The largest opposition party made history over the weekend when they elected a 22 years old law student of the KNUST Francisca Oteng Mensah to represent the NPP in Kwabre East constituency in the 2016 Parliamentary election. This raised a lot of eyebrows and has become a major talking point on the Ghanaian media landscape especially on social media. These avalanches of opinions are most expected since this is the first of its kind. Even when we thought the youngest we could go was with 25 years old Dominic Nitiwul, who took everyone by surprise and snatched the Bimbila seat from NDC after the exit of Dr Mohammed Ibn Chambas. I was particularly excited about this new development in our political arena but not everyone is amused. Whiles some saw it as a great political stride others deemed it retrogression and an insult to our democracy.
I mostly don’t like getting into convoluted political debates that ends up in a lot of noise without achieving any end, but am compel this time round to express an opinion because of some absurd and garble criticism being poured on Francisca Oteng Mensah and her constituent party delegate for electing her to represent their constituency in parliament. (I consider her an automatic MP because of the seat she is representing. It is very safe a seat to fail). The age and experience debate beats my mind a great deal. I have heard, and read people talk about how delegates were influence with money to send a “toddler” into the legislature, without any restrain. I have also heard the criticism ofthe NPP vetting committee about how they threw caution to the wind and passed a “toddler” fit to contest for parliament. But those criticisms I find very pedestrian since the vetting committee did not do their work based on personal and emotional considerations but within the confined of the law. The constitution of the country is clear on qualification criteria of a Member of Parliament. Aside, the party has their own criteria and if the lady passed all those, then what are the qualms about?
To understand their concerns better, it takes maturity and experience to become a lawmaker or a government official. But how is that proven scientifically? Is there any empirical research into the correlation between age and performance in the public service? Kindly refer me if there is one. I would also want to know if wisdom is deposited in age? The cliché of an adage about Methuselah and Solomon has being with us in ages past and I wouldn’t go into such banalities. The people making the age arguments are well aware of this and have not missed the point.
I am least amused about the rich dad and the money argument in the case of Francisca Oteng Mensah. What have the numerous rich kids in this country done with their parent’s wealth? Majority party all day and lead lives that makes their parents regrets their wealth. The fact that a child has been able to identify the father’s wealth as a source to tap into greatness, a source to become prominent, a source to become an agent of change in her society alone is a display of wisdom. Whiles other rich kids are partying and doping, Francisca has decided to become a lawyer and a senior lawmaker in Ghana’s legislature at a tender age of 22 year.
As for the monetization of our politics, it’s not a Ghanaian problem. The kind of economy we are bedeviled with and the Machiavellian nature of politics make it almost impossible to win an election just by word of mouth. Even if the criticism of her vote buying was true, it only goes to show that she is a wise vote buyer because all others equally paid for votes but couldn’t take delivery of what they paid for. It’s like the African political adage that says that in elections everyone rigs, but the person who rigs best wins. If I should have the option to choose among two thieves to work with in other to accomplish a mission, I will choose the smarter thief because he/she may have the ability to deliver on the job with his/her ingenuity than the dump thief. So if we all hold money entering into a contest and little Francisca is able to do good job with her money to get the electorate on her side then she is smarter than all and deserves the seat.
When it comes to matters of experience, I cringe when people make the argument that political office should be reserved for accomplished individuals and professionals. Good argument but does that necessarily equate political experience? How does one being a business mogul or a bank manager translate into political experience? How does that make you a better lawmaker? Some also say to occupier such high political office; one must go through the mill. What I want to know is this, where is the starting points of the political mill? And who determines that starting point? Is it being a class prefect, Assemble man, Presiding member, MP or a deputy minister?
Ghana is in such a mess after decades of our democracy and we can confidently say most our top politicians and MP’s were experience people in their previous professional endeavours but what have they got to show after all these years? We still can’t manage sanitation, enforce laws manage our economy, and the list goes on, yet we still stand on roof top and shout experience. We don’t need experience because experience has failed us. What we need in this country is wisdom, because our entire problem in this country is neither due to age maturity or experience but lack of wisdom. As the bible puts it right, for lack of knowledge, my people perish. We are perishing in this country because we lack wisdom. The people who died in the June 3 disaster perished because we lack the wisdom to do what we ought to have done to protect our citizens.
In the history of world’s greatest inventions, the individuals behind them were not the most experienced and the old but sometimes the young and foolish which we don’t really respect and give attention. Where were the great ICT professors and gurus until little Mark Zuckerberg of yesterday? It is the same way God moves too. He chooses things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. If the whole of Israel with their top generals and gargantuan military accoutrements could not stand up to the uncircumcised Philistine Goliath and it has to take the young and inexperienced David to liberate them from the terror of the giant, then why do we think young people in politics is a parody of the game? Why do we think youth in public office is synonymous with mediocrity? Some may criticize these kid- politicians for their lack of experience, but does that stop them from working to make a difference.
I know most of us are limited to our political terrain and may not know what pertains elsewhere. So kindly allow me to bring happenings in other places to illuminate current happenings in our context. In the world largest and elite democracies very young people are making waves, some even younger than Francisca. Let me recount some of the few incredible lads making waves in politics all over the world to you.
Pierre-Luc Dusseaulta 23 years old canadian was elected as the MP for Sherbrooke, Quebec as a member of the NDP when he was only 19. Now 23, he has accomplished quite a bit in his short time in office; he has twice served as the chair of the Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics committee. He received a diploma in social studies from Sherbrooke General and Vocational College and was studying applied politics at the University of Sherbrooke when he was elected. It was in university where his political prowess started to take shape as he founded an NDP student group at the University of Sherbrooke. He is the youngest MP in the history of Canadian politics. Does this ring any bell? Ok let take a look at few others.
Wyatt Roy, Australia was 24 When he was elected as a member of the Parliament of Australia for the district of Longman, Wyatt Roy was a mere 20 years old; he is the youngest person ever to be elected to parliament in Australia. His only experience is that he spent much of his youth working on his parent’s farm and learning the ins and outs of the business. According to him after studying political science in university, and hearing many people complain about the state of affairs in government, he got the urge to enter politics so he could make a difference and records have shown that he is indeed making a difference.
In our backyard in Uganda, Proscovia Alengot Oromait, a 21 year oldin 2012 at the age of 19 stood and was elected as a member of parliament. Now 21 years old, she is the youngest person ever elected to office in not only Uganda but the entire African continent. She is very prominent on issues of environment, health policy, gender issues and education. She was elected fresh out of high school and is currently also enrolled at the Uganda Christian University where she is studying mass communications. Even when people complete school they still go to school, so what is the argument about student public office holders? She is excelling as an MP and has already indicated her intention to run for presidency when she attain the constitutional age.
These are just but few examples among the many young people all over the world holding high political offices and are making waves. Francisca only found herself in the group of such smart youngsters who are determined to shape policy to the development of their people. Such young people need more encouragement and counsel from the older ones to achieve their goals not rather push them down. Young people are more active with much zeal and temerity to contribute than even the so called old frayed and experienced ones who have to deal with so many personal and mid-life issues.