On January 31, 2019 the Electoral Commission conducted a bye-election in the Ayawaso West Wuogon Constituency to fill the parliamentary seat rendered vacant by the passing on of Kyeremanteng Agyarko few months ago. An isolated violent incident happened that day and succeeded in pushing the bye-election itself off national agenda. For certain reasons, however, that incident is not the issue of concern herein. The issue on the table today is the minority in Parliament referring to the newly-elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Ayawaso West, Serwaa Seyram Alhassan, as a “Bloody Widow.”
When Maame Serwaa (Kyeremanteng’s widow) entered the chamber to be sworn in by the Speaker, some members of the minority party, National Democratic Congress (NDC), raised placards bearing the term. When others, commenting within and outside Parliament, have tried to interpret the term, persons speaking for the NDC have tried to rationalise it saying the interpreters do not understand what they (NDC) meant. As serious as the issue is, Ti-Kelenkelen could not help laughing, because the episode reminded him of how the NDC used to struggle to explain some statements President J. J. Rawlings had made; or even made when he was ex-President.
But for the reported violence in the residence and neighbourhood of the NDC candidate for the bye-election, Kwasi Delali Brempong, the election was peaceful. As reports say, the polling station affected by the violence, at La-Bawaleshie, is but one in a total of 137 in the constituency. Far from down-playing the seriousness of the violence, especially when people were reportedly shot and are recovering in hospital, any election watcher will tell you the violence, put in proper perspective, had no effect on the results of the election.
Ayawaso West is a seat for the NPP. The only time an NDC person, Rebecca Adotey, sat on it was after the 1996 General Elections, but the NPP candidate, George Amo, who, initial results say lost the seat, went to the High Court, which eventually ruled that, indeed, Amo won the seat. Amo ran again in the 2000 General Elections and won polling 17,555 (56.20%) as against the NDC candidate, Elvis Afriyie Ankrah, who polled 11,388 (36.50%).
In last month’s bye-election, therefore, the news was not the results. Maame Serwaa (NPP) polled 12,041 (68.08%) and Brempong (NDC) polled 5,341 (30.52%). The real news was the low turnout. Those who cast their ballots were only 17,589, representing 19.83% of total number of registered voters, 88,710. Generally, bye-elections register low turnouts, but this is super low. Thus, another contributing factor may have been the violence on the day; it scared potential voters making them stay indoors. A more general factor may have been voter apathy birthed by public disillusionment over the tough financial conditions in the system, i.e., despite the hard work President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and his team have done to try to bring Ghana into the 21st Century.
On the violence, Ti-Kelenkelen’s position is that it was contrived, so he will not discuss it. Rather he wishes speedy recovery to those who were hurt on that day.
On Wednesday, February 6, 2019, reports say, Maame Serwaa went to Parliament to be sworn in as the newest member. The NDC minority staged a walk-out as some of them displayed placards bearing the inscription “Bloody Widow.” The NPP women in Parliament were furious. They explained that this is a grieving widow, and to characterise her as such is to add insult to her injury. They urged women to condemn the minority act.
Admittedly, so many have lashed at the minority for walking out and particularly for characterising her as a “Bloody Widow.” The walking out is party politics, but to call the creature by name, the minority under-utilised it on the day. Walk-outs are staged to show abhorrence to a serious issue that negatively affects the welfare and progress of the entire state. And to use it to protest the swearing in of a woman who has won a properly conducted bye-election is, as President Kufuor would put it, trying to kill a mosquito with a sledge hammer.
What has happened since some people criticised the NDC for the “Bloody Widow” stunt, brings back memories of how members of that party used to struggle to explain unpalatable statements Rawlings had made in public. Interestingly, Rawlings had not spoken a language alien to Ghanaians. He spoke this same ubiquitous English. So, why did anyone have to come back to explain his statement? It was simply because he had said something, indeed, unpalatable and people were criticising him for it. And some NDC members were conscripted for the unenviable task of explaining Rawlings’ statement to dissipate the unpalatable sting it bore.
Ti-Kelekelen heard (on Citi FM) the NDC MP for Adaklu, Kwame Agbodza, trying to explain what they meant by “Bloody Widow.” He said for them the violence that happened on the day of the bye-election means Maama Serwaa has blood on her hands. But that only made their matter worse. To say someone has blood on his or her hands (idiomatic expression) is to accuse that one of murder.
What the NDC appears to never keep in mind is that language can be so fixed that an idiomatic expression has specific meaning that one cannot change at his or her whim. Simultaneously, language could be so flexible that to combine particular words in specific circumstance could give the words proper meaning one did not intend. To refer to a woman whose husband has just died as a “Bloody Widow” is to accuse her of having something to do with her husband’s death. Even “Bloody MP” will mean she has something to do, directly, with the shooting that took place on the day of the bye-election.
The problem with such statements is when one is dragged before a court and asked to prove it. There, the issue will not be what the user did not intend, but what interpretation of the term is also explicitly possible in the specific circumstance, or what listeners do properly understand the term to (also) mean. In one of his judgements, Justice Kwame Afreh explains how, in law, recklessness is intention – to thoughtlessly speak or act, i.e., without first figuring out the possible consequences – and bringing about an end you did not intend, but which makes you culpable, nevertheless.
One of Ghana’s, or Africa’s, problems is a sub-culture of forgiveness that encourages recklessness and irresponsibility. One of them is what Maame Serwaa did – forgiving those who called her names in the House. When panellists are discussing serious national issues on Wednesday morning on Peace FM, NDC’s Allotey Jacobs turns it into a joke just to create laughter. In 2017, when some parliamentarians falsely accused others of giving or collecting bribe, the victims were begged not to go to court. Generally, reckless people take serious matters for granted. And such sub-culture engenders indiscipline and encourages corruption. As a people, if we want life, we must fight all these vices simultaneously.
(See also yirenkyilamptey.wordpreess.com)
“And to use [a walk-out] to protest the swearing in of a woman who has won a properly conducted bye-election is, as President Kufuor would put it, trying to kill a mosquito with a sledge hammer.”
“…Language could be so flexible that to combine particular words in specific circumstance could give the words proper meaning one did not intend.”
“There, the issue will not be what the user did not intend, but what interpretation of the term is also explicitly possible in the specific circumstance, or what listeners do properly understand the term to (also) mean.”
Ti-Kelenkelen with Yirenkyi Lamptey