And so to the second part of Uganda seen from brief moments and places in Ghana’s capital, Accra.
After August 13, in the wake of savage beat down and arrest of MP Robert Kyagulanyi (Bobi Wine) and 32 others received in Arua, the political conversation became angry in ways it hadn’t been since 2011, when similar violence sent battered FDC’s Kizza Besigye to hospital in Nairobi. So it was that I took half a day to tour Accra, and we ended up in East Legon, on the outskirts of the city.
Old money and power in Ghana lives in Cantonments, a shamelessly leafy and posh suburb. There are some small things that reveal a lot about people and their politics.
Like parts of Johannesburg and Cape Town, parts of Accra have a tree problem – but very different from Kampala’s. There are almost too many of them. The fellows who make money in Accra don’t cut down trees to build massive mansions with Ugandans’ beloved “French roofs”.
East Legon is where the new cast of Ghana’s stars (the chaps who play in top flight European football clubs, the techies who’ve made money, the wealthy Diaspora), build their expensive homes. And like old money, they love trees. It’s like going to Naalya and finding it more (or equally) tree-covered than Kololo. It’s a mindset born of seeing yourself not just as a responsible steward of your small corner of the world, but of being something bigger.
From Kampala to Kigali Avenue, there’s literally no African city, or significant modestly progressive figure in African history from the anti-colonial century to about 2002 that has no street named after them in Accra. This in turn provides an African sound-track and continuing link to Kwame Nkrumah’s pan-Africanist ideas, which enables many Ghanaians to feel part of a greater purpose.
Outside the Buganda Kingdom, where particularly under Charles Peter Mayiga as Katikkiro (prime minister) we have in recent years seen an attempt to build such a history bridge, this no longer exists in Uganda.
There’s even reluctance to acknowledge Milton Obote and UPC’s role in Uganda’s independence, because President Museveni and NRM seek to privilege only their place in the country’s history, and there is on the other hand a rejection of any progress under Museveni and NRM, because the UPC and the regime’s many foes are too vested in delegitimising it as a corrupt tribal military dictatorship that is alien to Uganda.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Despite spending many hours with my travelling party going around Accra, it wasn’t easy to figure out whether they were supporters of President Nana Akufo-Addo and his ruling New Patriotic Party, or the National Democratic Congress, whose candidate John Mahama he defeated last year after he had been in the chair for only one term.
There are not many places in Africa where you will find one-term presidents. Nor will you find former presidents running errands for the president who defeated their party, as happens in Ghana. Why is it possible?
One thing that strikes someone coming from Ugandan and Kenyan politics, is that Ghanaian political discussion, press commentary, and social media wars are, relatively, mild. It would take something unprecedented to get the kind of vitriol we witnessed post–Bobi-Wine-torture.
It would seem to flow from the fact that all sides of Ghana’s political have “eaten” since Ghana returned to multiparty politics in 1992 under the fiery Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings.
Rawlings is easily the most surprising political reformist and multiparty convert in Africa of the last 30 years. If in 1990 you had asked 10 million people in Africa who, between Museveni and Rawlings, would seek to be president-for-life, I suspect 9.9 million would said Rawlings.
Indeed the snide political joke used to be that his first initials “JJ” stood for “Junior Jesus”. Yet, he left, and his friend M7 is still with us amending the constitution endlessly. Because the NDC and NPP have taken turns in and out of power, and the brazen Uganda-style election heists don’t happen in Ghana, no one has been locked out for very long, thus allowing their anger at being exclusion to fester and brew perilously over a long period.
Additionally, because there have been no life president or life ruling party, you can sense a country slowly transformed from being governed by different sets of ideas over time.
East Legon unusually is like those new American suburbs that emerge as cities within cities, with their own boutique hotels, cafes, (international) schools, and sub-cultures. It seems to happen when you get an elite and middle class that is not narrowly tethered to the entrenched ruling party or long-term leader. It seems true, then, what they say. Democracy can produce new complex societies.
Mr Onyango-Obbo is the publisher of Africa data visualiser Africapedia.com and explainer site Roguechiefs.com. [email protected]