I almost never comment on political parties, outside the context of agreeing or disagreeing with their policy positions. Not because I harbour any disdain for party politics. Party politics is the soul and spirit of plural democracy. I ignore political parties because nowadays, in Ghana at least, they are not even the seats of “party politics” qua ‘party politics’ anymore. Politics involves decisions about hard choices of relevance to significant sections of the electorate, and partisan politics clearly denote a certain sense of conviction in why one decision ought to be favoured over another. The conviction may be parochial but it cannot be completely absent. Ghanaian political parties, however, are looking more and more like welfare clubs, where petty squabbles are waged by self-selected political ‘brokers’ over their own economic subsistence…..today however I am going to make a point, a dispassionate, purely discursive point, about the ruling party, the NDC. The observation is completely clinical and has absolutely nothing to do with my own sentiments about the party.
The NDC, in my view, faces a mortal threat that, by its actions, it clearly does not recognise.
NDC’s Fatal Weakness
It is losing the *brand war*. That is not to say that the NPP is doing marvelous, just that the NDC is comparatively much weaker. I locate the origin of this Achilles Heel of the party that once prided itself as the “only truly national party” in something I have christened: “The Otabil Effect” – the rise of a new, cross-sectional, cross-structural, “aspirational class”, and the narratives of social life it nurtures.
The aspirational class cuts across age, ethnicity and gender and represents a new class formation altogether. Members of this class read inspirational books and attend motivational seminars. They are into such new-age practices as “positive thinking” and “self-development”. They take short courses in their free time, and read biographies of distant role models. The majority of them tend to be ‘creatively religious’, usually moderately charismatic-christian, and utilises the networks in the church to break into certain strata of society once closed to them. They affect certain manners of dress and speech to advertise certain beliefs in a certain kind of protestant ethic – ‘thrift but not squalour’. They mix entrepreneurial pursuits with the hunt for professional pedigree. They listen to Joy, Citi, and the BBC, but having a passing interest in political careerism, their dials more often than you might suspect also alights on Peace and Adom, and stay longer than they care to admit. They worry that politics can ‘stain’ them but they also keep a keen eye on whether careerist opportunities are opening up in the politics domain, or better still ‘around’ it.
****And the NDC risks completely losing the Aspirational Class.******
The NDC asserts its appeal through associations with the underclass. The problem is that, increasingly, a growing number of members of said ‘underclass’ are finding their way into the imagined community of the Aspirational Class – a purely social and not historical-economic phenomenon. The Aspirational Class therefore offers social mobility of a kind hard to find in traditional class structures. It is a malleable, flexible, social phenomenon. Its boundaries are looser and its structure constantly evolving, and IT IS BECOMING A PREDICTABLE FLOATING VOTERS CAMP.
The Aspirational Class in politics expresses itself through imagery. Imagery of present or future accomplishment. It is reflected in the hyper-successful business magnate who is active in a functional sort of way in church organisation. In the Trade Union official who consults part-time for a labour economics advisory firm. In the lawyer who advises PR companies on advocacy strategy, all the way down to the newly qualified journalist waiting out her “2 years working experience” so she can transition into the “corporate communications” department of that swankily hot company. But it can equally be seen in operation when the Kantamanto dealer, who barely scraped through JSS, walks into an investment advisory firm in Labone and inquires about mutual funds.
The Aspirational Class exerts its influence in the alliances that it fosters across these diverse types of person, institutions and communities. It is not a club of the ‘haves’ but of the ‘ready to have’. It cannot be dismissed as ‘elitist’ unless elitism is viewed as a ‘virus’ capable of penetrating thick and thin through social strata.
THIS IS THE NDC’S BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION. It believes that the chattering classes is an elitist fringe that can be ignored. It has not studied well enough the powerful demographic shifts that are taking place, for example that this country quietly became a majority-urban nation around 2009 (yes, according to the latest census more people live in towns than in villages in Ghana), and that the emerging value system renders impotent any resurrection of the Veranda Boys phenomenology. The collapse of the Azorka movement in the North, and the rise of social media have common roots – the ascendancy of the Aspirational Class.
The intricate web of relationships across society woven by this Otabil Effect is seen in the constant suspicion harboured by the NDC that nearly all civil society institutions, from key religious establishments, through professional associations and labour unions, all the way to artistic and entrepreneurial communities, are in a conspiracy to “undermine” its prospects. It is far from a conspiracy. The forces at play are inevitable consequences of the role of the Aspirational Class in the validation or illegitimisation of a political brand.
If this class transforms itself into a ‘predictable floating voters camp’ as I fear it shall, it is highly likely that they shall swing very often in the opposite direction from the NDC. The sad reality is that none of the current contests within the NDC addresses this more pernicious development, AND YET SLOWLY BUT STEADILY IT IS BECOMING BY FAR THE BIGGEST RISK TO ELECTORAL SUCCESS FOR THE PARTY OF THE UMBRELLA.