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05/09/2011

Footsoldiers erupt

FootsoldiersGhana's ruling NDC party is being blamed for not supporting "footsoldiers" who contributed to the party's 2009 election campaign. Now, the foorsoldiers are angry and demanding jobs. Photo by James Munson.  

By James Munson

A couple of hours before my first day on the job at Tamale’s Diamond FM, a posse of political activists stormed the station.

They were footsoldiers from the National Patriotic Party, Ghana’s main opposition party.

While the term footsoldiers might sound a bit militant to western ears, here, it refers to grassroots party volunteers who do the grunt work at election time.

Trouble has been brewing among their ranks in Tamale, the hub of Ghana’s northern region.

Most of the anger is coming from youth in the National Democratic Congress, Ghana’s ruling party. They feel cheated and abandoned by the party they helped win power in the last general election in 2008.

They say the party higher-ups aren’t spreading newfound opportunities down to their level, and they’ve begun to take things into their own hands.

In mid-January, footsoldiers started stealing cars from senior NDC members—cars purchased by the party and then sold to executives through auctions.

On the day I showed up for work, a high-ranking member of NPP was criticizing the thefts on Diamond FM’s morning talk show.

It wasn’t long before the footsoldiers arrived on the scene. They claimed the NDC was lying, and the guest had to be locked in the studio until the police came.

Needless to say, fighting within the party could jeopardize people’s faith in the democratic process by promoting partisanship.

A reporter from Diamond FM and I decided to investigate the issue. We found two very different versions of the supposed “deal” between footsoldiers and the party during election time.

The trio of footsoldiers we interviewed said they were promised many things for their work, chief among them jobs.

But they readily admit they’re not educated and can only do unskilled labour. Any growth in the economy hasn’t come to them, and no programs for people without high school certificates have been put in place.

The regional secretary for the NDC, Alhaji Umar, says because footsoldiers are mostly unskilled labourers, they can’t be hired by the party.

It’s not clear who should be blamed for the impasse.

On its face, the party shouldn’t be hiring people it can’t help in the future.

Hiring footsoldiers is an ad hoc affair, and miscommunication between them and party members is common. None of the three political parties register their youth members.

Party executives deny their not helping out the footsoldiers or failing to communicate honestly about what to expect after an election.

But as the more educated branch of the party, they have some duty to make sure those who work under them are clear on the rules of engagement.

The party is trying to speak with footsoldiers and explain to them that the fighting hurts the party, said Mr. Umar, the NDC regional secretary.

That might be the best strategy—all the footsoldiers we spoke to said they were diehard NDC members and would never change parties.

And there’s some sign it might be working.

The party has been speaking with frustrated footsoldiers and some seized vehicles have been returned, said Mr. Umar.

But those claims are difficult to verify by the time we wanted to publish the story.

With five months to go here in Tamale, the reporters at Diamond FM and I will try to dig deeper into which side checks out.

The original post stated imprecisely that footsoldiers who entered the radio station in Tamale were members of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC). In fact, they were from the opposition party, National Patriotic Party. The original text has been amended.   

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