few months ago during my long vacations, I had the chance to spend some time with the couple and the issue of the upcoming elections came up. I asked both of them whether they would vote for the same party all three of us supported in 2012. Esi said she would only do so over her dead body. I blew her a kiss. Kwame agreed the economy was extremely bad but he would still campaign for and vote for the NDC. I asked him why. He responded that President Mahama had invested heavily in infrastructure to the detriment of the economy. I asked him to show me only three ‘massive’ infrastructure that the President or MP had completed in our region or even in our district respectively, within the 4-year period under review. All he could mention were ongoing projects. Then I asked him if the economy was not as equally important as, if not more important than the so-called infrastructural development. He fumbled. Then I asked him a last question. All three of us were for Mahama in 2012 because he promised us a better Ghana. Did the better Ghana come? He said no.
When I realised I needed answers
A week ago, Kwame called me and complained bitterly about how his monthly electricity bill was now a jaw-dropping amount. “How can light bill which used to be about 80 cedis a month reach 300 cedis.” I wanted to ask him why he was asking me. I wanted to tell him to go and ask his family members, his party executives, or his president. But I restrained myself. Instead, I asked him, “So will you still vote NDC?” He said yes. And that encounter inspired this article.
I tried to diagnose his whatever-you-wish-to-call-it. Stupidity? No. Kwame is one of the smartest men I know, and much of what I know today, he taught me. Sick in the head? No. He has no medical history of mental illness. Possessed? There are many others like him. Surely, they could all not be inhabited by the same demon? Surely there should be a logical explanation to ‘The Kwame Phenomenon’? – I asked myself. So I began my search for answers.
A simple explanation to why I believe Mahama has failed
Before I delve into my answers to the question, permit me to tell you why I personally have lost faith in this Mahama administration.
I supported Mahama and campaigned for him in 2012 because the late Prof Mills of blessed memory had done quite a good job with the economy and John Mahama looked calm, composed and competent. Also, the sympathy created by Mills’ death had a role to play in garnering support for Mahama.
To say Mahama has disappointed me is an understatement, and I will be blunt here because this is something I feel very strongly about. He has made me regret ever supporting him and as a taxpayer who has long term plans of living in Ghana and starting a family here and not overseas, I feel very foolish for helping win power for someone who keeps mortgaging my future and those of generations unborn by sourcing huge loans for work that does not even reflect in our GDP or the economy at large, condoning corruption and disrespecting Ghanaians in general.
To show you how bad things have been under this government and convince you that the economy is actually far worse now than it was 4 years ago, let us do a little analysis.
The performance of the cedi against the dollar is a mark of the strength of our economy. Let me tell you the story of how the Mahama-led government has fared relative to previous governments with respect to the strength of the cedi.
1. On 31st December, 2004 – Shortly before Kuffour’s 2nd term commenced
2. On 22nd December, 2008 – Shortly before Mills became President
3. On 31st December, 2012 – Shortly before Mahama’s first term began
4. On 6th December, 2016 – Shortly before Mahama’s first term ends
What this means is that on December 31, 2012 you could buy a $100 computer with GHc191. Today, December 6, 2016, you will buy the same $100 computer with GHc425. That represents an increase of 115%. Isn’t that ridiculous?
Majority of our commodities are imported, and this simple analysis explains why prices of goods and services have shot up under this government. Somebody tell Kwame and Esi for me.
Now, having made a case for why I believe I am justified in being outraged at this government, let us revisit The Kwame Phenomenon, defined as the phenomenon in which someone who has clearly been duped by a political entity he believed in, would continue to support such a party.
My explanation is forked; it is made up of two parts. Both are theories in psychology and I attempt to relate them to the phenomenon.
The first is based on what is termed cognitive dissonance. This refers to the mental stress a person undergoes when he is confronted by new information that conflicts with his existing beliefs, ideas or values. For example, a cult group is made up of members who strangely but strongly believe that the world will be destroyed by flooding on 1st December, 2016. However, contrary to their prediction, the world is still intact on 2nd December, 2016. There will be a certain degree of dissonance in the minds of these cult members because their existing belief (expectation) has been challenged by new information (reality). Relating this to The Kwame Phenomenon, a rational thinking man expected something from his President. He did not get it but still supports him. Why? Let’s explore it.
According to Festinger, individuals seek consistency between their expectations and their reality so when cognitive dissonance occurs, the individual would do one of four things to reduce the dissonance. Using Kwame as an example, one of the following may have happened after his disappointment:
1. Change in cognition (“I will not support John Mahama again”).
2. Justified cognition by changing the conflicting cognition (“I don’t even need a better Ghana”).
3. Justified cognition by adding new cognitions (“Let me give John Mahama 4 more years”).
4. Ignored or denied any information that conflicted with existing beliefs (“John Mahama has not failed”).
Obviously there has been no change in Kwame’s cognition, neither does he deny the new information and so it is most likely he justified his cognition (3&4).
The second part of my theory is based on crowd psychology. This is a branch of social psychology which attempts to explain how the psychology of an individual differs from and is affected by that of the crowd.
The system of democracy practiced in Ghana is such that every four years, one must vote for a particular political party to come to bring them to power. Between 1992 when we returned to constitutional rule and today 2016, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) have predominated the scene. The NDC has enjoyed four terms of power whereas the NPP has been in power twice; from 2000 to 2008.
These two have largely divided the country into two major political factions and even though most citizens vote based on performance of the incumbent, there are many more who have assumed an unhealthy sense of belonging to one or the other of the two political parties.
Selorm Branttie, Vice President of Ghanaian think-tank IMANI estimates that about 40% of the Ghanaian electorate is in this group of voters who support political parties as though they were football clubs; in good and in bad. 40% of 15 million voters is definitely a crowd and can therefore fit models of crowd behavior.
Le Bon and Freud, the earliest scholars to develop theories on crowd behavior agree that such crowds tend to displace the individual’s moral center and replace it with the group’s. This means that Kwame realises that he has the moral duty to change the leader who disappointed him but Kwame cannot do so because he belongs to a crowd of NDC supporters, a crowd which has a mind of its own. Do we expect the crowd of NDC supporters to vote against their leader? No. Then Kwame will not vote against John Mahama. The only way Kwame can rebel against the crowd and vote out John Mahama is by reinstating his own morality. As simple as that sounds, it is actually complex.
My answers to the Kwame Phenomenon are very interesting and even controversial to an extent because not everybody will agree that John Mahama has failed. But for those who disagree, is it for genuine reasons? Or are they merely reducing cognitive dissonance by denying and justifying facts that challenge their beliefs and expectations? Or are they being influenced by the crowd? Only God can tell.
Writer: Kossi Akplah ([email protected])
DISCLAIMER: This article does not reflect the views, beliefs or position of 2eweboys.com. All views expressed are solely that of the writer.