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A different kind of politics, respected and revered


Stig Nygaard under a Creative Commons Licence

Bolgatanga, situated close to the border Ghana shares with Burkina Faso, has all the characteristics of a quintessential Ghanaian town: an incredibly kind and friendly population of approximately 70,000, a large market at the nucleus of the town and the Premier League football championship screened non-stop all weekend.    

Commercial Street, one of the main streets in Bolgatanga, is always bustling, and food stalls, phone kiosks and barbequed goats line either side of the busy central road.    

While there are many differences between Commercial Street and a regular British high street, for anyone with an interest in politics, one thing in particular will stand out.

Unlike Britain, where the odd political leaflet will be stuck onto a lonely lamp-post during election time, political material in Ghana is festooned on almost every corner and free space on the street.

Flags of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the opposing New Patriotic Party (NPP) are displayed proudly from buildings, while party member shelters sit on each side of the road.

The NDC has 2 party offices on Commercial Street; in Britain, you would be hard-pressed to find one party HQ in a large town.

Locals proudly wear shirts bearing either the face of incumbent leader John Mahama, or the party insignia of the NPP, while at a local game of football, kids are playing around in tops printed not with celebrated sportsmen but with the name of revolutionary leader Kwame Nkrumah.  

Politics dominates everything here – the town, the culture. Discussions frequently revolve around politics, which is openly, sometimes fiercely, debated among friends. Sitting down at a friend’s house one evening, eating the local dish banku, politics again enters the conversation.

Has Mahama run his course? Is economic growth floundering? Is God on the side of the NDC, and if he were, would he be scornful of its attempts to legalize gay marriage? One of my friends, Desmond, speaks with pride about his dream of one day representing the constituency of Bolgatanga in Parliament. It is very much a realistic dream.

Politics is respected and revered in equal measure, seen as something one should admire, not belittle or ignore. This comes in stark contrast with the apathy (sometimes loathing) usually conferred on politics in Britain.

At the 2015 UK General Election in May, voter turnout was at 66.1%. This pales in comparison to the 80.1% turnout achieved for the Ghanaian Presidential and Parliamentary Election in 2012.

At Britain’s recent elections, populist parties both right and left of centre achieved relative increases in votes and exposure, though not in large swathes; the ‘establishment’ parties remain the focal point of many people’s disillusion with politics.

Politics in Britain remain something voters cannot bring themselves to trust – frequently either attacked, or simply ‘swept under the carpet’, away from discussion.

There might be a possible exception to this rule. Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘New Politics’ (with old policies) showed us, by his victory in the Labour leadership contest on 12 September, that there is eagerness for a change.

Is Corbyn the type of figure who could simultaneously engage a diverse coalition of voters, while also repairing trust in politics?

On the evidence of the reaction he got during the Labour leadership debate, he has succeeded in enthusing the youth, a generation of voters with very little interest in the way politics conducts itself.

This should translate into wider engagement and debate, which can only be a good thing. Whether this will culminate into a repairing process between the electorate and British politics has yet to be seen. It may be a mammoth task for one individual.

Visiting Bolgatanga allowed me to experience a type of politics vastly different from our own, a politics that is entwined with people’s hopes and aims for their society. Only when British politics succeeds in forming a healthy partnership between those who practise it and the wider electorate will we have the kind of politics we can admire. 

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