For some days now social media, especially Facebook, have been awash with a question: “If people say vote wisely, what do they mean?” Some people think it is an insult to tell someone to vote wisely.
One person who wrote a comment under one of such posts asked whether there is anything like voting stupidly. For the fear of offending others, some people have decided to dance around the issue. But permit me to be blunt, as usual, on this one.
Some people vote stupidly. They don’t think before they vote. They just vote. So the admonishing to vote wisely is important and people need a reminder. If you don’t vote wisely, the politicians take you for granted. The most deprived parts of the country are people whose voting patterns are predictable. The politicians do not care about solving their problems because they will vote the same way, anyway.
Voting wisely does not mean voting for the government. Voting wisely does not mean voting for change. Voting wisely has more to do with the reason you vote than the party or candidate you vote for. You may not be stupid, but the reason you vote can be stupid. So you may be a very wise and intelligent person but you vote stupidly. So when someone says vote wisely, don’t be offended. Don’t assume you are too wise to be advised.
Voting wisely means not putting your vote on “autopilot,” as Pastor Mensa Otabil admonished. If the only reason you vote for the NPP is that you are an Asante or an Akyem then it is not a wise vote. If you vote for the NDC just because you are an Ewe, a Gonja or a Gurunga (Frafra), then you are not voting wisely. If you vote for someone because of their slogan, then you are not voting wisely. Governance is not about slogans. If you vote for someone because they gave you money to do so, then you vote foolishly because you are worth more than that. To vote wisely, you must know why you are voting.
When you vote for a candidate, they will not tell you when to sleep or how many times you should make love to your wife or when to sleep with your husband. They will not tell you the number of children you should give birth to. They are not interested in that. They are not interested in your affairs. But there is a reason they will kill to get your vote.
They seek your vote to control the resources of your country. They want to take control of all the loans they will contract on your behalf. They want to control all the taxes you pay. They want to determine who gets the top jobs and positions in the country. They get your vote in order to ride in the best of vehicles. You will fuel those vehicles and provide security for them. You house them and, in return, expect them to make policies that will make life better for you, policies that will make your children live in a better world.
What they do affects you. When they make good policies, you benefit. If the policies are bad, you suffer. Their actions can get you a well-paying job. How they govern can create wealth for the country so that you can get a decent salary at the end of the month. If they are thieves, you are doomed.
Voting for a presidential or parliamentary candidate is like giving someone the permission to make or unmake you. Consider this: if you have an important business and have to leave it in the care of someone before you embark on a long journey, what kind of person would you want to look after it?
Will you hand that business over to a thief or a dishonest person because they come from your hometown or they speak your language? If you have to leave your business in the hands of someone, would you give it to someone without assessing their ability to take good care of it and make profit? Will you give it to anybody without any good reason?
Until you discover a good reason to give your vote to someone, you don’t vote wisely. If you vote for corrupt people to take over the resources of the nation, their sons and daughters will use your money to attend the most expensive schools in Britain and America and your children will struggle at Chorkor or Ayawaso cluster of schools or a village school without a roof over their heads.
Some people think voting wisely only means voting out the incumbent party. In some instances, that is the only wise thing to do if the incumbent party has failed. But we should not just vote for change without scrutinizing the content of the change agenda. When someone comes shouting for change, ask them what you will gain from the change. We changed in 2000. In 2008 we changed. And in 2016 some are shouting for change. Must we change for the sake of change? If you don’t have a good reason for wanting to change, then you are not voting wisely.
So what are the good reasons to vote for a particular party or a candidate?
I have stated that voting for a party or candidate is like putting your most treasured business in their care. So vote for a person you can trust. Vote for a person who is honest, whether at the parliamentary or the presidential level. Vote for people who can manage your business and make profit for you. Don’t vote for a sheep because it is draped in the colours of a particular party, a party that is percieved to be aligned to your ethnic group.
When you put your vote on autopilot, you will vote for a political party even if they field a sheep. If you vote that way, you vote foolishly. If you do that, you shortchange your future. When you vote that way, the politician will like you, but they won’t respect you. I have realised that regions and towns that have put their votes on autopilot hardly develop because the politicians, including those they always vote for, take them for granted.
The Greater Accra Region is a swing region. The politicians take it seriously when they are doing projects. Under this government, for instance, we have the Kwame Nkrumah Interchange, the Ridge Hospital, the University of Ghana Teaching Hospital, the James Town Boxing Arena, the Maritime Hospital and a host of major projects. Accra has the highest concentration of some of the best private medical institutions. A lot of the those who are referred to Korle-Bu travel all the way from the hinterlands. So why would a government concentrate so much on Accra?
How many such major infrastructure do the three regions of the North have? How many such projects does the Volta Region, which votes for the NDC massively, have? Why should the politician take you seriously when they know that you will vote for them no matter how much they neglect you?
When I went to Bolgatanga in September this year, some friends told me that this government had done practically nothing in that region. A journalist there told me that President Mahama was compelled to cut the sod for the Bolgatanga-Bawku road, something President Mills had done. This was because he had no project to inaugurate in his Accounting to the People Tour of the region.
When I visited the Nyankpala Campus of University for Development Studies, I felt ashamed that I come from that part of the country. Apart from their deplorable infrastructure, their assembly hall had wooden desks, those desks used in rural basic schools. The Tamale Polytechnic, which has been converted into a technical university, is less endowed than most senior high schools down south.
The people there have been neglected because their votes are on autopilot. The NPP did not do much to help them in the eight years it was in power. And the NDC, which is the beneficiary of their years of massive support, has neglected them. The politicians cannot be faulted. If they squander your SADA money and come back to tell you to vote for them because they are from your part of the country and you oblige, then you deserve the neglect.
If you are in the Volta Region and the party you have supported faithfully since 1992 and that party has governed for 16 out of the 24 years, you should be counting your blessing beyond a tarmac, which you call an airport. Even if it is an airport, how many airlines will fly their planes to Ho?
The NDC has often taunted Nana Akufo-Addo that he did not send water to Kyebi and many areas in the Eastern Region until the NDC came into government. Well, whether water or no water, Kyebi will always vote for Nana Akufo-Addo. So why should the NPP be in a hurry to develop that place?
The Ashanti Region seems to have escaped this neglect because it is a major commercial centre. Kumasi, for instance, is a cosmopolitan area so the autopilot voters do not stand out so much. The grounds are shifting gradually so the NDC is targeting a million votes. Major projects are ongoing there in order to ensure that the target is achieved. For Volta Region and the North, both parties know that they vote with their hearts, and not with their heads. And since they are not as useful to the economy of the nation like the Ashanti Region, they can be neglected. After all, their voting decisions are predictable. And you don’t need to work for their votes.
If you vote with your head, the politician will want to solve your problems in order to get your votes. If you vote with your heart, all it takes to make you forget your woes will be to tell you a few ethnic sentences and stir your emotions.
I am not saying that the governments should develop regions that vote for them and ignore others. What I am advocating is that we should not sell our future to the politicians cheaply. The only thing the politicians fear is losing an election. If we let them understand that they must work hard to get our votes, they will take us seriously. If we assure them that they will always have our votes no matter how corrupt and incompetent they prove, they will mess us up. And it is not enough to vote wisely. We must hold them accountable to us after we vote for them.
You are a young man or woman who has completed school without a job or that your job can barely pay your bills despite your hard work. Meanwhile, another young man or woman who completes school and their only experience is national service. But, unlike you, they own a lot of property and have accumulated more wealth than the CEO of Apple. They have built castles at home and abroad and they open fuel stations like “Space to Space” joints. The only reason is that they are in politics. If you don’t care about this before and after voting, then stop asking what voting wisely means.
The writer, Manasseh Azure Awuni, is a senior broadcast journalist with Joy 99.7 FM. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this article are his personal opinions and do not reflect, in any form or shape, those of The Multimedia Group, where he works.